Women in Early Indian Buddhism

Media Response Assignment #1: 

This assignment involves the Week 4 readings, podcast interview with Dr. Alice Collett, and prior class material. No other research, references or sources are required or permitted. Your response must be no shorter than 1500 words and written in clear academic prose.

For this assignment, be sure to do the Week 4 readings thoroughly first. There are three of these: the first is a textbook-type reading (secondary source) to give you some background:


  • Gethin, Rupert. 1998. The Foundations of Buddhism. New York: Oxford University Press. Chap. 4 “The Buddhist Community: Monks, Nuns and Lay Followers” (85-111)
    When referring to this in your written report, use the following format: (Gethin 1998: ##[page no. of original book]). The second and third readings are excerpts from translations of original Buddhist texts (primary sources):
  • The Founding of the Bhikkhunī Order (Vinaya Pitaka/Khandaka/Cullavagga 10.1.1). Davids, T. W. Rhys and Hermann Oldenberg, trans. 1885. Vinaya Texts translated from the Pali: Part III: The Kullavagga, IV-XII(Sacred Books of the East vol. XX). Oxford: Clarendon Press: 320-330.
    When referring to this in your written report, it will suffice to say “Cullavagga ###[page no. of original book])
  • Women’s Renunciant Poetry from the Pāli Therīgāthā(Sutta Pitaka/Khuddaka Nikaya/Therigatha)
    Ambapalī: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.13.01.than.html
    Kisagotamī: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.10.01.than.html
    Subha: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.14.01.than.html
    When referring to these, it will suffice to say simply “the story of Kisagotami”, etc.

The media for this assignment is a podcast interview with Dr. Alice Collett:
about her 2016 book Lives of Early Buddhist Nuns: Biographies as History (Oxford University Press). Once you have done the readings carefully, listen to the entire podcast. Take notes as you listen, as you would during a lecture (the text on the web page gives you the spellings of the hard-to-transcribe Pali names of the nuns discussed in the interview!). Have your readings in front of you and pause the audio when necessary to make notes on your readings when issues, specific texts or characters are being discussed in the interview which you have already encountered in the readings. For your written report, respond to the following 5 questions as thoroughly as you can, making clear and specific references to both the readings, using the reference formats indicated above, and to time markers of the audio track (e.g. “20:15-22:06”). You may format your report with headings for each question. Answer all 5 questions thoroughly, but feel free to expand on ones that you find more interesting:

  • First, how exactly do our readings link up with Dr. Collett’s research? What issues, characters, and themes did we encounter in the readings which Dr. Collett discusses?
  • What kinds of problems did Dr. Collett encounter with her textual sources? Why is it so difficult to get a clear understanding about women in early Indian Buddhism? (Don’t worry too much about trying to write down the names of the specific texts she cites).
  • What is the main trend in scholarship on women in early Buddhism which Dr. Collett challenges or seeks to modify? Looking at our primary source readings, would this earlier trend appear to be justified?
  • Does the podcast conversation help to clarify or flesh out portions of the more difficult primary readings (readings 2 and 3) for you? Did listening to the interview significantly change how you read or understood the primary sources? Howso?
  • Much of the interview of course treats material and issues we do not encounter directly in our readings. Describe briefly any one of these and discuss briefly why it seems important for our understanding of women in early Indian Buddhism.


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