Special Issue "The Role and Meaning of Religion for Korean Society"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (29 September 2018).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Song-Chong Lee
Website SciProfiles
Guest Editor
Religious Studies Faculty, University of Findlay, 1000 N. Main St., Findlay, OH 45840, USA
Interests: Asian religion (Confucianism and Buddhism); Korean religion and philosophy; religious education; Cosmpolitiansm
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Religion is one of the most effective human reactions to cope with various challenges of life. Like other major players, such as family and government, religion plays a powerful role in swinging the pendulum of our destinies between hope and despair, between liberation and enslavement, and between forgiveness and vengeance. There would be arguably no better place than Korea for finding exemplary cases, memories, and narratives. We can see, through the emergence of Buddhism during the Three Kingdom Period, a pendulum’s swing, a political transformation from parochialism to central government. We can see a paradigm shift, on the purpose of politics, from superficial utility for power to inner cultivation through the enhanced axiology and metaphysics of Neo-Confucianism. We can see a pendulum’s swing, on our perception of religion, from the priestly role to the prophetic role in leading and reshaping a society through Donghak Movement and Minjung Theology. The pendulum’s swing can be witnessed in many other domains, including socio-cultural phenomena, textual understanding, and political movements. Examples would further include new, creative interpretations and utilizations of Confucian texts, engaged and patriotic Buddhism, explosive church growth,  nationalist and democratization movements, and revolutionary roles of religious figures. To deepen and expand our understanding of religions in Korea, this issue invites papers that would address a variety of questions concerning the role and meaning of religion and religious texts for society.

Prof. Song-Chong Lee
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Asian Religion
  • Confucianism
  • Neo-Confucianism
  • Buddhism
  • Chinese Religion
  • Japanese Religion
  • Religion and Politics
  • Korea

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Open AccessErratum
Erratum: Responses of Korean Buddhism to the Ethos of Contemporary Korea: Three Discourses in the Wake of Modernization. Religions 10 (2019): 6
Religions 2019, 10(10), 581; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100581 - 17 Oct 2019
Abstract
The authors would like to make the following corrections to the paper (Yun and Park 2019): [...] Full article
Open AccessArticle
Tracing the Satipaṭṭhāna in the Korean Ganhwa Seon Tradition: Its Periscope Visibility in the Mindful hwadu Sisimma, ‘Sati-Sisimma
Religions 2018, 9(11), 341; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110341 - 03 Nov 2018
Abstract
The Buddha is said to have awakened to the true nature of existence and attained final liberation from suffering through the practice of Satipaṭṭhāna. This practice begins by addressing sensations from the processes of body and mind, as characterized by ‘bare attention’ [...] Read more.
The Buddha is said to have awakened to the true nature of existence and attained final liberation from suffering through the practice of Satipaṭṭhāna. This practice begins by addressing sensations from the processes of body and mind, as characterized by ‘bare attention’ and ‘clear comprehension’ through non-judgmental observation, ultimately effecting a transformation into a unique religious experience. During its transmission to East Asian countries, particularly in the Chan tradition, the essence of Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta has become transformed, while maintaining the theme of intense concentration, perhaps in the form of ‘counter-illumination’—an extended equivalent of ‘bare attention’. Not much has been written on which aspects of the Indian contemplative tradition were passed on to the Chan/Seon schools. In the Korean Ganhwa Seon practice, however, there are some indications that the spirit of Satipaṭṭhāna, resonating as a role of sustained attention with mindfulness, has been partially manifested, having crystallized into the mindful hwadu called Sisimma, or ‘Sati-Sisimma’. To substantiate this, this paper investigates how the two seemingly different practices can be seen to link together in the Korean Seon tradition, and proposes pari passu meditative parallels, Satipaṭṭhāna and Sati-Sisimma, recommending for an ‘attentive’ mode and a ‘non-attentive’ mode respectively, in modern meditative practices. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The Four–Seven Debate of Korean Neo-Confucianism and the Moral Psychological and Theistic Turn in Korean Philosophy
Religions 2018, 9(11), 374; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110374 - 19 Nov 2018
Cited by 2
Abstract
This paper discusses how Korean Neo-Confucian philosophers in the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) explained the moral nature of the mind and its emotions. Among the philosophical debates of Korean Neo-Confucianism, the author of the paper focuses on the Four–Seven Debate (a philosophical debate about [...] Read more.
