Rita M. Gross, 72, passed away peacefully at her home in Eau Claire on November 11, 2015.
A tenured professor of comparative religion at UW-EC, Dr. Gross taught worldwide as an academic in Buddhism and interfaith dialogue after she retired. Her work focused on issues pertaining to theology of religious diversity and inter-religious exchange. Any time she taught, Dr. Gross brought together the values and perspective of academic research and Buddhist dharma.
Dr. Gross earned her Ph.D in 1975 from the University of Chicago in History of Religions, with the dissertation, “Exclusion and Participation: The Role of Women in Aboriginal Australian Religion.” This was the first dissertation ever on women’s studies or feminist methodology in religious studies. An active member of organizations concerned with religious diversity, Dr. Gross was named head of Women and Religion, a newly created section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in 1974. Dr. Gross was also active in the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, a professional organization affiliated with the AAR. She remained an active member of the AAR until her death. Dr. Gross was also active in numerous interfaith dialog and Buddhist organizations.
Raised in the Rhinelander area on a family dairy farm, Dr. Gross became a Buddhist in 1977. She was made a senior teacher by Mindrolling Jetsun Khandro, Rinpoche in 2005. Dr. Gross was known throughout the world for her groundbreaking work regarding issues of Buddhism and gender. She was widely praised for her seminal work, Buddhism After Patriarchy, which inspired a new generation of scholars in women's studies and in Buddhism.
Dr. Gross’s 10 published books include: Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis and Reconstruction of Buddhism (1993); Feminism and Religion (1996) and A Garland of Feminist Reflections: Forty Years of Religious Exploration (2009). Her groundbreaking recent book is Religious Diversity—What's The Problem?: Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity.
Dr. Gross published hundreds of articles, encyclopedia entries, book reviews and semi-popular writings on Buddhism, feminism and gender equality. She was working on a new book, tentatively titled How Clinging to Gender Identity Subverts Enlightenment at the time of her death.