Religion is a moving target in the sense that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is and does; hence the numerous definitional problems. It is also a moving target in the sense that the elements that constitute religion are not stable, and are subject to kaleidoscopic changes. Conventional labels such as shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism tend to distract our attention from these changes and instabilities. They become associated with certain standard concepts, which may have little to do with the actual practice of their believers or are equally present in the conceptual world of the adherents of other religions. Over the years these labels cover different realities and the distinctions between them may become so vague that it becomes difficult to classify certain phenomena under one of these rubrics. Korea's religious history shows, for instance, that so-called "Confucian values" were propagated by Buddhist songs, and that the core of these values, the virtues of filial piety and loyalty to the throne, by the middle of the nineteenth century had ceased to be "Confucian" in any meaningful way, having become generally accepted by people from whatever religious conviction. In practice, a constant process of reassembling and reconstituting takes place, which means that not too much value should be assigned to the origin or authenticity of religious phenomena, and that a notion such as syncretism becomes useless as a distinguishing characteristic.


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pp. 9-23
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