Cases from Korea
Edited By Marion Eggert and Florian Pölking
Deberniere J. Torrey - Catholic Didactic Poems in Korea’s Transition to Modernity
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Deberniere J. Torrey
Catholic Didactic Poems in Korea’s Transition to Modernity
Abstract A reading of Catholic kasa poetry from the late Chosŏn period troubles the claim that Catholicism was one indicator of the transition to modernity. Although Catholic kasa promoted individual agency, their didactic role allied more closely with traditional genres that emphasised moral imperative over the subjective experience of the individual.
Catholicism took root in Korea during what Cho Tong-il and others refer to as a period of “transition” into modernity in late Chosŏn 朝鮮.1 The early Catholic movement in Korea, facilitated by the import of Western Catholic books from China, is often cited as one of the many manifestations of change and innovation during this transitional period.2
Catholicism presented a paradigm that was new to the Neo-Confucian-dominated intellectual and social landscape of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Korea. Its doctrine taught that each person was individually accountable to God, meaning that the formerly absolute authority of parent, elder, and king was now relativised. Since this new authority was an unseen, transcendent being, allegiance was a matter of faith—the choice to believe. Although conversion to Catholicism usually ran along clan lines, and no doubt was a matter of clan loyalty for many converts, a person was still free to renounce Catholicism. Thus, identity was based on the individual’s intellectual, religious, or social choice, not on the circumstances of birth, as it was under the traditional...
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