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A Garland of Feminist Reflections

Forty Years of Religious Exploration

Rita M. Gross

Publication Year: 2009

Rita M. Gross has long been acknowledged as a founder in the field of feminist theology. One of the earliest scholars in religious studies to discover how feminism affects that discipline, she is recognized as preeminent in Buddhist feminist theology. The essays in A Garland of Feminist Reflections represent the major aspects of her work and provide an overview of her methodology in women's studies in religion and feminism. The introductory article, written specifically for this volume, summarizes the conclusions Gross has reached about gender and feminism after forty years of searching and exploring, and the autobiography, also written for this volume, narrates how those conclusions were reached. These articles reveal the range of scholarship and reflection found in Rita M. Gross's work and demonstrate how feminist scholars in the 1970s shifted the paradigm away from an androcentric model of humanity and forever changed the way we study religion.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

PART ONE. Introductory Materials

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Introducing A Garland of Feminist Reflections

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pp. 3-22

...ultimate significance. It also represents my lifelong concern with how women have pursued such questions, or have been prevented from pursuing such interests by the prison of gender roles specific to their cultures. The first concern is core and the second is adventitious. Only circumstances forced me, willy-nilly, into lifelong concern with issues of sex and gender. That was not what I intended...

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1. How Did This Ever Happen to Me?

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pp. 23-44

...Given current conditions of backlash, I have sometimes commented that it is important for those of us who are old enough to remember why the second wave of feminism ever emerged to record our memories. Most people are astonished at how dismal things were only a few years ago, in the 1960s in the United States, when women could not establish credit in their own names and almost no...

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PART TWO. Five Essays on Method

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pp. 45-54

...of religious studies during the nearly forty years of my career to date. What some might regard as an undue emphasis on methodological issues accords well with both my training and my inclinations. I was trained at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s, when the doctoral program in the history of religions emphasized method and theory more than linguistic and historical...

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2. Androcentrism and Androgyny in the Methodology of History of Religions

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pp. 55-64

...The questions that a feminist scholar asks of her discipline when she is a historian of religions must be understood within the context of the paradigm shift that feminist thought requires of all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. That basic paradigm shift is the transition from an androcentric methodology to an androgynous methodology. The resulting transformation of the history of religions would be quite subtle and overwhelming...

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3. Where Have We Been? Where Do We Need to Go?

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pp. 65-76

...As someone who helped found the disciplines of women studies in religion and feminist theology and as someone who has written a great deal on these topics, I have a long vantage point from which to view our concerns. In this chapter, I seek more to review the essentials of our disciplines than to blaze new methodological trails. That is a task for younger scholars who have the freshness...

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4. The Place of the Personal and the Subjective in Religious Studies

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pp. 77-93

...Religious Studies is the academic discipline devoted to studying and commenting upon the extremely diverse religious beliefs and behaviors found in all cultures around the globe, in all periods of human history. Nevertheless, studying or teaching religion in the college or university is also a very politically sensitive enterprise because everyone has personal opinions, often very strong personal...

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5. Methodology: Tool or Trap?

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pp. 94-110

...Questions as to how best to study religion and to understand religion have fascinated me from early in my studies of religion. In this chapter, I want to reflect on questions about how scholars construct, accept, and reject methodologies, more than to argue for or against any specific methodology. I agree with scholars of religion who take methodology very seriously. Whether one is deeply self-reflective about or largely unconscious of one’s methodological...

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6. What Went Wrong?

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pp. 111-124

...time when God and humans changed places, and the human, now God, refused to revert to the original order. But after infinite amounts of time, “The past for one, and the present for the other, were too heavy to be borne.” He continues: “As the liberation of the one was bound to the liberation of the other, they renewed the dialogue whose echoes come to us in the night, charged with hatred, with remorse, and most of all with infinite yearning...

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PART THREE. Theory Applied: Three Tests

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pp. 125-130

...very different topics, all resulting from the paradigm shift in models of humanity initiated by feminist scholarship. Thus, they could be seen as test cases, or applications of the effectiveness of that paradigm shift. They demonstrate that what one sees can change when one’s model of humanity changes. More important, they demonstrate that...

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7. Menstruation and Childbirth as Ritual and Religious Experience among Native Australians

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pp. 131-142

...The subjects of this chapter are menstruation and childbirth as they figure in the religious lives of both Australian Aboriginal women and men. In the religious lives of women, these biological experiences are the occasion of significant rituals. In the religious lives of men, who of course cannot experience them directly, they are often ritually imitated. The significance of menstruation and childbirth in both women’s and men’s religious lives has...

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8. Toward a New Model of the Hindu Pantheon

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pp. 143-155

...One of my favorite unfinished and unpublished manuscripts is titled “The Significance of Gender in the Hindu Pantheon.” This chapter represents my return to that manuscript, which has spent more than fifteen years in my to-do pile. Both manuscript and chapter circle around my dissatisfaction with the model of the Hindu pantheon found in most textbooks. My dissatisfaction...

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9. The Prepatriarchal Hypothesis

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pp. 156-170

...Located at the interstices of several disciplines, including prehistory, archeology, anthropology, mythology, history, and the comparative study of religions, as well as being of considerable importance to feminist discourse, the prepatriarchal hypothesis has generated a great deal of controversy not only with nonfeminists, but...

