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Contestations over Korean Buddhist Identities

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Writer ADMIN Date18 Apr 2006 Read5,330 Comment0

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 Gregory Nicholas Evon 

This article partly derives from research contained in a Ph.D. dissertation (Evon 1999), and it represents a re-articulation of certain basic points made therein. Here, the fundamental point I seek to make is simply this: there exists an inherent conflict between the assumptions that a self-conscious Korean Buddhist identity can be founded on the singular notion of purity, or celibacy, and that this singular notion of identity, in turn, reasonably can be judged to be nationalistic or patriotic in the context of the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). Such a general notion of identity, I would argue, at once elides the contestation over identity among Korean Buddhists themselves during the colonial period and ultimately conflates religious for national identities. Further, such elision and conflation seem to be products of post-liberation discourse. Throughout this paper I will use the expression post-liberation in order to allow for a distinction suggested elsewhere: that post-colonialism ought to refer to all that follows the “beginning of colonial contact” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin 1999: 2). In that sense, however, post-colonialism is inaccurate to the extent that it allows for little distinction between the colonial period and its aftermath.
Such a distinction is, in part, what this paper seeks to address?hence my employment of post-liberation. In this connection, it should be admitted that this paper makes some general claims in regard to post-liberation Korean Buddhist discourse without always staking these claims to definite examples. Yet as with all generalizations, these claims are not necessarily applicable to the entirety of specific cases, or to be exact, the entirety of the work of all scholars. On the other hand, at least this shortcoming can be explained partly in reference to Whitehead’s dictum that much
can be learned about an era through what it assumes rather than expresses. By the very definition of assumption, we are forced to deal with frameworks of inquiry in which ideas are embedded, or assumed. These frameworks and implicit ideas limit the questions asked and the answers given, thus demanding an “unearthing of silences” which requires “a project linked to an interpretation” so we may locate “the retrospective significance of hitherto neglected events” (Trouillot 1995: 58).1 In this paper, the neglected events to be addressed are those surrounding the publication of a Korean Buddhist text in the colonial period, and the silences are those of post-liberation scholarship on these events. This paper, then, is an interpretation.

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