People living in any society must mediate between two desires: to feel bonded to others ("connected") and to feel autonomous ("free"). Various resolutions of the dilemma are on offer, but none of them can truly overcome the contradiction. Burmese Buddhists are inclined to emphasize the need for autonomy, praising detachment as a goal, at least for males. Taking religious discourse as a commentary (witting or unwitting) on social relations, I ask what links we might see between Burmese idealization of monks, as an unusual (because asexual) masculine ideal, and more general ideas about social relations, hierarchy, and gender.

Ward Keeler is Associate Professor of Anthropology  at the University of Texas at Austin.  He received his BA in Asian Studies from Cornell University, and MA and PhD in Social Thought from the University of Chicago. A specialist in Southeast Asia, Keeler has carried out extensive fieldwork in Indonesia (Java and Bali) on language, culture and performing  arts.  More recently, Keeler has been doing research in Burma, looking at gender and religion, with a particular focus on Buddhist monks and on the transgendered.  His publications include Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves (1987, Princeton University Press), an annotated translation of Mangunwijaya’s Indonesian novel, Durga Umayi (2004),  as well as numerous articles on masculinity, transgender, social relations, and music and performing arts in Burma and Indonesia.

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