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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The ambiguity of violence : ideology, state, and religion in the late Chosŏn dynasty Rausch, Franklin David


My dissertation focuses on the violence associated with two Korean Catholics from the late Chosŏn dynasty. My first subject, Alexius Hwang Sayŏng, wrote a letter during the anti-Catholic suppression of 1801 to the bishop of Beijing proposing that a Western armada invade Korea to force the Chosŏn state to tolerate Catholicism, only to be arrested and executed for treason. In 1909, my second subject, Thomas An Chunggŭn, assassinated Itō Hirobumi, the first resident-general of Korea, in hopes that his death would lead to the restoration of Korean independence. Through the study of their writings, interrogation reports, court records, public pronouncements, newspapers, missionary letters and journals, I reveal the different types of violence they sought to justify, suffered, and were reacting to. While Hwang and Neo-Confucian officials both believed that violence could be legitimately deployed in order to actualize the worldviews mandated by their respective religions, the centrality of religion had largely been eclipsed by the secular ideologies of nationalism, Social-Darwinism, and Pan-Asianism, by An’s time. This situation led to a struggle within and between An and foreign missionaries over the proper relationship between nation, state, and religion, and eventually to An’s decision to kill Itō for both religious and secular reasons, even as the Catholic Church forbade violent resistance to Japan’s colonial project. Through a comparison of the violence associated with Hwang and An, I show that religion can both encourage and discourage violence at the same time, and that its influence can be shaped, magnified, or diminished by secular worldviews, proving the difficulty in simply labeling violence as “religious” or “secular,” and the essentially ambiguous nature of violence. I therefore propose that, in contravention to scholars who argue that religion is somehow more violent than secular ideologies, it is not so much whether a type of violence can be labeled as secular or religious, but the contents of that worldview, its relationship with other worldviews within an individual, and the historical context in which it is actualized, that is more important in determining its propensity for violence.

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