- Korean Women and God: Experiencing God in a Multi-religious Colonial Context
Korean Women and God, part of an ongoing Orbis series called Women from the Margins, begins with Choi Hee An recollecting how she once forgot her own face. Told by her mother that this happened to everyone, she was surprised to learn later that this was not universally true. Choi uses this anecdote to express her belief that Korean women have forgotten their identities in the face of a patriarchal culture that demands service to others above individual needs. Her work seeks to demonstrate how Korean women's 'understandings of God's attributes can damage, embrace, or recreate Korean women and their self-images' (p. 2).
Choi includes an abundance of information about the social and spiritual lives of Korean women. The first part examines how the different religions of Korea, including Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity, have impacted women. The book then looks at the social roles Korean women play as daughters, mothers, wives and citizens. While the continual themes of patriarchal and colonial oppression can become exhausting, Choi includes much evidence from Korean history and culture, as well as her own interviews, to support her ideas.
The third and fourth sections offer hope for building a more positive and dynamic faith among Korean women. Part Three considers the transformation of han, a difficult word to translate into English that can mean 'a fundamental feeling of defeat' (p. 4). This transformation of han can take place through Korean women seeing God in new ways, such as a friend or liberator. The final part gives some welcome practical suggestions on ways for Korean churches to hear women better.
While Choi generally does a good job of handling these topics within [End Page 188] the book's 190 pages, there were areas that could have benefited from further depth. As it is written from a Christian feminist viewpoint, a further analysis of Korean Christian issues would have been welcome, especially concerning the role of the Bible.
In light of the valid points the book makes about the role of women within Korea, it is a shame that it is likely too controversial for the mostly conservative Korean churches. For instance, Choi writes in the final section of Korean women's desire to 'replace the oppressive God with a God of their own design' (p. 158). Such a thought may not be welcome in a church climate that stresses fixed Christian revelation. Western readers may also find her conclusions regarding Western oppression of Korea to be provocative, like when she comes close to equating Korean prostitutes working among the American military with the forced sexual service of the comfort women during the Japanese occupation of Korea (pp. 90-1). But those who are open to a lively Korean feminist overview of Korean religion and culture will find much to appreciate in Choi's work.