Vol. 4, No.1 April 1993

Seminar Announcement

The 1993 Summer Seminar of the Japanese Research Group on Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan (Kenkyukai:Josei to Bukkyo) will be held this year at the headquarters and main religious center of the Rissho kosei kai in Tokyo on August 25,26,27, 1993. All recipients of the IMJS Reports are warmly invited to attend. Reports on your current research are also invited. Those planning to attend should contact Professor Noriko Katsura, Tokyo Christian Women’s College, 6-1 Zenpukuji 2-chome, Suginami-ku, Tokyo 167 (FAX: 03-3301-0473. When faxing internationally omit the first zero).

Seminar Report

The 1992 Summer Seminar of the Japanese Research Group on Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan (Kenkyukai: Josei to Bukkyo) was held at the Kizo-in Temple on Mt. Yoshino, August 27 – 29, and was attended by 50 scholars. The seminar focused on the following papers.

MATSUKURA Fumihiko reported on his re-examination of theevidence surrounding the founding of the 7th-century temple Kanimanji. This site was made sacred and the founding of the temple there is attributed to the acts of a woman who saved the lives of crabs, releasing them back into the sea. In contrast to the evidence found in Nihon ryoiki and Hoke genki, new evidence suggests a Korean connection to the origins of this temple.

NAKANO Yuko examined the issue of religious gender discrimination imported to Japan with Buddhism. In addition to such aspects as doctrinal tenets that hold women hindered by inherent obstacles and flaws and by the need to be transformed or reborn as men before they can achieve salvation or enlightenment, discrimination appeared as well in such social practices as the forbidding of the presence of women at certain sacred sites or in particular rituals. Nakano finds that in contrast to what has heretofore been interpreted as the liberating effect of the new Salvation sects of the Kamakura perioed, these new sects attempted to define all women as “Mothers” and sacralize them as Mothers of the Human race, which only intensified discriminatory attitudes and the tendancy to separate women theologically. She believes this to be an issue as yet wholly ignored by scholars of the Salvation Sects.

MATSUO Kenji’s paper dealt with the ordination and certification of nuns, particularly as seen in the activities of the priest Eison. Matsuo criticized the work of USHIYAMA Yoshiyuki on nuns and convents on the grounds of failing to distinguish adequately between the two major categories of male clerics in Japan and therefore distorting what the perception of clerics was toward the “salvation of women.” Matsuo believes not only that the official State-recognized priests held multiple and differing views concerning women’s salvation, but that in the Kamakura period there emerged a fundamental difference between these State priests and the reclusionary monks of the new Kamakura sects. The former tended to view women as a collective group when considering their qualifications for salvation, whereas the latter were concerned with the salvation of individual women on a case by case basis, which was a revolutionary change in Buddhism. Matsuo focuses on Eison and his Ritsu group, which differs from the old Nara school of Ritsu and which Matsuo believes should be studied with the new Kamakura sects.

The seminar concluded with KANDA Yoriko’s report on Tokugawa period Shugendo and Kannagi (miko), and Shudo Yoshiki’s review of the history and historical documents of the Shugendo movement on Mt. Yoshino.


Through the courtesy of our Workshop colleague, Dr. Mary McLaughlin, the IMJS is in receipt of several conference papers by scholars working on various aspects of women in early and medieval Christianity in Europe. We share some of that information with you here and urge those of you who are interested to make contact with the scholars directly to extend our dialogue.

On April 25, 1992 at the Spring Conference of the New England Historical Association at Worcester, MA, Dr. McLaughlin chaired a session on Parallel Lives: Female Monasticism and the Church in the Middle Ages, and she sends us the following report:

Chair: Mary McLaughlin (Millbrook, NY)
Penelope Johnson (New York University)
Lisa Bitel (University of Kansas): “In Cella Seorsum: Early Irish Nuns and the Claustration Question.”
Bruce L. Venarde (Harvard University): “Going to Heaven, Going to Hell: New Approaches to Religious Change in the Twelfth Century.”
Katherine Gill (Princeton University): “Negotiating Difference: Survival Strategies of Women’s Religious Communities in the Late Middle Ages.”

