Religion in South Korea

Religion in South Korea

Religion in South Korea is dominated by the traditional Buddhist faith and a large and growing [ [ Presidential Election in South Korea Highlights Influence of Christian Community] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Retrieved on 23 June 2008.] Christian population. The practice of both of these faiths has been strongly influenced by the enduring legacies of Korean Confucianism, which was the official ideology of the 500-year-long Joseon Dynasty, and Korean shamanism, the native religion of the Korean Peninsula.

tatistics on religion by population

bar box
title=South Korea religiosity
According to 2005 statistics compiled by the South Korean government, approximately 46.5% of the South Korean population express no religious preference. [According to figures compiled by the South Korean National Statistical Office. cite web |url= |accessdate=2006-08-23 |work=NSO online KOSIS database |title=인구,가구/시도별 종교인구/시도별 종교인구 (2005년 인구총조사) This should not be confused with other figures which report only the percentage of the "religious" population that are Buddhist, Christian, Cheondoist, etc...]

Of the religious people, 29.3% are Christian (of which 18.3% (on total) profess to be Protestants and 10.9% to be Catholics), 22.8% are Buddhist, and the rest adheres to various new religious movements including Jeungism, Daesunism, Cheondoism, Taoism, Confucianism and Wonbuddhism.

A small minority of Koreans also profess Islam. Large metropolitan areas had the highest proportions of people belonging to formal religious groups: 49.9 percent in Seoul, 46.1 percent for Busan, and 45.8 percent for Daegu. South Korea had the third highest percentage of Christians in East Asia or Southeast Asia, following the Philippines and East Timor.

Except for the Christian groups, who maintain a fairly clearcut distinction between believers and nonbelievers, there is some ambiguity in these statistics. For instance, there is no exact or exclusive criterion by which Buddhists or Confucianists can be identified. Although existing in other countries, the lineage of refuge, a commitment that distinguishes between Buddhists and non-Buddhists has disintegrated in Korea and is difficult to find because religion is seen to be hereditary. Many people outside of formal groups have been deeply influenced by these traditions. Moreover, it is not uncommon for Koreans to pray at Buddhist temples, participate in Confucian ancestor rites, and even consult a shaman and sponsoring a kut. Furthermore, the statistics may underrepresent the numbers of people belonging to new religions. Some sources have given the number of adherents of Ch'ondogyo as over 1 million.

Given the great diversity of religious expression, the role of religion in South Korea's social development has been complex. Some traditions, especially Buddhism, are identified primarily with the past. Buddhist sites such as the Pulguksa Temple and the Sokkuram Grotto in Kyongju and the Haeinsa Temple near Taegu are regarded by most South Koreans as important cultural properties rather than as places of worship. Confucianism remains important as a social ethic; its influence is evident in the immense importance Koreans ascribe to education. Christianity is identified with modernization and social reform. Many Christians in contemporary South Korea, such as veteran political opposition leader Kim Dae Jung, a Catholic, have been outspoken advocates of human rights and critics of the government. Christian-sponsored organizations such as the Urban Industrial Mission promote labor organizations and the union movement. New religions draw on both traditional beliefs and on Christianity, achieving a baffling variety and diversity of views. It has been estimated that there were as many as 5000 new religions in South Korea in the late 1800s, though many were small and transient phenomena.


Taoism, which focuses on the individual in nature rather than the individual in society, and Buddhism entered Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms period (fourth to seventh centuries A.D.). Daoist motifs are seen in the paintings on the walls of Koguryo tombs. Buddhism was the dominant religious and cultural influence during the Silla (A.D. 668-935) and Koryo (918-1392) dynasties. Confucianism also was brought to Korea from China in early centuries, but it occupied a subordinate position until the establishment of the Choson Dynasty and the persecution of Buddhism carried out by the early Choson Dynasty kings

Buddhism is stronger in the more traditional east of the country, namely the Yeongnam and Gangwon regions, where it accounts for more than half of the religious population. There are a number of different "schools" in Korean Buddhism, including the Seon; however, the overwhelming majority (around 90%) of Buddhist temples are part of the Jogye Order. Many adherents of Buddhism combine Buddhist practice and shamanism.

