On September 24, 2015, Dr. Jolyon Thomas gave the third annual Day Lecture with his talk “The Buddhist Virtues of Raging Lust and Crass Materialism.” The Day Lecture was generously established by friends and family of the late Zach Day, a graduate of our Department, to honor his memory, and is now an annual event thanks to the memorial fund named in his honor.
If you missed out on the lecture, the video of the event is now here!
Veikko Anttonen is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku, Finland. He was elected Vice-President of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) for the period 2015-2020 at the conference in Erfurt last August.
He was the Professor and Chair of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku between 1997-2015.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, stated in an interview that a successor to his post can be a woman if she is good looking, otherwise she would not be of much use. The statement is overtly sexist, and as expected, has met severe criticism. But what else the interview statement implies! The Tibetan institution of finding “a reincarnated” Dalai Lama, the supreme religious leader representing continuous genealogy of Buddhas, is a religio-cultural construct. It is obvious that there are specific culture-dependent criteria which become operative as integral elements in official Tibetan Buddhist theology in the search for a “right” successor. From the point of view of the study of religion, we do not only need to understand how a politically correct choice is being made, but also to theorize the overall religio-cultural construct called reincarnation. According to my category-theoretical approach to the issue of sacrality, there are specific criteria, such as perception of an anomaly and category-boundary that become operative in classifying and attributing sacredness as property of a thing and an appropriate member in the class of “sacred things”.
Over the history, things have acquired their sacred status in diverse ways in different cultures and category systems. The Dalai Lama’s remark was not a slip of the tongue, but a comment indicative of sacred-making characteristics among Tibetan Buddhist monks. Qua scholars of religion, we need to ask what cultural, ethnic-territorial, socio-economic and person-specific characteristics are implied in setting apart an appropriate candidate for the post of Dalai Lama. Since good looks seem to matter in the case of a female candidate, it needs to be explained how culture- and theology-dependent notions of sacrality are appropriated in order to meet requirements regarding the expectations of a candidate’s political role, his/her media and public appeal, etc. I am not hereby implying any kind of sui generis theories of the sacred á la Eliade, but a methodological strategy that can be operationalized in order to explain the institution of finding a new, reincarnated religio-political leader for Buddhist monks after the passing of Dalai Lama.
The statement by the Dalai Lama is therefore revealing since it clearly expresses that there is a system of classification according to which certain traits of personality and appearance are perceived as elemental in the re-embodiment of a dead monk.
Dana Grant is a senior pursuing a Liberal Arts degree through New College. She is interested in the development of the self and the acquisition of knowledge, and how they affect people’s daily lives as well as the world as a whole. This post was originally written for Dr. Ramey’s course, REL 321: Religion and Identity in South Asia.
For quite some time now there has been increasing tension in Myanmar between groups that identify as Buddhist and Muslim. According to New York Times’ “Myanmar Policy’s Message to Muslims: Get Out” by Jane Perlez, Myanmar’s new policy, the Rakhine Action Plan, is causing thousands of people who identify as Rohingyas – a persecuted Muslim minority group – to flee the country with the ultimate goal of reaching Malaysia. The policy is forcing the Rohingyas to prove their families have lived in Malaysia for over 60 years (most do not have this type of documentation) to qualify for a second class citizenship or be placed in holding camps awaiting deportation. This policy is only one of Myanmar’s government many steps in marginalizing and segregating the Rohingyas.