Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Asian Modernization and Mediatization of Religion

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Asian Modernization and Mediatization of Religion

Article excerpt

Introduction

Facing social and environmental crisis in the contemporary world, Asia is frequently viewed as a new model or as a mediator for achieving modern development while maintaining cultural integrity. In particular, East Asia has achieved rapid economic growth based on a new model of development by preserving cultural traditions and spiritual life. Religion has played an important role in extending modern development in this region and creating balance between material prosperity and Asian identity. This study examines religion and social change in Asian modernization and discusses its theoretical implications in the larger context of global power.

The role of religion in East Asian social change raises important theoretical issues by demonstrating an alternative role of religion in modernization to Western model in history as well as power shift of religious role from institutions to media in recent development. First of all, the affinity between religion and modernization in East Asia challenges conventional theories of modernization; religion has played a different role in East Asian development compared to the modernization of Western Europe. The role of not only Confucianism, but also of Christianity in East Asian modernization contradicts generally accepted secularization theories, including those by Weber and Durkheim1. East Asian modernization began on a different path from secularization with the influence of Christianity. Christian missionaries spread modern education and medical science as well as a new way of life in the early modern history in East Asia. Secularization and emancipation from religion as the basis of modernization was only applied to native religions in East Asia, although new religions were amalgamated in many respects. Christianity was another name for modern life among East Asian people in early modern history. Religion still plays an important role in constructing the cultural images of East Asia. The antinomy of religion and modernization that created theories of secularization in mainstream sociology applies to Western societies; East Asia, conversely, was modernized using religion.

The second theoretical issue with regard to religion and modernization in East Asia is the role of Confucianism. Confucianism is commonly regarded as the driving force of economic development and modernization in East Asia, especially from a Western perspective2. This defines Confucianism driven development model because East Asia has achieved fast development and Confucianism can be found only in Asia. Yet, it is ostensive to design a model based on geographic concurrence. Although a more complicated argument with regard to the role of Confucianism is further explained in this paper, one point is that Confucianism has not played a religious role for the public, historically but rather had the role of governance for the aristocracy. Confucianism seldom reached the lower classes; instead, ordinary people were inclined toward native religions including shamanism, geomancy, and fortune- telling.

Third, Asian societies face a societal shift as the role of religions declines in public life these days. When institutionalized religion declines, the spiritual life becomes mediatized. The media plays a leading role in the ritualization of spirituality as major religions lose their legitimacy among the public for political and cultural reasons. The role of media in spirituality following the decline of formal religion needs to be examined in the larger context of theoretical and social issues. The mediatization of religion is an important aspect of the revival of native beliefs and spirituality in the public domain. This study seeks to examine the philosophical basis of media-led spirituality and its social context in relation to the mediatization of religion.

The focus of this study will be religion in South Korea because Korea is the most illustrative of the powerful and dynamic influence of religion in social development. …

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