This project aims at identifying the Buddhist roles and practices which enable girl children currently growing up in Nepal and in Burma/Myanmar to change the religious institutions that have determined the form of those very roles and practices that girl children are made to perform. These are roles that they in turn decide to make their own, thereby redefining what it means to live life as a Buddhist, as a girl child and eventually as a woman. Instead of describing this process as “becoming Buddhist”, as previous research on children has largely tended to do, this project attempts to take more seriously the girl childrens’ own perspective in which dealing with Buddhism is more about trying to enjoy or dislike, comply with, resist or subvert, understand or ignore adult efforts at turning them into Buddhist women. It is the relation between the girl childrens’ appropriation of and distance towards things female, adult and Buddhist that allows them to move into the position in which they compel their seniors to make institutional, pedagogical, representational and even doctrinal changes that see the girl children turn into a very different kind of Buddhists than originally intended.
The project will try to show that Buddhist identities are not only age-specific, but that the interaction of girl children with both adults and peers through age-specific versions of acquired practical religious skills is decisive for their emergence as autonomous human beings. This shall be done by looking at monastic translocations that span two countries and that share the same reformist Buddhist agenda, values and practices while engaging with historically rather distinct ritual contexts.
In 2012 this University-of-Toronto-based project was granted a CAD 182,000 budget by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for a period of four years (2012-2016). The research team comprises one primary investigator, Christoph Emmrich, six research assistants, Alexander O’Neill and Quila Toews, based in Toronto (Canada), Sunita Rajbandhari and Nutan Sharma based in Kathmandu/Lalitpur (Nepal), and Thet Linn Wai and Swe Swe Thet Htoo , based in Yangon (Burma/Myanmar).