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Mark A. Nathan

From the Mountains to the Cities

A History of Buddhist Propagation in Korea

University of Hawaii Press 2018

New Books in Buddhist StudiesNew Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network July 28, 2020 Trevor McManis

From the Mountains to the Cities A History of Buddhist Propagation in Korea (University of Hawaii Press, 2018), written by Mark A. Nathan, is...

From the Mountains to the Cities A History of Buddhist Propagation in Korea (University of Hawaii Press, 2018), written by Mark A. Nathan, is a history of P’ogyo (Buddhist Propagation) on the Korean peninsula from the late 19th century to the beginning of the 21st that switches its focus to South Korea beginning with the Post-Korean War period.

Nathan’s history is woven with the themes of geography, law, and media, which serve to elucidate how Buddhism in Korea transformed from a religion that was geographically-isolated by law during the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910), as well as perceived by Korean Buddhist reformers, such as Han Yong’un (1879-1944) as disconnected from the common people into a religion heavily organized in accordance with spreading it’s doctrines and practices to the masses in order to compete with various Christian and Buddhist traditions across the decades. Law is the most emphasized theme in this history. Nathan explains that the introduction of religion as a legal category during the late Chosŏn Dynasty, with propagation as one of its defining components was perpetuated by other laws across time, such as the Temple Ordinance (1911) of the Japanese Colonial period (1910-1945). He posits that these laws indicate why and how Korean Buddhist communities and institutions became what they are today. Spanning just over a century, his work includes a variety of other fascinating details, like the development and history of several media formats used to propagate Buddhism, the influence of presidents on Buddhist propagation, the development of international Seon centers, historical in-fighting among monastics over the issue of celibacy, and descriptions of the efforts made by outstanding Buddhist propagators, such as the well-known monk, Pomnyun (1953-present) and members of the Minjung Buddhist Movement (1980’s).

Mark A. Nathan is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and director of the Asian Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences at The State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition to From the Mountains to the Cities, he also co-edited the volume, Buddhism and Law: An Introduction from University of Cambridge Press (2014).


Trevor McManis is a recent graduate of the Geography Program at California State University, Stanislaus, and an aspiring Buddhist Studies Scholar. His research interests include Buddhist material and intellectual culture in Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.