This paper discusses how Korean Neo-Confucian philosophers in the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) explained the moral nature of the mind and its emotions. Among the philosophical debates of Korean Neo-Confucianism, the author of the paper focuses on the Four–Seven Debate (a philosophical debate about the moral psychological nature of the four moral emotions and the seven morally indiscrete emotions) to analyze its liqi metaphysics (a philosophical explanation of the universe through the intricate and interactive relation between the two cosmic processes, li and qi) and its conflicting viewpoints on the moral psychological nature of emotion. Because of the ambiguities and inconsistencies in the Neo-Confucian explanation, specifically those of the Cheng–Zhu schools of Neo-Confucianism on the nature and functions of the mind, Korean Neo-Confucians struggled to bring Neo-Confucian liqi metaphysics to the moral and practical issues of the human mind and moral cultivation. Later in the Joseon dynasty, some Korean Neo-Confucians discussed the fundamental limitations of liqi metaphysics and developed their explanations for the goodness of the moral mind and the world from an alternative (i.e., theistic) viewpoint. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Performing the Bible in the Korean Context: Korean Ways of Reading, Singing, and Dramatizing the Scriptures
Religions 2018, 9(9), 268; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9090268 - 10 Sep 2018
Abstract
The present study explores the performative nature of the Bible as a sacred text in the Korean context. Drawing on the theory of scriptural performance advocated by James W. Watts, I investigate its character as words and contents. First, I delve into [...] Read more.
The present study explores the performative nature of the Bible as a sacred text in the Korean context. Drawing on the theory of scriptural performance advocated by James W. Watts, I investigate its character as words and contents. First, I delve into the scriptural performance of thoroughly reading (and listening to) the Bible at the level of words. Second, I scrutinize the scriptural performance of singing and dramatizing the Bible at the level of contents. The specific context of South Korea—whether religious, cultural, or social—alerts us to the performed transformation of the semantic range of the long-standing Christian tradition. Given the cultural differences between Western and Eastern Christianity, I contend that the adaptation of Christianity to Korean soil renders the performative dimension of the scriptures all the more semantic. In other words, the Korean ways of performing the Bible are essentially deeply rooted in those of signifying it. In the long term, Christianity turns out to be such a global religion that it provokes a more complex analysis of its scriptural performance in its widely differing range of semantics. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Minjung Theology in Contemporary Korea: Liberation Theology and a Reconsideration of Secularization Theory
Religions 2018, 9(12), 415; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120415 - 14 Dec 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Introducing Christian Spirituality to Joseon Korea—Three Responses from Confucian Scholars
Religions 2018, 9(11), 329; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110329 - 26 Oct 2018
Abstract
When the books written by Jesuit missionaries were introduced to Joseon Korea via China during the 18th century, Joseon Confucian scholars were drawn to not only western science and technologies but also to theological ideas centered on Christian spirituality. Among many foreign conceptions, [...] Read more.
When the books written by Jesuit missionaries were introduced to Joseon Korea via China during the 18th century, Joseon Confucian scholars were drawn to not only western science and technologies but also to theological ideas centered on Christian spirituality. Among many foreign conceptions, the most alien were the following three: immortality of the soul; eternal life in heaven or in hell after death; and finally, the resurrection of the body. There had been three responses from all levels of society: refutation, recognition, and reconciliation. First, Shin Hudam (1702–1761) wrote a book, Disputation on Western Learning, to dispute the above three doctrines as being most unreasonable and contradictory. Meanwhile, Jeong Yag-Jong (1760–1801) found that the doctrines were the true path to the salvation of human suffering and wrote the first catechistic book in vernacular Korean in the way that appealed to common people with Confucian backgrounds. Finally, Jeong Yag-Yong (1762–1836) was extremely careful, neither embracing nor rejecting, yet suggested alternative ways to address the core Christian theological problems without crossing the boundaries of Confucianism. All three were active dedicated responses to Christian spirituality and genuine Christian-Confucian dialogues, which also reflected common concerns and attitudes toward a new religion in Korean society. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Responses of Korean Buddhism to the Ethos of Contemporary Korea: Three Discourses in the Wake of Modernization
Religions 2019, 10(1), 6; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010006 - 24 Dec 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
The revival of Buddhism in Korea began in the 20th century as the nation suffered a downfall from the colonization of the Japanese Imperialists. In this chaotic time of social turmoil, transformation into a modern nation resulted not from a natural flow of [...] Read more.
