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Article

Enlightenment on the Spirit-Altar: Eschatology and Restoration of Morality at the King Kwan Shrine in Fin de siècle Seoul

Department of Religious Studies, College of Humanities, Seoul National University, Seoul 08826, Korea
Religions 2020, 11(6), 273; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060273
Received: 31 March 2020 / Revised: 12 May 2020 / Accepted: 21 May 2020 / Published: 29 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religious Conflict and Coexistence: The Korean Context and Beyond)
The period from the Treaty of Kanghwa (1876) until the fall of the Korean Empire (1897–1910) is commonly characterized as a period of kaehwa—Enlightenment—in which the Chosŏn state strived to reform and modernize. This article complicates the notion of Enlightenment in the late Chosŏn context, arguging that it was a hybrid term concurrently connoting modernization and religious awakening. In particular, this article sheds light on spirit-written texts—so called ‘morality books’—employed by civil and military elites to participate in Enlightenment discourse. By the mid-nineteenth century, Guandi—the apotheosized version of the warrior Guan Yu—had emerged as one of the most popular spirit-writing deities in Qing dynasty China. This article explores the Korean faith and practice of spirit-writing centered on Thearch Kwan (Ch. Guandi) at shrines in Seoul. The King Kwan Shrines (Kwanwang myo) were the sites of production and publication of morality books during a critical period on the eve of modernization of Korea. Surprisingly, these texts were published with the sanction of King Kojong (reigned 1863–1907), the reformer who founded the new country. Kojong and his confidant servants were fully aware of the spirit-written texts and published them as the “Corpus of Enlightenment.” The corpus unintentionally emphasized the key term of modernization in their eschatology, urging enlightenment—conceived of as religio-ethical values—in order to resolve contemporary ills and bring about a new era of peace. This research will dissolve the sharp demarcation between premodern and modern in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Korea by illuminating the polyphony of Enlightenment ideas, comflicting and competing between the old and new. View Full-Text
Keywords: enlightenment; morality books; spirit-writing; Kwanwang shrines; Thearch Kwan (Kwanje/Guandi); Three Sages; Late Chosŏn; Korean religions enlightenment; morality books; spirit-writing; Kwanwang shrines; Thearch Kwan (Kwanje/Guandi); Three Sages; Late Chosŏn; Korean religions
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MDPI and ACS Style

Kim, J. Enlightenment on the Spirit-Altar: Eschatology and Restoration of Morality at the King Kwan Shrine in Fin de siècle Seoul. Religions 2020, 11, 273. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060273

AMA Style

Kim J. Enlightenment on the Spirit-Altar: Eschatology and Restoration of Morality at the King Kwan Shrine in Fin de siècle Seoul. Religions. 2020; 11(6):273. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060273

Chicago/Turabian Style

Kim, Jihyun. 2020. "Enlightenment on the Spirit-Altar: Eschatology and Restoration of Morality at the King Kwan Shrine in Fin de siècle Seoul" Religions 11, no. 6: 273. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060273

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