The Sewol Ferry tragedy in April 2014 has drawn a renewed attention to the role of religion in South Korea. Theologians and religiously-motivated NGOs in Korea at the time and thereafter have called for the need for religion, and religious organizations, to become more actively involved with societal needs, especially after disasters, to help alleviate their pain by providing relief aid and counselling. Such calls for the greater involvement of religion in relief efforts have coincided with Pope Francis’ repeated calls for the Catholic Church’s greater involvement in social affairs on behalf of the poor and the underprivileged. This paper contends that these developments in and outside of Korea provide an opportune time to renew discussion on oft-misunderstood liberation theology. This is because the latter’s advocacy of an interpretation of the teachings of Jesus Christ from the perspective of the poor and the marginalized for the purpose of alleviating unjust economic, social, or political conditions is as compelling today as it was some 60 years ago when it first arose. The paper offers a reassessment of the role of religion in light of liberation theology, arguing that religion can make itself more relevant to people’s lives today by engaging more actively with social issues. The paper will pay special attention to liberation theology in the Korean context, namely minjungshinhak
or “people’s theology.” The paper also discusses the implications of liberation theology for secularization theory, arguing, among others, that the former refutes the “decline of religion” thesis of the latter, since liberation theology manifests a different role of religion in contemporary society rather than its diminishing significance.
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