Seong-nae Kim & Don Baker, 5
Korea offers both challenges and opportunities for scholars of religion. The opportunity it presents comes from its religious diversity. The Republic of Korea is the only country in the world in which both Buddhists and Christians each claim between 20% and 30% of the population. It also has what may be the most visible community of practicing shamans in the industrialized world. There are more Confucian shrines per capita in Korean today than in any other nation on earth. And Korea is home to a large assortment of new religious movements, ranging from the Unification Church to Daesoon Jinrihoe. In addition, close to half of the South Korean people say they have no particular religious affiliation. There is, therefore, much for a scholar of religion to study in Korea.
Special Issue: Problematizing ‘‘Korean Religions’’
What Does It Mean to Study Korean Religion(s)?
Hee-Sung Keel, 11
When we study Korean religion, we face two sets of basic questions. First, what do we mean by ‘‘religion’’? How broad should be the range of phenomena that we want to include in our study? Should we study Korean religion as a single organic unity or as a plurality of diverse traditions? Above all, the classical question whether or not religion is to be regarded as a phenomenon sui generis needs to be addressed one way or another by any scholar engaged in the study of Korean religion. Second, what do we mean by ‘‘Korean’’ in studying Korean religion(s)? How strongly should we stress its/their Korean identity? Is there a distinctive Korean character underlying all Korean religions or Korean religious culture in general, past and present? In addressing these issues, we need the wisdom to avoid two extremes of essentialism and radical nominalism. Apart from these methodological issues, we need to pay more attention to the rich and dynamic religious world of Korean society today than has been accorded to it thus far. Closer analysis of the interaction between various religious traditions and groups is another area that has been neglected in the study of Korean religion. Finally, it is always worth remembering that we study Korean religion as much for the spiritual values and insights it may have for today’s world as for its importance in deeper understanding of Korean society and culture, the primary concern of Korean studies in general.
Keywords: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, essentialism, homo religiosus, pluralism, sacred, Shamanism
The Concept of ‘‘Korean Religion’’ and Religious Studies in Korea
Chongsuh Kim, 23
“Korean Religion” is often thought to be a simple sum of various religion like Shamanism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity and “new religions” in Korea. However, it might be more accurate to say that it is what the unique Korean religious mind has manifested and transformed in the framework of particular religious traditions during a particular time. In a time of modernization, the concept of Korean religion above all has become largely reduced and purified through social differentiation. It has also become popularized and has taken on distinctively global traits beyond its Asian provincialism. “Korean Religious Studies” in its process of becoming concretized since the 20th century has regarded the aspects of Korean Religion such as basic religiosity, universality formed through comparison, and indigenous peculiarity as its core research themes. In the future, we can expect that Korean Religious Studies will actively share a horizon of comparison with studies that are based on religious experiences of East Asian countries including China and Japan. Moreover, it will participate in the restructuring of world religious studies, while at the same time pursuing a more profound identity of Korean Religion.
Keywords: Korean religion, religious studies in Korea, pluralism, modernization
Thinking about ‘‘Korean Buddhism’’: A Continental Perspective
Robert E. Buswell, Jr., 43
This article explores the organic relationship that existed between Korean Buddhism and the broader East Asian tradition throughout much of the premodern period. Even while retaining some sense of their ethnic and cultural distinctiveness, Korean Buddhists were able to exert wide-ranging influence both geographically and temporally across the East Asian region. This influence was made possible because Buddhist monks saw themselves not so much as “Korean,” “Japanese,” or “Chinese” Buddhists, but instead as joint collaborators in a religious tradition that transcended contemporary notions of nation and time. Korean Buddhists of the pre-modern age would have been more apt to think of themselves as members of an ordination line and monastic lineage, a school of thought, or a tradition of practice, than as “Korean” Buddhists. If they were to refer to themselves at all, it would be as “disciples,” “teachers,” “propagators,” “doctrinal specialists,” and “meditators”—all terms suggested in the categorizations of monks found in the various Biographies of Eminent Monks. If we are to arrive at a more nuanced portrayal of Korean Buddhism, scholars must abandon simplistic nationalist shibboleths and open our scholarship to the expansive vision of their religion that the Buddhists themselves always retained.
Keywords: Korean Buddhism; East Asian Buddhism; East Asian cultural influences; Korean
The term “religion” is relatively new to Korea, having being introduced at the end of the 19th century. Since it is an imported term, it still is a rather loose fit for the various organizations and phenomena in Korea that outsiders often label as religious, since not all such organizations or phenomena meet all of the criteria often used to determine what is and what is not religious. Moreover, governments in Korea have often tried to limit the religion label to “respectable” religions, those with organizational structures that made them more amenable to government control. At the same time, many new religions have tried to avoid the religion label because they see it as implying an exclusive rather than an inclusive community. Religion, therefore, remains a problematic term in Korea, lacking agreement regarding how it should be applied.