The revival of Buddhism in Korea began in the 20th century as the nation suffered a downfall from the colonization of the Japanese Imperialists. In this chaotic time of social turmoil, transformation into a modern nation resulted not from a natural flow of events but rather from an articulation through a series of discourses on Korean identity. The modernization process in Korea was precipitated by the Japanese colonialism, thereby adding to the complexity during the time of social transformation. In this paper, we have reviewed the three major discourses of Korean Buddhism in the wake of modernization. The following discourses were attempts to deal with the problems faced by the Buddhist community during modernization: the discourse on secularity and social participation, the discourse on modernity centering on the issue of modifying precepts, and the discourse on identity contemplating the originality of Korean Buddhism. The fact that the old controversies concerning precepts continue even to this day in Korea might be regarded as a proof of the vibrant dynamics of contemporary Korean Buddhism. Accordingly, the next unavoidable discourse regarding Korean Buddhism would be on whether and how it can adapt itself to contemporary society, along with what part it will play in the forthcoming society. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Candlelight for Our Country’s Right Name: A Confucian Interpretation of South Korea’s Candlelight Revolution
Religions 2018, 9(11), 330; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110330 - 28 Oct 2018
Cited by 3
Abstract
The candlelight protest that took place in South Korea from October 2016 to March 2017 was a landmark political event, not least because it ultimately led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Arguably, its more historically important meaning lies in the fact [...] Read more.
The candlelight protest that took place in South Korea from October 2016 to March 2017 was a landmark political event, not least because it ultimately led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Arguably, its more historically important meaning lies in the fact that it marks the first nation-wide political struggle since the June Uprising of 1987, where civil society won an unequivocal victory over a regime that was found to be corrupt, unjust, and undemocratic, making it the most orderly, civil, and peaceful political revolution in modern Korean history. Despite a plethora of literature investigating the cause of what is now called “the Candlelight Revolution” and its implications for Korean democracy, less attention has been paid to the cultural motivation and moral discourse that galvanized Korean civil society. This paper captures the Korean civil society which resulted in the Candlelight Revolution in terms of Confucian democratic civil society, distinct from both liberal pluralist civil society and Confucian meritocratic civil society, and argues that Confucian democratic civil society can provide a useful conceptual tool by which to not only philosophically construct a vision of civil society that is culturally relevant and politically practicable but also to critically evaluate the politics of civil society in the East Asian context. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Ritualization of Affection and Respect: Two Principles of Confucian Ritual
Religions 2019, 10(3), 224; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030224 - 26 Mar 2019
Abstract
Confucian rituals have constituted the foundation of religious practice in the traditional societies of East Asia. Paying attention to the Confucian ritual, this article explores the way Confucianism constructs its symbolic system based on people’s natural feelings, particularly in the case of three-year [...] Read more.
Confucian rituals have constituted the foundation of religious practice in the traditional societies of East Asia. Paying attention to the Confucian ritual, this article explores the way Confucianism constructs its symbolic system based on people’s natural feelings, particularly in the case of three-year mourning. It intends to show how the two feelings of “affection for the family” (chinchin/qinqin, 親親) and “respect for the honorable” (chonjon/zunzun, 尊尊) are ritualized in Confucian rites, and to illuminate the religious and social dimensions of Confucianism in premodern Korea by analyzing a seventeenth-century controversy over royal mourning from the perspective of these two principles. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Confucian Democracy and a Pluralistic Li-Ki Metaphysics
Religions 2018, 9(11), 325; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110325 - 23 Oct 2018
Abstract
This essay explores the possible constructive role of a Confucian metaphysics in the pluralistic Confucian-democratic context of South Korea. In his recent landmark study, Sungmoon Kim has argued that South Korean democracy is sustained by a public culture of civility that is grounded [...] Read more.
