Sarah Fink received the Tianzhu Fellowship in East Asian Buddhism to complete her M.A. in Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia in 2020. Her graduate research focused on attitudes toward gender and gender equality within monastic communities in Chengdu, China. With funding from the Mitacs Globalink Research Award, she traveled to Chengdu in the summer of 2019 to conduct ethnographic research with these nuns for her Master Thesis, which was completed in August 2020. Sarah received her B.A. in Religious Studies at Davidson College in 2018.
Her undergraduate research was on changing religious climates and the increasing presence of Tibetan Buddhism in Mainland China and the United States. This year-long thesis project began while studying in Nepal in 2017 and was later awarded the Maloney Essay Prize from Davidson College. She is more broadly interested in the impact that politics, economics, and social issues have on religious change in China.
Sarah Fink’s Master Thesis, titled “The Feminist Buddha: Buddhist Nuns in Contemporary Chengdu and Their Nuanced Approach to Progress, Agency, and Leadership,” explores the relationship between gender and Buddhism as it applies to conceptions of feminist progress, agency, and leadership in contemporary Chengdu. These ideas are investigated using analysis of ethnographic field research conducted at three Chengdu nunneries, Aidaotang 愛道堂, Tiexiangsi 鐵像寺, and Jinsha’an 金沙庵, from May to August 2019. During these months, surveys were distributed inquiring into various aspects of the female religious experience. By combining survey data with the broader context of religion in Chengdu, this research reflects on the experiences of women in a Buddhist monastic institution and the lasting impact of “charismatic” female leadership by the nun, Longlian 隆蓮 (1909–2006).
Furthermore, this research set out to understand the perspective of ordinary Buddhist nuns in small nunneries that so often get overlooked and to introduce their voices to the newly growing field of women in Buddhism. Through analysis of their views expressed in regard to the eight gurudhammas, education, and ordination procedures, this thesis demonstrates how these contemporary Chinese Buddhist women perceive of their relationship to Buddhism through a simultaneous combination of feminist notions and adherence to strict monastic discipline. By utilizing the lesser heard voices of these Buddhist nuns, this thesis highlights variations in the religious experiences of Buddhist women and presents a nuanced approach to feminist values in a monastic environment along the lines of progress, agency, and leadership.