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While Western Jain scholarship has focused on those texts and practices favouring male participation, the Jain community itself relies heavily on lay women's participation for religious education, the performance of key rituals, and the locus of religious knowledge. In this fieldwork-based study, Whitney Kelting attempts to reconcile these women's understanding of Jainism with the religion as presented in the existing scholarship. Jain women, she shows, both attempt to accept and rewrite the idealized roles roles received from religious texts, practices, and social expectation, according to which female religiosity is a symbol of Jain perfection. Jain women's worship shows us a Jainism focused more on devotion than on philosophy.
Although in Hinduism it is mainly used to refer to widow immolation, the term 'sati' means 'true woman' - a female hero. Whitney Kelting has learned that in Jainism satis appear as subjects of devotional hymns. This seems paradoxical, given that Jain spirituality is to disengage oneself from worldly existence and Jain devotionalism is usually directed toward those souls who have reached perfect detachment. In fact, however, there is a vast corpus of popular texts, many of them written by prominent scholar-monks between the 16th and 18th centuries, illustrating the distinctly worldly virtues of devoted Jain wives. In this fieldwork-based study, Kelting explores the ways in which Jain women use sati narratives and rituals to understand wifehood as a choice, which these women's ongoing ritual practices continually shape. She focuses on eight well-known Jain sati narratives, recorded in both formal ritual contexts and in informal retellings, and also as read aloud from printed versions. She finds that one of the principal functions of Jain sati narratives is to contribute to a discourse of wifehood, which addresses the concerns of Jain laywomen within the Jain value system and provides a fertile context in which Jain women can explore their questions of virtue and piety.
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