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 Religion/Philosophy in Korea - Main Page
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Overview of Religion in Korea


 
Korean society is presently a unique multi-religious society.  Confucian ethics dominate the daily life of Koreans, and hyanggyo, Confucian educational institutions, are found scattered throughout the country.  At every scenic spot, there is a Buddhist monastery, and most of the nation's tangible cultural assets are Buddhist.  Yet when entering any Korean city, one is immediately impressed by the number of Protestant churches.  During the 1980s, Catholic churches have served as the representative of the conscience of Korean society.  

At present, Buddhists number 25.3%,  with 19.8% for Protestants, and Catholics make up about 7.3% percent.  Thus, Korea is the most actively Christian society in East Asia.  In addition to these groups, there are numerous shamanism devotees, new religions and, in particular, Confucianists, who are still not represented in religious surveys.  For this reason, Korea's religious population is much larger than superficial survey-counts indicate.

In addition, an Imam attached to the Turkish army (one of the 16 U.N. forces which participated in the Korean War) introduced Islam to Korea.  Through his efforts, some Koreans worshipped with the Turkish soldiers and converted to Islam.  In 1966, a Korean Islamic organization was formed and in the same year, a mosque was erected in Seoul.  Since then, seven more have been established.  There are now more than twenty thousand Moslems in Korea.

Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are the representative world religions which have made a decisive contribution to the formation of the various aspects of world culture.  Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity, in particular, respectively represent the classical cultures of China, India, and Western monotheism.  Although these religions all coexists in Korea, at present none of them is able to represent Korean culture.

In addition, since the prehistoric period, shamanism, diverse folk beliefs and countless indigenous religions have developed in Korea.  As a result, Korea has an abundance of religious holidays, i.e. New Years, which are celebrated according to both lunar and solar calendars, Buddha's Birthday, Ch'usok (the Harvest Festival), Kaech'aonjol (Foundation Day) and Christmas.  Korea is probably the only country in the world to have such a diverse range of religious holidays.

Other multi-religious societies live under the threat of disintegration, but Korea's diverse religions have managed to coexist since ancient times.  During Korea's long history, dynastic change has been brought about under the name of religion, but religion has never led to the division of the people.  Even among Koreans today, there is nobody who wants to divide the Korean people on religious grounds.  To this extent, Korean's homogeneity is considered to be more important to Koreans than any religious value.

From mythical times onward, Koreans have been confident about their unique identity as a people.  On the other hand, Koreans have zealously imported foreign culture.  By looking at these seemingly divergent aspects of their culture as complementary, Koreans have been able to develop a creative culture and philosophy.  Ideologically, when a synthesis of divergent aspects has been reached, harmony prevails.  For this reason, Koreans' creative efforts, regardless of which form they take, always culminate with the ideal of harmony.

From ancient times, this harmonious spirit has enabled Koreans to maintain their cultural identity while actively introducing culture from the rest of the world.  Classical Confucian and Buddhist culture has gloriously upheld its prestigious position in Korean society, and Christianity is alive and well.  Through Buddhist art, aspects of ancient Greek culture are still alive, and the cultures from the nomadic peoples of Central Asia have established deep roots in Korea as well.  In this sense, Korea serves as a repository of the world's classical cultures.

In the 1960s, Korean society entered the path towards industrialization.  Since then, numerous universities and research institutes have competitively acquired modern thought.  As a result, Korean society now embraces the cultural traditions of both the East and West.  Western technology, modern social thought and the Christian faith are no longer seen as foreign.  Within the East Asian sphere of traditional cultures, Korea represents the greatest success of Christian Evangelism.  In this sense, Western culture has been assimilated by Korean culture.  This harmonization of diverse cultural elements is a legacy from the ancient past that gives Koreas confidence to meet the changes of the modern world.  Yet, it must be  kept in mind that Koreans did not begin to actively acquire modern thought until the 1960s, so time is required before they can recreate modern thought in a Korean form.

A multicultural society easily slides into chaos.  Moreover, the Korean people have passed the last half century amid continual, violent social upheavals.  Within this turmoil, Korea has not yet been able to over come conditions forced upon it by history.  For this reason, Korea is often seen by outsiders as an unstable and aggressive society that is inherently chaotic.  However, the problems that Korea faces are actually a miniature version of the shrinking "global village."  In this sense, Korea efforts to solve their own problems may also lead to solutions for the world at large.  Koreans, with their unique history, have thus assumed an important role in the history of mankind.

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Information provided by the Korean Embassy


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