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Escaping The World : Women Renouncers Among Jains

Manisha Sethi, Routledge, 2011, 268 p, ISBN : 9780415500814, $0.00 (Includes free airmail shipping)

Escaping The World : Women Renouncers Among JainsThe status of women and its implications for their access to spiritual life has been a largely neglected area in the study of Indian society and culture. This book explores problematic questions of salvation for women in Jainism, a religion that institutionally recognises the right of women to seek liberation. It seeks answer to a key question: why are nuns over-represented in Jain monastic orders? Presenting rich ethnographic data, the book challenges the commonsense understanding about the attraction of mendicant orders for women which holds that women are escaping a life of poverty, unhappy domestic situations, or widowhood for the relative security of a monastic order. The larger significance of this study lies in its examination and understanding of the sexism and gender bias that lies at the heart of dominant ideologies that serve to disempower women in both the religious and secular domains of life. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in northern India, Escaping the World investigates the numerical preponderance of female renouncers among Jains through a variety of ways. It examines the gendered imagery proffered by Jainism, analyses the institutional framework of female mendicancy, and listens closely to the voice of the nuns to offer a new understanding of why and how women are drawn towards renunciation. In so doing, the book challenges the existing sociological theories of renunciation and tests the feminist concepts of independence, power, agency and autonomy. It serves to advance our understanding of the role that the social construction of gender plays in Indian social and religious life.
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