- Deliverance and Submission: Evangelical Women and the Negotiation of Patriarchy in South Korea
Various researchers have examined the phenomenon of the rapid growth of Protestant Christianity from a social scientific point of view, examining the socio-economic and political ‘causes’ for this growth and the effects of that background on the way in which Protestantism in south Korea has developed. None has examined the issue of women’s adherence to Protestantism (here referred to as Evangelicalism) in as much detail as has Kelly H. Chong.
There are six topical chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. Following an overview of the historical introduction of Protestant Christianity into Korea from the late nineteenth century, Chong discusses in turn the contradictions of conversion and gender and family relations, the deliverance from oppression through religion and the process of healing, the development of ‘space’ for women’s activities and empowerment, patriarchy and submission of women, and the redomestication of women and their consent to a new form of suppression. This study is anthropological in that it consists of cases studies of middle-class women in two large urban churches. However, the book is not simply focussed on the issues of women in Korean churches but is compared throughout with cases from other parts of the world, primarily the US and Latin America, providing a global perspective on an issue local to Korea. The study is thorough and balanced throughout, providing an excellent observation on a seemingly contradictory situation: why have middle-class, well educated women become members of an organization which while allowing a certain release from the situation of oppression in a patriarchal society, also reaffirms the same basic patriarchal principles of contemporary south Korean society.
In a nuanced way, this work demonstrates how a new religious system (Protestantism) accommodated itself by the early twentieth century to the prevailing Confucian values of family and family structure, thus providing on the one hand a kind of release from the pressures of the traditional society, while at the same time reaffirming the centrality of the family and the traditional family hierarchy. It is this adherence to Confucian or transformed Confucian social values which has created the modern dilemma for Korean women. It is this [End Page 166] symbiotic relationship between Christian and Confucian values which Chong claims is the source for a process of social stabilization involving the redomestication of women. It is the focus on the family unit and its importance to both women and society in general which has created the difference between the aspirations of women in Korea from those in the Anglo-American world, where a focus on individual fulfilment and self-affirmation is more important. It is this observation which makes this book particularly valuable. Similar processes of social change in various parts of the world are not necessarily going to lead to the same end result. The US case cannot be taken as the standard for what will happen in other parts of the world. It is the unique historic and cultural background of each nation which will determine the way in which these processes develop. Having said that, Chong states that it is difficult to predict ultimately what the result will be in Korea, but implies that it will not be a simple replica of the US case.
This valuable book will be of interest to readers in the areas of religious studies, social change, gender studies, and East Asian studies more broadly defined. [End Page 167]
The University of Sheffield, UK