Submitted by Amy Paris Langenberg/Eckerd College
This manifesto critiques three kinds of privilege in Buddhist Studies. The first has to do with which work is moved to the center, which removed to the margins of the field. Why are questions of women and gender still siloed in Buddhist studies and deemed “methodological” or “theoretical” in nature? How is it that scholarship about women, queer, and trans folk is still ornamental? When are we going to take anti-feminist and colonialist historiographies of religion seriously as in scholar of early Christianity Blossom Stefaniw’s words “a potentially lethal use of the past”? As someone seeking to understand sexual violence in Buddhist contexts, this phrase strikes a chord.
The second is methodological privilege. I was once scolded on an academic listserve for daring to introduce broader critical and historiographical questions into a philologically driven discussion about child marriage in ancient South Asia. The scolder’s comments implied that repeating the assertions of male-authored, elite texts is scientific and merely descriptive, while asking critical questions about the construction of gender and childhood, or attempting to surface the embodied female lives lived under the weight of the social vision argued in those texts, is intellectually irresponsible and an anachronistic projection. I heartily disagree. To paraphrase scholar of American Religion Kathryn Lofton, objectivity is often simply a delusion born of privilege.
The third type of privilege I would like to name is institutional privilege. I question the language of worse and better jobs based on institutional prestige. I question the formal and informal hierarchies we are subjected to based on the institutions where we work. In particular, I would like to put in a plug for respecting, supporting, and including colleagues at teaching-oriented institutions. While teaching duties encroach on research time, the undergraduate classroom is also crucible where scholarship is refined, not dampened or reduced. My undergraduate students train me to communicate my expertise in accessible and clear ways. I urge a more ecological view that acknowledges a diversity of contributions and promotes a better symbiosis between scholars from different institutional contexts.