Korean Spirituality

Korean Spirituality

Copyright Date: 2008
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    Korean Spirituality
    Book Description:

    Korea has one of the most dynamic and diverse religious cultures of any nation on earth. Koreans are highly religious, yet no single religious community enjoys dominance. Buddhists share the Korean religious landscape with both Protestant and Catholic Christians as well as with shamans, Confucians, and practitioners of numerous new religions. As a result, Korea is a fruitful site for the exploration of the various manifestations of spirituality in the modern world. At the same time, however, the complexity of the country’s religious topography can overwhelm the novice explorer. Emphasizing the attitudes and aspirations of the Korean people rather than ideology, Don Baker has written an accessible aid to navigating the highways and byways of Korean spirituality. He adopts a broad approach that distinguishes the different roles that folk religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and indigenous new religions have played in Korea in the past and continue to play in the present while identifying commonalities behind that diversity to illuminate the distinctive nature of spirituality on the Korean peninsula.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6326-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Korean Spirituality: A Multiplicity of Approaches to Transcending the Human Condition
    (pp. 1-17)

    A few years ago, I kept a small apartment in one of the most modern districts of one of the most modern cities on the Korean peninsula. Within a short walk from that apartment in the Songp’a district of Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), I could reach both a huge shopping mall with hundreds of crowded shops and a bustling Buddhist temple drawing large crowds of worshippers. There were medical clinics around the corner and a shaman’s office up the street. At the intersection nearest to that apartment, a Christian bookstore selling books on how...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Folk Religion and Animism
    (pp. 18-29)

    The Korean quest for sagehood had what would appear to be a most unlikely source: the loosely connected assortment of beliefs and practices we now call “folk religion.” The term “sage” is not used in Korea’s folk religion to refer to even the most advanced practitioners. (When that term does appear, it is a title for some of the deities those practitioners address in their rituals.) Nor is there much explicit talk of overcoming selfishness in order to act harmoniously with the cosmos. Those who seek the aid of the spirits in the folk pantheon are usually seeking to improve...

  7. CHAPTER 3 China’s Three Teachings in Korea
    (pp. 30-57)

    Before the modern era, Korea did not have a specific term for religion as a separate and distinct form of human activity and organization. The Korean word that today means “religion”(chonggyo)was coined in Japan at the end of the nineteenth century. However, Korea recognized three “teachings” that it had imported from China beginning about one thousand five hundred years ago. Those three schools of thought and practice were treated by specialists (though not by most lay practitioners) as separate and distinct traditions. The names for those Three Teachings — Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism — function more as broad umbrella terms...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Korean Christianity
    (pp. 58-77)

    For most of their long history, Koreans looking for solutions to the types of problems religions and philosophies typically promise to solve could only look to folk religion, Buddhism, Confucianism, and sometimes Daoism for help. If they wanted to minimize or eliminate misfortune, such as ill health, economic setbacks, or poor interpersonal relations, they would ask shamans, monks, or scholars for help. However, they often found that they were unable to consistently do what those religious professionals told them to do, even though the Korean spiritual tradition told them they possessed the ability to overcome the limitations that were normally...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The New Religions of Korea
    (pp. 78-93)

    Christianity introduced Korea to a new approach to spirituality that differed significantly from the traditional approach. For example, Korean Christians are more concerned about the specifics of what their religious community believes than their non-Christian ancestors were. This emphasis on doctrine and creed does not mean, of course, that Christians don’t think rituals are important. Quite the contrary: rituals gain importance in Christian eyes as outward manifestations of faith.

    Such linking of ritual with faith has two important implications. First of all, Christians will not take part in rituals incompatible with Christian faith. As monotheists, they refuse to engage in...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Spiritual Gaze in Korea
    (pp. 94-121)

    Despite the wide range of approaches to spirituality contemporary Koreans can choose from, there are some common elements that allow us to place all of them under the big tent labeled “Korean spirituality.” For example, Koreans continue to pursue ways to overcome the limitations of existence as an individual, despite their theological differences. Also, Koreans generally continue to see the ethics of interpersonal interaction, especially interactions among family members, as particularly important. These legacies of the past persist today.

    Traditional Korean spirituality was primarily concerned with ethics. What people did was more important than what they believed. Of special concern...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Spiritual Practices of Koreans
    (pp. 122-144)

    Given the great variety of gods and other potential foci of a spiritual gaze available to Koreans, it is not surprising that there is also a rich assortment of spiritual practices available for them to choose from. Koreans can pray loudly or silently, alone or in groups, and they can meditate quietly, again alone or in groups. While some may choose to sing sacred songs in praise of their God, others may prefer to dance to entertain various spirits. Some engage in spiritual practices in order to discipline themselves against the temptations of this material world, while others engage in...

  12. Appendix: Spirituality in North Korea
    (pp. 145-152)
  13. Further Reading
    (pp. 153-156)
  14. Index
    (pp. 157-166)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-168)