Buddhism in South Korea is dominated by the Jogye Order, a syncretic sect traditionally linked to the Seon tradition. Most of the country's old and famous temples, such as Bulguksa and Beomeosa, are operated by the Jogye Order, which is headquartered at Jogyesa in central Seoul. Other Buddhist traditions in South Korea include the "Taego" and "Cheontae" lineages. Taego is a form of Seon (Zen), while the Choentae is a modern revival of the T'ien T'ai lineage in Korea, focusing on the Lotus Sutra. Another lineage, the Jingak, is a form of Vajrayana Buddhism. Both the Jogye and Cheontae orders require their monastics to be celibate, while the Taego and Jingak orders allow for married priests. There are many other small orders in South Korea as yet unknown in the West.


Roman Catholic missionaries did not arrive in Korea until 1794, a decade after the return of the first baptized Korean from a visit to Beijing. However, the writings of the Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who was resident at the imperial court in Beijing, had been brought to Korea from China in the seventeenth century. It appears that scholars of the Sirhak, or practical learning, school were interested in these writings. Largely because converts refused to perform Confucian ancestor rites, the government prohibited the proselytization of Christianity. Some Catholics were executed during the early nineteenth century, but the anti-Christian law was not strictly enforced. By the 1860s, there were some 17,500 Roman Catholics in the country. There followed a more rigorous persecution, in which thousands of Christians died, that continued until 1884.

Protestant missionaries entered Korea during the 1880s and, along with Catholic priests, converted a remarkable number of Koreans. Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries were especially successful. They established schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages and played a significant role in the modernization of the country. During the Japanese colonial occupation, Christians were in the front ranks of the struggle for independence. Factors contributing to the growth of Protestantism included the degenerate state of Korean Buddhism, the efforts made by educated Christians to reconcile Christian and Confucian values (the latter being viewed as purely a social ethic rather than a religion), the encouragement of self-support and selfgovernment among members of the Korean church, and the identification of Christianity with Korean nationalism.

A large number of Christians lived in the northern part of the peninsula where Confucian influence was not as strong as in the south. Before 1948 P'yongyang was an important Christian center: one-sixth of its population of about 300,000 people were converts. Following the establishment of a communist regime in the north, however, most Christians had to flee to South Korea or face persecution.

The profusion of church steeples in most South Korean cities has often attracted attention. Christianity, which initially got a foothold in Korea in the late 18th century, grew exponentially in the 1970s and 1980s, and despite slower growth in the 1990s, caught up to and then surpassed Buddhism in the number of adherents. Protestant churches including Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Methodists make up about 8% of the total population, while Roman Catholics occupy about 6%. Christians are especially strong in the west of the country including Seoul, Gyeonggi and Honam regions. Seoul is home to Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest single church in the world.

The Christian faith in South Korea is heavily dominated by four denominations: Roman Catholics, Presybterians, Methodists, and Baptists. Some non-denominational churches also exist.

The traditional peace churches have not gained a strong foothold on the peninsula. Quakerism briefly attracted a national following in the late 20th century, thanks to the leadership of Ham Seok-heon. However, after Ham's death interested in Quaker thought withered, and now only one Quaker meeting is active nationwide. The state of Unitarianism is similar.

Unification Church

The Unification Church, founded in Seoul in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, is one of the modern world's most well-known new religious movements. It has members in many other countries and retains a high profile in South Korean affairs, operating various companies and organizations. The Church has used its substantial resources to support work towards Korean reunification.


Koreans, like other East Asians, have traditionally been eclectic rather than exclusive in their religious commitments. Their religious outlook has not been conditioned by a single, exclusive faith but by a combination of indigenous beliefs and creeds imported into Korea. While Korean shamanism is essentially monotheistic, with a belief in a single Creator-God ("Hwan-in" in Korean, later also Haneul-nim, 하늘님/하느님, or Haneu-nim, 하나님, which are versions used by Korean Catholics and Protestants, respectively)ref|shaman4, belief in a world inhabited by spirits is probably the oldest form of Korean religious life, dating back to prehistoric times. There is a rather unorganized pantheon of literally millions of deities, spirits, and ghosts, ranging from the "god generals" who rule the different quarters of heaven to mountain spirits (sansin). This pantheon also includes deities who inhabit trees, sacred caves, and piles of stones, as well as earth spirits, the tutelary deities of households and villages, mischievous goblins, and the ghosts of persons who in many cases met violent or tragic ends. These spirits are said to have the power to influence or to change the fortunes of living men and women.

