New Wine in an Old Bottle: The Korean Monk Sangwŏl (1911-1974) and the Rise of the Ch’ŏnt’ae school of Buddhism
University of Kansas
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The thesis explores the diverse ways in which a new Korean Buddhist movement that calls itself the “Ch’ŏnt’ae Jong (Tiantai school)” has appropriated and deployed traditional patriarchal narratives of the Chinese Tiantai tradition to legitimize claims to succession of its modern founder, the Korean monk Sangwŏl (1922-1974). Sangwŏl began his community as early as 1945; however, at that time his community simply referred to itself as the “teaching of Sangwŏl” or “teaching of Kuinsa,” after the name of his monastery. It was not until the official change of the name to Ch’ŏnt’ae in 1967 that Korean Buddhists found a comprehensive and identifiable socio-historical space for Sangwŏl and his teaching. Key to that transition was not only his adapting the historically prominent name “Ch’ŏnt’ae,” but his retrospective creation of a lineage of Chinese and Korean patriarchs to whom he could trace his succession and the origin of his school. It is through this kind of historicist rhetorical maneuver that he achieved legitimation for himself and his teaching in the eyes of the Korean public. The aim of my thesis is to explore the multiple ways in which the figure of Sangwŏl has been presented as a “Tiantai patriarch” in the cultural construction of modern Tiantai Buddhist school in Korea. Those forms of presentation include crafting of hagiographies, lineage narratives that leap centuries and connect him to Chinese patriarchs, creation of rituals for celebration of patriarchal death anniversaries, construction of patriarch halls and images, sponsorship of modern scholarship and research, and even film and digital media. As “New Wine in an Old Bottle,” the symbolic manipulations of modern Korean Ch’ŏnt’ae order look to strategies of religious authorization that have been used by various Buddhist groups in China and East Asia from as early as 6th century China and as recently as the Buddhist sects of Meiji Japan and the Chogye order of post-colonial Korea.
- Religious Studies Dissertations and Theses 
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