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  • 한국 신종교의 사상과 종교 문화. Han’guk sinjonggyo ŭi sasang kwa chonggyo munhwa [Religious culture and thought of Korean new religions]by 박광수 Park Kwang-soo
  • Pori Park
한국 신종교의 사상과 종교 문화. Han’guk sinjonggyo ŭi sasang kwa chonggyo munhwa [Religious culture and thought of Korean new religions]. By 박광수 Park Kwang-soo, Seoul: Chipmundang, 2012, 642p.

This book presents a comprehensive examination of the four major new religions of Korea, Ch’ŏndogyo, Taejonggyo, Chŭngsan’gyo, and Wŏn Buddhism, including their historical, social, cultural, doctrinal, and ritualistic dimensions. The work is divided into five main parts, comprising a total of 28 chapters. The first part, which consists of three chapters, concerns these new religions in their social and political contexts and provides a description of the establishment of [End Page 192]the new religions by their founders. The second part (five chapters) centers on the doctrinal teachings of the religions. The third part (four chapters), provides further exploration of their religious teachings, including an investigation of their common worldviews in regard to the Great Change ( kaebyŏk). The fourth part (four chapters) presents an analysis of the culture and rituals of the new religions, and the final part (five chapters) concerns the social engagement of the religions, from the colonial period to contemporary times, and includes exchanges among North-South Korean religions.

While the first four parts are well integrated into the whole, the last part could actually be developed into a separate volume. Notably, the last part’s substantial research on the social engagement of the religions, cooperation among the religions on both domestic and global levels, and religious interchanges between North and South Korean religions are well-documented and highly informative. Because this last part concerns all religions of Korea, not just the new religions, it could easily have been made into its own volume.

This book is inclusive of and builds upon previous studies of these new religions, and is thus useful for both beginners and experts on the subject. Its solid contextual studies make it easy for beginners to understand the social and political background of the new religions as well as their points of similarity to and departure from traditional religions. Parts 3 and 4, which contain further analyses on doctrine and rituals, are the study’s greatest contributions to the academic field.

What is unique about this book is its evident goal of identifying the positive aspects of the new religions, which the author draws from both doctrinal and ritual studies; this was done through a meticulous study of primary texts and rituals, to which Western theoretical concepts were then applied. The achievement of this goal, however, still leaves room for some improvement; a more nuanced and critical reading of the religions would have enabled the author to present a more complex picture of these new religions.

This positive approach of this work stands in contrast to some of the earlier depictions of the new religions as cult-like or as hodgepodges of existing religions. The author shows that a common thread of the new religions was that they instilled hope for a new era of equality and peace to those who lived in the politically treacherous period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [End Page 193]The author depicts the new religions as universal and cosmopolitan, even though they are indigenous to Korean soil, and discusses how the new religions create new religious cultures, such as those of healing ( haewŏn), mutual cooperation ( sangsaeng), human-centeredness, and ecumenical pluralism.

The book is organized in such a way as to show how the main religious concept, Great Change ( kaebyŏk), on which the new religions are based, was a means of building the coming world of cosmic order and harmony. Part 4 focuses on the rituals and rites of passages of the new religions, which represent their views on life and death. Here the author explores their human-centered views and the Great Change that was brought by the religions; he explicates his points as follows: “The rituals of the Korean new religions express cosmic essence and a profound symbolic system beyond simple forms” (p. 338).

Similarly, in Chapters 15 and 16 of Part 4, which offer case...


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