Korean shamans are similar in many ways to those found in Siberia, Mongolia, and Manchuria. They also resemble the yuta found on the Ryukyu Islands, in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Cheju Island is also a center of shamanism.

Shamans, most of whom are women, are enlisted by those who want the help of the spirit world. Female shamans (mudang) hold kut, or services, in order to gain good fortune for clients, cure illnesses by exorcising evil spirits, or propitiate local or village gods. Such services are also held to guide the spirit of a deceased person to heaven.

Often a woman will become a shaman very reluctantly--after experiencing a severe physical or mental illness that indicates "possession" by a spirit. Such possession allegedly can be cured only through performance of a kut. Once a shaman is established in her profession, she usually can make a good living.

Many scholars regard Korean shamanism as less a religion than a "medicine" in which the spirits are manipulated in order to achieve human ends. There is no notion of salvation or moral and spiritual perfection, at least for the ordinary believers in spirits. The shaman is a professional who is consulted by clients whenever the need is felt. Traditionally, shamans had low social status and were members of the ch'ommin class. This discrimination has continued into modern times.

Animistic beliefs are strongly associated with the culture of fishing villages and are primarily a phenomenon found in rural communities. Shamans also treat the ills of city people, however, especially recent migrants from the countryside who find adjustment to an impersonal urban life stressful. The government has discouraged belief in shamanism as superstition and for many years minimized its persistence in Korean life. Yet in a climate of growing nationalism and cultural self-confidence, the dances, songs, and incantations that compose the kut have come to be recognized as an important aspect of Korean culture. Beginning in the 1970s, rituals that formerly had been kept out of foreign view began to resurface, and occasionally a Western hotel manager or other executive could even be seen attending a shamanistic exorcism ritual in the course of opening a new branch in Seoul. Some of these aspects of kut have been designated valuable cultural properties that should be preserved and passed on to future generations.

The future of shamanism itself was uncertain in the late 1980s. Observers believed that many of its functions in the future probably will be performed by the psychiatric profession as the government expands mental health treatment facilities. Given the uncertainty of social, economic, and political conditions, however, it appears certain that shamans will find large numbers of clients for some time to come.

Unlike the other traditions here, shamanism does not have a clear creed of its own. Over the centuries, it has become closely associated with Korean Buddhism. Most of those who engage in or follow shamanism are also Buddhists; however, not all Buddhists follow shamanism.

Although generally considered unfashionable in South Korea today, shamanic practices remain widespread. The largest association of shamans in South Korea claims more than 100,000 members.ref|shamans1 Away from Jeju Island, these practitioners are almost entirely female. The shamanic rites, known as "gut", vary from region to region.


Only 0.2% of contemporary South Koreans give "Confucianism" as their religion. However, the influence of Confucian ethical thought on other religious practices, and on Korean culture in general, remains quite extensive.

Confucian rituals are still practiced at various times of the year. The most prominent of these are the annual rites held at the Shrine of Confucius in Seoul. Other rites, for instance those in honor of clan founders, are held at the numerous shrines found throughout the country.

New religions

The fall of the Joseon Dynasty and the coming of the Japanese occupation spurred the formation of several new faiths. These typically drew on a combination of Western, Eastern, and autochthonous traditions. The most prominent is Cheondogyo, which claimed more than a million members at its height in the early 20th century. Today Cheondogyo believers make up less than 0.1% of the South Korean population. Other similar religions include Wonbulgyo or Won Buddhism, Taejonggyo and Jeungsando.

