Buddhism, Violence, and Modern ‘State-Protection’: Understanding the South Korean Buddhist Military Chaplaincy

Event time: 
Tuesday, November 7, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Rosenkranz Hall (RKZ), 202 See map
115 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

Buddhism is often presumed to be a strictly pacifist religion, thus a Buddhist military chaplain would be an oxymoron. The history of Buddhism, however, is rife with examples of Buddhists fighting wars, and foundational Buddhist scriptures address “compassionate” and “skillful” forms of warring, soldiering, and leadership. Korean Buddhism is no different, and, since 1968, the South Korean Buddhist military chaplaincy has stood as another testament to this history. Buddhist leaders and chaplains in South Korea have drawn upon scriptures popular throughout the Buddhist world to justify the chaplaincy. They have also promoted the historical uniqueness of Korean Buddhists’ ability to expertly negotiate ethical restrictions on killing and violence. In this talk, I will explore the essentials of the ideology that undergirds the Buddhist military chaplaincy to show both the universality and particularity of Korean Buddhist understandings of violence. I will especially focus on the controversial 1971-1974 Mass Military Faith Promotion Movement (Chŏn’gun Sinjahwa Undong). I argue that it was during the Faith Movement that the current ideology of the chaplaincy, which promotes Buddhist chaplains and soldiers as the modern incarnation of Korean “state-protection” (hoguk) Buddhism, was concretized.
Jonathan C. Feuer earned his Ph.D. in Asian Languages and Cultures from UCLA in 2023. His dissertation was entitled “The South Korean Buddhist Military Chaplaincy: Buddhist Militarism, Violence, and Religious Freedom.” His research interests include Buddhist modernity, religion and violence, and religion and the Cold War. He is a previous recipient of a Fulbright fellowship and ACLS Ho Foundation fellowship. Jonathan received his B.A. in English from Manhattan College and his M.A. in Religion from Rutgers University.

Jonathan Feuer - Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies and Lecturer in Religious Studies