If one feature of modernity is the degree of tolerance a state or society affords a religious minority, then for much of the Chosŏn dynasty Korea was more modern than Western Europe or North America. In contrast with the witch-hunts we see in the West, which took the lives of tens of thousands, Korea marginalized but did not usually kill its shamans. The Chosŏn state exercised ritual hegemony over its subjects, but that meant it attempted only to control their religious activities. Unlike in the West until a few centuries ago, Korea did not execute many religious non-conformists for their nonconformity. This changed in the late eighteenth century, when the Chosŏn government began killing members of Korea’s emerging Catholic community for being Catholic. Moreover, when Korea began killing Catholics, it tortured and executed women as well as men, though in the past any legal attacks on nonconformists were usually limited to men. In Korea today, we find the legacy of pre-eighteenth-century Korea to be stronger than the legacy of the nineteenth-century persecutions. Nevertheless, Korea continues to differ from the West in its relationship between the state and religious communities.


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