Hyangsoon Yi - Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Georgia
It is widely accepted that the order of Buddhist nuns had disintegrated after Prince Yŏnsan (r. 1494-1506) forcefully disrobed or enslaved female monastics as a way of punishing them for their ties with his father King Songjŏng’s concubines who were involved in his mother’s death. Yŏnsan’s ruthless measures to ban female Buddhist monasticism account for the disappearance of nuns from historical records from the 16th century. Although nuns are mentioned occasionally in official documents of late Chosŏn, they tend to be related to undesirable events, such as criminal cases. Historians generally agree that Buddhist nuns vanished into obscurity in late Chosŏn society. Dr. Yi’s research, however, strongly suggests that nuns continued their monastic life in this period despite the anti-Buddhist policy. Not only that, they also actively engaged in the lives of commoners. In Dr. Yi’s talk, he will present three sets of counter evidence to the popular image of the “invisible” nun. The first one is concerned with two legends on the nun during the Imjin War (1592-1598). This will be followed by a biography of Yesun who created a political uproar in Prince Kwanghae’s court as an adulteress first and then as a “living buddha” later. The most surprising and powerful evidence on the existence of the nuns’ order in late Chosŏn involves nectar ritual paintings that depict sramanerikas and siksamanas as well as bhiksunis and moreover, their performances in the universal Water-and-Land Rituals. Dr. Hyangsoon Yi is an associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Georgia. She received her Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Yi is the author of the award-winning book Buddhist Nuns and Korean Literature (Piguni wa Han’guk munhak, Yemunsŏwŏn, 2008), the first full-length study of Korean Buddhist nuns in their fifteen-centuries long history. She edited a special journal issue on Korean and a collection of essays on Buddhist nuns in East Asia. In addition to a number of journal articles and book chapters on female Buddhist monasticism, Dr. Yi has published extensively on Korean film and literature. She is currently working on a book manuscript on Korean Buddhist film.