Women, Ordination, and a Buddhist Perspective: A Violation of Rights?

Explorations in Women, Rights, and Religions - Morny Joy

Carola Roloff [+-]
Academy of World Religions, University of Hamburg
Bhikṣuṇī Jampa Tsedroen (Dr Carola Roloff), is a Senior Researcher in the area of Buddhism at the Academy of World Religions, University of Hamburg. She became a novice nun in 1981 and obtained full ordination in Taiwan in 1985. From 1981 to 1996 she studied Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and practice with Geshe Thubten Ngawang at Tibetisches Zentrum e.V., followed by Tibetology and classical Indology at the University of Hamburg, where she received her MA degree in 2003 and her doctorate in 2009. Specialising in nuns' ordination (DFG project since 2010), in 2012, she served as a Forum Humanum visiting professor at the Academy of World Religions. Since 2013 she has been an active member of the interdisciplinary and interreligious "Religion and Dialogue in Modern Societies" (ReDi) research team, an international project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany).


By taking women’s ordination – a main gender issue debated in Buddhism – as an example, I reason why discrimination against women in religion not only violates women’s human rights but also basic Buddhist principles such as non-violence. I question whether from a Buddhist perspective religion and rights are two mutually exclusive terms, and then discuss two areas of tension: a tension between religious and secular law on the one hand and a tension between religious freedom and gender equality on the other. Based on this, I analyze how the dynamics of these areas of tension and gender issues could become a driving force for interreligious dialogue and for dialogue between religions and secular societies. In many world religions, women are discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens – Buddhism does not constitute an exception. This will be demonstrated in the context of the Buddha’s teaching, on the one hand, and of contemporary societies, on the other hand. A special focus lies on the compatibility of Buddhism with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution, the so-called Basic Law, of the Federal Republic of Germany. Human rights play an important role in this postmodern world. Therefore religions are called upon to take a stand on it. Although the term “human rights” is not part of the Buddhist vocabulary, the basic idea of human rights is not alien to Buddhism (Schmidt-Leukel 2010; Tsedroen 2010; Roloff 2015).

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Roloff, Carola. Women, Ordination, and a Buddhist Perspective: A Violation of Rights?. Explorations in Women, Rights, and Religions. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Jan 2020. ISBN 9781781798393. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=38843. Date accessed: 17 Jun 2019 doi: 10.1558/equinox.38843. Jan 2020

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