Major Functions

Korean Neo-Confucian Academies

Learning, veneration and interaction are the essential functions ofseowon. While serving the conventional purposes of Confucian academies such as lectures and veneration towards Confucius,seowonare distinguished from other similar educational institutes for their veneration of distinguished figures from their own era rather than distant sages such as Confucius. They also served as a political and cultural hub and highlighted the importance of gatherings of scholars and to form public opinions. As architectural compositions and types crystallized, function and architectural type became strongly associated.

Learning

Korean Neo-Confucian Academies

As educational institutes,seowon kept their major focus on fostering new generations of scholars. Eachseowonmaintained separate regulations on education and operations. Educational regulations existed in various forms depending on the conditions at the academy. AlthoughSosu-seowonfirst defined the basic rules for education, subsequent academies established their own as well. Theseowoncurricula were distinctive from today’s education in that it offered both individual and group classes. Individual lessons were provided in the form of reading Neo-Confucian textbooks, while group classes promoted discussions on different topics.

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Dosan-seowon

The reading curricula were designed to promote autonomous and independent study tailored to each student’s learning ability and age. Assessment of students took place monthly. Students who did not pass the exam would not progress to the next level until they passed in a subsequent evaluation.

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Donam-seowon

Discussion sessions were designed to facilitate the collective activities of members of the academy. These dialogs were conducted on a regular basis with teachers and students reading specific Neo-Confucian classics followed by a discussion session. On some occasions, major issues of the time such as theories or topics on Neo-Confucianism would be added. Depending on the seowon, discussion meetings were held every ten days, fifteen days, or month. After reciting quotes from the Neo-Confucian textbooks, students would hold a question and answer session. Such voluntary exchanges avoided the downsides of pure memorization. Classes featured study protocols to ensure that students and teachers behaved with utmost courtesy and enhanced eagerness and attitude toward learning. After each evaluation of a student, the results were kept in the pertinent records to ensure that the assessment could be built upon in the future. The order of curricula and evaluation followed the academy’s regulations. Each session was recorded in a report for submission to a rector.

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Byeongsan-seowon

Materials used in the classes were commentaries or footnotes for Neo-Confucian classics written by Zhu-Xi (1130-1200)—a synthesizer of Neo-Confucianism of China during the Song Dynasty—and his disciples. Neo-Confucian theories pursued by the venerated scholars or collections of literary works were also used in the class. Importantly, the classes offered open discussions on Neo-Confucian theories instead of preparations for the state civil service examination. Eachseowon had its own curricula, a product of the autonomy eachseowon enjoyed.

Any classes or sessions designed to enhance the preparation of the state civil service examination were strictly excluded. Seowon was a place fully dedicated to the exploration of Neo-Confucian values and principles and human nature with active discussions.

Panoramic view of Byeongsan-seowon

Veneration

Korean Neo-Confucian Academies

Veneration for the late enshrined scholars at the shrine has been sustained at the nominated property. Unlike other Neo-Confucian academies in Korea, including theSeonggyungwan national academy and hyanggyo local school,seowondid not conduct veneration towards Confucius. This unique characteristic of seowon distinguishes them from other domestic Confucian institutes. Through the process of establishing and passing down their own academic genealogies, Neo-Confucian scholars became naturally interested in honoring domestic scholars. Replacing the more traditional venerated figures with local scholars provides tangible evidence of the Koreanization ofseowon culture and its orginal development. Another unique feature of seowon in Korea is that they refused to include popular beliefs, nature-oriented veneration or vernacular religions, all of which wish to attract good luck.

Veneration for the late enshrined scholars at the shrine has been sustained at the nominated property. Unlike other Neo-Confucian academies in Korea, including theSeonggyungwan national academy and hyanggyo local school,seowondid not conduct veneration towards Confucius. This unique characteristic of seowon distinguishes them from other domestic Confucian institutes. Through the process of establishing and passing down their own academic genealogies, Neo-Confucian scholars became naturally interested in honoring domestic scholars. Replacing the more traditional venerated figures with local scholars provides tangible evidence of the Koreanization ofseowon culture and its orginal development. Another unique feature of seowon in Korea is that they refused to include popular beliefs, nature-oriented veneration or vernacular religions, all of which wish to attract good luck.

