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Booklist: Religion and ideas

A work in progress list of books on the subject of religion, ideas, philosophies folk beliefs and the like.

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Body and Ki in GiCheon – Practices of Self-Cultivation in Contemporary Korea
Victoria Ten
Ergon, 2020

This is the first English language book that studies contemporary practices of self-cultivation in South Korea called ki suryŏn (氣修練 training related to ki – “life energy”), reinvented in modernity similarly to Indian yoga and Chinese qigong. I focus on GiCheon, one of the ki suryŏn practices. By Victoria Ten (Jeon Yeon Hwa) (Link to online store)

Monastic Education in Korea: Teaching Monks about Buddhism in the Modern Age
Uri Kaplan
University of Hawai'i Press, 2020

From the publisher’s website: What do Buddhist monks learn about Buddhism? Which part of their enormous canonical and non-canonical literature do they choose to focus on as the required curriculum in their training, and what do they elect to leave out? The cultural depository of Buddhism includes some four thousand canonical texts, hundreds of other […] (Link to online store)

King Chŏngjo, an Enlightened Despot in Early Modern Korea
Christopher Lovins
SUNY, 2019

Publisher description: The first detailed analysis in English of monarchy and governance in Korea during King Chŏngjo’s reign. Were the countries of Europe the only ones that were “early modern”? Was Asia’s early modernity cut short by colonialism? Scholars examining early modern Eurasia have not yet fully explored the relationships between absolute rule and political […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea
Juhn Y Ahn
University of Washington Press, 2018

Publisher description: Two issues central to the transition from the Koryo to the Choson dynasty in fourteenth-century Korea were social differences in ruling elites and the decline of Buddhism, which had been the state religion. In this revisionist history, Juhn Ahn challenges the long-accepted Confucian critique that Buddhism had become so powerful and corrupt that […] (Link to online store)

Catholics and Anti-Catholicism in Chosŏn Korea
Don Baker, Franklin Rausch
University of Hawai'i Press, 2017

From the publisher’s website: Korea’s first significant encounter with the West occurred in the last quarter of the eighteenth century when a Korean Catholic community emerged on the peninsula. Decades of persecution followed, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Korean Catholics. Don Baker provides an invaluable analysis of late-Chosŏn (1392–1897) thought, politics, and society […] (Link to online store)

Routledge Handbook of Modern Korean History
Ed Michael J Seth
Routledge, 2016

From the publisher’s website: Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century when Korea became entangled in the world of modern imperialism and the old social, economic and political order began to change; this handbook brings together cutting edge scholarship on major themes in Korean History. Contributions by experts in the field cover the Late Choson and Colonial […] (Link to online store)

Korea’s Great Buddhist-Confucian Debate: The Treatises of Chŏng Tojŏn (Sambong) and Hamhŏ Tŭkt’ong (Kihwa)
A Charles Muller, Gihwa, Jeong Dojeon tr A Charles Muller
University of Hawai'i Press, 2015

From the publisher’s website: This volume makes available in English the seminal treatises in Korea’s greatest interreligious debate of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. On Mind, Material Force, and Principle and An Array of Critiques of Buddhism by Confucian statesman Chŏng Tojŏn (1342–1398) and Exposition of Orthodoxy by Sŏn monk Kihwa (1376–1433) are presented here with extensive annotation. A substantial introduction […] (Link to online store)

Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in Korea: Ancient to Contemporary Times
Ed Charlotte Horlyck and Michael J. Pettid
University of Hawai'i Press, 2014

From the publisher’s website: Death and the activities and beliefs surrounding it can teach us much about the ideals and cultures of the living. While biologically death is an end to physical life, this break is not quite so apparent in its mental and spiritual aspects. Indeed, the influence of the dead over the living […] (Link to online store)

Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea
George Kallander
University of Hawai'i Press, 2013

From the publisher’s website: A popular teaching that combined elements of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, folk beliefs, and Catholicism, Tonghak (Eastern Learning) is best known for its involvement in a rebellion that touched off the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and accelerated Japanese involvement in Korea. Through a careful reading of sources—including religious works and biographies many of […] (Link to online store)

