Buddhas and Ancestors

Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea

Juhn Y. Ahn

  • Published: June 2018
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / Korea; History
  • Bibliographic information: 260 pp., 0 bandw illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
  • Contents

Two issues central to the transition from the Koryo to the Choson dynasty in fourteenth-century Korea were social differences in ruling elites and the decline of Buddhism, which had been the state religion. In this revisionist history, Juhn Ahn challenges the long-accepted Confucian critique that Buddhism had become so powerful and corrupt that the state had to suppress it. When newly rising elites (many with strong ties to the Mongols) used lavish donations to Buddhist institutions to enhance their status, older elites defended their own adherence to this time-honored system by arguing that their donations were linked to virtue. This emphasis on virtue and the consequent separation of religion from wealth facilitated the Confucianization of Korea and the relegation of Buddhism to the margins of public authority during the Choson dynasty.
Juhn Y. Ahn is assistant professor of Buddhist and Korean studies at the University of Michigan.

"Makes important contributions and will generate excitement in the broader fields of East Asian Buddhist and religious studies."
-Paul Copp, author of The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medival Chinese Buddhism

"Injects some fresh air into the debate on the transition from the Koryo to the Choson dynasty, one of the most hotly argued topics in Korean history."
-Sem Vermeersch, author of The Power of the Buddhas: The Politics of Buddhism during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392)

"This is not just a book about Buddhism, but also about the contours of social and political change in Koryo. Ahn successfully challenges many of the accepted notions about Buddhism and the rise of the Choson kingdom."
-Edward J. Shultz, professor emeritus, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

"Juhn Ahn's Buddhas and Ancestors is astonishing in its ambition and scope. Bringing together insights drawn from Korean religion, Buddhism, social and intellectual history, and economics, Ahn offers a completely original argument for the reason behind the Korean elite's abandonment of Buddhism and embrace of Confucianism during the transition from the Koryo to the Choson dynasty."
-Robert E. Buswell, Jr., Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Chair in Humanities, Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies, UCLA

"A finely nuanced treatment of the changing relationship between social elites and Buddhism throughout the Koryo period. Ahn provides us with a new understanding of how certain Neo-Confucian values found favor among the late Kory elite and how Buddhism became separated from the state during the transition from Koryo to Choson."
-John B. Duncan, author of The Origins of the Choson Dynasty