Overview

Korean seowon are private Neo-Confucian academies established during the mid 16th century by the elite sarim, a group of
influential literati scholars from the region who studied Confucian classics.

They contributed to the entrenchment of Neo-Confucia
nism in the Joseon Dynasty through conducting ritual ceremonies to ancient sages, pursuing academic activities, and fostering
well-rounded students. Seowon, therefore, embody the identity of scholarly and virtuous culture of the sarim and regional history
during the Joseon Dynasty.

 

They were built by sarim for the veneration of a scholar noted for his learning and virtue or loyalty and fidelity, and the teaching of Confucian students.
Each academy was dedicated to a particular scholar to be enshrined as a model, a man of exemplary loyalty and fidelity whose life and legacy served as the spiritual and educational heart of the school.
At the academy, scholars held rites to honor their teachers, studied and taught pupils from the nobility to produce new generations of upright, learned men who would take their place in the ruling elite and thus entrench Neo-Confucian values in Joseon society.

The academies are typically located in remote areas away from the hustle and bustle of the mundane world and command
outstandingly beautiful scenic views. From the Confucian
geomantic standpoint, these were the conditions regarded as ideal for a retreat for reading and moral self-cultivation.

Seowon typically face views of a low mountain and a river
meandering into the distance. Another important factor in
selecting the site for seowon was the connection to traces and
legacies of a prominent scholar. Hence the academies were built
in places where such iconic figures were born, grew up, or taught.

 

The major role of the education at Seowon was jangsu, a self-cultivation of body and mind, to foster well-rounded students as
pursued by Neo-Confucianism. To facilitate jangsu, the academy offered three areas for educational activities –relaxation, study,
and rituals – which are arranged on the axis from front to back in the order. The area of relaxation offered students to take joy in
nature to relieve the tension of study, while understanding the law of nature and controlling one's mind. They study area
encouraged students to read Confucian classics over and over until they were able to wisely harmonize knowledge and practice.
Lastly, the ritual area provided a place to regularly conduct sacrificial rites to honor legacies of deceased masters from the region.

Seowon served as an educational, cultural, and intellectual foothold of the local regions – it was a private school for an education
of whole person pursued by Neo-Confucianism; it was a stronghold for the sarim activities and base for public opinion;
it was a library and publisher where a wide range of literary texts and documents were provided.