Dying with the Buddha: The Twenty-four Buddhist Talismans in Chosŏn Korea

LaGretia Copp's picture
February 9, 2023
Kansas, United States
Subject Fields: 
Asian History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, Korean History / Studies, Religious Studies and Theology

Dying with the Buddha: The Twenty-four Buddhist Talismans in Chosŏn Korea

Dr. Sujung Kim, Associate Professor of Religious Studies (DePauw University)

February 9, 2023  /  7 PM CT  /  Zoom

REGISTER HERE (bit.ly/DyingwiththeBuddha)


As a state-of-the-art “wearable technology” of the time, talismans provided protection, perquisites, and prescriptions for the devotees of premodern Korean Buddhism. Among the varied array of talismans discovered from tombs, stupas, and ritual manuals, this talk focuses on a collage of the 24 Buddhist talismans to illustrate how these talismans provided vocabulary and structure to transform believers’ soteriological concerns and cosmological views in the Buddhist mortuary setting. Each talisman in the group was introduced from China and circulated independently from the early Koryŏ period (935–1392). But once combined in the Chosŏn period (1392–1910), the 24 talismans functioned as one giant talisman communicating a complex vision and comprehensive benefits. My findings ultimately suggest that multiple layers of ambiguities built around talismans, such as tensions between text and image, legibility and illegibility, as well as accessibility and inaccessibility, played a key role in enacting the efficacy and potency of talismans, and that the twenty-four talismans occupied a central place in sustaining Chosŏn Buddhist devotionalism.

About the Speaker

Sujung  Kim is Associate professor of Religious Studies at DePauw University. Sujung is specialized in Japanese and Korean Buddhism, interested in tracing the interaction between Buddhist cultures using textual and material sources in East Asian context. Her first book, Shinra Myojin and Buddhist Networks of the East Asian “Mediterranean” (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2019) focuses on a deity called Shinra Myōjin. The book explains that Shinra Myojin is not only an influential protector god of the Onjōji temple in Japan, but also part of the transnational network of people, ideas, and gods, spanning China, Korea, and Japan. Currently, Sujung is working on her second book project tentatively titled, Korean Magical Medicine: Buddhist Healing Talismans in Chosŏn Korea, which she investigates the religious, historical, and iconographic dimensions of healing talismans produced in Buddhist settings during the Chosŏn period. Although its primary focus is Korean talismans, the book also locates itself in the broader East Asian context, aiming at showing the complex web of talismanic culture in East Asia. This book project is supported by ACLS/Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation (AY 2021–2022), and she is also the recipient of the 1st KABS (Korean Association of Buddhist Studies) Mujin Writing Award (2021).

Sponsored by the KU Center for East Asian Studies and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

Contact Info: 

LaGretia Copp

Program Assistant

Center for East Asian Studies

University of Kansas

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