Dr. Emma Tomalin

United Kingdom

I am a lecturer in Religious Studies in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom . I have a long-standing academic and personal interest in women’s relationship to their religious traditions, particularly regarding the efforts that women make for themselves in challenging the gender hierarchies that limit their religious and social freedoms. About two years ago I first became aware of the movement to revive the Bhikkhuni tradition in Theravada Buddhism and of the particular challenges that this movement faces in Thailand . Since 2004 I have been visiting Thailand to speak with women about the Bhikkhuni ordination and I plan to publish a number of academic articles that explore this issue. I have been invited to speak at several occasions in the United Kingdom on this topic.

While it is my academic interest that has enabled me to pursue research in this area, on a personal level I have been deeply impressed and inspired by the endeavors of women in Thailand to enhance their positions within the Buddhist tradition: whether this is through ‘improving’ the Maechee Institution or through the campaign to introduce Bhikkhuni ordination. The Buddhist women that I have got to know are committed to following what they consider to be the true spirit of the Buddha’s teachings as well as to exploring the implications of these teachings for improving the social and economic conditions of women’s lives. On the one hand, they seek to raise women’s status through challenging negative stereotypes that can find support within some versions of the tradition. On the other hand, many Buddhist women are actively involved in practical initiatives (e.g. education, health etc…) that care for poor women and other marginalized members of society. The social development aspects of a Buddhism that treats men and women equally and inspires various welfare activities is to be supported and encouraged.

I had already planned to attend the 2006 award ceremony for “Outstanding Women in Buddhism." Over the past couple of years the nuns I have been meeting with have spoken enthusiastically about this event and have stressed its importance as bringing together Buddhist women as well as making a public statement about the work that they are engaged in. I was surprised yet honored to be nominated myself for an award. I consider that my main contribution as a "woman in Buddhism" is rather meager compared to other women nominees, past and present. However, if my academic work (e.g. publications, lectures to students and conference presentations) can raise people’s awareness of the issues that face Buddhist women across the globe I would be both proud and happy. I feel that I have personally learned and gained much through my interaction with Buddhist women in Thailand and it is with humility that I accept this award.