Mobilizing Gendered Piety in Sri Lanka’s Contemporary Bhikkhuni Ordination Dispute


  • Tyler A. Lehrer University of Wisconsin–Madison



<i>Bhikkhunī</i>s, Gendered piety, Buddhist nationalism, Sri Lanka


Since the late 1980s, in defiance of Sri Lanka’s major monastic fraternities (nik?yas) and the government, Buddhist women and men have begun to organize across distinctions of national boundary and Buddhist tradition to reinstate a defunct bhikkhun? ordination lineage for renunciant women. Drawing on fieldwork from the winter of 2015–16, this article considers some of the strategies by which Sri Lanka’s bhikkhun?s and their supporters constitute the burgeoning lineage(s) as both legitimate and necessary for the continued health and vitality of an otherwise ailing Buddhist s?sana. I argue that Sri Lanka’s bhikkhun?s engage in highly-visible forms of adherence to vinaya rules and social expectations for ideal monastic behavior set against a popular discourse about the laxity of male renunciants. Such engagement is both political and soteriological; while it is aimed at fulfilling legitimizing gendered expectations of women’s piety, it is expressed primarily in terms of the eradication of personal and societal suffering through forms of practice that accord with the ideal of a pious monastic. Thus, in contrast to discourses which locate bhikkhun?s as subjects whose presence weakens the s?sana’s duration and strength, in this new discourse Sri Lanka’s bhikkhun?s become virtuous agents of social service and moral restoration. The article concludes by identifying emerging connections between this discourse and an alreadygendered xenophobic Buddhist nationalism.

Author Biography

Tyler A. Lehrer, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tyler A. Lehrer, Department of History, University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA.


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How to Cite

Lehrer, T. A. (2019). Mobilizing Gendered Piety in Sri Lanka’s Contemporary Bhikkhuni Ordination Dispute. Buddhist Studies Review, 36(1), 99–121.