Syllabus contents:

Course Description

Grading Policy

Required Readings

Other Items


JSIS 484F: Special Topics on East Asia
Religion in Korean Society
Winter 2017


Instructor: Clark Sorensen
Office: 421 Thomson

Office Hours: Tues & Wed 1:30-2:20
e-mail: sangok@u.washington.edu

Phones: 206-543-1696

Class Meeting Times and Location:
Mon & Wed 3:30-5:20

Smith 407

Course Description

In this course we will sample of the variety of religious experience that Koreans have cultivated over the several thousand years of their history. Our approach will be broadly historical and anthropological. Korea today is religiously pluralistic: a variety of religions are practiced among the Korean people. Today the largest group of believers is Christian—mostly Protestant, but also Catholic. Historically, however, Buddhism and Confucianism were most important, and outside of Seoul still tend to be dominant, especially in southeastern Korea. While Buddhism continues to be an important religion in Korea, and Confucian values are still fundamental, Confucianism as a religious movement has declined rapidly since liberation in 1945. Widespread folk religions practices that also continue include ancestor worship, worship of house and nature gods, the use of shamans to communicate with gods and the souls of the deceased, and the use of a variety of fortune tellers, grave locators, and so forth. There are also several new religions that have followers in contemporary Korea.

Because of the complexity of religious experience in contemporary Korea, we will explore the religions of Korea in the order of their introduction to Korea: folk religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and New Religions in that order. From the historical point of view we will study the religious Great Traditions of canonical texts and leading religious figures, but we will also look at religion anthropologically as ordinary lived experience that may be an imperfect reflection of the classical great texts.

            The aims of this course are threefold:

  • To introduce you to a variety of the most recent and authoritative literature on religion in Korean society
  • To give you a sense of the historical development of religion in Korea including the rise and fall of Buddhism and Confucianism, and the religious encounter with modernity (of all the major religions)
  • To try to give you a sense of the subjectivity of religious practice in Korea, and the relationship of religious traditions to Korean national identity

Because the goal of the course is to give you a sense of Korean religious subjectivity rather than a collection of facts about religion in Korea the course will emphasize reading, discussion, and writing. Lectures will be designed to help you negotiate and understand the readings.


Grading Policy

As this course has both an undergraduate (JSIS 484F) and graduate (JSIS 584F) section, you will notice that there are some differences in the requirements for undergraduates and graduates. The lectures and discussion will be the same for both sections. However, the graduate students will have extra readings labeled “Graduate Readings” that the undergraduates will not be responsible for. Graduates should be prepared to answer questions on all the readings while undergraduates need only master the basic readings. Both graduates and undergraduates will be responsible for a take home midterm due January 30th, and a research paper due March 12th in the final week of class. The undergraduate paper should be about 10 pages, while the graduate one should be around 15 pages. Graduates will be expected to dig more deeply into primary sources than undergraduates. Both graudates and undergraduate will be espected to keep learning journal that I will check every two weeks (Jan 11th and 25th, Feb 8th and 22nd, and March 8th). Each time I will grade the journal from 1 to 3 on three dimensions: (1) thematic analysis--ability to identify the most important themes of the readings accurately, and the quality of your analysis of these themes, (2) contextualization--analysis of the 'voice' of the author (point of view, source of authority), and relationship of the author's arguments to other readings in the course or the lectures, and (3) personal synthesis--your analysis of how this reading adds to your overall understanding of religion in Korean society.

Forty percent of your grade will be based on your learning journal, and 30% each for your take-home midterm and your term papers. There will be no final exam.



Required Readings

The following books have been ordered for you and will be available at the University Bookstore. All are also available somewhat more cheaply as Kindle editions. I have asked that they also be put on reserve in the East Asia Library.

Robert Buswell, ed. (2007) Religions of Korea in Practice (Princeton University Press)

This text is a comprehensive collection of scholarly articles covering Buddhism, Confucianism, Shamanism, Christianity, and New Religions in Korea. The essays include translations from textual sources as well as descriptions of contemporary practice, so we will dip into this volume throughout the course as a source both of historical texts, and as descriptions of contemporary religion. The approach of this books is literary and theological rather than anthropological, however, so we will supplement this text with additional reading. (NB The University Bookstore has informed me that this book is temporarily out-of-stock, so I will post readings until the text is available under "Readings" on the course website).

Edward Chung (2005) Korean Confucianism: Tradition and Modernity. (Korea, Academy of Korean Studies).

This is an elementary but comprehensive textbook on Korean Confucianism dealing with it both historically and as a contemporary influence. We will use this text supplemented by some more academic articles both for the historical introduction of Confucianism to Korea, and for a consideration of its contemporary influence. (NB This book is available for free download at http://intlikorea.ac.kr/english/viewtopic.php?t=7246&sid=d23352f0d580alfflfdf7908d4504388)

Robert Buswell and Timothy Lee, eds. (2006) Christianity in Korea. (University of Hawaii Press)

Based on interviews with survivors of the North Korean famine currently living in Tokyo and Seoul, the anthropologist Fahy focuses on the details of language--how people were able to talk about the famine (or not), and how limitations on communication affected how people perceived and reacted to the famine. The book gives one insight on what thinking like a North Korean would be like.

Robert Buswell (1992) The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea. (Princeton University Press)

An ethnography of one of Korea's most important teaching temples by a leading scholar of Korean Buddhism. It gives an introduction to Buddhism as a lived religion to supplement the literary texts in Korean Religions in Practice.

Laurel Kendall (2009) Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion. (University of Hawaii Press).

A recent reconsideration of Seoul shamanism by Laurel Kendall, a leading scholar of Korean shamanism in the US. This work focuses on how shamans ave adapted to rapidly commercializing Korea, and how shamanic practice has changed as a result. Kendall's emphasis is on lived religion rather than myth and ceremony, so her point of view is somewhat different from that of Korea-based scholars.

The additional readings for undergraduates and graduate students will be available in pdf format under READINGS on this web site.


Other Items

I tend to pass out many handouts. Since management of handouts can be a big administrative hassle, students who miss the handouts on the day will also find them—along with the syllabus—on the course website http://faculty.washington.edu/sangok/KoreanReligion. You can access this site directly when you are on campus. Sometimes from off campus computers you have to go first to http://faculty.washington.edu/sangok, and then click through to NorthKorea. (Notice that the capital letters on NorthKorea are obligatory). You may have to log in with your net ID to access the course web site.




 Last Updated:

Contact the instructor at: sangok@u.washington.edu