Buddhist Women & Female Buddhism

My very first research was on Buddhist women in Taiwan, especially on the development of the order of nuns in the island. I adopted an anthropological and historical approach in this project, a study that concerned the discipline of gender studies in relation to religion, combined history and social theory and involved an in-depth study of Vinaya texts.

I spent one year (1999) in Taiwan, where I also lived in nunneries, I interviewed novices, fully ordained nuns, and also lay women working at the temples.

The results of this fieldwork and archive based research were first presented in my MA dissertation, which is titled Le Eredi di Guanyin. Ritratti di Maestre e Praticanti del Nuovo Buddhismo Taiwanese [Engl: The Heiresses of Guanyin. Buddhist nuns and lay women practitioners of the New Buddhism in Taiwan] (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy, 2000), and was awarded the Italian Maitreya Foundation 1st prize for the most outstanding Laurea MA dissertation on Buddhism (2001).

Part of my study of Buddhist women in Taiwan was also delivered in international conferences, and published as book chapters and journal articles, like ‘Ven. Miaoqing and Yuantong Chan Nunnery: A New Beginning for Monastic Women in Taiwan’. In Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ed. (2004) Bridging Worlds: Buddhist Women’s Voices Across Generations, Taipei: Yuanquan Press, pp. 83-96; ‘Master Yinshun and Buddhist Women in Taiwan: Fayuan and Yitong Nunneries, Disciples of Guanyin in Northwest Taiwan’. In Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ed. (2005) Out of the Shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women. Delhi: Indian Books Centre, 2005, pp. 198-210; ‘Master Yinshun and Buddhist Nuns in/for the Human Realm. Shift and Continuity From Theory to Practice of renjian fojiao in Contemporary Taiwan.’ In Storm, Carsten and Harrison, Mark (eds.), The Margins of Becoming. Identity and Culture in Taiwan. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007, pp.83-100; ‘Buddhist Nuns and Female Buddhism in Taiwan. Historical Patterns and Engendered Values’. In World Fellow Buddhist Review, 44:1, 2007, pp.6-15.  This last article was then translated in Japanese by Dr. Tomomi Ito: “Taiwan ni okeru niso to josei no bukkyo jissen — rekishi teki tenkai to atarashiku umidasareru kachi”, Kokusai Bunka Gaku Kenkyu (Journal of Intercultural Studies), No. 29 (December 2007), pp. 117-131. ’ ステファニア・トラヴァニン(伊藤友美・訳)「台湾における尼僧と女性の仏教実践―歴史的展開と新しく生み出される価値」神戸大学大学院国際文化学研究科紀要『国際文化学研究』第29号(2007年12月)、117-131頁.

In 2002 I also acted as member of the Taiwan Organizing Committee for the highly successful 7th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women, which was held in Taipei, 11-17 July 2002.

Recently I have returned to the study of the feminine in Chinese Buddhism, this time focusing on the new interpretation of Guanyin and the modern Guanyin worship in contemporary China. I have done fieldwork research on Mt. Putuo (Zhejiang). Preliminary results of this research was presented in the paper ‘New Female Agents of the Dharma? Discussing Patterns of Division and Encounter among Buddhist Women in Contemporary China’, delivered at Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Chicago, 17-20 November, 2012.