Ham Sŏk-hŏn: A Korean Paragon of Daoist Authenticity

Jiyeon Kang


This article explores features of a Daoist perspective in the thought of Ham Sŏk-hŏn, who is a religious pluralist and a reformative thinker from Korea. Quite noted for his lectures on and lifelong study of Daoist classics, Ham was drawn to Daoism as a philosophy capable of being harnessed to achieve social change. This article focuses on the spirit of social praxisof Daoism as revealed in Ham’s thought. In contrast to what appears to be an obsession with materialism and secular success within contemporary Korean mainstream religions, Ham’s thought contains components of social praxis that emphasize understanding the suffering of common people. In his view, Daoism as a way of thinking can be a forceful agent in resistance to authority because Daoism supports the bottom tier of society and the spirit of wuwei (letting be), from a Daoist perspective, signifies self-governing in political parlance. In addition, Ham's pluralist perspective  argues that there is a common thread cutting across Christianity and Daoism, in that the two disparate religions have a common foundation. Ham appeared to focus on subjectivity and self-realization in people as ssial (seed) and on marginalized beings at the bottom of the social strata. Thus, Ham’s ssialthought is a product that grew out of his lifelong efforts to integrate his own new interpretation of Daoism into the context of contemporary Korea.


Daoism, Wuwei (letting be), Resistance, Ham Sŏk-hŏn, Korea, Social Praxis, Political Thought, Authenticity.

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