Religion and Social Thought
Shamanism is the most ancient and traditional belief of the Korean people. However, foreign religions such as the Buddhism, Confucianism, Protestantism and Catholicism have found wide acceptance. Today, the Buddhism, Protestantism and Catholicism constitute the majority of Korea' s active religions. Confucianism, with its deep roots in the Korean culture,governs the ways of everyday life and the thoughts of the people.
Approximately 40 percent of Koreans nationwide are followers of Buddhism and another 35 percent are Protestants.
Shamanism is the oldest, aboriginal religion in Korea. It is a form of polytheism based on the belief that spirits dwell in nature, in homes and in every object around us and should thus be propitiated to avert bad luck and assure a happy life. This belief persists and many Koreans still go to fortune tellers when they have to make an important decision.
It is not difficult to see people offer a sacrifice of rice-cakes and pig's head to spirits or gods when they dedicate a building or a factory, open a business, or move into a new house. A Shaman, called a munyeo (daughter of shamanism) or muja (son of shamanism), is a person who can foretell one's good or bad luck and perform exorcisms. He or she is believed to have the mysterious ability to communicate with good or evil spirits, and can serve as a medium between the people and animistic gods.
Fortune tellers often use sticks, coins or fortune books to discover one' s good or bad luck, fortune or misfortune, but nowadays some advanced fortune tellers even use computers. In Seoul, fortune tellers are concentrated on the hill around Miari.
- Unit : Person
- Source : Statistics Korea www.kostat.go.kr
Confucianism was the moral and religious belief founded by Confucius in the 6th century B.C. It is a system of ethical percept - benevolent love, righteousness, decorum and wise leadership - designed to inspire and preserve the good management of family and society.
Confucianism was a religion without a god sililar to early Buddhism, but as time passed, the sage and principal disciplines were canonized by its followers.
Confucianism was introduced along with the earliest specimens of Chinese written material around the beginning of the Christian era. The Three Kingdoms of Goguryeo,Baekje and Silla all left records that indicate the early existence of Confucian influence. In Goguryeo, a state university called Daehak was established in 372 and private Confucian academies were founded in the province. Baekje found such institutions even earlier.
The Unified Silla Kingdom sent delegations of scholars to Tang China to observe the workings of the Confucian institutions and to bring back voluminous writings on the subject, for the Goryeo Dynastyi in the 10th century, Buddhism was the state religion, and Confucianism formed the philosophical and structural backbone of the state. The civil service examination of Gwageo, adopted after the Chinese system in the late 10th century, encouraged studies in the Confucian classics and implanted Confucian values in Korean minds.
The Joseon Dynasty, which was established in 1392, accepted Confucianism as the official ideology and developed a Confucian system of education, ceremony and civil administration. When Korea was invaded by Japan in the late 19th century, the Confucians raised "righteous armies" to fight against the aggressor. Efforts were also made to reform Confucianism to adapt it to the changing times.
Reformists accepted the new Western civilization and endeavoured to establish a modern independence government. During Japan's colonial rule of Korea, reformists joined independence movements to fight against imperial Japan. Today, Confucian ancestral worship is still prevalent and filial piety is highly revered as a virtue in Korean society.
Korean shamanism, today known as Muism (Mugyo, "religion of the Mu" or sometimes Sinism (Shingyo, "religion of the gods", with shin being the Korean character derivative of the Hanja),encompasses a variety of indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the Korean people and the Korean sphere.In contemporary South Korea, the most used term is Muism and a shaman is known as a mudang (무당, 巫堂). The role of the mudang, usually a woman, is to act as intermediary between a spirit entity, spirits or gods gods and human beings.
Women are enlisted by those who want the help of the spirit world. Shamans hold gut, or services, in order to gain good fortune for clients, cure illnesses by exorcising negative or 'bad' spirits that cling to people, or propitiate local or village gods. Such services are also held to guide the spirit of a deceased person to higher realms.
The first official Protestant missionaries to Korea were Underwood and Appenzeller from the United States who arrived on Easter in 1885. They focused on medical service and education, opening the first Western hospital of Gwanghyewon and founding Baejae and Ewha Schools. Despite the hardships of Japanese persecution, they gradually began to gain public acceptance as a religious group.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, churches devoted themselves to social work, providing clothes and food, and operating orphanages. In the 1960s, the number of churches increased and Christian democratic leaders participated in a wide range of political and social affairs orientated towards the restoration of democracy and the promotion of human rights. Major denominations of Protestantism in Korea include Presbyterian, Methodist, Holiness, Baptist and Pentecostal.
Catholicism started in Korea in the mid-18th century as a study group of young scholars for Western learning. After the severe state persecution in the year of Sinyu(1801), it spread in the form of underground churches. Under Japanese rule, the number of Catholics increased. A rapid growth of occured in the late 1950s as was the case with the Protestantism. The Vatican recognized the Korean Catholic hierarchy for the first time in 1962, and appointed Stephen Kim as the first Korean Cardinal in 1968.
In the late 19th century when the Joseon Kingdom was threatened by western powers and Catholicism seemed to replace the traditional religions of Korea, Choe Te-u developed a new religion by combining the essence of traditional religions. This religion was originally called "Donghak" (Eastern Learning), but renamed "Cheondogyo" by the 3rd head of the group Son, Byeonghee.
The Cheondogyo is very typical of Korean traditional religions in that its theology consists of an absolute being who is sent from heaven, the faith of "man is heaven" (or, "man is god."), and redemption as a healing force in the world. There are a total of 280 Cheondogyo churches and 1.13 million followers in Korea.
Won Buddhism was founded by Park Chung-bin upon his divine enlightenment in 1916. He taught that the nature of Buddha is the very substance of existence that we can see in everything. He believed that "the Buddhism exists in everything in the shape of a circle", which is why the religion he founded is called Won (Circle) Buddhism.
The ceremonial characteristics and the organization of the church are very similar to those of Protestant churches. Its churches are in cities all over the country and hold services and meetings on Sundays and Wednesdays. There are 418 Won Buddhist churches and 1.23 million followers in Korea.
The first Koreans who were exposed to the Islam religion were poor farmers who moved to Manchuria in the late 19th century. In 1955, the first Korean Imam(chaplain) was elected, the Korean Federation of Muslims was espablished and a Korean Mosaque was built. Later in 1967, the Federation was officially registered with the Korean government as the Korean Society of Islam.