Patterns of Buddho-Confucian Interactions in Premodern Korea

The first phase of the project will be dedicated to a case study under the working title "Experienced or forced coincidentia oppositorum? Hybrid approaches in early modern Korea as exemplified by the Buddho-Confucian Kim Sisŭp (1435-1493)”. Based on a translation of relevant sections in the Chodong o wi yohae 曹洞五位要解 ("Essential explanations on the ‘Five positionsÂ’ of TÂ’sao-Tung”) and some of his Confucian writings, Sŏlcham/Kim SisŭpÂ’s (although more widely known as a Confucian literatus, Kim lived much of his life as a monk) intricate negotiations of Buddhist and Confucian thought will be studied. Focusing on SŏlchamÂ’s equation of the ‘Five ranksÂ’, a dialectical formula invented by TÂ’ang dynasty ChÂ’an Buddhists, with the Neo-Confucian scholar Chou Tun-iÂ’s 周惇頤 "TÂ’ai-chi tÂ’u” 太極圖 (”Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate”), we will analyze SŏlchamÂ’s literary strategies, which aim less at the Aufhebung of Buddhism and Confucianism in a common vanishing point (as in the case of Kihwa), but might be better described as attempts at hybridization in the sense of complete mutual diffusion of different identities and modes of perception arising from different contexts. Subsequently, Kim SisŭpÂ’s interpretations will be subjected to careful scrutiny concerning their faithfulness to traditional views on the "Five positions”, and in particular the Neo-Confucian ideas of Chu Hsi. The guiding question will be: Is the text indeed based on natural equations (which would necessitate a reinterpretation also of the intellectual milieu of his times), or is it merely a willful distortion of Chu HsiÂ’s works in an apologetic context? Finally, by adducing additional biographical and historiographic information the text will be contextualized within a detailed account of Buddhist-Confucian interactions of the 14th and 15th centuries. The results of this contextualization and the systematic insights gained during the first phase will serve as building blocks for the second phase of the project: Extending the time frame of the case study, this part will trace the trajectories of major developments in the relation between Buddhists and Confucians from its traditionally assumed introduction in the 4th c. to the 18th c., when the last attempts at reinstituting Buddhism at court occurred and an increasing impact of "Western teachings” began to significantly alter the overall situation. To provide a basis for this survey, resorting to sinological secondary literature first the major developments in the interactions between Buddhists and Confucians in Chinese states will be recapitulated. Second, the patterns of interaction on the peninsula itself will be traced in their historical development, and related to their political, social and religious settings, both on the local and the international level. In the course of this historical analysis, the different modes of interaction involved will be taken inventory of, which at the end again will be subjected to a systematic discussion.


In the diachronic perspective, the project goal is to provide a history of Buddho-Confucian interactions in premodern Korea which takes into account both the social and intellectual developments underlying differing modes of interaction and the repercussions of these modes on the emerging ideological religious factions. In the systematic perpective, the objective is to contribute to the groundwork of a typology of reoccurring modes of interaction with other religious systems, ranging from a) coexistence in a osmotic "division of labour” setting over b) polemic confrontation on the backdrop of identity formation by demarcation, c) full assimilation to a dominating ideology, d) apologetic attempts at reconciliation in a common vanishing point, up to e) syncretic reconstructions and f) genuinly hybrid interpretations.

Affiliated Persons


Prof. Dr. Jörg Plassen

Project Leader

Universitätsstr. 134
44801  Bochum
Office AKAFÖ Haus, 2/23
+49 234 32-22316

Christian Bernard Mularzyk

Cooperation Partner

Office FNO 02/80
+49 234 32-23052