Cultural Encounter: Korean Protestantism and Other Religious Traditions

Article excerpt

The emplantation of Christianity in Korea over the last two centuries, and particularly of Protestantism from the late 1800s, has resulted in the creation of a Christian community that accounts for about a quarter of the population of the Republic of Korea. Missionary and local Christian involvement in the creation of schools, hospitals, the independence movement, the movement for democracy, fair treatment for workers, equality for women, and other important social and political issues is well known and is widely discussed. This involvement in contemporary affairs attests to the dynamism and vigor of Christianity as a significant element in Korean society.

One aspect of this engagement with Korean culture has received little attention, namely, the impact that Protestant Christianity has had on the other religious traditions of Korea, including Roman Catholicism. I propose to examine the formal and informal influence Protestantism has had on these other religious traditions, an impact that would not have been possible apart from the successful emplantation of Protestant Christianity in Korean culture.

The process of transmitting a religion from an alien culture to a new cultural context requires a three-stage process of development if it is to become truly emplanted in the soil of the new culture: (1) contact and explication, (2) penetration, and (3) expansion. In the first stage, exponents of the new religion are principally concerned with the primary explication of the tenets of their faith in terms that are comprehensible in the cultural norms of the receptor culture. In the second stage, it is recognized that the new religion has become established, at however small a numerical level, as a feature of the host culture and society. In the third stage, the new religion has become a major feature of the culture and society and enters into a stage of contention with other religious traditions that may lead either to a state of preeminence over the other traditions or a state of complementary equilibrium. [1]

Research on Protestant church history in Korea has demonstrated that Protestantism achieved a state of penetration in Korean culture by the middle of the twentieth century. It reached the point where it had become a dynamic religious force within modern Korean culture, and it has now entered into a stage of growth and contention with the other religious traditions of Korea. [2]

The influence Protestantism has exercised on the other religious traditions of Korea is threefold: (1) competitive stimulation, (2) emulation and modeling, and (3) the acceptance or utilization of distinctly Christian religious concepts. By competitive stimulation, I refer to the rapid numerical growth of Protestant Christianity acting as a stimulus to the other religious groups to create proselytization movements to increase the size of their own membership. By emulation and modeling, I refer to the use by leaders in non-Protestant religious groups of the forms of Protestant worship, activities, and evangelistic movements in their own religious practice and proselytization. The third form of Protestant influence on other Korean religious traditions refers to the extent to which particularly Christian or indeed Protestant theological concepts have been adopted. This influence may be evidenced at a purely formal and superficial level or at a deep, inner level resulting in the restructuring or reformulating of beliefs. Of the three forms of influence, the third type represents the most profound level of cultural impact. Although all three of these forms of religious influence may be shown to have affected non-Protestant religious traditions, not all traditions have been influenced by Protestantism in all three ways. [3]

Protestant Impact on Roman Catholicism

Having begun in the late eighteenth century, the history of Roman Catholicism in Korea is considerably longer than Protestant history. …