Maya Stiller, Jan 13

Speaker: Professor Maya Stiller (Associate Professor of Korean Art and Visual Culture, The University of Kansas)

Elite Graffiti, Kinship, and Social Capital: Pilgrimages to Kŭmgangsan in Pre-1900 Korea

Discussant: Zhenru Zhou (PhD candidate, Department of Art History)

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

4:45-6:45 pm, Zoom meeting (please find the registration link below)



In this talk Professor Stiller will preview her forthcoming book, Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan: Elite Graffiti in Premodern Korea, which establishes the importance of site-specific visual and material culture as an index of social memory construction. Stiller argues for an expansion of accepted historical narratives on travel and mountain space in pre-modern East Asia. Rather than studying Asian pilgrimage routes as strictly religious or tourist, in the case of Kŭmgangsan, they were also a method of constructing social memory. Kŭmgangsan is one of the most prominent sacred mountains in Korea. Embarking on a journey to Kŭmgangsan to view and contribute to its sites of memory was an endeavor that every late Chosŏn (ca. 1598-1910 C.E.) Korean hoped to achieve in their lives. Carving Status is the first historical study in a Western language to examine this practice. Specifically, this book uses a combination of disciplinary approaches from art history, literature, and social history to analyze autographic inscriptions and to argue that Kŭmgangsan’s Buddhist monasteries, pavilions, and waterfalls became not just venerated cultural sites but also locations for claiming permanent elite social memory. The growing number of carved inscriptions over time also shows intense social competition. Thus Stiller shows that, unlike other sacred mountains in Asia, Kŭmgangsan was not just a destination for religious pilgrims and tourists, but an important site of social engineering.


Zoom Registration Link:


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Furthermore, this talk will be recorded.



Professor Maya Stiller teaches Korean art history at the University of Kansas. She was born and raised in West-Berlin, Germany, and has lived and worked across Europe, East Asia, and the United States. With a double major in Korean Studies and Art History, she spent several years living in Korea and Japan, followed by a doctorate in East Asian Art History from Freie Universität Berlin. She came to the United States in 2008 to study Korean Buddhism and received a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies and Korean History from UCLA in 2014. Her peer-reviewed journal articles have been published in the Journal of Asian Studies, the Journal of Korean Religions, and Cahiers d’Extreme-Asie. Her book Carving Status at Kŭmgangsan: Elite Graffiti in Premodern Korea is forthcoming with University of Washington Press.


Zhenru Zhou is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History, the University of Chicago. She studies religious art and architecture in China and along the Silk Routes, with a focus on the medieval Buddhist cave-temples in Northern China. Her dissertation project explores the complexity of cave architecture in the tenth-century Dunhuang.

Minori Egashira

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