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Life and death of a despoiler : the Confucian reformation of Yun Hyu Shababo, Guy Shimon


Yun Hyu was a seventeenth-century scholar-official of the Chosŏn Dynasty. Although he never took the civil service exams, he held office under three different Chosŏn Kings. Yun Hyu is mostly known for his involvement in the so-called Rites Controversy over the mourning of King Hyojong, and for his Socratian execution, by poison. Past studies of Yun Hyu suggested a variety of reasons for the controversial treatment he received. In this work I argue that we should think of Yun Hyu as a religious thinker. Reading Yun Hyu as a theologian allow us to appreciate the dramatic implications of his thought and understand the strong reaction of his peers and opponents. To do so I first present Yun Hyu’s life and work in the context of his time and society, namely the seventeenth-century Neo-Confucian factions. This is Yun Hyu’s most complete biography in English to date. It is followed by a close reading of his most influential texts. I have divided Yun Hyu’s writings into three subjects to represent the main aspects of his religious thought: Sacred texts, divinity and the afterlife. In each chapter I attempt to introduce Yun Hyu’s original thought and contributions but also demonstrate how a religious reading of his writing sheds some light on his motives. Finally, I conclude by discussing the religiousness of Neo-Confucianism, demonstrating how it is implemented in the case of Chosŏn in general and Yun Hyu specifically. In particular I demonstrate that a cognitive and evolutionary approach to religion has much to offer us in the way of understanding the motives and agenda of premodern people.

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