STORIES, SYMBOLS, AND SELVES: FEMALE CONVERSION EXPERIENCES IN CONTEMPORARY TIBETAN BUDDHIST MONASTICISM
Graumans, Raissa A.P. 1977-
This research traces the experiences of sixteen persons as they go from modern lay women to Buddhist converts to Buddhist nuns, ending with their adjustments to the institutional world of Tibetan Buddhism. Situated in the social science field of cultural psychology, this study adopts a critical phenomenological approach to describing and interpreting the experiences, narratives and field observations of this diverse group of nuns. Representing nine different countries (Korea (4), Australia (4), Indonesia (2), Denmark (1), Germany (1), Holland (1), Southern Europe (1), United States (1), Venezuela (1)), these sixteen nuns were recruited during a five month period at Thosamling nunnery, in Sidhpur, India, in 2011. In tracing the narrative, symbolic, and identity-based elements of their experiences, the author shows that the changes undergone by these women are emplotted as three separate phases: conversion, ordination, and post-ordination adjustment, defined by distinct social, symbolic, and personal experiences, and marked by diverse thresholds of transition and transformation. Prior to their conversions these women were embedded in modern secular societies where they felt dissatisfied and disconnected. Their progressive involvement with Buddhism moves them away from those mundane worlds, and ordination enmeshes them fully into a sacred and enchanted lifeworld. Their adoption and application of Buddhist concepts, symbols, and discourses help to unify their private and public selves, imbuing them with greater meaning, purpose and authenticity. The author argues that conversion and ordination are not passive processes, uniformly experienced and resulting in consistent positions and personas. Instead, when the women in this study become Buddhist nuns they do so for reasons and in ways that are both shared and unique and which reflect agentic engagement and innovative appropriation. In occupying distinct positions along a continuum from the center to the periphery of the Tibetan Buddhism, these nuns’ postures and positions inform ideological and utopian visions that intersect with forces within the Tibetan Buddhist world to create a spiral of growth and change that enables both Tibetan Buddhism itself and its female convert nuns to continue along paths of transformation and adaptation. Key findings are brought into dialogue with relevant areas of the literature (Buddhism and psychology, contemporary Buddhism, women in Buddhism, and religious conversion) and suggestions regarding future avenues of research are also included.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
ProgramCulture and Human Development
CommitteeWaldram, Jim; Morrison, Todd; Corbett, Lynn; Sarty, Gord; Westman, Clint
Copyright DateNovember 2016
Cultural Psychology, Tibetan Buddhism, Religious Conversion, Ordination