Numata Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies

In recognition of the strong Buddhist Studies program in McGill's Faculty of Religious Studies, the Numata Foundation has given a 20-year grant to the Faculty of Religious Studies to bring a visiting scholar in Buddhist Studies annually to McGill. The Visiting Professor teaches one course at the 500-level, gives a public lecture and is available to students for conferences and consultation. The first Numata Professor in 1999-2000 was Dr. Mahinda Deegalle. Subsequent visitors include Dr. John Pettit, Dr. Robert Morrison, Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Dr. Kate Crosby, the Ven Yifa, Dr. Robert Kritzer, Dr. Andrew Skilton, Dr. Joel Tatelman, Dr. Miriam Levering, Dr. Hiroko Kawanami, Dr. Dorji Wangchuk, Dr. Martin Adam, Dr. Jin Park, Dr. Roger Jackson, Dr. Burkhard Scherer, Dr. André van der Braak, Dr. Rinpoche Sherpa and Dr. Gregory Samuel.

The Visiting Professor for 2018-2019 is Dr. Martin Seeger.

Dr. Martin Seeger is Associate Professor of Thai Studies at the University of Leeds. From 1997 to 2000 he was ordained as a Theravada Buddhist monk in northern Thailand. Subsequently, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg. In his recently published book “Gender and the Path to Awakening: Hidden Histories of Nuns in Modern Thai Buddhism”, which is based on long-term textual and ethnographic research, he investigates different aspects of female renunciation in modern Thai Buddhism.

Gender and the Path to Awakening | Nias Press

Offers a fresh and comprehensive understanding of female practitioners and gender relations in modern Thai Buddhism. Considers the role of orality and memory in the epistemological framework of Buddhist education particularly for female practitioners.

Whilst at McGill, Professor Seeger teaches a graduate course on “Women in Theravada Buddhism.”

Course Description

According to Pali canonical literature, bhikkhunīs (fully ordained nuns) were an integral part of early Buddhist monastic community. The Pali texts tell us that during the time of the Buddha there were many women who left lay life and became a bhikkhunī in order to pursue their practice toward ultimate liberation (nibbāna). Many of these women were highly praised by the Buddha, while receiving enormous respect from the Buddhist lay community. We can read in the Pali texts that the Buddha established the bhikkhunī order after he had founded the male monastic order. However, the governing body of the Thai monkhood has made clear that an ordination into the Theravada female order, which is believed to have vanished in the eleventh century, is considered impossible due to technical reasons. In fact, the then Supreme Patriarch promulgated a monastic regulation in the late 1920s that forbids Thai monks and novices to ordain women as novices or bhikkhunīs.

In this postgraduate seminar series we will discuss selected Pali canonical texts (in translation) that depict the Buddha’s attitude towards women and the ordination of women. Here, we will focus on the foundation story of the bhikkhunī. Why did the Buddha, according to this story, only seemingly hesitantly accept women into the Buddhist order? Why did he require women to follow a special set of rules that is not applicable for monks? Thai and Western Buddhist Studies scholars have proposed a variety of different explanations on these questions. In connection with our discussion of some of these different views and explanations, we will investigate the ongoing debates within the Theravada Buddhist traditions on the possibility of reviving the ordination lineage for bhikkhunī. In relation with these questions, we will explore how modern Western presuppositions have influenced scholarship on gender in Buddhism. We will also examine the complexities of female renunciation and gender relations, and understandings of female sainthood in modern Thai Buddhism. During our discussions on these topics I will refer to and discuss with you the findings of my long-term and ongoing research on Thai mae chis (white-robed Buddhist women who shave their hair and keep at least the eight Buddhist precepts) and the biographies and veneration of some outstanding female Buddhist practitioners.