Crystal Beaudoin is one of the most prolific bloggers at CJBS News. Joining the team in 2015, she has covered numerous workshops, public lectures, conference panels at McMaster University, University of Toronto and other institutions. She recently successfully defended her Master’s thesis on female religious practices, agency, and freedom in the novel Jin ping mei at McMaster University. We had an opportunity to interview her and get to know more about her Master’s thesis, graduate experiences, and how she feels about working with CJBS News blog.
CJBS News: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you became interested in Religious Studies?
Beaudoin: I grew up in a small farming community in Southwestern Ontario, and I began my post-secondary studies by pursing a Bachelor’s degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of Western Ontario. After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I spent some time working in that field; however, I eventually realized that it is not a good fit for me.
After moving to Toronto, Ontario, I began working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree at York University. I took an “Introduction to Religious Studies” course during my first year at York, and I became fascinated by Buddhism. Of particular interest to me was the story of the monk Mulian目連 (Skt. Maudgalyāyana) rescuing his mother from hell. After completing this introductory course, I decided to pursue a degree in East Asian Studies, so that I could focus on studying religious practices in China. I went on to complete my Master’s degree with Dr. James Benn at McMaster University.
CJBS News: Can you explain what your Master’s thesis is about, and why you are interested in the topic?
Beaudoin: When I applied for graduate studies, I was determined to study the Chinese “Ghost Festival.” Nevertheless, my research interests changed dramatically during the first year of my Master’s degree. The summer before I started at McMaster, I finally had time to read the Ming-dynasty (1368–1644) novel The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin ping mei 金瓶梅). I noticed that this novel serves as a rich source of information about religious practices (female practices in particular) during the late Ming. I began to cite various passages from the novel in some of the papers I wrote for my graduate seminars, and I eventually came to the realization that my Master’s thesis should focus on this novel. The final product, which I defended in September of 2017, is titled “Female Religious Practices, Agency, and Freedom in the Novel Jin ping mei.”
My thesis explores women’s agency in the patriarchal milieu of sixteenth-century China. At that time, male family members typically performed Confucian rites related to ancestor veneration; yet there were many opportunities for women to participate in practices associated with other religious traditions, particularly Buddhism. The Ming religious scene was eclectic, and this is evident in the novel Jin ping mei. Shifting opportunities for religious practice afforded women agency and freedoms that were, in some cases, unique to this historical period. The female characters in Jin ping mei participated in pilgrimages, supported various female religious practitioners (particularly Buddhist nuns), and coordinated large funerals within their communities. I found corroborating evidence in other literary sources from late imperial China, including the eighteenth-century novel A Dream of Red Chambers (Honglou meng). In an era during which upper-class women had bound feet and (ostensibly) remained confined to their homes, religious practices afforded them some special opportunities. My study of Jin ping mei is certainly not comprehensive, and I hope that many other Western scholars will develop an interest in this informative, albeit infamous, novel.
CJBS News: What was the most memorable or impactful moment of your graduate experience?
Beaudoin: I experienced several memorable moments during my graduate studies. I presented at a graduate conference for the first time. The title of this conference was Religion and Law, and it took place at McMaster University in October of 2015. I presented on mourning practices as prescribed by the Ming legal code versus those practices I observed in the novel Jin ping mei. And I learned that no matter how dry one’s throat feels before presenting, it is not advisable to present with a candy in one’s mouth.
I attended the International Conference on Buddhist Manuscript Cultures at Princeton University in January of 2016. At this conference, I learned a lot and met many Buddhist Studies scholars. It was my first time visiting Princeton, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to explore such a beautiful campus.
During the summer of 2017, I attended the Buddhism and Business, Market and Merit: Intersections between Buddhism and Economics Past and Present conference at the University of British Columbia. I had a chance to participate in discussion groups with other junior scholars, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to engage with several established female Buddhist Studies scholars.
These are some of the many opportunities that presented themselves to me during my Master’s degree. Some of these experiences felt a bit surreal to a first-generation scholar from a small town such as myself. However, it was the daily support I received from my graduate advisor and from the women with whom I shared an office that truly helped me succeed in my graduate studies.
CJBS News: How does volunteering with CJBS News impact your graduate career?
Beaudoin: I began to volunteer with the Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies News blog a few months into my Master’s degree. My work with CJBS News has really helped me with networking, particularly within the Canadian context. I have met many of my fellow bloggers, as well as several established Buddhist Studies scholars. Writing for the blog is a great chance to meet new people, make friends, and augment one’s CV.
Volunteering for the CJBS News Blog presents me with the opportunity to write about a variety of topics within the field of Buddhist Studies. I often find myself writing outside of my comfort zone, and it is during those times that I learn the most. It is important for graduate students to learn about topics that fall outside of their area of specialization, and writing for the CJBS News Blog has certainly encouraged me to do so.
Lastly, when I began to write for the CJBS, I never imagined that they would end up being published! For junior graduate students looking to publish their work, blogging for the CJBS is an excellent resource. If you are planning to attend a conference, a talk, or some other scholarly event related to Buddhist Studies, and you are interested in writing about your experience for the CJBS, I encourage you to get in touch with the Journal Manager, Ngoc Le. She has been amazing to work with, and I hope to work with her for many years to come. Thank you to Ngoc Le and Dr. Paul Crowe for this incredible opportunity!