12 Feb Of Mothers, Goddesses, and Bodhisattvas: Patriarchal Structures and Women’s Religious Agency
Mayfair Yang (Religious Studies & EALCS, Director of the East Asia Center, UCSB)
Friday, February 12, 2016 / 11:00 AM
Writing about women’s Islamic piety in Egypt, Saba Mahmood criticized the narrow definition of women’s agency defined solely in terms of resistance, critical discourse, or rebellious acts, and suggests that understandings of women’s religious agency must also take into account the modesty, self-effacement, and self-sacrificing ethos of pious women. This paper takes up Mahmood’s point about non-oppositional women’s discourse and will examine the importance of religiosity on women’s agency in rural and small-town Wenzhou in China. By outdoing men in their religious piety and self-sacrifice, rural Wenzhou women are able to assume local religious leadership, transcending patriarchal structures without directly challenging them. Since Mahmood does not pay sufficient attention to the social effects of pious women’s agency, the paper will also address the social impact of women’s religious agency in enlarging the spaces of religious worship and building an indigenous religious civil society, while increasing a much-needed ethical awareness in contemporary Chinese society. We will focus on Wenzhou women’s relationship with two goddesses: Goddess Chen Jinggu and Bodhisattva Guan Yin, and women’s participation in popular religion and Buddhism.
Sponsored by the IHC’s Pagans: Interdisciplinary Encounters with Idolatry RFG.