Cheondogyo (Way of Heaven School), generally regarded as the first of Korea's "new religions," is another important religious tradition. It is a synthesis of Neo-Confucian, Buddhist, Shamanist, Daoist, and Catholic influences. Cheondogyo grew out of the Donghak (Eastern Learning) Movement established by Choe Je-u , a man of "yangban" (aristocratic) background who claimed to have experienced a mystic encounter with God, who told him to preach to all the world. Choe was executed by the government as a heretic in 1863, but not before he had acquired a number of followers and had committed his ideas to writing. Donghak spread among the poor people of Korea's villages, especially in the Jeolla region, and was the cause of a revolt against the royal government in 1894. While some members of the Donghak Movement -- renamed Cheondogyo (Teachings of the Heavenly Way) -- supported the Japanese annexation in 1910, others opposed it. This group played a major role, along with Christians and some Confucians, in the Korean nationalist movement. In the 1920s, Cheondogyo sponsored Kaebyok (Creation), one of Korea's major intellectual journals during the colonial period (see The Media, ch. 4).

Cheondogyo's basic beliefs include the essential equality of all human beings. Each person must be treated with respect because all persons "contain divinity;" there is "Heaven in Humanity." Moreover, men and women must sincerely cultivate themselves in order to bring forth and express this divinity in their lives. Self-perfection, not ritual and ceremony, is the way to salvation. Although Choe and his followers did not attempt to overthrow the social order and establish a radical egalitarianism, the revolutionary potential of Cheondogyo is evident in these basic ideas, which appealed especially to poor people who were told that they, along with scholars and high officials, could achieve salvation through effort. There is reason to believe that Cheondogyo had an important role in the development of democratic and anti-authoritarian thought in Korea. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cheondogyo's antecedent, the Donghak Movement, received renewed interest among many Korean intellectuals.

Apart from Cheondogyo, major new religions included Taejonggyo, which has as its central creed the worship of Dangun, legendary founder of Gojoseon, thought of as the first proto-Korean kingdom. Jeungsando, founded in the early twentieth century, emphasizes magical practices, the soon-coming end of world civilization as we know it due to cosmic-caused changes in the earth's climate and other disasters, and the subsequent creation of a paradise on earth by its followers, who will survive the cataclysm. It is divided into several competing branches, at least one of which has notably modernized its approach and has recruited some non-Korean adherents. Wonbulgyo (Won Buddhism), attempts to combine traditional Buddhist doctrine with a modern concern for social reform and revitalization. There are also a number of small sects, which have sprung up around Gyeryong-san (Rooster-Dragon Mountain, always one of Korea's most-sacred areas) in South Chungcheong Province, the supposed future site of the founding of a new dynasty originally prophesied in the eighteenth century (or before).

Several new religions derive their inspiration from Christianity. The Cheondogwan, or Evangelical Church, was founded by Pak T'ae-son. Pak originally was a Presbyterian, but was expelled from the church for heresy in the 1950s after claiming for himself unique spiritual power. By 1972 his followers numbered as many as 700,000 people, and he built several "Christian towns," established a large church network, and managed several industrial enterprises.

Because of its overseas evangelism, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, or Unification Church (Tongilgyo), founded in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myong Moon (Mun Seon-myeong), also a former Christian, is the most famous new Korean religion. During its period of rigorous expansion during the 1970s, the Unification Church had several hundred thousand members in South Korea and Japan and a substantial (although generally overestimated) number of members in North America and Western Europe. Moon claimed that he was the "messiah" designated by God to unify all the peoples of the world into one "family," governed theocratically by himself. Like Pak's Evangelical Church, the Unification Church has been highly authoritarian, demanding absolute obedience from church members. Moon, for example, has arranged marriages for his younger followers; United States television audiences were treated some years ago to a mass ceremony at which several hundred young "Moonies" were married. Also like Pak, Moon has coupled the church's fortunes to economic expansion. Factories in South Korea and abroad manufacture arms and process ginseng and seafood, artistic bric-a-brac, and other items. Moon's labor force has worked long hours and been paid minimal wages in order to channel profits into church coffers. Virulently anticommunist, Moon has sought to influence public opinion at home and abroad by establishing generally unprofitable newspapers such as the Segye Ilbo in Seoul, the Sekai Nippo in Tokyo, and the Washington Times in the United States capital, and by inviting academics to lavish international conferences, often held in South Korea. At home, by the 1980s the Unification Church was viewed with suspicion by the authorities because of its scandals and Moon's evident desire to create a "state within a state." His influence and that of his church has continued to decline since that time, and seems stagnant in the 2000s, as the elderly Moon's children and followers prepare for the founder's death.

