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Changing Women's Roles In Contemporary Japanese Religions (1/2)

Panel Chair: Monika Schrimpf | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m.

This panel focuses on women in contemporary religions in Japan as agents of religious change. In the Study of Religions, religious roles are usually defined by clear-cut borders based on status, gender, education etc. However, women in contemporary religions often cross or dissolve these borders by integrating multiple roles or re-defining the praxis and meanings of particular roles. The panel explores a variety of changes in role definitions and performances as initiated by contemporary women in Japanese Buddhism, Shugendō, Shintō, and Christianity, addressing the following questions: Which kinds of status and which roles are ascribed to or are accessible for women in contemporary religions in Japan? How do women (re-) define their own roles, and how do they construct their religious identity by integrating various roles? In how far does the distinction between laity and clergy actually affect women’s role performance and self-understanding? And where do they draw boundaries?

Naoko Kobayashi

The Entrance of Women into “Sacred Mountains”: The Case of Ōmine Okugake Shugyō (Ascetic pilgrimage at Mt. Ōmine)

Although Mt. Ōmine is one of the most important and fundamental holy places for mountaineering ascetics, women, even skilled female ascetics, were excluded from it for over 1200 years. It was said that if women were to climb it, the sanctity of the mountain would be violated, and its role as a site of ascetic pilgrimage would be ruined. However, since the 1970s, the demographic of excluded women at Mt. Ōmine has changed. Female ascetics have gradually come to participate in ascetic pilgrimage at Mt. Ōmine (Ōmine Okugake Shugyō). After female ascetics joined, it changed from an activity that was combined with sightseeing to a practice that focused on ascetic practices without pleasure. This paper will clarify the change that the entrance of women into “sacred mountains” has brought for the religious activities of mountaineering ascetics.

Monika Schrimpf

Self-perceptions of Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Japan

This paper explores the diversity of Buddhist nuns’ lives and self-perceptions in contemporary Japan. Buddhist nuns shape their lives and negotiate their identities between the legal permission to get married and wear ‘secular’ clothes, and Buddhist precepts reflecting the ideal of world renunciation; between a hereditary system of temple succession for men and women, and insufficient opportunities for a monastic life within each Buddhist school. Whether they head a temple, are married to a temple priest, or live ‘secular’ lives outside a temple, Buddhist nuns cross borders between roles and constantly re-negotiate what it means to be a nun, depending on their social context. Based on interview data, the paper takes a closer look at these self-perceptions and negotiations. How do Buddhist nuns define the purpose of this role, draw boundaries, conceive their position within their Buddhist school, and integrate other roles such as mother or wife?

Mira Sonntag

Christian Feminism and the Relevance of Interreligious Dialogue in Japan

This paper explores contemporary approaches of Christian women to theology and practical faith, focusing on proponents of “Christian feminism” in the broadest sense. Although Japanese Protestant churches started women’s ordination as early as in 1933, their means of influence on church administration and political decisions are still very limited. While some women established independent research and/or mission institutions, others received support from international initiatives (U.N. or WCC campaigns) pushing gender-balanced action inside the churches. Active women from Catholic, Anglican and Protestant (UCCJ) backgrounds and their notions of a “feminist/women’s perspective” will be introduced and analyzed. Struggling to make a difference as a sub-minority of the religious minority of Christians in Japan they came to realize the importance of interreligious dialogue with other Japanese women as well as in the broader Asian community. At the same time engagement in dialogue seems to pose a threat to their theological self-assertion.

Noriko Kawahashi


Noriko Kawahashi will address the issues raised in the three papers presented in this panel.


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A  B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  S  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

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