Balkwill, Stephanie Lynn
This dissertation is a study of the contributions that women made to the early development of Chinese Buddhism during the Northern Wei Dynasty 北魏 (386–534 CE). Working with the premise that Buddhism was patronized as a necessary, secondary arm of government during the Northern Wei, the argument put forth in this dissertation is that women were uniquely situated to play central roles in the development, expansion, and policing of this particular form of state-sponsored Buddhism due to their already high status as a religious elite in Northern Wei society.
Furthermore, in acting as representatives and arbiters of this state-sponsored Buddhism, women of the Northern Wei not only significantly contributed to the spread of Buddhism throughout East Asia, but also, in so doing, they themselves gained increased social mobility and enhanced social status through their affiliation with the new, foreign, and wildly popular Buddhist tradition.
Throughout the dissertation, stories of empresses, concubines, female bureaucrats, lay devotees, and female members of the Buddhist monastic institution will be studied in order to show the unique connections between women and the Buddhist tradition under the Northern Wei and also to reveal the diversity of roles that they played in the administration of a court-sponsored, imperial Buddhist tradition.
In bringing these stories to light, this dissertation will utilize biographical material from the dynastic history of the Northern Wei as well as from a number of previously unstudied epigraphs. Additionally, other forms of inscriptional, religious, and secular materials will be widely consulted in this exploration of the lives of Buddhist women at a time when Buddhism was becoming a state religion in a powerful and ambitious dynasty – the Northern Wei.