“Concerned especially with early medieval Ireland, Lisa Bitel, a graduate of Smith College, with a Ph.D. in history from Harvard Univeristy (1987), is assistant professor of history in the University of Kansas and the author of Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990). Bruce Venarde, a graduate of Swarthmore College and a candidate for the Ph.D. in history at Harvard, is completing a dissertation entitled ‘Women, Monasticism and Social Change; A Study of Female Monastic Foundations in France, Belgium and England, 10th-13th Centuries.’ Late medieval women’s religious communities in Rome and elsewhere in central Italy are the special focus of Katherine Gill, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, a candidate for the Ph.D. in history at Princeton, and recently appointed as assistant professor in the Yale Divinity School.

“These papers reflect developing concerns and more innovative approaches in current research on medieval religious women. Studied, as they are in these papers, in the perspectives of religious and social change, these religious professionals appear more significantly than ever as agents of change, creators and manipulators, resisters and shapers, of the institutional and communal structures of medieval Christianity.

“Unconvinced by the notion of a golden age for medieval religious women, Lisa Bitel finds in the Irish evidence of a different and more complex pattern than that apparent elsewhere in the early middle ages. Noting the absence of claustration among early Irish nuns and the persistence of marriage and kinship as models for the relations between female and male communities, she emphasizes the ‘remarkable ability of these nuns to adapt their spiritual needs to the whimsical contours of the patriarchy,’ a perception which, she believes, should guide future study of nuns throughout medieval Christendom.

“Against what has been, until recently, a conventional view of the ‘Twelfth-Century Renaissance’ as a highly unfavorable time for religious women, Bruce Venarde argues most persuasively (with the support of a substantial data base) that the expansion of female monasticism in this period was in fact spectacular. As many new communities of women (c.300) were founded in France in the twelfth century alone as in the five preceding centuries altogether, a fact suggesting that religious women in this period were not only victims but also beneficiaries of social and economic growth.

“Similary remarkable, Katherine Gill contends, was the multiplication and the diversity of women’s religious communities in late medieval Italy, many of them originating informally rather than under the auspices of a religious order. Though dependent in important ways on male religious and ecclesiastics, these communities tended often to resist subordination; differing in functions from male communities, and often from one another, women’s houses responded to a wide variety of social and religious needs and their study may well lead us to new models of institutional and monastic history.

“Commenting on these papers, Penny Johnson remarked on the usefulness of German reception-theory for the feminist approach to texts, which readers may read in two ways, either manipulating them or being manipulated by them. In the perspective of this theory, she emphasized how the authors of our three papers had brought their own questions to their texts, as active rather than passive readers, finding something new in these texts or using them, in their appropriate contexts, to show how women and their communities made sense to themselves.”

A Conference On

“CHRISTENDOM AND ITS DISCONTENTS: EXCLUSION, PERSECUTION AND REBELLION, 1000 – 1500” organized by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles was held January 24-27, 1991. Katherine Gill presented a paper, “Scandala: Controversies Concerning Clausura and Women’s Religous Communities in Late Medieval Italy,” in which she discussed several local communities of active Tertiaries in the mid to late 15th Century when Observant Franciscan Friars were harassing and denying spiritual direction to the sisters because of their refusal to accept stricter enclosure (clausura). Katherine Gill argues that “Strict Cluastration was not normative for many, perhaps most women’s religious communities during the late middle ages . . .By presuming norms that never existed, scholars have been too quick to describe what they glimpse [as] . . .decadence and abuse . . .the vision of loose nuns . . .crafted by the authors of fabliaux and zealous male reformers . . .We have generally missed the political dimension of non-observance . . .Controversies about clausura were not so much about promiscuity and bad behavior as about incompatible political, social and institutional visions.” She points out that economic pressures were such on some communities of women that clausura was not compatible with survival.


The University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies Monograph Series, the publishers of E. Kamens’ Three Jewels and Buddhist Poetry of the Great Kamo Priestess; and M. Childs’ Rethinking Sorrow, has been selected as the publisher of our two volumes of translations and Western scholarship on Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan. For Vol. I all translations but one have been completed and for Vol. II all research chapters but three are now in hand for editing. The entire manuscript should go to Michigan early this summer.

[ Volume 4 of IMJS Reports was compiled by Angela E. Okajima ]