What I’m Reading: Eastern Religions Edition

I am trying to learn something of the history and development of eastern religions in Korea, and am somewhat hampered by my lack of preparation in the “eastern religions” part. And in the “Korea” part.

Into the fifth of six chapters in Joseph A. Adler’s Chinese Religious Traditions (Prentice Hall: 2002), I can recommend this work to other newcomers to eastern religions. The focus is on:

  • Confucianism
  • Daoism
  • Buddhism
  • “popular religion”

After introducing each of these, the presentation is diachronic, exploring the development of each religious strand in China’s stages of history. The work brings certain running characteristics of each of the “big four” into regular comparison and contrast, creating narrative pathways that help me, anyway, to meaningfully navigate the subject matter’s complexities. This ’graph, concluding a major section on Neo-Confucianism in early modern China, is an example (brackets represent material I add for clarity):

Neo-Confucian self-cultivation bears interesting resemblances to the realization of Buddhahood in Mahayana [Buddhism] and Perfection…in Daoism…. While Confucians objected to the Mahayana [Buddhist] theory of no-self of emptiness, the original Confucian claims that individuals are inherently social beings is logically very similar to the premise of the [Mahayana Buddhist] theory of no-self, namely the radical interdependence of all things. And like the aspiring Daoist zhenren (perfected person), Neo-Confucians understood self-cultivation to involve the transformation of the whole person, including the psycho-physical nature.

This sort of synthesis is typical, and I find it a great help as a novice to the material.

Personally fascinating to me is the inclusion of “popular religion,” which is essentially a synchretic set of practices whose origins precede even Confucius and whose development continues today.

Also in my hands are Daniel L. Overmyer, Religions of China (Harper and Row, 1986), and James Huntley Grayson, Korea: A Religious History (rev. ed.; RoutledgeCurzon, 2002).

I know that this subject matter is not “up the alley” of my usual readers, but if you can recommend further reading, especially on the development of eastern religions in Korea, I would be grateful.

[What I’m Reading: Eastern Religions Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/24. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

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A Little Help? History of Eastern Religions in Korea

I would like to find some reading on the history of eastern religious traditions in Korea, especially Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. If possible, these resources should:

  • be balanced chronologically: they may include modern times, but the ancient stuff should not be rushed to get to the present;
  • be at a near-introductory level; we can presume some knowledge of the origins of these traditions outside Korea, but I’m looking for textbook-type materials, not cutting-edge scholarship;
  • distinguish between myth and history, acknowledging the scarcity of early data and also the historical value of myth, while not uncritically embracing myth as history;
  • focus on the introduction and development of these religious traditions in Korea.

Anyone? Anyone? Thanks.

[Addendum: I should clarify that the intended reader is me, not my seminary students. So, it’s okay if the readings are academically rigorous and not specifically geared toward Christian learners.]

[A Little Help? History of Eastern Religions on Korea was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/21. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]