Professor Helps Bring Major Conference on Women and Buddhism to Valley

Wednesday, February 23, 2005 - 12:00

For immediate release
February 23, 2005

South Hadley, MA---A Mount Holyoke professor is playing a lead role in bringing a major conference on Women and Buddhism to the Pioneer Valley this April.

Susanne Mrozik, assistant professor of religion, is collaborating with a number of colleagues from the Five Colleges and the area to coordinate "Women Practicing Buddhism: American Experiences," to take place on the Smith campus from April 7-10. In addition to the Five Colleges, Sakyadhita (The International Association of Buddhist Women) is sponsoring the conference.

"One of the most exciting features of American Buddhism is its diversity. Buddhism is taking root here in many ways," Mrozik said, "and we see women playing prominent--even leadership roles--in a variety of contexts: in temples and meditation centers, in social justice movements, in the arts, and in medical and psychotherapy clinics that incorporate aspects of Buddhist practice into their treatment programs. This conference will enable participants, including MHC students, to meet some of these influential and innovative women."

In her second year at Mount Holyoke, Mrozik focuses her research on South Asian Buddhist ethics, especially Buddhist perspectives on bodies, gender, and human differences. Currently, she is writing a book on a medieval Indian compendium of Buddhist practice.

The conference will have a broad and inclusive outreach, drawing together women and men from the various Buddhist communities in the area: Asian and Asian American Buddhists, converts to Buddhism and people who have woven elements of Buddhist practice into their private and/or professional lives without necessarily identifying fully as Buddhists, according to conference materials. Among prominent speakers will be Sakyadhita president Karma Lekshe Tsomo, poet Jane Hirshfield, artist Rosalyn Driscoll, performance artist Meredith Monk, and cultural critic bell hooks.

The theme of the conference will be centered on issues of practice, bringing to bear women's particular experiences of Buddhism as it spreads to North America and takes root in new contexts. Topics considered at the conference will explore the many practice contexts of contemporary Buddhism, organized under categories such as: "Engaged Buddhism," "Buddhism and Creativity," "Buddhism and Sexuality," "Buddhism and Healing," "Race, Ethnicity, and Class," "Women Changing Buddhism: Feminist Perspectives" and "American Women Buddhist Teachers."

According to Mrozik, the Pioneer Valley, an epicenter of American Buddhism, is ideally suited to host such a conference. Harvard University's Pluralism Project lists 63 Buddhist centers in Massachusetts. At the same time, Peter Gregory, the lead conference organizer and Jill Ker Conway Professor of Religion and East Asian Studies at Smith, estimates there are over 40 Buddhist centers within a 20-mile radius of his Northampton campus. Further, according to Richard Seager's 1997 study Buddhism in America, there were, at that time, up to four million Buddhists in American, with 800,000 of them being native-born converts to the faith.

Mrozik's current classes--"Buddhism in the Pioneer Valley" and "Women and Buddhism"--will benefit from participation in the conference. On another front, Mrozik joined with a number of Five College professors to develop a proposal for a Five College Certificate in Buddhist Studies which was reviewed and approved by the Mount Holyoke faculty this February. Affiliate MHC faculty to the program include Indira Peterson, Ajay Sinha, and Tadanori Yamashita.

"The Five Colleges provide an excellent environment in which to study Buddhism, with one of the largest concentrations of scholars of Buddhist studies in the U.S.," Mrozik noted. "Collectively we enable students to study most of the major Buddhist traditions."

More information on the conference "Women Practicing Buddhism: American Experiences" is available on the Web at www.smith.edu/buddhism.

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