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Bessenger visits Bhutan for research on Tibetan Buddhist religious biographies

Professor Suzanne Bessenger in front of Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro, Bhutan

Professor Suzanne Bessenger in front of Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro, Bhutan

This summer, religious studies professor Suzanne Bessenger traveled to Bhutan for research on the role of non-monastic Buddhist practices described in the 14th Century biographies of the female saint Sönam Peldren and her husband and scribe, Rinchen Pel.

Bessenger consulted Tshering Dhendup, dean of academic affairs at the College of Language and Culture Studies in Trongsa, Bhutan. Tshering Dhendup holds a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is a scholar practitioner in the same Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism as Sönam Peldren and Rinchen Pel.

Bessenger will give a presentation at Randolph this fall, and ultimately plans to publish her findings. In addition, she is writing a paper called “Songs in the Life Stories of Sönam Peldren and Rinchen Pel.”

“I hope to publish an English translation of the Sönam Peldren biography, since substantial hagiographies of women in the Tibetan tradition are exceedingly rare, and such a translation will be valuable to both professors and students seeking to understand the construction and role of gender in Tibetan Buddhist circles,” Bessenger said. “I would also like to complete a translation of the Rinchen Pel text, so as to be able to fully explore the way these life stories work together to portray this unique couple’s marriage, sexual relationship, and family ties.”

Bessenger’s trip was funded by a Mednick Memorial Fellowship Grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges as well as a Ruth Borker Fund for Women’s Studies Grant from Randolph.

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