Minjung Buddhism and Beyond - the Revolutionary Buddhism in 1980s' South Korea

Talk by Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of East Asia Studies, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo. Open for all.


By the end of the 1970s, South Korean Buddhism was generally seen as a conservative force, supportive of status quo and keen to cooperate with the ruling military dictatorship while benefitting from many of its policies. Buddhist monks were serving as chaplains in the military, Buddhist missionaries were sent to the West with the state support and historical Buddhist temples were reconstructed at state's expense. However, in the 1980s, amidst general radicalization of urban intellectuals and workers, some Buddhist intellectuals, lay and monastic, attempted to reformulate the Buddhist doctrines and thus secure the theoretical ground for their practical participation in the anti-dictatorial struggle which was increasingly adopting more radical anti-capitalist colours. The 'new', minjung (people's) Buddhism they were attempting to articulate, was a doctrinal construct amply drawing on the earlier efforts to syncretize Buddhism and Marxist thought dating back to 1920s-30s' Japan and colonial Korea. Much of the 'suffering of sentient beings' was identified as a product of class society's inequalities, and the struggle against the causes of such suffering was defined as a realization of Bodhisattva Way. The presentation will attempt to systematically analyze the minjung Buddhism ideology and identify both strengths and weaknesses of this picturesque but relatively short-living movement.

Published Apr. 20, 2016 3:06 PM - Last modified Apr. 20, 2016 3:13 PM