The nine seowon have been preserving its individual way of conducting venerating rites. Through memorial services for the renowned scholars of Neo-Confucianism, members of each academy honor the academic achievements and virtuous lives of their predecessors. Through veneration, followers pledge to sustain the principles pursued by their teachers as well as consolidate their academic genealogy. The rites also perform the role of disseminating the spirit and culture of Neo-Confucianism into every aspect of life through social education. Transmitted to today, the venerating rites exhibit authenticity of the nominated property.

Veneration procedure of Dodong-seowon

Unlike other religious rituals, veneration at seowon does not imply the characteristics of wishing luck in return. Rather, it promotes emulation of the venerated scholars and building strong solidarity between the participants. The subject of venerated scholars differs by each academy, and their contributions are widely varied.

The formalities of the veneration evolved out of the protocols established by the very first academy, Sosu-seowon. However, the nine seowon developed its own procedures and content according to the scholar being honored or the preferences of the establishers.

Fall veneration at Byeongsan-seowon

Alongside the veneration held on the first and fifteenth day of every month, the nine seowon regular seasonal rites in spring and autumn and at the beginning of the first lunar month. The New Year rites are held on the fifth or sixth day of the first lunar month in order to pay respects to the venerated scholars. Such rites are closely related to society rooted in agriculture.

Above all, the spring and autumn rites have been regarded the most important ceremonies inseowon. Rites generally start with the preparation, which takes place on the day before the actual ceremony, meaning two days are required in total. The first day was spent on preparing sacrificial animals. The following day begins with the recitation of a prayer, which lists the procedures for the coming ceremony and officiants conduct the rites accordingly. More information on the list is provided later in this document.

Procedure of veneration

Interaction

Korean Neo-Confucian Academies

The nine seowon served as an intellectual center forsarim stayed in the rural area. They became a major institute promoting social activities while forging collective opinions. During the early period of seowon establishment movement in the 16th to 17th century, the nine seowon sparked novel Neo-Confucian theories and led the formation of opinion in the surrounding community.

Asseowon-based local intellectual groups ofsarim class with a deep understanding of humanity were created and the philosophy of Neo-Confucianism developed in Korea, the nominated property reached for a higher level of learning, which considered social values and the utility of teaching.

The key to intellectual activities is to make them public and expand them into social and political arenas. Public opinion is strongly associated with political issues. Scattered around rural areas, the nominated property served to collect diverse opinions. It became an important place forsarim to gather for discussions, study sessions, or intellectual exchanges.

To find a secluded place to appreciate nature and cultivate the mind and body,sarim opted for a location near mountains and water. A pavilion is a type of architecture that offers relation while enjoying the surrounding landscape. Often situated in the entrance area of aseowon, a pavilion was used bysarim to take a break from their long hours of study and appreciate nature while refreshing their mind and bodies.

Lotus pond at Namgye-seowon

A pavilion is built in an open area with uninterrupted views and is integrated with the surrounding environment, creating conditions for contemplating the universe. What is notable of this structure is that it was not established from a viewpoint from outside to inside, but the other way around. Rather than appreciating the building itself based on its appearance, pavilions were designed for the enjoyment of nature from within.

Sarim gave nearby natural elements such as trees, stones, rivers, and mountains a name that reflected Neo-Confucian ways of thinking. This was a tactic to encourage social interaction among sarim as well as appreciation of the surrounding environment. It was hoped it would encourage members ofseowonand visitors to share their creative efforts such as composing poetries and exchanging thoughts on Neo-Confucian values.

Sarim hosted poetry sessions atseowonto exchange knowledge and express their impressions of venerated scholars, figures related to theseowon, or its visitors by writing poetries. In general, the creative works were often built on from the poems of previous generations to sustain these creative works and pass them on to the next generation.

Cultural activities also influenced the arts, such as painting. As the nominated property is located within scenic landscape,sarim who became familiar with nature intrinsically engaged in a series of creative activities such as landscape paintings or creative written works.

Stream in front of Oksan-seowon