Keywords: chonggyo, Ch’ŏndogyo, Won Buddhism, Taesun Chillihoe, Jeungsan Do, Dahn World, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Maum Meditation
This paper argues that the “material turn” evident both in recent scholarly studies of East Asian religion (and religious studies more generally) and within the discipline of anthropology holds great promise for the study of Korean religions. The study of material religion raises questions about how aspects of the material world come to be regarded as sacred, how they come to be regarded as empowered and agentive things, how devotees engage material religion through embodied practice and visual regimes of understanding and venerating, and how specific historic moments influence material religion. Anthropology brings to the discussion an awareness of material objects as possible nodes of human relationships, relationships between humans and gods or other entities, and between humans, deities, positive and negative power, and the sacred things themselves. It raises questions about the production, maintenance, and proper disposal of sacred objects. It also brings magic back into the mix as a means of understanding some of the essentially religious ways contemporary people contend with the quirkiness of the market and other uncertainties, and how the modern commodity market itself accommodates the production, appropriation, and consumption of sacred and magical goods.
Keywords: material religion, anthropology, Korean religion, sacred objects
The symbolic power of the cross is one of the reasons Protestant Christianity attracted so many adherents in its first few decades in Korea. The simple Protestant cross had an advantage over the Catholic crucifix, which includes a three-dimensional image of the crucified Jesus. The unadorned cross of Protestant Christianity reminded many Koreans of the Sino-Korean character for 10 (十), which some read as a reference to the ten auspicious places mentioned in the popular prophetic text Chŏnggam-nok. The cross also was used on flagpoles flying the flag of St. George’s cross, which Koreans interpreted as a sign of both the spiritual power of the Christian message and of the protective power of the extraterritoriality of Western missionaries. In addition, the use of the cross as a symbol of the Japanese Red Cross during the Russo-Japanese War strengthened its association with modern civilization. When Japanese military forces captured members of the Righteous Armies and tied them to crosses before executing them, the cross also gained a nationalistic aura. These multiple associations for the cross made it a powerful symbol drawing Koreans into the Protestant churches.
Keywords: cross, glyphomancy, Chŏnggam-nok, flagpoles, Red Cross, Righteous Army
One Religion, Different Readings: (Mis)interpretations of Korean Buddhism in Colonial Korea, Late 1920s-Early 1930s
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja), 163
In colonial Korea (1910–1945), Buddhism’s sheer resilience and popularity drew attention of the Japanese colonial scholars, who initiated in the 1910s–1920s what they viewed as “scientific” study of Korean Buddhism. The attempts at “scientification” of Korean Buddhism research—exemplified by Keijō Imperial University professor Takahashi Tōru (1878–1967), also known for his research on Korean oral literature and Confucian philosophy—undoubtedly broadened the scope of academic inquiry and contributed to systemization of materials on Korean Buddhist history. However, the “scientism” of the colonial scholars was from the very beginning tarnished by their Orientalist attitudes. They viewed Korean Buddhism as “slavishly dependent” upon Chinese tradition and Korean state authorities. These colonialist attitudes provoked a heated nationalist response. Prominent “cultural nationalists”, such as Ch’oe Namsŏn (1890–1957), reacted by painting a picture of East Asia’s ancient Buddhist tradition with Korea in its centre. This picture, its visible shortcomings notwithstanding, eventually laid the fundament for the nationalist view of Korean Buddhist history in post-1945 South Korea.
Keywords: Korean Buddhism, Ch’oe Namsŏn, Takahashi Tōru, Orientalism, nationalism
An Interview with Professor James H. Grayson
Chang-Won Park, 189
This interview is based on two meetings with Professor Grayson in South Korea in 2010 when he was staying in Daegu in order to teach at Keimyung University. The meetings were held at his office at Keimyung University on 29 April and at a coffee shop in Seoul on 29 June, respectively. Recently, Acta Koreana has published an interview with Professor Grayson: Vol. 9 No. 2 (2006), pp. 155–182. That interview covers various issues that our readers may also be interested to know, including: (1) how he became interested in Korea and his first impressions of the country (pp. 155–157); (2) the development of his academic career from an anthropologist to a scholar in Korean studies (pp. 157–159); (3) the development of the Korean studies program at Sheffield (pp. 159–164); (4) the nature of Korean religion and characteristics of Korean Christianity (pp. 164–168); (5) Korean myths and legends (pp. 169–171); (6) next research project on ch’udo yebae 추도예배 (pp. 171–176); (7) biggest challenges that Koreans are facing (pp. 176–178); (8) the future of Korean studies in Europe (pp. 178–181); (9) advice for young generations in Korean studies (p. 181). The present interview deals with many other issues that the previous interview has not discussed, with a focus on issues concerning Korean religions.
한국인의 종교관 [The Religious Attitudes of Koreans]. 윤이흠 외 Yee-Heum Yoon. et al.
Reviewed by Don Baker, 199
서양인의 한국종교연구 [Western Studies of Korean Religions]. 김종서 Chongsuh Kim.
Reviewed by John Goulde, 203
Korean Spirituality. Don Baker.
Reviewed by James H. Grayson, 206
Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF. Laurel Kendall.
Reviewed by Timothy R. Tangherlini, 209
Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism. Jin Y. Park ed.
Reviewed by Bernard Senécal S.J., 214
Christianity in Korea. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Timothy S. Lee eds.
Reviewed by Kirsteen Kim, 217
Cultural Blending in Korean Death Rites. Chang-Won Park.
Reviewed by Andrew Eungi Kim, 221