SOAS University of London

Centre of Korean Studies

Dynamics and Change in Korean Buddhist Rituals

Dr. Marek Zemanek

Date: 17 November 2017Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 17 November 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B111

Type of Event: Seminar


In my talk I will address the contemporary ritual scene of Korean Buddhism. Rituals have been a locus where the religious activities of clergy and laity meet. My research focuses especially on the broad category of rituals of death. Korean Buddhist rituals of death inherited or absorbed disparate elements that had developed both inside and outside the Buddhist tradition. Due to historical development of Korean Buddhism, all Buddhist orders today share a common tradition and perform identical rites. Therefore, we do not see diversity among the Buddhist schools or sects, but we can observe difference among actual performances.  In the first part of my talk, I will discuss some of the pre-modern and modern influences on formation of contemporary rites. Then, I will talk about the contemporary scene and address the structure and modularity of the rites, ritual change and important factors behind it.

From the data collected in the field, namely through interviews and the study of the mise en scène of various ritual instances, we can see that the Buddhist rituals of death in Korea function in the broader context of what we can perhaps call a “syncretic religious environment.” Nearly two millennia of coexistence have created a universal cosmological “metaframework” in which traditional Korean religious systems function. The fieldwork revealed a rich spectrum of ritual participants, who are not only involved in performance of the rituals but who are also involved in the processes of ritual change, criticism and bricolage.

Speaker Biography

Marek Zemánek teaches at the Charles University, Prague, in the Korean Studies Seminar of the Institute of East Asian Studies and in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. He studied Korean Studies at the Charles University, Buddhist Studies at Dongguk Univesity and Religious Studies at Seoul National University and Charles University. His research focuses on Korean Buddhism both contemporary and pre-modern and Korean religions in general, especially on religious rituals in contemporary Korea. 

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Korean Studies

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