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Transgression as a Secular Value

Korea in Transition?

October 25-27, 2012 | University of Michigan

Crossing over limits, infringing the law, and ignoring convention are often cited as examples of transgression. In traditional Korea where religion played a vital role in demarcating social and personal boundaries, transgressive acts (e.g. engaging in illicit sexual behavior, challenging gender norms, defying social hierarchies, defacing icons and symbols, using excessive violence, etc.) often served as a critical means for testing these boundaries of social acceptability, identity, power, and truth. But what happens to these transgressive acts after the “demystification” and “secularization” of society? Do they become obsolete? If they still test boundaries, then whose boundaries do these transgressive acts test?

Taking cue from the proliferation of successful Korean films that take transgression as their central theme, the international conference, “Transgression as a secular value: Korea in transition?” hopes to bring together scholars from both the social sciences and humanities to address these and other similar questions about the significance of transgression in modern and pre-modern Korea. The chief objective of this conference is to investigate the possibility of reading the surging interest in transgression, which has arguably attained an air of sacredness in mainstream culture, as an instance of a search for a “secular” value. The conference will therefore encourage its participants to ask, when and how did transgression become so desirable and consumer friendly (and not just possible) in Korea? And, should we associate this attitude towards transgression with “the secular”?

The conference will explore the notion of transgression as a “secular” value from a comparative perspective—both temporal and spatial—to underscore and contribute to the growing debate on the heterogeneous nature of secularity as a way of life.