University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Reading Buddhism in Stone: Steles of Eminent Monks in the Later Confucian Joseon Korea (1600-1910)

Date & Time:
October 12, 2018 | 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm
SS 541
Sung-Eun Thomas Kim received his Ph.D. from Seoul National University, in Religious Studies (2012). He is currently a visiting researcher in Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. He was a post-doctoral fellow at Leiden University and a researcher at Seoul National University. Some of his major publications include “Korean Buddhist Adoption of Shamanic Religious Ethos: Healing, Fortune Seeking, and the Afterlife” and “Perception of Monastic Slaves by Scholar-Officials and Monks in the Late Koryŏ and Early Chosŏn Periods.” He is currently working on, “The Formation of Joseon Buddhism: Buddho-Confucian Interactions and the Role of the Temple Culture of the Joseon Elite.”

Steles are impressive works of masonry that have been the ultimate medium for touting the illustrious lives of eminent monks. The engraved biographies on these stones are a record of the most prestigious monks and are thus representations of ideal Buddhist images held in the highest esteem. Secular claims are however an important aspect of the image such as highlighting the official titles bestowed by the king or the great deeds in service of the state such as in battle. 

A curious facet of the steles during the Joseon period was that the etched claims about eminent monks while advancing idealistic notions were also an amalgamation with the current Confucian images and virtues. Historical conditions were such that with the uniquely Buddhist images, notions were also adopted from the dominant ideology, Confucianism.

In this presentation, I will initially discuss the historical context in which these steles were erected and then move to highlight some their unique characteristics. I will then discuss the historical significance including its reflection of the Buddhist-Confucian relationship. Contrary to conventional understanding, these steles indicate a highly congenial and intertwined relationship between Buddhism and Confucianism during a time when Buddhism was deemed a heterodoxy.