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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Clerical marriage and buddhist modernity in early twentieth-century Korea Park, Jeongeun


This dissertation examines the issue of clerical marriage among Korean Buddhist clerics during the Japanese colonial period in Korea. The majority of celibate monks and scholars in South Korea accuse clerical marriage of bringing about the deterioration of “pure” Korean Buddhist tradition. This dissertation argues that clerical marriage was, in fact, one of the survival tactics of Korean Buddhist monks who were confronted with significant changes foisted upon them under Japanese colonial rule, changes that included the introduction of the modern household register system and the change in the relationship between teacher and pupil in Korean Buddhist monasteries. Clerical marriage can be seen as a barometer that exposes the complicated relationship of Buddhist ethics and colonial rule. The dissertation is divided into five major chapters that proceed in chronological order. Chapter One revisits late Chosŏn Buddhism, a period which saw the emergence of a “dharma family” that allowed monks to bequeath their private property to their dharma descendants with the purpose of its being used for memorial services. Chapter Two examines the temple bylaws and clerical marriage in the 1910s. Temple bylaws brought the issue of “clerical marriage and meat-eating” to the surface for the first time in the history of Korean Buddhism. Chapter Three discusses the revision of the temple bylaws in the 1920s that, in essence, removed the disadvantages previously experienced by monks who married and ate meat. Chapter Four centers on the hot debate over clerical marriage in 1926, and analyzes the way in which Korean Buddhists understood clerical marriage and the revision of the temple bylaws. Chapter Five traces the practice of clerical marriage through an examination of the household registers of Korean monks, and addresses the way that the modern household register system became intertwined with the spread of clerical marriage. This chapter also shows that clerical marriage was practiced by full-fledged monks in the early 1920s. A close examination of clerical marriage and its multiple facets by presenting concrete and tangible examples of Korean married monks may provide a deeper understanding of just how Buddhist ethics, modernity, and colonialism were interwoven.

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