Eastern Sentiments
Yi Tae-jun tr Janet Poole
Columbia University Press, 2009

The Confucian gentleman scholars of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) often published short anecdotes exemplifying their values and aesthetic concerns. In modern Seoul one scholar in particular would excel at adapting this style to a contemporary readership: Yi T’aejun. Yi T’aejun was a prolific and influential writer of colonial Korea and an acknowledged master of the […] (Link to online store)

No River to Cross: Trusting the Enlightenment That’s Always Right Here
Daehaeng Kunsunim
Wisdom Publications, 2007

Publisher description: It is often said that enlightenment means “crossing over to the other shore,” that far-off place where we can at last be free from suffering. Likewise, it is said that Buddhist teachings are the raft that takes us there. In this sparkling collection from one of the most vital teachers of modern Korean […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Because of the Rain: A Selection of Korean Zen Poems
Ed Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill tr Christopher Merrill, Kim Won-Chung
White Pine Press, 2006

From the publisher’s website: Buddhism was introduced to Korea via China in the fifth century and similar to China and Japan a long tradition of Zen poetry developed. This collection spans 1,500 years of this tradition with a selection of the key poets and teachers starting with Great Master Wonhyo the founder of Korean Zen […] (Link to online store)

The Land of Scholars: Two Thousand Years of Korean Confucianism
Kang Jae-eun tr Ha Woo-bong, Suzanne Lee
Homa + Sekey, 2005

This book discusses the historical development of Korean Confucianism in terms of its social functions. It also examines the types of transfiguration Confucianism underwent and the role it played in each period of Korean history. The Land of Scholars spans from the Three Kingdoms period in 18 BC to the Joseon dynasty in 1910. The […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Mu-ga: The Ritual Songs of the Korean Mudangs
Im Sok-jae tr Alan C Heyman
Jain Publishing, 2003

From the publisher’s website: Introduced and Translated by Alan C. Heyman This work is mainly comprised of a translation into English of four complete large-scale Korean Shaman ritual songs transcribed from tape recordings, which, until the present time, have remained either entirely untranslated, or, if otherwise, are only quoted in the form of brief excerpts […] (Link to online store)

Meditative Poems by Korean Monks
Ed Jaihiun Kim tr Kim Jaihiun
Jain Publishing, 2002

From the publisher’s website: Introduced and Translated by Jaihiun Kim This work is a chronological anthology of Zen poetry spanning the 6th through the 20th centuries. In his introduction the translator distinguishes Zen from other forms of Buddhism, and places it in its historical context. These intuitive poems chronicle the spiritual search as well as […] (Link to online store)

Korean Shamanism: Revivals, Survivals and Change
Ed Keith Howard
RASKB, 1998

Publisher description: A thoroughly readable collection of critical research from prominent scholars in the fields of anthropology, religion, history, and the arts. Koreans, virtually alone in the world, have kept the ancient traditional religion of shamanism alive at a time of massive industrialization, modernization and Westernization. SOAS adds: Chapters developed from presentations at the symposium […] (Link to online store)

The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea
Robert E Buswell Jr
Princeton University Press, 1992

Publisher description: Robert Buswell, a Buddhist scholar who spent five years as a Zen monk in Korea, draws on personal experience in this insightful account of day-to-day Zen monastic practice. In discussing the activities of the postulants, the meditation monks, the teachers and administrators, and the support monks of the monastery of Songgwang-sa, Buswell reveals […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Kim Seong-dong tr Ahn Jung-hyo
Dongsuh Munhaksa, 1990

Mandala, as the title suggests, deals with Buddhist themes. A depiction of the ten years Kim spent as a Buddhist monk and his eventual return to the secular world, the text addresses the conflict between individual enlightenment and redemption of the humankind as a whole. Ultimately, the author comes to the paradoxical conclusion that ‘finding […] LKL Review

Love’s Silence and Other Poems
Han Yongun tr Kim Jaihiun, Ronald B Hatch
Ronsdale Press, 1985

Yong-un Han (1879-1944) is recognised as Korea’s finest Buddhist poet of the twentieth century and also one of the country’s most influential political activists in the struggle against Japanese imperialism. Yong-un Han’s Buddhist insights and political passion combine to give his poetry great spiritual power. He describes the complexities of love as beginning in the […] (Link to online store)