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  • 종교권력과 한국 천주교회. Chonggyo kwŏllyŏk kwa Han'guk Ch'ŏnju kyohoe [Religious Power and the Korean Catholic Church]
  • Hyunjun Park, Instructor
종교권력과 한국 천주교회. Chonggyo kwŏllyŏk kwa Han'guk Ch'ŏnju kyohoe [Religious Power and the Korean Catholic Church]. By 강인철 Kang Inch'ŏl, Osan-ri, Kyŏnggi-do: Hansin Taehakkyo Ch'ulp'anbu, 2008, 556 p.

During the dark days of South Korea's dictatorial regimes the Catholic Church in Korea stood as an advocate for the socially marginalized as well as for human rights and political democratization. During the decades of the 1970s and 1980s such support translated into a high degree of confidence in the Church on the part of the country's civil society. As if in recompense, this period saw record growth in the number of new Catholic faithful. What's more, citizens assessed the Catholic Church as the most ethical and honest of the nation's religions and its social clout increased accordingly. Though in terms of numbers of faithful, the Catholic Church was third, behind Protestantism and Buddhism, such numbers hardly mattered, for insofar as moral influence in Korean society, the Catholic Church stood at the forefront. However, from the mid-1990s onward, the behavior of the Korean Catholic Church took on a different aspect. This turning point largely coincided with the end of the country's authoritarian regime. In other words, with the rise to political power of the private sector, the Korean Catholic Church turned its focus to maintaining a political conservatism in line with the Second Vatican Council while its reformist tendencies gradually receded. As a result, the Catholic Church took a conservative approach, not only in terms of its internal politics but ideologically as well.

How are we to understand this change? In his Religious Power and the Korean Catholic Church (Chonggyo kwŏllyŏk kwa Han'guk Ch'ŏnju kyohoe), Kang Incheol provides us an answer. To do so, the author takes a sociological and historical approach in his analysis of the Korean Catholic Church in the period post-democratization. In particular, the author uses the concept of "religious power" (Chonggyo kwŏllyŏk) as a framework for analyzing the changes in the church from the pre to post-democratization eras. He attempts to understand the integrated dynamics of the Church's internal and external politics by tracing the formation of the Church's power and identifying one of the major groups involved therein. In his look at the authority of the Korean Catholic Church the author relies primarily on the theoretical work of Otto Maduro. For instance, [End Page 198] the author's definition of religious power as, "the ability to distribute and exchange religious commodities through their production, reproduction, and accumulation," is a concept derived directly from Maduro. However, because this concept is limited by its tendency to overlook external power relationships, the author supplements the theoretical work of Maduro through his own analysis of the form religious power takes in its external relations.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, subdivided into four chapters, deals primarily with methodology. The crux of this section is the author's consideration, from a comparative historical approach, of the formation of, and changes in, the religious power of the Korean Catholic Church over the last century and his proposal of a "Korean model" for understanding this formative process. Based on this model, the remaining chapters comprise an analysis of the structure of the religious authority of the Korean Catholic Church vis-à-vis the outside.

By his "Korean model," the author emphasizes the singular characteristics that differentiated the development of religious power in Korea from its development in Europe. For instance, in the case of Europe, modernization and secularization went hand-in-hand, such that modernization might be said to have ushered in the decline of religion. In Korean society, however, the process was the opposite. One notes the particular aspect of religious power in Korea in that it has continued to grow even amidst modernization. Case in point, one may cite the American military government's sympathetic policies towards Protestantism in the period following liberation, and then the continuous growth of Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism) in the...


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pp. 198-203
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