This paper aims to illustrate Wŏnhyo’s place in the modern discourse of Korean nationalism, as the major figure of Korean Buddhist identity. Wŏnhyo (617–686) was a Buddhist monk and one of the key thinkers, writers, and commentators of the Korean Buddhist tradition. In addition to the breadth of Wŏnhyo’s own scholarship on Buddhist scriptures available in seventh-century Silla, Korea, the volume and diversity of scholarship about Wŏnhyo in modern Korea represents the status and history of the development of Buddhist studies in Korea. Wŏnhyo’s approach to Buddhism has been used in contemporary contexts to describe various aspects of Korean life and thought. Most people—scholars and nonacademics alike—have taken for granted the received narrative of Wŏnhyo, a narrative that is now highly nationalized. Following up the argument that has recently arisen among scholars (Shim Jae-ryong and Robert Buswell), linking Ch’oe Namsŏn in the colonial period with the emergence of the syncretic ideology that has grounded contemporary Korean scholarship, I expanded the scope of investigation to include other attempts to write about Wŏnhyo and Korean Buddhism throughout Korean Buddhist history, and their subsequent elaboration in the twentieth century. I explore the spectrum of evolving perspectives on Wŏnhyo, and how modern ideas about him have continued to shift with changing sociopolitical conditions. This will help us to gauge the significance of Wŏnhyo and his scholarship in the creation of a Korean Buddhist identity.

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