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Embodying the Buddha: The Presence of Women in Japanese Buddhist Hair Embroideries, 1200-1700

Wargula, Carolyn (2020) Embodying the Buddha: The Presence of Women in Japanese Buddhist Hair Embroideries, 1200-1700. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the patronage, materiality, and ritual function of Buddhist embroideries in premodern Japan. It traces the shifting meanings attributed to embroideries from their use in memorial services during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to objects metonymic of devout female patrons during the Muromachi period (1333-1573). In past scholarship, Buddhist hair embroideries were evaluated as mere copies of painted masterpieces and thus remain little studied. This study, however, will emphasize materiality over iconography and practice over doctrine to show that Buddhist embroideries uniquely supported the soteriological needs and ritual practices of Japanese women. Each chapter demonstrates that embroidered Buddhist icons enabled women to subvert religious doctrine concerning the impurities of their sex, form a bond with the Buddha, and establish female presence in an otherwise male-dominated space. Chapter Two traces the cross-cultural movement and adaptation of Kannon (Sk. Avalokiteśvara, C. Guanyin) embroideries from China to Japan and considers how the ritual use of these embroideries in Japan differed from those on the continent. Chapter Three examines the development of Japanese Buddhist images embroidered with hair in the late twelfth century to show how this medium was thought to accrue worldly and soteriological merit for women. Chapter Four focuses on the ritual significance of hair embroideries attributed to Chūjōhime (753?-781?) a legendary aristocratic woman credited with attaining enlightenment after commissioning the famous Taima mandara tapestry. These chapters employ methods of social history, material culture studies, and the history of the body to examine Buddhist hair embroideries not simply for their artistic value (iconography and visuality), but also their cultic value within ritual contexts. Such theories provide a framework for understanding why women were encouraged to express religious devotion through practices that emphasized the sacrifice and denial of their bodies. This dissertation ultimately challenges the assumption that female devotees were marginalized figures in Buddhist communities and contributes an art historical approach to growing scholarship in the fields of history and religious studies on the agency of premodern Japanese women.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wargula, Carolyncjw60@pitt.educjw60
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGerhart,
Committee MemberLinduff,
Committee MemberFozi,
Committee MemberChilson,
Date: 8 June 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 March 2020
Approval Date: 8 June 2020
Submission Date: 7 April 2020
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 219
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Buddhist art; Chujohime; Gender and religion; Materiality; Patronage; Textiles
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2020 17:10
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2022 05:15


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