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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Buddhist Temple Food in South Korea: Interests and Agency in the Reinvention of Tradition in the Age of Globalization

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2008, v.48 no.4, pp.147-180
https://doi.org/10.25024/kj.2008.48.4.147
(Vassar College)
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Abstract

This article examines the cultural politics of Buddhist temple food in contemporary Korea. Almost forgotten by the general public, temple food has gained growing attention from the mass media since the mid-1990s. Tracing this development, it analyzes the complex interplay between popular concerns for health and economic security, and the converging and diverging interests of the state, business, and the Buddhist establishment in mobilizing cultural differences, to further larger national and transnational politics. This article argues that the reinvention of temple food as tradition serves not only to reaffirm the national identity and ease a collective anxiety about rapid social change, but also promotes national competitiveness in the global market. It also allows us to reexamine the postcolonial view of agency tied to consumption and pleasure, rather than intentional and organized action. Popular agency in this case is not so much rooted in the pleasure of consumption as in concerns for health and economic security. These concerns are also expediently appropriated by the better organized actors—the government, business, and the Buddhist establishment.

keywords
cultural politics Buddhist temple food reinvention of tradition mobilization of cultural differences popular agency social change cultural commodities globalization global market collective identity national competitiveness

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