chapter  7
9 Pages

From texts to people: developing new skills

ByMAVIS L. FENN

And while the study of texts remains central to Buddhist studies, more and more of us traditionally trained scholars have moved to approaches from the social sciences. In my case, several factors contributed to my decision to study Buddhism in the field. First, I taught Buddhism but couldn’t direct students to what was going on in the immediate community. Second, I didn’t have a good grasp of contemporary Buddhist ritual and practice. Third, I couldn’t comfortably answer questions on women in Buddhism. And finally, when I was asked to contribute a piece to a book on the practice of Buddhism in Canada, and our university developed a doctoral program that specialized in the practice of religion in the North American context, I knew the time had come to change my research focus. This chapter is about how a textual scholar learned to work outside her academic comfort zone, developing new skills and meeting new people along the way. By the end, you will see how I learned to navigate in the tricky waters of participant observation, subject interviews, and the shoals of the insider-outsider distinction.