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Korea's Jodoshinshu: Lay Monk Villages in Colonial Korea (1910-1945)

CJRC Lecture Series

A lecture by Dr Hwansoo Kim (Duke University) focusing on Korea’s JōdōshinshÅ«: Lay Monk Villages in Colonial Korea (1910-1945).


A newspaper editorial from 1930s colonial Korea characterized the isolated villages of married Buddhist monks spread across the northern border between Korea and China as “the mystery of the century”. These lay monk villages (K. jaega-seung burak or Jp. zaikeso) existed from the seventeenth century until the 1960s. The males in these villages shaved their heads and had wives and children, and they ranged in number from thousands to tens of thousands at their peak. These lay monks and their families comprised the descendents of the Jurchens, an ethnic group from northern China who migrated to Korea and later mixed with Koreans.

In this presentation, based on previous scholarship and on untapped primary sources, he would like to take up two questions. First, how did these villagers come to take on a monastic identity (or, at minimum, the appellation)? Second, how should we understand the history of these communities within the context of Korean Buddhism? While scholars conventionally understanding the origin of this monastic identity as coincidental and unauthentic, he argues that Korean monks fleeing or relocating as a result of Choson Korea’s anti-Buddhist policies perhaps contributed to the formation of a monastic identity of the males in these villages. Finally, he will address how the Neo-Confucian Choson dynasty, imperial Japan, and North Korean authorities politicized these communities for their own purposes. These lay monk communities were an unusual manifestation of Korean Buddhism and as such force us to consider what, and who, defines Korean Buddhism and monastic.

Hwansoo Kim
, Duke University

Hwansoo Kim is an assistant professor at Duke University in the field of Korean Buddhism and culture with the departments of Religion and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in 2007, followed by a post-doctoral appointment with the Harvard Reischauer Institute. He then taught Japanese religions as an assistant professor at the University of Arizona. Kim’s most recent article is “A Buddhist Christmas: The Buddha’s Birthday Festival in Colonial Korea (1928–1945).” He is the author of Empire of the Dharma: Korean and Japanese Buddhism, 1877–1912 (Harvard Asia Press, 2012).

More details about him at

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