This essay explores the possible constructive role of a Confucian metaphysics in the pluralistic Confucian-democratic context of South Korea. In his recent landmark study, Sungmoon Kim has argued that South Korean democracy is sustained by a public culture of civility that is grounded in Confucian habits and mores and yet is pluralistic in ethos. I appreciatively interrogate Kim’s thesis in order to advance a claim that a comprehensive Confucian doctrine such as Confucian metaphysics can contribute significantly to the flourishing of Confucian democratic public culture, provided that it affirm a pluralistic ontology. I contend that the tradition of Korean Neo-Confucian li-ki metaphysics, particularly one found in the works of Nongmun Im Seong-ju, offers rich resources for a pluralistic ontology despite its history of ethical monism. By putting Nongmun’s thought in conversation with some of the contemporary critiques of the Schmittian (mis-)appropriation of the notion of popular sovereignty, I outline a pluralized version of the Rousseauian general will—a kind of critically affectionate solidarity of diverse groups of people—that is Confucian in character. My claim is that such a critically affectionate solidarity finds its grounds in and draws its nourishment from a pluralistic Confucian ontology. Full article
Open AccessArticle
“Korea National Prayer Breakfast” and Protestant Leaders’ Prophetic Consciousness during the Period of Military Dictatorship (1962–1987)
Religions 2018, 9(10), 308; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9100308 - 10 Oct 2018
Abstract
This paper illuminates the prophetic consciousness of Korean Protestant leaders by examining the “Korea National Prayer Breakfast” (Gukgajochangidohoe, 국가조찬기도회) that they hosted, particularly during the military regimes. In explaining the motivation for and intention of this special religious event in the [...] Read more.
This paper illuminates the prophetic consciousness of Korean Protestant leaders by examining the “Korea National Prayer Breakfast” (Gukgajochangidohoe, 국가조찬기도회) that they hosted, particularly during the military regimes. In explaining the motivation for and intention of this special religious event in the political arena, most scholars have emphasized the Protestant leaders’ political ambition and their agendas to get the government support and expand their power in Korean society. However, we should take heed of the leaders’ religious aspirations to make the country righteous in God’s sight. They attempted to have a good influence on the inner circle of the military dictatorship, which some Christians regarded as an evil force. Though they preached to and prayed for the military regimes, their sermons were often unpleasant and challenging to the presidents and their associates. The Protestant leaders wanted to play the role of John the Baptist rebuking Herod Antipas rather than the compliant chief priests and scribes serving Herod the Great. Full article
Open AccessArticle
A Critical Evaluation of Religious Education in Korea
Religions 2018, 9(11), 369; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110369 - 18 Nov 2018
Abstract
This essay will discuss the general orientation of Korean religious education and some of the problematic issues that are related to its position within the current Korean educational systems. It will focus especially on four critical aspects pertaining to religious education as found [...] Read more.
This essay will discuss the general orientation of Korean religious education and some of the problematic issues that are related to its position within the current Korean educational systems. It will focus especially on four critical aspects pertaining to religious education as found today in the Republic of Korea (we will not consider the situation of religious education in North Korea because it is so difficult to get accurate information). The first section will begin to identify the contemporary ‘communicational dilemma’ of religious education in Korea and its roots in the lack of a proper understanding of religious education from a non-confessional academic perspective. The second section will place the problem in the context of Korean religious demography as it pertains to the necessity of religious education and the conventional image of religious education within schools. The third section will enumerate a number of critical issues and analyze their impact on the direction of religious education policy since the establishment of the government’s equalization educational policy in 1969. The fourth section will critically examine a number of constitutional issues as they bear on the question of where compulsion exists in current religious education. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Some Contemporary Dilemmas of Korean Buddhism: A Critical Review of the Jogye Order’s 2018 Periodic Report
Religions 2019, 10(4), 234; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040234 - 28 Mar 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
According to the Jogye Order’s 2018 periodic report, the average age of monks is increasing and the number of monks is decreasing. In order to offer solutions to these problems, the report presents and analyzes by dividing those themes into six sub-topics, namely: [...] Read more.
According to the Jogye Order’s 2018 periodic report, the average age of monks is increasing and the number of monks is decreasing. In order to offer solutions to these problems, the report presents and analyzes by dividing those themes into six sub-topics, namely: decrease of births; decrease of postulants; aging of postulants; rapidly changing educational environment; teaching aptitude of educators; education budget. The report lists a variety of information derived from the raw data and offers suggestions regarding these six topics. However, the report has several failings, as the research misunderstands the data at times, and their report does not present proper interpretations and concrete solutions. The final suggestions that the report proposes to increase the number of monks seem to be misguided and ineffective. This article critically scrutinizes the Jogye Order’s latest report to identify and correct some data misinterpretations and offer new insights that the authors believe would help our leaders come up with better solutions. Full article
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