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  • From the Mountains to the Cities: A History of Buddhist Propagation in Modern Korea by Mark A. Nathan
  • James H. Grayson (bio)
From the Mountains to the Cities: A History of Buddhist Propagation in Modern Korea by Mark A. Nathan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press, 2018. xii, 193 pages. Diagram. Notes. Bibliography. Index. US$ 62.00.

Two important research questions in the history of modern Korean Buddhism are how Buddhism revived after centuries of repression by the Confucian elite, and how it then spread throughout Korean society and culture in the late twentieth century. This recent book by Mark Nathan provides a stimulating suggestion to answer both of these questions—the traditional Buddhist concept and practice of p'ogyo [布敎, propagation of teaching].

From the Mountains to the Cities is divided into six chapters covering in turn theoretical and historical issues regarding Buddhist "missions" and the transmission of Buddhist ideas and beliefs across cultural boundaries, the release from the legal and cultural restrictions of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) at the end of the nineteenth century, the cultural and political circumstances during the period of the Japanese annexation of Korea (1910–1945), the cultural, religious and political circumstances of the post annexation period (1945–), reflections on current propagation methods, and broad issues around law, religious pluralism, and religious propagation.

Broadly speaking, Mark Nathan argues that the rediscovery/re-application of the Buddhist concepts of p'ogyo was enabled by the relaxation of restrictive legislation at the end of the nineteenth century and by the [End Page 206] stimulus and example of the rapid growth of Protestant Christianity from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. One important aspect of this re-appropriation of p'ogyo was the development of the activities of the laity in contrast to clerical activity. Lay involvement was not a new thing, but it was re-appropriated and developed partly through the example of Korean Protestantism which has a strong lay-led element. The development of p'ogyo was enabled during the Japanese colonial period by a legal framework (continued under the legal system of the Republic of Korea), which legally defined 'religion' in part by it being a free association people who (among other things) are engaged in the propagation of their beliefs and practices. These associations (religions) are therefore made up of religious professionals and their followers who all are engaged to a greater or lesser degree with propagation. In the remainder of this book, Mark Nathan fills out in detail the modern history of these basic ideas and at the end offers some views about the future landscape of religion in South Korea. Being based upon a doctoral dissertation, the text gives evidence of repetition and the summing up of points which have already been established. Nonetheless, this feature of the text does not detract from the points which the author has made or the thoroughness with which he has established them.

From the Mountains to the Cities is an important contribution to the understanding of modern and contemporary Buddhism in Korea. It is one of the few books in the area of East Asian Buddhism which attempts to understand and interpret the dynamics of Buddhism in that area of the world. Consequently, it will be of interest to students and scholars in the areas of Buddhist Studies, Comparative Religion, East Asian history, Korean Studies, and Korean history. For comparative research purposes, it also will be of interest to scholars in the areas of Christian missions and East Asian Christian history. [End Page 207]

James H. Grayson
School of East Asian Studies, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
James H. Grayson

James Grayson (, School of East Asian Studies, The University of Sheffield, 6/8 Shearwood Road, Sheffield, S10 2TD, UK



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