Buddhist lineage and colonial diplomacy in the early modern Indian Ocean

My dissertation project, Monks, Ministers, and Virtuous Kings: Buddhist Lineage Transmission in Dutch Colonial Southern Asia, examines a mid–18th–century transmission of Buddhist ordination between Siam and the island of Laṅkā. The monks, religious texts, and sacred objects which crisscrossed the Bay of Bengal from 1740–1761 were carried by agents of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). I consider how this and similar moments of Buddhist lineage transmission became sources of religious and political power for each of these stakeholders and more.

The dissertation will show that both in its own time, as well as in the hands of late–19th and early 20th–century popular Buddhist historians, knowledge about these multilocal exchanges of Buddhist ordination and the politically expedient patronage of religious lineage participated/–s in ongoing negotiations about power, representation, and religious statecraft across Southern Asia.

Gender, Buddhism, and bhikkhunī ordination

My 2016 master’s thesis at the University of Colorado Boulder, Global Networks, Local Aspirations: Gender, Lineage, and Localization in Sri Lanka’s Bhikkhunī Ordination Dispute, examined contemporary mobilizations to revive the higher-ordination for women Buddhist monastics in Sri Lanka (“nuns” known as bhikkhunīs). The research uncovered some of the emerging, gendered contexts in which these high profile international and local debates about Buddhism and gendered piety become operable, even exploited and appropriated, for nationalist and xenophobic purposes. The thesis was adapted into my first peer–reviewed journal article, published in Buddhist Studies Review in 2019.

Other projects

I have secondary research interests in the Buddhist–inflected categorization of knowledge and practice surrounding (1) what constitutes suitability for monastic ordination, and (2) various kinds of participation in moral life.

I am especially fascinated by how these contexts intersect with what we might now refer to categories of gender, (dis)ability, (in)humanity, physical sex characteristics, and sexual desire where they feature in Buddhist texts and social institutions.

Additional future research ambitions might consider women’s patronage of monastic and educational institutions in early modern Laṅkā, as well as the formation and maintenance of South and Southeast Asian religious archives.