Social stigmas of buddhist monastics and the lack of lay buddhist leadership in colonial Korea (1910-1945)
One of the key characteristics of Buddhism from the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century was the rise of lay leadership. East Asian Buddhism was no exception, but the ways, degree, and timing in which this modern phenomenon manifested itself varied, especially in the case of Korean Buddhism, which saw a delayed arrival of lay leadership. This article addresses the question of why lay Buddhism struggled to emerge as a strong force in colonial Korea. A key factor that has been underestimated in scholarship is that Korean monks were socially stigmatized during the Joseon period (1392-1910). The rhetoric of stigmatism was so ubi-quitous in journals and newspapers in colonial Korea that it begs a closer analysis of the correlation between the societal perception of monks and its influence on the development of lay Buddhism. This article first examines three interrelated aspects of Korean monastics: (1) the stigmatization imposed on monastics during the Neo-Confucian Joseon dynasty, (2) the persistence of these stigmas in the minds of Koreans, and (3) their internalization among Korean monastics themselves. The article then draws out the impact of these three aspects on the late and limited emergence of lay leadership. © Korean National Commission for UNESCO, 2014.
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