Lao Buddhist Women

Quietly Negotiating Religious Authority

Authors

  • Karma Lekshe Tsomo University of San Diego

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/bsrv.v27i1.85

Keywords:

Buddhist nuns, gender, religious authority

Abstract

Throughout years of war and political upheaval, Buddhist women in Laos have devotedly upheld traditional values and maintained the practice of offering alms and other necessities to monks as an act of merit. In a religious landscape overwhelmingly dominated by bhikkhus (fully ordained monks), a small number have renounced household life and become maekhaos, celibate women who live as nuns and pursue contemplative practices on the periphery of the religious mainstream. Patriarchal ecclesiastical structures and the absence of a lineage of full ordination for women have combined to render the religious roles of Buddhist nuns and laywomen virtually invisible throughout most of Lao history. With limited access to Buddhist learning, maekhaos live at the margins of Lao society, both spatially and economically. Based on interviews gathered during fieldwork in Laos and at a Lao temple in California, this paper examines the lives of Lao Buddhist women, their relationship to religious authority, and ways they might move from the margins to full inclusion in Lao religious life.

Author Biography

Karma Lekshe Tsomo, University of San Diego

Associate Professor, Department of Theology & Religious Studies Karma Lekshe Tsomo's doctoral research focused on death and identity in China and Tibet. Her primary academic interests include women in Buddhism, Buddhism and bioethics, religion and cultural change, and Buddhism in the United States. In addition to her academic work, she is actively involved in interfaith dialogue and in grassroots initiatives for the empowerment of women. She is president of Sakyadhita: International Association of Buddhist Women (www.sakyadhita.org) and director of Jamyang Foundation (www.jamyang.org), an initiative to provide educational opportunities for women in the Indian Himalayas and Bangladesh.

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Published

2010-09-07

How to Cite

Tsomo, K. L. (2010). Lao Buddhist Women: Quietly Negotiating Religious Authority. Buddhist Studies Review, 27(1), 85–106. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsrv.v27i1.85

Issue

Section

Women’s Leadership Roles in Theravāda Buddhist Traditions