“An Age of Chaos”: Christianity, Rituals, and the Problem of Religious Difference in Colonial Korea

Tue March 5th 2024, 4:30 - 6:00pm
Event Sponsor
Center for East Asian Studies
Lathrop Library
518 Memorial Way, Stanford, CA 94305
Hajin Jun headshot

Rituals have long oriented Korean life. During the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910), shared Confucian ritual norms helped define Koreans’ cultural values, communal obligations, and very sense of Korean-ness. Rites remained as important as ever in the ensuing period of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). This talk examines how the early twentieth century witnessed the fragmentation and reinvention of Korean ritual traditions unprecedented in scale. At the center of this “age of chaos,” as many Koreans called it, were fast-growing Protestant communities. As iconoclastic Christian converts rejected Confucian rites in favor of their own, Korean society roiled with frenzied public controversies over ritual and religious difference. Were rituals primarily a matter of personal belief—and thus open to endless sectarian division—or, should rituals be standardized anew to remake and unify Koreans amidst the backdrop of colonial empire? This talk will show that ongoing and competing efforts to re-imagine collective ritual norms, spearheaded by groups as disparate as Confucian literati, nationalist intellectuals, and Japanese colonial authorities, illuminate the urgent political problem posed by modern religion in colonial Korea.

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About the speaker:

Hajin Jun is the James B. Palais Assistant Professor of Korean History in the Department of History and the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Jun’s research and teaching focus on the history of modern Korea, the Japanese empire, and global Christianity. Her current book project explores the politics of ritual reform as a lens to critically examine religious identity, social change, and colonial power in Korea under Japanese rule. Prior to joining the University of Washington, she received her PhD in history from Stanford University and a BA in history and political science from the University of Michigan.