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Monks and Literati: The Transformation of Buddhism in Late Chosŏn Korea

Publisher: , expected Nov 2024
Link to online store *

Scholars have long debated the relationship between Buddhist monks and Confucian literati during the late Chosŏn (1700–1850), when the Korean state adopted anti-Buddhist policies. On the one hand, it is understood that literati openly displayed hostility toward monks and engineered their persecution; on the other, they were known to have privately supported Buddhism, helping the religion persevere, even thrive, in the Confucian society. In Monks and Literati, the first book-length study in English to focus on Buddhism in late Chosŏn Korea, Seong Uk Kim argues that such opposing views overemphasize the role of literati and depict monks as passive actors. Kim applies sociologist Ann Swidler’s concept of repertoire—the social, cultural, and religious inventory of symbols, rules, and skills for constructing strategies of action—as an analytical tool to reconcile the two narratives and provide a more nuanced and comprehensive picture of the complex literati-monk relationship.

Monks and Literati examines the ways monks initiated and developed relationships with literati using their repertoire of cultural and religious resources. Monks adopted various roles, such as cultural companion, spiritual mentor, and ritual officiant, within and beyond the private realm of Confucian society and, in so doing, reaffirmed what it meant to be a monk and redefined what Buddhism could be at a time when monks’ religious identities and activities were constantly being challenged. By avoiding the binary frame describing monks as either victims or beneficiaries of literati, Monks and Literati sheds new light on not only Korean Buddhism in the late Chosŏn but also more generally East Asian Buddhism, where a similar monk-literati paradigm has often been applied.

Seong Uk Kim is associate professor of Korean religion and culture in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.

Source: publisher’s website

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