Other religions


The number of Muslims in South Korea is estimated at about 40,000 mainly consisting of people who converted during the Korean War and their descendents and not including migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia. The largest mosque is the Seoul Central Mosque in the Itaewon district of Seoul; smaller mosques can be found in most of the country's major cities.

In addition to native Korean Muslims, there are some 100,000 foreign workers from Muslim countries, [ [ Islam takes root and blooms] ] particularly Bangladesh and Pakistan. [cite web|title=Korea’s Muslims Mark Ramadan|publisher=The Chosun Ilbo|date=September 11, 2008|url=|accessdate=2008-10-09]


Orthodox Hinduism is practiced only by South Korea's tiny Indian community. However, Hindu traditions such as yoga and Vedantic thought have attracted widespread interest among younger South Koreans.


The Jewish presence in South Korea effectively began with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. At this time a large number of Jewish soldiers, including the chaplain Chaim Potok, came to the Korean peninsula. Today the Jewish community is very small and limited to the Seoul metropolitan area. There have been very few Korean converts to Judaism.

Religious conflict

Some Korean evangelical Christians have expressed hostility to Buddhism. There have been several dozen incidents of arson and vandalism against Buddhist shrines and facilities over the last two decades, some of them quite serious. (Several large temples were destroyed.) In some of these incidents, the perpetrators were identified as Christians, or left messages denouncing "idol worship". [cite web
last = Tedesco
first = Frank M.
publisher = International Association for Religious Freedom
date = May 5, 1999
url =
accessdate = 2007-12-14


# April 23 2004 "Yonhap News" article, no longer available. Formerly at [] . Google cache retrieved March 29 2006: [] .


# Colin Whittaker, "Korea Miracle" (book), Eastbourne, 1988, p. 63.

ee also

*Religion in Korea
*Religion in North Korea
*Religion in Asia
*List of Korea-related topics
*Contemporary culture of South Korea

External links

* []
* [ Lifeinkorea on religion]
* [ Jesusi: 한국의 종교]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужен реферат?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Freedom of religion in South Korea — The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.Religious demographyThe country has …   Wikipedia

  • South Korea — ROK redirects here. For other uses, see ROK (disambiguation). Republic of Korea 대한민국 大韓民國 Daehanminguk …   Wikipedia

  • Religion in North Korea — Traditionally, religion in North Korea primarily consists of Buddhism and Confucianism, and to a lesser extent, Christianity and syncretic Chondogyo. According to the CIA, since the rise of Stalinism, free religious activities no longer exist as… …   Wikipedia

  • Outline of South Korea — …   Wikipedia

  • Demographics of South Korea — This article is about the demographic features of the population of South Korea, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.… …   Wikipedia

  • Human rights in South Korea — South Korea This article is part of the series: Politics and government of South Korea Government …   Wikipedia

  • Roman Catholicism in South Korea — The Roman Catholic Church in South Korea is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome.The history of Catholicism (and arguably that of Christianity as a whole) in Korea is held to have… …   Wikipedia

  • List of South Korea-related topics — This page list topics related to South Korea. NOTOC 0 9A*Administrative divisions of South KoreaB*BusanC*Coat of arms of South Korea *Constitution of the Republic of Korea *Culture of South Korea **Culture of KoreaD*Daegu *Daejeon *Demographics… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Jews in South Korea — The first sizable Jewish presence in Korea was during the Korean War, when hundreds of Jewish soldiers participated in the American led effort to repel a communist attempt to control the whole peninsula. Among the participants was Chaim Potok,… …   Wikipedia

  • Law of South Korea — The legal system of South Korea is a civil law system that has its basis in the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.HistoryThe South Korean legal system effectively dates from the introduction of the original Constitution of the Republic of… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”