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  • 한국 그리스도교 비평 . Han'guk Kŭrisŭdogyo pip'yŏng [A Critique of Korean Christianity]
  • Miryam Woohyuk Choi, Senior Research Fellow
한국 그리스도교 비평. Han'guk Kŭrisŭdogyo pip'yŏng [A Critique of Korean Christianity]. By 이찬수 Ch'an-su Yi, Seoul: Ewha Womans University Press, 2009, 341p.

A Critique of Korean Christianity surveys the history of research on Christianity as a 'Korean Religion' over the last century while at the same time, from the standpoint of the history of religious culture, it critically [End Page 145] examines the prospects for 'Korean Christianity,' that is to say, the relationship between 'Korea' and 'Christianity,' in the 21st century. Its author Chan-Su Yi is a religious studies scholar who treats both Catholicism and Protestantism - under the rubric of Christianity - as Western religions in Korea. He is a Protestant minister and professor who was once fired by his university for bowing before a Buddhist image.

This book is essentially a history of studies of Korean Christianity over the last 100 years or so, situating various research findings in their respective historical contexts. The author argues that scholars have tended to define the history of Christianity in Korea as a history of martyrs, in the case of Catholicism, and as a history of missionaries, in the case of Protestantism. They have treated the last century of Christian history as separate from Christian history in the West and, adopting an apologetic stance, have linked the history of Christianity in Korea to the many changes Korean society has undergone over those approximately hundred years, as the political environment on the peninsula changed from feudalism to colonial rule. By the 1970s, Protestant scholars in particular, adopting the Minjung theological perspective, began to include women, laity, and smaller local denominations of Christianity as subjects to be included in the history of Christianity. It was not until the 1990s that some scholars began to approach Korean Christianity with the tools of the academic discipline of religious studies.

The author tries to determine the nature of "Korean Christianity" within Christianity as a product of the encounter between the specific distinctive characteristics of Korea and the unique universal characters of world Christianity, as reflected through Korean culture. He does so while maintaining a critical attitude toward those Korean scholars of Christianity who have tried to put some distance between Christianity and Korean culture. As a result, this book is a fruit of hermeneutical reflection reflecting the author's hope that Christianity will become an integral part of Korean culture, while the author criticizes the non-Korean nature of previous studies of Korean Christianity which have ignored the fact that Christianity has forged a close relationship with the Korean people and has become an important element of Korean history. [End Page 146]

This study, grounded in a religious studies perspective, is based on a view of Korea that takes Korea as an organic unity, with its independent nature assured by its tendency to live in the present, by its mass culture, and by the co-existence of both individualism and an understanding of human beings as defined by their relationships. Furthermore, the author assumes that we are witnessing a move away from the way of thinking that is centered on the West toward a pluralism that has multiple non-Western centers. This new perspective takes as its foundation a recognition of the unique characteristics of different geographical regions that sees threads of cultural distinctiveness running through them. It is a call for a revolutionary change in the way research has been done on Christianity in Korea.

In addition, the author makes several specific critical observations about Christianity as a Korean religion.

  1. 1. Korean Christianity and nationalism: If the role of religion is to define a national identity in terms of ethnicity, apologetics and navigating through ups and downs, Christianity has consistently played a leading role in the acceptance of Western civilization and the forging of a modern Korean people.

  2. 2. Korean Christianity and human rights: When we consider that religion has as its core teachings that promote the realization of true human freedom, the Christian view of humanity is faced with a challenge in contemporary Korean society. It has to be re...


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