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Sem Vermeersch – Korean Studies Professor (Interview)

Sem Vermeersch
Sem Vermeersch

A look into South Korea reveals a confusing number of influences: the society is commonly described as Confucian, the politics are clearly influenced by Christianity, yet visit South Korea and you may think Buddhism is the religion of the land – there are temples virtually everywhere. Almost a quarter of the Korean population define themselves as Buddhists.

Yet how can we explain Buddhism’s seeming lack of power and influence in shaping contemporary Korean politics and society? Why are there no strong Buddhist political parties or charismatic Buddhist leaders setting the agenda?

To find answers, we sat down with Seoul National University Professor Sem Vermeersch and took a long, hard look together at Buddhism in Korea, from its introduction from China in the 4th century to our modern times.

“In Korean history, mostly Buddhism didn’t play an active political role […] I cannot think of any examples of Buddhists pushing their own agenda into the political world  so I don’t see that happening. But the profile of Buddhism is changing.”

Professor Vermeersch studied Korean at Seoul National University and received his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Korea Institute of Harvard University and joined the faculty of Seoul National University in 2008, where he also serves as Associate Director for the International Center of Korean Studies and as editor of the Seoul Journal of Korean Studies. In addition to several academic publications, Professor Vermeersch is the author of “The Power of the Buddhas: The Politics of Buddhism During the Koryo Dynasty”, published by Harvard University Press, for which he was awarded the James B. Palais Book Prize by the Association of Asian Studies in 2010.

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The interview was conducted on December 15th in Seoul. It first appeared on Korea and the WorldPublished under a Creative Commons BY-ND license.

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Korea and the World

Korea and the World

Korea and the World is a podcast that interviews academics, professionals and intellectuals living and working in South Korea on current political, economic and societal issues.

  • Riya So

    the south koreans who’re christians are traitors 2 their own korean race, & so must be punished. here’s why:

    – the concept of the messiah was created in judaism, judaism was created by the jews, the jews believe that the messiah will come directly from heaven in person, not thru the belly & virgina of a human woman, jesus exploited judaism & declared himself 2b the messiah, but he was born out of the belly & thru the virgina of a human woman, so the jews charged him with & convicted him of blasphemy, & killed him on the cross,

    – the jews, who’re jesus’ people & whom jesus claimed he came 2 “save”, have always rejected him, & will in all likelihood always reject him,

    – jesus is a dead corpse nailed on a cross, as confirmed by the christians of all stripes,

    – the christians worship a dead corpse nailed on a cross as their god,

    – the symbol of christianism, the cross, is a symbol of death,

    – christianism is a religion of death,

    – christianism is based on the barbaric ritual of sacrificin’ humans & animals 2 the gods, thus it’s a barbaric superstition,

    – jesus was a cursed condemned man, this was contrary 2 the expectation that the founder of a religion is supposed 2b a blessed man,

    – the arrival of christianism in europe spelled the death of the greek scientific & mathematical knowledge & philosophical wisdom,

    – the christian church blocked the progress of science for 15 centuries, till the renaissance (french 4 “rebirth”) in the 16th century when the christian church was separated from the state & the greek knowledge & wisdom were resurrected & used as the foundation 4 further & continuous growth of knowledge & wisdom,

    – when that pope arrived in south korea, he had a smile that was the smile of an imperialist foreign conqueror lookin’ down on his conquered low-life korean slaves.

    so, why did some south koreans convert 2 christianism?? bcoz they consider the imperialist american occupiers in particular & the white race in general as bein’ superior 2 their own korean race (believe it or not, south korea is still bein’ occupied by american armed troops). thus they demote their own korean race 2b an inferior race, consequently they’re traitors 2 their own korean race, & hence they must be punished. that’s why.

    buddhists & other non-christians in south korea, wake up & defend your korean national & cultural identity, dignity, & pride, b4 it’s 2 late. 4 the non-religious, it’s better still 4 you 2 become buddhists & join other buddhists. all of you buddhists & other non-christians, dont let the dishonest christian missionaries destroy buddhism & your korean culture freely at will without challenge (“dishonest” bcoz they pose as charities while their ultimate goal is 2 convert the poor/needy). the most effective way 4 defense against the destruction of your korean culture by christianism is 2 attack christianism, which is easy, using the facts i cite above. stop bein’ passive!! be active!! fight back!!

    north korea, re-unify korea & restore the korean culture by eliminatin’ christianism & bringin’ buddhism back 2 its rightful place!! north vietnam could & did re-unify vietnam even though south vietnam was occupied by the imperialist american armed troops. so can you re-unify korea!!

  • joe lee

    No Wonder the Chinese to not like to hang cross in their home. If you look at Buddha, it show sign of inner happiness and peace and the cross is opposite from Buddha. It does show sadness, blood and suffering.

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