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Reviewed by:
  • Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan
  • James L. Ford (bio)
Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan. Edited by Barbara Ruch. Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2002. lxxviii, 706 pages. $69.00.

This collection of essays on women and Buddhism in premodern Japan represents a significant and groundbreaking contribution to the fields of Buddhology, Japanese religion, and broader cultural studies. As the editor and many of the contributors lament, the study of women and Buddhism in Japan has been, for a variety of reasons, sorely ignored by scholars for far too long. The authors and editor are to be commended for their research efforts and perseverance in bringing these studies to light. Published through the auspices of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan, the collection exceeds 700 pages in length and includes a character index, bibliography, reference index, and more than 90 four-color illustrative plates. It is, in short, an exquisitely produced volume.

It is also particularly noteworthy for two reasons beyond its distinctive subject matter. First, it is interdisciplinary in the truest sense. Contributors approach the topic of women in Buddhism from a variety of different disciplines including religion, history, literature, philosophy, and art. Commensurate with these contrasting disciplinary approaches, the authors draw from a variety of different sources including Buddhist textual sources, historical and literary writings, temple records, and art in an effort to uncover the buried history of women within Japanese Buddhism. Second, this collection represents a uniquely collaborative effort. Of the 20 essays, ten are contributed by Japanese scholars, virtually all of which are translations of previously [End Page 449] published essays from ōsumi Kazuo and Nishiguchi Junko's pioneering four-volume collection entitled Shirīzu Josei to Bukkyō (Women and Buddhism series) published in 1989 by Heibonsha. This was the by-product of the monthly meetings of the Research Group on Women and Buddhism in Japan organized by ōsumi and Nishiguchi, both respected scholars of premodern Japanese Buddhism and pioneers in the field of women in Buddhism in Japan. ōsumi contributed the foreword to this collection as well as an introductory essay on women and the "Japanization" of Buddhism. Similarly, Barbara Ruch organized the International Workshop on Women and Buddhism in Pre-Modern Japan, held at Columbia University in 1989 and sponsored by the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies. This collection bears the fruits of both of these organizational efforts.

A detailed summary and analysis of each essay is obviously beyond the scope of this review. I instead focus on the broad themes covered and highlight some of the most noteworthy contributions. The 20 contributing essays fall under five sections as outlined below.

Section I (Women in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism) includes three essays that analyze, respectively, the community of nuns in early Chinese Buddhism (Chikusa Masaaki), Empress Kōmyō's role in founding the state temple and convent system (Mikoshiba Daisuke), and the broader role of women in state and court Buddhism from the seventh to ninth centuries (Hongō Masatsugu). Particularly noteworthy is the vital role of palace women in early "court Buddhism" (kyūtei Bukkyō), that is, Buddhist practices carried out in the private, domestic realm, in contrast to the officially sanctioned and regulated Buddhism promulgated for protection of the state (kokka Bukkyō). Both of the latter essays focus on Empress Kōmyō (Fujiwara no Kōmyōshi) in particular.

Section II (Nuns and Nunneries) includes seven essays that study the institutional life of women. These consider monastic classifications and ordinations (Katsuura Noriko and Paul Groner, respectively); the history of established convents (Ushiyama Yoshiyuki); the religious life of Hōjō Masako (1157-1225), wife of Minamoto no Yoritomo (Martin Collcutt); biographies of nuns found in the Genkō shakusho (Marian Ury); and "divorce temples" (Ann Dutton and Diana Wright). Ushiyama notes that the ritsuryō system and Yōrō Codes of 718 facilitated the construction and maintenance of many convents during the Nara period, but the rise of a Confucian ideology by the beginning of the ninth century contributed to a dramatic decline (p. 132). The early Kamakura period saw another increase in the number of nuns, many of whom had...


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