Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

A Hybrid Form of Spirituality and the Challenge of a Dualistic Gender Role: The Spiritual Quest of a Woman Priest in Tendai Buddhism

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

A Hybrid Form of Spirituality and the Challenge of a Dualistic Gender Role: The Spiritual Quest of a Woman Priest in Tendai Buddhism

Article excerpt

This article is an examination of the unconventional spiritual exploration that one woman, a priest of the Tendai School, engaged in from her twenties into her fifties. It follows her conflicts regarding her spiritual quest and gender roles, and further through her encounters with Christianity, Shinto, and Buddhism. Throughout these encounters, she pressed ahead in her spiritual explorations while persistently refusing to make an either-or choice in her life, neither choosing between immersion in gender roles and pursuit of her quest, nor among the three religions. Neither rejecting nor choosing from these alternatives, she pursued her quest until it finally led her to find her "true station in life" in Buddhism. Until she reached that point, however, her path was not so much a trajectory through choices she made of her own volition as it was a process of rushing headlong, as though across an "invisible map," and being guided to experience those encounters. Ever since building her own temple, however, she has still held the multiple identities of priest, Japanese language teacher, wife, and mother while also continuing her spiritual quest in the very midst of the secular world. This article examines how a certain woman maintained her unconventional spiritual exploration for forty years, and how she met the challenge of a hybrid form of spirituality and dualistic gender roles.

Keywords: spiritual quest (gudo)-Tendai Buddhist women priest-station in life- dualistic gender role-spiritual hybridity

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We find that, except for the cases of a few remarkable women in history, the models for protagonists in quest narratives who are seeking god have traditionally been men. The emergence of women who seek to live out quest narratives of their own, different from those that have men as protagonists, was significantly influenced by the second wave of the women's movement that started in America in the 1960s. Carol Christ, who studied women's spiritual quests in works by women writers, found that there were few publications on women and religion in the early 1970s, and that terminology for discussing women's spiritual quests did not even exist (Christ 1980, xxix).

In Japan, it was not until the early 1980s that research on women and Buddhism began to take off. Until then the focus of most research was on the history of established organizations, or the political and economic changes among individual temples or sectarian organizations, and mainly about the activities of male priests, so there were few studies on the religious experiences of women (Ruch 2002; Katsuura 2010; Kawahashi 2011). Recently, however, a broader range of research topics have appeared, including "spirituality" and issues of religious belief and practice in daily life. The role of women has been seen as crucial in examining these issues (Osumi 2002, xxv).

However, it is important not only to include women within such research topics, but also to be aware of various perspectives. By incorporating women's perspectives and experiences, the special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies in 2003 titled "Feminism and Religion in Contemporary Japan" was able to introduce the work of women who were engaged in reforming established religion (Kawahashi and Kuroki 2003).1

In this article I will look at the spiritual quest of a certain lay woman spanning over thirty years, and the challenge toward established religion that this quest involved. This was a twofold challenge, both against gender roles and against unitary models of religious belonging.

Until now, feminist research in Japan has mostly involved criticism against established religion. However, if we accept religion as a product of a false consciousness, and religious salvation merely as cleverly disguised oppression, the point of the religious quest by women is suppressed (Kawahashi and Kuroki 2004, 15). Many feminist scholars of religion point out that the dualism of spirit and matter, or of spirituality and politics, is oppressive to women. …

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