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  • Korean Religions in Relation: Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity ed. by Anselm K. Min
  • Halla Kim
Korean Religions in Relation: Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, edited by Anselm K. Min, Albany: SUNY Press, 2016, 319 pp.

This interesting and pioneering collection of essays by Anselm K. Min displays a gamut of strong interest in Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity as found in Korean religious traditions. What is most distinctive about this essay collection is its relational approach. Unlike other books or anthologies in the field, this work considers Korean religions "in their mutual relations" (p. 1), relations chiefly involving "conflict and exclusion, practical accommodation, assimilation and dialogues" (p. 2). Notably, Shamanism, the traditional Korean animism, is not covered in the book (the editor himself regretfully acknowledges omitting it due to limitations of time and space). Also conspicuously lacking is any discussion of religions during the early period of Korean history, i.e., the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods. The essays are divided into four parts following a tribute to Professor Wi Jo Kang, a preface, and the editor's introduction.

Part I contains chapters by Jongmyung Kim and A. Charles Muller. In chapter 2, entitled "Interactions between Buddhism and Confucianism in Medieval Korea," Kim provides valuable insights into the medieval kingdom of Koryŏ. A conventional view among scholars is that Koryŏ was a Buddhist state and that Buddhism dominated all aspects of its life. Kim surprisingly emphasizes that Koryŏ was a Confucian state rather than an exclusively Buddhist one. Deploying many historical examples, Kim argues that Confucianism served as the state ideology of medieval Korea, while Buddhism, the dominant religion, lent support to Confucian values such as loyalty and filial piety (p. 38).

In chapter 3, "Philosophical Aspects of the Koryŏ-Chosŏn Confucian-Buddhist Confrontation: Focusing on the Works of Chŏng Tojŏn (Sambong) and Hamhŏ Tŭktong (Kihwa)," A. Charles Muller diligently analyzes Chŏng's Pulssijapbyŏn, discussing his attack on Buddhism, which he condemns as [End Page 221] dangerous to society because of its nihilistic and escapist antisocial inclinations. This is followed by a discussion of Kihwa's defense of Buddhism. Kihwa complains that the Confucian practice of killing animals is not consistent with its theory of ren/jen (humaneness), and the interdependent unity of all things. Muller also emphasizes the importance of the conceptual pair of "essence-function" in Kihwa's thought, i.e., the underlying foundation of things and its correlative manifested state. This paves the way for Kihwa's inclusivist approach, according to which Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism are all just different ways of expressing the same fundamental reality.

Part II treats the encounter between Confucianism and Catholicism. In chapter 4, "Catholic God and Confucian Morality: A Look at the Theology and Ethics of Korea's First Catholics," Don Baker carefully delineates two key factors behind the adoption of Catholicism by some eighteenth-century Korean Neo-Confucians. The first was the effect of the dramatic increase in the death rate, which he documents using demographic data. Second, there was recognition of a large gap between professed Neo-Confucian ideals and their failed application to reality, a realization primed by the Southerners' emphasis on human moral frailty. We can see that the profound transformation in worldview accompanying conversion to Catholicism did not weaken the adherence to Confucian ethics of such Koreans as Paul Yoon. In particular, their emphasis on the virtues of filial piety and loyalty clearly demonstrates their commitment to the "core ethical values of their (Confucian) culture" (p. 112).

In Chapter 5, "On the Family Resemblance of Philosophical Paradigm: Between Tasan's Thought and Matteo Ricci's Tianzhu shiyi," Yong-bae Song compares Matteo Ricci's True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu shiyi) to Tasan's Neo-Confucian thought. In particular, Song shows how Tasan, while ultimately rejecting Catholicism, is still influenced by Ricci's presentation of Western Learning, particularly the Aristotelianism of the True Meaning.As a result, for the first time in East Asia, Tasan forcibly argued that moral evil does not spring from the qi-related desires of the body, but is rather the product of the mind and its free will (kwŏnhyŏng). Ricci clearly tried...


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