New Center Book Explores Catholicism in Chosŏn Korea


Catholics and Anti-Catholicism cover
The Center for Korean Studies and the University of Hawai‘i Press have released the fifteenth volume in their Hawai‘i Studies on Korea series: Catholics and Anti-Catholicism in Chosŏn Korea by Don Baker with Franklin Rausch.

The book is available now from the University of Hawai‘i Press directly or though book dealers. The principal author, Don Baker, is professor of Korean civilization in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. His co-author, Franklin Rausch, is an assistant professor in the Department of History and Philosophy at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina.

Korea’s first significant encounter with the West occurred with the emergence of a Korean Catholic community in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Decades of persecution followed, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Korean Catholics. In this book, Baker provides an analysis of late-Chosŏn (1392–1897) thought, politics, and society to help readers understand the response of Confucians to Catholicism and of Korean Catholics to years of violent harassment.

Baker’s analysis is informed by two important documents translated with the assistance of Franklin Rausch and annotated here for the first time: an anti-Catholic essay written in the 1780s by Confucian scholar Ahn Chŏngbok (1712–1791) and a firsthand account of the 1801 anti-Catholic persecution by one of its last victims, the religious leader Hwang Sayŏng (1775–1801).

Ahn’s essay, Conversation on Catholicism, reveals Confucian assumptions about Catholicism. It is based on the scholar’s exchanges with his son-in-law, who joined the small group of Catholics in the 1780s. Ahn argues that Catholicism is immoral because it puts more importance on the salvation of one’s soul than on what is best for one’s family or community. Conspicuously absent from his Conversation is the reason behind the conversions of his son-in-law and a few other young Confucian intellectuals.

Baker examines numerous Confucian texts of the time to argue that, in the late eighteenth century, Korean Confucians were tormented by a growing concern over human moral frailty. Some came to view Catholicism as a way to overcome moral weakness, become virtuous, and, in the process, gain eternal life. These anxieties are echoed in Hwang’s Silk Letter, in which he details for the bishop in Beijing his persecution and the decade preceding it. He explains why Koreans joined (and some abandoned) the Catholic faith and their devotion to the new religion in the face of torture and execution.

These two texts together reveal much about not only Korean beliefs and values of two centuries ago, but also how Koreans viewed their country and their king as well as China and its culture.

For more information about this and other titles in the Hawai‘i Studies on Korea series, follow this link.

Subventions for Academic Publications on Korean History

Univ. of Pennsylvania publication subventionsThe James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies at the University of Pennsylvania has announced a program of publication subventions for English-language academic monographs and edited volumes on Korean history. Proposals will be accepted from publishers and reviewed on a rolling basis. Interested authors should inform their publishers of the availability of these subventions and urge them to submit proposals. Request amount should be within an ordinary range.

Proposals should include the following information:

  1. Project title
  2. Description (up to 500 words)
  3. Detailed budget, including other sources of funding
  4. Detailed list of writers, translators, and editors, and their bios (each one page)
  5. Introduction and a content chapter from the publication
  6. Timeframe for completion
  7. Estimated print run and number of pages
  8. Marketing and publicity plan
  9. Information about the publisher
  10. Information about the external review process
  11. Other relevant information

Proposals should be accompanied by a cover letter addressed to Professor Eugene Y. Park (epa@sas.upenn.edu), Director, James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies. Proposals and requests for further information may be sent to:

Melissa DiFrancesco (meljen@sas.upenn.edu)
Associate Director, James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies
University of Pennsylvania
642 Willliams Hall
255 South 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 USA

For more information about the James Joo-Jin Program in Korean Studies at Penn, see http://www.sas.upenn.edu/koreanstudies/.

New Look at Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo Movements in CKS Book Series

Book coverHistorian Carl F. Young has undertaken a new study of the internal developments in the Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo movements between 1895 and 1910. The results are presented in the latest volume in the Center for Korean Studies Hawai’i Studies on Korea book series, Eastern Learning and the Heavenly Way: The Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo Movements and the Twilight of Korean Independence. The book, just issued, is co-published by the University of Hawai’i Press.

Tonghak, or Eastern Learning, was the first major new religion in modern Korean history. Founded in 1860, it combined aspects of a variety of Korean religious traditions. Because of its appeal to the poor and marginalized, it became best known for its role in the largest peasant rebellion in Korean history in 1894, which set the stage for a wider regional conflict, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Although the rebellion failed, it caused immense changes in Korean society and played a part in the war that ended in Japan’s victory and its eventual rise as an imperial power.

Drawing on a variety of sources in several languages such as religious histories, doctrinal works, newspapers, government reports, and foreign diplomatic reports, Young explains how Tonghak survived the turmoil following the failed 1894 rebellion to set the foundations for Ch’ŏndogyo’s important role in the Japanese colonial period. The story of Tonghak and Ch’ŏndogyo not only is an example of how new religions interact with their surrounding societies and how they consolidate and institutionalize themselves as they become more established; it also reveals the processes by which Koreans coped and engaged with the challenges of social, political, and economic change and the looming darkness that would result in the extinguishing of national independence at the hands of Japan’s expanding empire.

photo: Carl YoungCarl Young is an associate professor in the History Department at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. A graduate of the University of London, his research interests focus on religious social movements, nationalism, and imperialism in modern Asia, centering especially on Korea and Japan. He also has a strong interest in comparative world history and cross-cultural interaction between different world regions. His previous research has included a comparison of South Korean minjung (popular) theology and Latin American liberation theology in the 1970s and 1980s. For more information about the book, visit the University of Hawai’i Press Web site.