The American Council of Learned Societies just announced that Or Porath, Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies, was awarded a prestigious Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowship in Buddhist Studies for his project on “Intimate Dharma: Buddhism, the Body, and Imperial Authority in Medieval Japan.”
The project explores the Buddhist discourse on the body and sexuality by examining initiation rituals conducted in medieval Tendai monasteries in Japan (12th-16th centuries). It focuses on an esoteric ritual called chigo kanjō (“the consecration of acolytes”) which initiated youthful novices into the Dharma through their participation in non-reproductive sexual acts. This project assesses the significance of a doctrinally sanctioned sexual regime within Buddhist monastic society, and illuminates the strategies used for the deification of youths through their identification with the Japanese Emperor and Buddhist divinities. The dissertation demonstrates how Tendai doctrinal concepts, such as the Three Truths Theory (santai) and the Threefold Contemplation were mobilized to sanctify and politicize heterodox practices. As such, the sectarian nature of chigo kanjō as a Tendai ritual must be taken into consideration in order to understand the role of youths and their relation to the broader category of sexual rituals in Buddhism.