ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Complicating Gender in Premodern Jain Literature


De Jonckheere Heleen - SOAS, History, religions, philosophies, London, United Kingdom


43 – Trans/Third Gender Communities and Religion in South Asia


 The apparent conflict in Jainism between non-violent ethics and the treatment in literature of women, and by extension intersex individuals (napuṃsaka), as troublesome or spiritually less advanced has made Jains today question how traditional categorizations of gender or religious values can guide their perspectives in accepting transgender or queer communities. The premodern philosophical discussion on gender and liberation was studied primarily by Jaini (1991) who juxtaposed the Digambara denial of mokṣa for non-males with Śvetāmbara arguments for the liberation of women. This talk will expand on this scholarship by focusing on the potential of the Jain distinction between liṅga, veda and bhāva, which can be loosely translated as sex, orientation and gender role, to understand the spiritual place of non-male and non-female gendered human beings illustrated by Jain narrative literature. I will draw on early Jain texts, including the Tattvārthasūtra and the Ṣaṭkhaṅdāgama, as well as later commentaries to analyse the complexity of gender in Jain understanding. This complexity will be correlated with narrative accounts of broadly characterized transgender personas found in the Jain Purāṇas (e.g. Pāṇḍavacarita) and Jain story collections (e.g. Kahākosu). Such literary examples of historical representation of transgender individuals will add to our comprehension of the unstraightforward relation Jain religion might have to trans communities.