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Shin Buddhism and Gender

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The Discourse on Gender Discrimination and Related Reforms

image of Journal of Religion in Japan

In the two main branches of Jōdo Shinshū (or Shin Buddhism), the Ōtani-ha and the Honganji-ha, a movement toward gender equality emerged in the 1980s. This movement and its development have brought about internal discussions on discrimination against women and an increasing awareness of gender issues, as well as concrete reforms of institutional laws. In the Ōtani-ha, a ruling that explicitly excluded women from becoming temple chief priests (jūshoku) led to protests and petitions by the association of chief priests’ wives and resulted in the establishment of the “Women’s Association to Consider Gender Discrimination in the Ōtani-ha.” Although the Honganji-ha has formally accepted female chief priests since 1946, the definition of the role of the bōmori (lit. temple guardian) as the temple chief priest’s wife suggested hierarchical gender roles, which also stimulated demands for reforms. This article shows the forms of gender discrimination which have been the focus of debates and discussions. Here, I present the reforms and changes that have been achieved over the past few decades and examine the reasons and influences that were instrumental during this process. In this context, I analyze the arguments used by both the reform-oriented and the conservative sides of the issue, and I also explore the relationship of this gender discrimination discourse to earlier Shin Buddhist social developments, such as internal reform movements and efforts to combat discrimination against burakumin.

Affiliations: 1: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich


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