Invisible Nuns and Ancillary Female Temples: Unfolding a Different Narrative of Modern Chinese Buddhism

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5:30 pm to 7:00 pm
Senate House
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About this event

Dr. Stefania Travagnin (Groningen)


The official narrative of the history of Chinese Buddhism has often been the story of so-called eminent male monks; in the modern period, that is the story of figures like Hongyi, Tanxu, Taixu, Xuyun, Yuanying and so on. Generally, this historical account does not give enough credits to other less published – hence less eminent – monks and also neglects to mention nuns; yet, non eminent monks and Buddhist women were quite active participants in the time of change.

This lecture will propose a parallel and different narrative of modern Chinese Buddhism, and tell how nuns and small ancillary nunneries in particular have contributed to this new page in the religious history of China. Life, practice and agency of invisible nuns have intersected with initiatives of male monks who were less eminent than the famous male masters, therefore this talk will also explore those not well known male monastics, and unpack cooperation and dynamics from the early twentieth-century up to now. The lecture will conclude with some methodological reflections on how to address and frame the history of (modern) Chinese Buddhism, and advance a network-based model as a valid option; this topic will be further analysed in the seminar.


Stefania Travagnin is the founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Culture in Asia at the University of Groningen. Travagnin obtained a MA in Chinese Studies from Ca’ Foscari University (2000), and a PhD in the Study of Religions from SOAS (2009). Her research explores Buddhism and Chinese society from the late Qing up to the present time. Her publications include the edited volumes Religion and Media in China (Routledge 2016), Concepts and Methods for the Study of Chinese Religions I: State of the Field and Disciplinary Approaches (with André Laliberté; De Gruyter 2019), Concepts and Methods for the Study of Chinese Religions II: Intellectual History of Key Concepts (with Gregory Scott; De Gruyter 2020), Concepts and Methods for the Study of Chinese Religions III: Key Concepts in Practice (with Paul R. Katz; De Gruyter 2019). She is directing, with Elena Valussi, the project ‘Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan’ funded by the CCKF (2017-2020).

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Buddhist Studies

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Sponsor: The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation