Don Baker & Seong-nae Kim, 5
In this second issue in volume two of the Journal of Korean Religions, we continue our exploration of Korea’s complex religious culture while continuing to interrogate the meaning of “religion” in a Korean cultural context.
The five articles in this issue, dealing as they do with Confucians, Christians, Buddhists, and mudang, reflect the diversity of religious life on the peninsula. Moreover, they challenge attempts to impose a simplified definition of religion on Korea’s religious complexity, to dig unbridgeable trenches separating Korea’s various religious communities from one another, or even to distinguish between real religions and pseudo-religions in Korea. We hope this issue will stimulate further scholarly discussion of how the term “religion” has been used in a Korean context as well as of how best to represent and analyze the complex phenomena that form Korea’s religious culture.
Special Issue: Korean Religions in Inter-Cultural Contexts
Religion is a moving target in the sense that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is and does; hence the numerous definitional problems. It is also a moving target in the sense that the elements that constitute religion are not stable, and are subject to kaleidoscopic changes. Conventional labels such as shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism tend to distract our attention from these changes and instabilities. They become associated with certain standard concepts, which may have little to do with the actual practice of their believers or are equally present in the conceptual world of the adherents of other religions. Over the years these labels cover different realities and the distinctions between them may become so vague that it becomes difficult to classify certain phenomena under one of these rubrics. Korea’s religious history shows, for instance, that so-called “Confucian values” were propagated by Buddhist songs, and that the core of these values, the virtues of filial piety and loyalty to the throne, by the middle of the nineteenth century had ceased to be “Confucian” in any meaningful way, having become generally accepted by people from whatever religious conviction. In practice, a constant process of reassembling and reconstituting takes place, which means that not too much value should be assigned to the origin or authenticity of religious phenomena, and that a notion such as syncretism becomes useless as a distinguishing characteristic.
Keywords: concept of religion, shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, syncretism
The development of the concept of “religion” in colonial Korea will be considered as the culmination of the history of the concept of “religion” in imperial Japan. The purpose of considering the concept of religion within imperial history is not simply to demonstrate the relationship of mutual influence that existed between the concepts of religion in the metropole and colony. The perspective of an imperial history of “religion” taken up in this paper attempts to view the linkages within the concept of religion, whereby the colony and the metropole defined one another, allowing identities to form while engendering internal contradictions for both. This paper will highlight a number of examples from the documents of the Government-General of Korea, in order to consider the situation of religion in Korea around 1910.
Keywords: concept of ‘religion’, the imperial concept of ‘religion’, Colonial Korea, the documents of the Government-General of Korea, reorganization of the religious sphere
This article examines the dynamic aspects of the Buddha’s Birthday festival as it was celebrated from 1928 to 1945 in colonial Korea. A joint Japanese and Korean Buddhist event sponsored by the state, it became the signature religious and state festival. Although much politicized, the festival was also a culmination of Buddhist efforts in Asia to respond to modernity, nationalism, colonialism, and Christian missions. Paralleling the reinvention of Christmas in the modern period, Buddhists reconfigured the Buddha’s birthday as a symbol of their religious identity and power. The Buddha’s Birthday festival should be understood in the context of increasing contact and exchange among Buddhists in the East and the West. The festival’s prominence was the result of complex negotiation and collaboration between Korean and Japanese Buddhists who both hoped the festival would advance their overlapping visions of Buddhism. The festival was not so much an imposition of the colonizer on a native culture as it was a dynamic, creative feature of modern Korean Buddhism in the colonial context.
Keywords: colonial Korea, Buddha’s Birthday festival, Hana Matsuri, modern Korean Buddhism, Christianity
Comparing events from the early decades of the Christian Church in Korea with the history of the Early Church is a potentially rich form of research as the experience of the Early Church can help to both highlight distinctive characteristics of the Early Korean Church and to point out the broad similarities of Christian experience regardless of cultural and temporal differences. Both the Early Church and the Early Korean Church had a strong millenarian element in their history. The earliest example of a distinct millenarian movement in the Early Church which separated from the mainstream was the Montanist group, whereas in Korea one can point to the Empire of Mount Sion movement of the 1940s and its subsequent denomination. Both of these groups arose at a time when the state was imposing a cult of the worship of imperial rulers for the purpose of creating national unity.
Keywords: Montanism, Mount Sion Presbyterian Church, Empire of Mount Sion movement, millenarianism, Early Church
Tasan Chŏng Yag-yong 茶山 丁若鏞 is in large part interpreted as either 1) pro-Catholic under the guise of Confucianism or, 2) a primitive, ‘original’ Confucian with no deep relevance to Western Learning. The notion of a personified Heaven, or ‘a lord above’ (上帝), in Tasan’s work naturally provokes the image of the God of Western religion or the fearful Heaven of ancient Confucianism, which in turn causes researchers to assume that such a view was held only by those who were against Neo-Confucianism or even “pro-Catholic” (親西派). What is interesting, however, is that the writings of Kyŏnggi Southerners–the faction to which Tasan ideologically belonged, who were neither against Neo-Confucianism nor even anti-Catholic (攻西派), make frequent reference to a personified Heaven with power and authority. This article first reviews how Tasan’s contemporaries envisioned Heaven by examining the letters and manuscripts of such Kyŏnggi Southerners as Ch’ae Che-gong 蔡濟恭, An Chŏng-bok 安鼎福 and Yi Ka-hwan 李家煥. It shall be demonstrated that a number of thinkers before Tasan had already described such key notions as an ‘inclination’ (嗜好) towards goodness as the true nature (本性) of Heaven. The second part of this article describes Tasan’s theory of human mind, especially the three elements of its immaterial core, namely, nature (性), capability (才), and implementation (行事). It will be argued that Tasan’s explanation of the human mind bears a striking resemblance to the traits of Heaven as narrated by the Kyŏnggi Southerners previously examined. The final part explores the significance of Heaven in the worldview of Kyŏnggi Southerners and the philosophy of Tasan. For them, Heaven was not an omnipotent being waiting to judge our lives after death, but the object of a ‘humane relationship’ (人倫) – like a father, a king, or a teacher, along with all their accompanying strengths and weaknesses.
Keywords: Tasan Chŏng Yag-yong (茶山 丁若鏞), Kyŏnggi Southerners, Heaven, Catholicism, Western Learning (西學)
근대 한·일 관계사 속의 기독교 [Christianity in the History of Modern Korea-Japan Relations]. 양현혜 Hyŏn-hye Yang.
Reviewed by Niwa Izumi, 143
한국 그리스도교 비평 [A Critique of Korean Christianity]. 이찬수 Ch’an-su Yi.
Reviewed by Miryam Woohyuk Choi, 145
Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life. Elaine Howard Ecklund.
Reviewed by Peter Y. Paik, 149
Trial and Error in Modernist Reforms: Korean Buddhism Under Colonial Rule. Pori Park.
Reviewed by Jin Y. Park, 152
État, religion et répression en Asie. Chine, Corée, Japon et Vietnam (XIIIe-XXIe siècles) [State, Religion and Repression in Asia. China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam (13th–21st Centuries)]. Arnaud Brotons, Yannick Bruneton, Nathalie Kouamé.
Reviewed by Bernard Senécal, 156