Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Loriliai Biernacki

Second Advisor

Holly Gayley

Third Advisor

Judith Simmer-Brown


In a pair of recent articles, Buddhist Studies professor John Makransky notes a tendency in Christian social activism, particularly that which is influenced by liberation theology, to name an “enemy,” arguing that such a move is reductive and inhibits the work of Christian social activism. He argues that the Buddhist teachings regarding the impermanence of all things, including persons, can inform Christian social activism and lessen the tendency toward reductive labeling. This paper begins with that critique, examining how the Buddhist teachings of no-self, dependent arising, and emptiness inform a conception of persons which inhibits such naming tendencies, and examines the application of these teachings within the movements of Buddhist social activists collectively known as Engaged Buddhists, who see in the Buddhist teachings of no-self, dependent arising, and emptiness an interdependence of all phenomena and, especially, an interdependence of persons and societies. From this view, movements of Engaged Buddhism approach social ills from a stance of nonviolence, nonadversariality, and nonjudgmentalism. The paper then examines three specific Buddhist thinkers—eighth-century Indian writer Śāntideva, twentieth-century Thai writer Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu, and contemporary Vietnamese writer and activist Thich Nhat Hanh—considering how these teachings shape their conceptions of the self and how this conception shapes their views on social engagement, attending particularly to how the role of harm-causing agents is understood alternately than as “enemy.” The paper concludes with areas where further research is needed, highlighting especially the emergence of similar ideas within Christian feminist and ecofeminist thought, where the further development of an alternative self-conception within Christianity might inform broader Christian-inspired social activism.