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Reviewed by:
  • Sŏyangin ŭi han’guk chonggyo yŏngu
  • John Goulde
서양인의 한국 종교 연구. Sŏyangin ŭi han’guk chonggyo yŏngu [Western Studies of Korean Religions], by 김종서. Chongsuh Kim, Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 2006, x + 138p.

If it is true that all our current research stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, then Kim Chongsuh’s concise and well-balanced analysis of the major publications of Western investigators of Korean religions will stand as a constant reminder of how diverse and groundbreaking were the Western studies and interpretations of Korean religions over the past one hundred years. For those who are new to the study of Korean religions, it will serve as an invaluable introduction to the field. For those who already work in Korean studies, Korean religion studies, or cross-cultural comparative Asian studies, it provides a snapshot of the state of the field as of 2003. The chief contribution of the text, though, is that it provides native Korean researchers with an overview of the most prominent of western studies (American, British, German, Dutch, and Russian) that they might not have known existed nor had access to.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter is a short introduction to the field and a brief overview of the major bibliographies that were compiled by Westerners for the study of Korean religions. Chapter two deals with early Western descriptions of Korean religious practices, beginning with Hamel’s late 17th century Account and ending with Eli Landis’s late 19th century essays on Korean spirit worship. Chapter three deals with pre-colonial period studies that sought to understand Korean religions more or less from an objective point of view. Chapter four surveys research conducted by missionaries and those investigators with a Christian background. Chapter five surveys post-liberation Western anthropological and sociological research into Korean folk religions and Korean new religions. Chapter six deals with post-liberation (primarily the 1980s and 90s) research on Korean Buddhism and Confucianism by Westerners and Koreans trained in Western universities as well as the Western compilation of sourcebooks for the understanding of Korean culture and Korean religions. Chapter seven finishes out the book with a summary of the who, what, how and why of the research described in each chapter and then raises questions about research that still needs to be done by Westerners. While the [End Page 203] grouping of the materials surveyed may seem a bit idiosyncratic, the author defends such grouping according to his interpretation of what motivated the researchers to do their work and what subjects they chose to work on and what methodologies they used.

The seventh and final chapter is, perhaps, the most interesting. It is in this chapter that the reader gets some sense of the author’s own interests. He is especially concerned with the application of the comparative method to the study of Korean religions as a whole, rather than the single-tradition reconstruction and sociological analysis favored by Westerners. He is also concerned with the enunciation of the “Koreaness” or ethno-cultural particularities or characteristics of Korean religions. While these concerns are valid and the primary concern of many Korean students of religion, they are not foregrounded by Western researchers, except as a result of cross-cultural comparison. The author is fully aware that Western interpreters of Korean religions have different reasons for doing the work they do, whether as a part of their own training in East Asian studies or as a field application of social science research, and he appreciates the fact that Westerners have contributed a plurality of methods, motivations, and insights to the study of Korean religions. The author concludes that the Western study of Korean religions is an academic tradition in its own right and has evolved from its earliest stage where curiosity, fascination, and romanticism dominated traveler accounts, through a period of manipulation and analysis for the sake of Christian proselytization, to become today a well-developed academic and professional field of study. He notes that the Western study of Korean religions has helped not only to establish the study of religion as an academic discipline in Korea but also to broaden...


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pp. 203-205
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