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Reviewed by:
  • Hanŏguk yŏsŏng chonggyoinŭi hyŏnsil kwa chendŏ munje ed. by Sogangdae Chonggyo Yŏn’guso
  • Kyung-Mi Park, Director
한국 여성종교인의 현실과 젠더문제 (서강대종교연구소 종교학총서 11). Hanŏguk yŏsŏng chonggyoinŭi hyŏnsil kwa chendŏ munje [The situation of female clergy and nuns and gender issues in Korean religions]. Religious Studies Series 11. Edited by Sogangdae Chonggyo Yŏn’guso [Institute for the Study of Religion at Sogang University], Seoul: Dongyeon, 2014, 384 pp.

Analyzing both Korean traditional religions and those implanted from the West, this book addresses gender-related issues in Korea’s multi-religious society and includes significant discussions concerning the problems facing female clerics within their diverse religious traditions.

An essential element shared by female clergy in Korea is their devotedness even amidst their marginalization. This work makes an important contribution by illuminating the poor state of affairs faced by Korean female clerics/priests regardless of their religion. Previous research on the state of women and gender in the context of religions mainly focused on how religious ideologies that originally sought gender equality became distorted through history by a patriarchy that inserted discriminatory beliefs into gender definitions. Such research takes an apologetic approach, justifying these bias-based distortions. This work, however, takes a more rational course by referencing studies which approach religion as a socio-cultural phenomenon. Rather than emphasizing the peculiarity of each religion’s ideology, it identifies itself as a “review of situations and experiences shared by Korean female clerics/priests, and allows a perspective of their condition as not isolated cases of a single religion but as a common problem of all female clerics/priests” (p. 7).

This work consists of two parts; the first is entitled “The Situation of the Female Clergy and Nuns in Korea,” and the second, “The Gender Issue in Modern Korean Religion.” Notable in Part One is the noted steady decrease in the number of female clergy applicants, resulting in an unreplenished population of aging female clerics. This trend, more intense among Buddhists and [End Page 175] Catholics, demonstrates the deteriorating situation Korean women of religion face. Studies referenced here implicate social modernization and secularization as the causes of gender discriminative structures in each religion. First, the modernization and secularization of Korean society are cited as primary causes of the decrease in female clergy. The distinctive codes for hairstyles, dress, and an ascetic life that are found in Buddhism, Wŏn Buddhism, and especially Catholicism, are perceived as burdensome by modern young women. More importantly, however, is that democratic awareness has intensified as secularization and modernization have progressed, whereas training programs for life as a female cleric and/or clergy member fail to account for standards of modernism. Cho Sŏngmi illustrates this in the chapter, “The progress, crisis, and task of the modern Bhikkhuni-Sangha of Korea,” through vivid and detailed interviews with many young Buddhist nuns. This is a problem of Korean traditional religions in general, and relates to gender issues as well as to the strict and undemocratic characteristics of religious communities.

Second, gender-discriminative structures are another cause of the decrease in female clergy. Highlighted in this work are studies indicating that gender equality in terms of clergy training program, ordination, clerical practices, and pay is nonexistent across all religions. In terms of approving women clergy (priests), according to Pak Mihyŏn in her chapter, “Her-story: the history of women in the Anglican Church of Korea and the story of a female pastor,” Buddhism, Wŏn Buddhism, and Shamanism have been accepting of female clergy from the beginning, whereas Christian religions accepted them comparatively late. The process of approving women priests has been very difficult; nevertheless, even when women priests are approved, they still face considerable disadvantages in terms of ordination or treatment within their ministries.

Wŏn Buddhism is an exceptional case; it emerged approximately a century ago and from its inception advocated gender equality, notably through female priests’ roles in missionary work. However, Pak Hyehun, in her chapter, “Female priests of Wŏn Buddhism in global times,” raises these gender issues: first, women who desire priesthood are required to take the vow of a chŏngnyŏ (nun), imposing upon them...


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