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PART FOUR. Feminist Theology

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pp. 171-176

...here as chapter 10, “Steps toward Feminine Imagery of Deity in Jewish Theology.” If I had been following scholarly conventions, I would never have written that essay. Technically speaking, it was completely outside my supposed field of specialization, and in those days such indiscretions were quite dangerous. But I followed my inclinations. I don’t remember for sure if there was a publication in the works at the time, but I believe that probably someone was trying to put...

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10. Steps toward Feminine Imagery in Jewish Theology

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pp. 177-188

...female grammatical form. I do remember the first time I heard it voiced aloud communally, years after having first experienced participation in my own right in the Jewish ritual covenant community. It was as appropriate and natural as any Jewish expression—and less problematic and alienating than many. In fact, the potential for meaning and identification experienced by saying “God-She...

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11. Is the (Hindu) Goddess a Feminist?

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pp. 189-197

...Buddhist goddesses could be shown to be either feminists or nonfeminists in their traditional manifestations. But, in the long run, if the Goddesses’ devotees are feminists, then the Goddesses will either come to be seen as feminists or be abandoned by their feminist devotees. And if the Goddesses’ devotees are antifeminist or nonfeminist, then the Goddess will not be a feminist, whatever...

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12. Life-Giving Images in Vajrayana Buddhist Ritual

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pp. 198-210

...To discuss women changing ritual and ritual changing women, I will return to a problem that has haunted me for years. This issue concerns the visual forms that are central to Vajrayana Buddhist sadhana meditation- rituals. First, some words about ritual in Buddhism and about which rituals I could comment on as a woman insider discussing how women might change these rituals and be changed by them. As a historian of religions, I am sensitive...

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13. Feminist Theology as Theology of Religions

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pp. 211-228

...the discussion presumed a Christian context, which I, a non-Christian, found problematic. The conversation paused momentarily to allow me to make my comment, then returned to its previous direction, as if I had never spoken. I felt as if I had momentarily surfaced from underwater in some giant ocean, only to have the waters submerge me again immediately. I also noted that I had felt this way before. In earlier days, it had not been...

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PART FIVE. Buddhist Feminism: Feminist Buddhism

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pp. 229-234

...highly selective. I will explain the principle of selection. Part 5 begins with the most current version of what I have always considered to be my most important reflection on Buddhism and feminism, my comments on the transmutation of anger into clarity and peacefulness that was the unexpected, totally surprising first result of the Buddhist meditation practices that I had begun some years earlier. The first paper and talk I ever gave on...

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14. The Clarity in the Anger

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pp. 235-244

...When dualistic worldviews prevail, Buddhist political thinking and acting become very difficult, if not impossible. Fundamentally, Buddhism discourages “us and them” analyses as much as it discourages evaluating complex situations as “black and white” dichotomies. Buddhism claims that all beings are equal in the sense that they share the same basic nature, whether they are friends or enemies. Sharing the same basic nature is more important...

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15. Why (Engaged) Buddhists Should Care about Gender Issues

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pp. 245-249

...It seems to me that if Buddhists really followed their central claims about gender, engaged Buddhists would not need to be concerned about gender issues. But we live in a situation that is far from the Buddhist ideal or norm regarding gender; therefore engaged Buddhists do need to care about gender issues among their many other concerns. In this brief chapter honoring Sulak Sivaraksha, I will try to explain...

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16. The Dharma of Gender

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pp. 250-262

...A classic meditation practice in Vajrayana Buddhism, called the Mahamudra Investigations, invites the meditator to search for the nature of unfettered mind by exploring several pithy questions. Does the mind have a color? Does the mind have a shape? Is the mind inside the body? Outside the body? The meditator is instructed to search diligently, exhausting all possibilities, instead of concluding on the basis of knowledge of Buddhist doctrine that unfettered...

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17. Yeshe Tsogyel

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pp. 263-280

...Yeshe Tsogyel, probably Tibet’s most influential and famous female religious teacher and one of the world’s most significant female religious exemplars, lived in the eighth century CE. An important teacher in her own right, she was also, in her early life, the student of Padmasambhava as well as one of his principal consorts until he left Tibet. Padmasambhava is a semilegendary figure, the first great tantric master to come from India...

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18. Buddhist Women and Teaching Authority

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pp. 281-290

...The primary feminist criticism of Buddhism is that most often, dharma teachers are men. Feminists have responded with two solutions to this problem. One obvious solution would be to make structural changes to ensure that women are trained as teachers, and then to make sure that women are promoted as teachers. Other feminists have proposed a different solution, stating that giving dharma...

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19. Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

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pp. 291-310

...Even relatively casual observers of Buddhism often note that doctrinally Buddhism is free of the myths and symbols that make some other religions so intractable to feminist reforms. There is no Ultimate Reality spoken of as a male, no Ultimate Father or Male Savior; there is no myth of a rebellious female starting the world on its downward spiral. Those same observers also comment...

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20. Being a North American Buddhist Woman

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pp. 311-318

...In this final chapter I would like to reminisce about some of my key experiences and insights as a North American Buddhist woman and scholar-practitioner. How did I become a Buddhist in the first place? What was it like thirty years ago to be both a Buddhist and a feminist? Why do I think that Buddhists still need to be feminists? What has been most important to me about being...


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pp. 319-340

Production Notes

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p. 341-341

E-ISBN-13: 9780520943667
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520255869

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2009