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Tickling Our Way to Enlightenment: Preliminary Reflections on a Queer Theology of Buddhist Tantra

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Abstract for Online Program Book (maximum 1200 characters including spaces)

This paper takes as its starting point Sarah Jacoby’s response to José Cabezón’s goliath work Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism, in which she poses the question: “What would a queer Buddhist theology look like, theoretically but also symbolically?” (2019, 726) Motivated by this charge, I chart an initial encounter between queer theorizing and Buddhist tantra through a close reading of three primary sources: the Guhyasamāja, Hevajra, and Kālacakra tantras. I stage this close reading as a dramatized encounter between an “indecent” queer Buddhist theologian, who advocates for queer innovations in interpretation, and a “good Buddhist,” who defends the tradition against the perceived onslaught of queer theory. This dialogue between two imagined interlocutors allows me to draw Buddhist tantra and queer theology into reciprocal conversation, resisting the interpretive impulse to prioritize one over the other. Thus, rather than straightforwardly advocating for a hermeneutic stance that “queers” Buddhist tantra, this paper queries how close attention to Buddhist tantras might reveal previously unnoticed limitations in queer theorizing.

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