Organized Panel Session

1 - The Interplay of Divination and Science from Women’s Eyes

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Park Tower 8219, Lobby Level

This research addresses the vexing relationship between divination and modern science during the transitional period from late Chosŏn to early modern Korea. In the ancient past, divination (chŏmbok) was a significant component of knowledge in East Asian tradition. Since the introduction of Neo-Confucianism as the state ideology during the Chosŏn period (1392–1910), the ruling class fought to legitimize their rule by concentrating attention on Confucian statecraft. Buddhist and shamanistic rituals were demoted and welcomed only by marginal groups, namely women and illiterate people. Divination rooted in popular religion was dismissed by male elites for being superstitious. Such views were further perpetuated in the early twentieth century as colonial scholars and Japanese authorities described divination as a native practice of Korea, particularly popular among women. The assessment of divination as a lowly, superstitious, and feminine practice is now being reinforced by the authority of modern science.

Against this backdrop, I challenge the binary opposition of divination and science by probing the Chosŏn women’s experience and knowledge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Specifically, women’s poems, prose, and epitaphs show how female intellectuals engaged with the natural world and regarded divination as an important element of intellectual knowledge. While weaving supernatural elements and practical learning, they set up a dialogue between subjective experience (divination) and objective knowledge (science). This understanding of women’s experience and knowledge also gives us new insights into the role women have played in making a human link between orthodox culture and folk customs.

Janet Yoon-sun Lee

Keimyung University, Not Applicable, Republic of Korea


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1 - The Interplay of Divination and Science from Women’s Eyes

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