The project offers a combined training and research environment which will both further knowledge, methodology, and theory related to problematizing girl children and young women’s Buddhist religiosity and provide emerging young academics with the knowhow, tools, and, intellectual inspiration for own independent future research beyond this particular field. The core project activities of this kind take place in Canada at the University of Toronto (UofT).
The principal investigator Christoph Emmrich offers courses specifically designed for the needs of the project participants, introducing undergraduate and graduate students to literatures, language and manuscriptology relevant for the project. They include the undergraduate course “Buddhist Literatures: Newar Buddhist Literature” (first offered spring 2014) as well as the mixed undergraduate-graduate year-long course “Reading Pāli with Burmese Manuscripts” (offered 2013-14, 2014-15, with an option of a follow-up “Intermediate Pāli” course and/or a Pāli Reading Group).
These introductory courses are complemented by directed readings introducing students to medieval as well as contemporary literary and spoken Newar. Further language training is encouraged and on a case-to-case basis financially supported by the project. In the “Once The Buddha Was a Girl Reading Project Group” (ongoing since fall 2013) key monographs and articles relevant to the overall project’s research questions are carefully read and critically discussed in weekly meetings of the principal investigator with the research assistants and affiliated students. As the project unfolds, the reading group will offer a forum for the presentation of ongoing student research emerging from the project.
The research assistants engaged in the South Asian locations too, are expected to profit from the discussions and readings taking place at UofT, aiming at allowing for the UofT training to inform the research assistant team as a whole. The project also offers the opportunity for internships both in Toronto and in the South Asian project locations. The first, involving a documentation of daily ritual at the Shwedagon Paya, was successfully completed by Ryan Voon in Yangon in June 2013. Incoming graduate students with research interests or magisterial and doctoral projects, particularly those dealing with Nepalese and Burmese Buddhism, are offered affiliation with the project and invited to participate in select training sessions, reading groups, and project meetings.
Oral, textual and audio-visual materials from Burma and Nepal physically and digitally collected during field trips and archival visits are catalogued, securely stored, and made available for project-internal analysis at the UofT premises of the project. Data collection falls within the responsibility of all project collaborators, while the principal investigator and the UofT research assistants are jointly in charge of building and curating the archive. The copying or acquisition of manuscripts and prints, the recording of interviews and performance footage, and the collection of material cultural artefacts are a basic rationale for the various project-funded research trips that both the principal investigator and the research assistants conduct to the South Asian sites in Burma and Nepal. During these trips they are encouraged to shape and redefine priorities and strategies in the ongoing data in discussion with the research assistants in the South Asian locations. On these occasions, data collection is not restricted to the core aims of the project, but should include efforts that may contribute to the successful completion of the individual projects pursued by the UofT research assistants.
Thinking beyond the duration of the project as funded by SSHRC, a road map is being developed on how the collected sources shall be organized and preserved in view of the possible suitability of some for long-term archiving within the UofT library system, while ensuring the confidentiality and possible eventual retention or deletion of anonymized, yet personally sensitive material.
The ongoing training of UofT research assistants in the relevant languages, social and cultural contexts, methodologies, and theoretical discussions enables the project collaborators to all access the incoming data as well as process and analyze it following the academic standards required. This ranges from the transliteration and Romanization of texts to the indexing and editing of audiovisual material and the selection of and research on primary and secondary literature in the field, e.g. South Asian religion, ritual theory, Burmese and Newar literature, Children and Gender Studies etc., that may be necessary to consult and refer to when analyzing the collected sources. Understanding the textual history of the manuals for nadwin (ear-boring) by placing the collected sources in their historical relation, comparing and contextualizing oral discourses centering on the memory of the religious events experienced by girl children and women in Nepal and Burma (nadwin, ihi, bārhā, ṛṣīnī/isinī) at various points in their life and distance from the actual event, the comparative translation and literary analysis of an inspirational Burmese novel about and for girl children and young women in its Burmese, Nepali and Newar versions, to name just three central concerns of the project, – these activities will be brought together, synchronized, discussed, and condensed in meetings, academic papers, articles, and book contributions, representing the academic output of the research effort.
Further, UofT will be the main site for the independent academic projects conducted by the UofT research assistants, contributing to and profiting from the ongoing overall project work. One project, pursued by Alexander O’Neill for his master’s degree in Religion, focuses on the relation of paratexts and ritual in the practices centering on the manuscript of the Perfection of Insight in Eight-thousand Lines (Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā). The second project is conducted by Quila Toews, also towards a master’s degree in Religion, and engages with the role of religion, primarily Buddhism, in the writings, – poems, auto/biographies and memoirs, short stories, novels, – by lay women writing in Burmese from the 18th to the 20th century.