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  • An Interview with Professor James H. Grayson
  • Chang-Won Park (bio)

James H. Grayson ( is Emeritus Professor of Modern Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield, England. He earned a BA in Anthropology (Rutgers University, 1962–66), an MA in Anthropology (Columbia University, 1966–68), an MDiv in Systematic Theology (1968–71), and a PhD in the History of Religion (University of Edinburgh, 1976–79). He served as a missionary of the United Methodist Church (USA) to Korea for 16 years (1971–1987). From 1987, he taught Korean history and culture, and East Asian philosophy and religion at the School of East Asian Studies of the University of Sheffield as Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor. He retired in September 2009. He is married to Dr Ruth Hildebrandt. They have two sons adopted through the Holt Adoption Agency in Seoul. For a list of his major publications, visit

This interview is based on two meetings with Professor Grayson in South Korea in 2010 when he was staying in Daegu in order to teach at Keimyung University. The meetings were held at his office at Keimyung University on 29 April and at a coffee shop in Seoul on 29 June, respectively. Recently, Acta Koreana has published an interview with Professor Grayson: Vol. 9 No. 2 (2006), pp. 155–182. That interview covers various issues that our readers may also be interested to know, including: 1) how he became interested in Korea and his first impressions of the country (pp. 155–157); 2) the development of his academic career from an anthropologist to a scholar in Korean studies (pp. 157–159); 3) the development of the Korean studies program at Sheffield (pp. 159–164); 4) the nature of Korean religion and characteristics of Korean Christianity (pp. 164–168); 5) Korean myths and legends (pp. 169–171); 6) next research project on ch’udo yebae 추도예배 (pp. 171–176); 7) biggest challenges that Koreans are facing (pp. 176–178); 8) the future of Korean studies in Europe (pp. 178–181); 9) advice for young generations in Korean studies (p. 181). The present interview deals with many other issues that the previous interview has not discussed, with a focus on issues concerning Korean religions. [End Page 189]


On behalf of the editors of the Journal of Korean Religions, I would like to thank you for your time for this interview. To start off, could you tell us what the launch of this journal means to you?


Although the field of journals on Korean Studies is becoming somewhat crowded, this journal should offer a good opportunity to scholars in the area of East Asian religions to have a specialized forum for the discussion of issues in religious thought and practice. I would hope that researchers in the area of ethnology and anthropology would see this journal as a natural place to contribute the results of their research.


You studied anthropology, became interested in Korea, served as a missionary in South Korea for sixteen years with the Methodist church, and then later became a lecturer (professor) of Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield. Some details of your life and work have been published in Acta Koreana 9/2 (2006): 155–182. Could you tell us about some turning points in your life?


There were three early ‘turning points’. I had been interested in East Asia, primarily China, since I was a small child. But, it was being part of a work camp in a fishing village on the south coast of Korea in August, 1965 (sponsored by the American Friends (Quaker) Service Committee) which really sparked my interest in Korea. It was impossible to visit China then, and for various reasons, Korea seemed more interesting to me than Japan, where I had also participated in a work camp in July of the same year. The next turning point happened when I had begun to do post-graduate study in anthropology at Columbia University. It was the Marxist nature of the department and the attitude of many of the staff towards religion that made me think seriously...


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