The Korean Studies Research Network, an International Programs affinity group, hosts this virtual discussion entitled “Wŏn Buddhism and Women’s Liberation: The First Generation of Female Wŏn Buddhist Clerics,” a presentation by Dr. Sungha Yun, assistant professor of religion and Asian studies at St. Olaf College.
For Korean women, the Japanese colonial period was a transitional period in which Confucian patriarchal culture still prevailed, but some options for a social identity outside the home as “new women” were beginning to emerge. In this era, Sot’aesan, the founder of Wŏn Buddhism, put forward the teaching of “equal rights for men and women” as one of the core doctrines of Wŏn Buddhism and opened the way for many women to find their true selves through Buddhist teachings and practices. This path was that of becoming a kyomu (Wŏn Buddhist ordained clerics). By analyzing the biographies of the first 146 female kyomus, this presentation sheds light on how these devotees were transformed from women with no identities outside the home into Buddhist masters or mothers of the world, highlighting the profound significance these women held in early modern Korea.
Dr. Sungha Yun received her MA in Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014 and her PhD in Buddhist studies from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2021. She was also ordained as a Wŏn Buddhist kyomu (Wŏn Buddhist priest) in 2007. She was an awardee of an ACLS/Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation fellowship in Buddhist studies in 2020. Her dissertation entitled “Making a ‘Congregation of a Thousand Buddhas and a Million Bodhisattvas’: A Study of the Formation of Wŏn Buddhism, a New Korean Buddhist Religion,” explores the complex interplay between indigenous Korean spirituality and beliefs, East Asian Buddhist practices, modernity, and contemporary interpretations of the concept of “religion.” Dr. Yun joined St. Olaf College as assistant professor of religion and Asian studies in fall 2021.
The Korean Studies Research Network aims to bring together scholars whose research focuses on Korea-related topics and to provide mentoring to the younger generation of scholars. It serves as a platform to facilitate collaborative and interdisciplinary research among scholars and graduate students at the University of Iowa and institutions of higher education in the Midwest through seminars, speaker series, and workshops.
This event is made possible through generous support from the Korea Foundation.