A Boat by which one Enters Liberation

Imagery, Unheard Voices and Religious Networks within the Barawa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Postdoctoral Project.

Since October, 2019

This study is a contribution to two under-explored areas of Buddhist Studies. First, an under-researched Buddhist tradition, the Barawa Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, shall be considered. Since the fourteenth century, its members have played religious, cultural, and sometimes even political roles in Tibet and Tibetan influenced societies across the Himalayas. Second, this study aims to advance Gender and Women’s Studies by addressing women’s roles and female agency in a Tibetan Buddhist context.

In the last few decades, an increase in Gender and Women’s Studies within the broader field of Religious Studies is observable. However, contributions from the Barawa Kagyu tradition are still lacking. To fill this gap, three Barawa women shall be examined by translating Tibetan texts into English, analyzing them, and embedding them in the respective historical, social, and religious context.

Two of the women investigated were active as authoresses, a rare case in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Their writing styles differ from that of their male contemporaries. Notably, less than one percent of the thousands of biographies in Tibetan were written by or about women.

The results will provide an overview on the roles and professions that religious women assumed within a Tibetan Buddhist environment. It addresses topics such as marginality, dependency, and female agency in a Tibetan Buddhist context. Finally, it analyzes markers that favored female agency and, simultaneously, favored a female religious career, such as origin, education, privilege, and social status.

Overall, the study offers insight into Buddhist societies by focusing on cultural, religious, and social entanglements from a female perspective. These are results form textual studies that can be used for future comparative studies in different fields of the Humanities.

  • 2019: The Sisters of Pho lha nas. Preliminary Remarks on Two Women and Their Links to the ‘Ba’ ra ba Bka' brgyud Tradition, in Wind Horses: Tibetan, Himalayan and Mongolian Studies, ed. by Andrea Drocco, Lucia Galli, Chiara Letizia, Giacomella Orofino and Carmen Simioli, Series Minor, LXXXVIII, Napoli, pp. 139-150.
  • 04/2023: Bringing Women Back into History: Female Agency in a Male-dominated Religious Context, École pratique des hautes études (EPHE) Paris, workshop “Women on the Roof of the World: Identity, Ethnicity, and Modernity”.
  • 07/2022: Authoress, messenger, nun: Nyima Chodron and her role(s) within the Barawa Kagyupa, Prague, Sixteenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS).
  • 07/2021: Onorate, maliziose, seducenti: la tradizione Barawa (‘Ba’ ra ba bKa' brgyud pa) e la rappresentazione delle donne, Sapienza Università di Roma, Convegno AISTHiM “Traditions, Translations and Transitions in the Cultural History of Tibet, the Himalayas and Mongolia”.