Megan Bryson

Jun 5, 2019

Goddess on the Frontier

Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China

Stanford University Press 2016

purchase at Megan Bryson, Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, centers gender as an analytical framework in the study of Buddhism. The benefit of this approach is vividly demonstrated in Goddess on the Frontier: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China (Stanford University Press, 2016), which uncovers the transformation of the goddess Baijie over several centuries. Bryson’s research explores the various social and historical contexts of the Dali region in Southwest China where the deity was shaped by local expressions of the Buddhist tradition. Baijie was depicted as a Buddhist goddess, the mother of Dali’s founder, a widowed martyr, and a village divinity. Bryson combines the exploration of historical sources and ethnographic encounters with contemporary Baijie worshippers to offer a nuanced and far-reaching portrait of the goddess. In our conversation we discussed Chinese and Indian formulations of Buddhism, the Buddhist history of the Dali region, how local Dali elites narrativized the goddess, stories of dragons, Han migration, the Ming and Qing gendered social norms and expectations, and how notions of “religion” and “ethnicity” shape recent interpretations of Baijie.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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