Universiteit Leiden

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Veni grant for research on ‘lost pearl’ in Buddhist philosophy

University lecturer in Chinese and Comparative Philosophy Jingjing Li has been awarded a Veni grant for her research on feminist theories within the Buddhist philosophy of consciousness-only. Jingjing Li explains her plans and the importance of her research.

What is your research about?

‘In my project on “A Lost Pearl: Feminist Theories in Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness-only”, I examine how we can re-read the Buddhist canon and re-learn how to value the Buddhist feminine ideal in order to broaden the horizon of both Buddhism and feminism. The global need to embrace diversity and inclusivity calls for new frameworks for feminism that do justice to the multitude of lived experiences and promote cross-cultural prosperity. Drawing on the Buddhist philosophy of consciousness-only, which feminist scholars have so far overlooked, my project opens a dialogue between Buddhism and feminism in order to expand on the current study of Buddhist feminism and to further explore the possibility of intercultural feminism.’

Why is this research important?

‘I believe we can expand the horizon of both Buddhism and feminism if we view texts in the Buddhist tradition as lived objects that can be used to reinterpret facts and values. The proposed version of Buddhist feminism also inspires us to help further the discourse on how cultural diversity and gender equality can be reciprocal in a multicultural world. That’s why I think there are many important aspects to this research project.’

‘Above all, I revisit the concept of non-duality in Buddhism. This concept criticises the kind of dualistic thinking that happens when people espouse certain dichotomies, such as the male-female divide and the gender-sex divide. However, there has to be a middle way between these dichotomies. That’s why my goal is to rediscover previously marginalised texts and re-read them from a feminist perspective, in order to challenge the popular assumption among Buddhist philosophers that the mind is gender-neutral. Moreover, I hope to offer people more diversified discursive resources to reconceptualise gender, body, and mind. Broadening the discursive horizon of both feminism and Buddhism will allow philosophy to become the ally of social sciences and activism.’

What part of your research are you most looking forward to?

‘I position my project as an integral part of the larger initiative on diversifying and decolonising philosophy, where the aim is to further the intersectional, interdisciplinary, and intercultural discussions on gender and sexuality. In particular, I hope to rethink the commonly presumed divide between theory and practice. Are theory and practice really mutually exclusive? Can they complement one another regarding living traditions such as Buddhism and feminism? I don’t think philosophy has all the answers to these questions. That’s why I’m excited to learn more from peers and friends outside the sphere of philosophy. With this Veni grant, I plan to make academic visits to East Asia and North America and to organise open-access events at Leiden’s Institute for Philosophy. These events will focus on feminist theories in a multicultural and interdisciplinary context. I look forward to future discussions and collaborations with scholars, social activists, and members of the Buddhist and feminist communities.’

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