The Role of Religion in Korean Society

Explores the role religion plays in Korean society in preserving tradition and promoting social change.

This paper discusses how Korea is representative of almost every one of the world’s religions, including Shamanism, Taoism, Christianity, monotheism and Buddhism. The paper points out that religion in Korea is paradoxical since while being fully grounded in tradition, it simultaneously has managed to shape the cultural and practical life of the nation. The paper specifically discusses how Christianity achieved its major effect in terms of social progress and political change, while Shamanism produced a direct impact on literary and cultural life.
Shamanism is Korea’s earliest religion, having its origins in the Bronze Age. It is the only indigenous religion in the country. Shamanism is the most basic form of religious experience, and is especially prevalent in the primitive rural areas. Shamanism developed its belief system by adopting doctrines and rituals from Buddhism. At the same time, shamanism was extremely selective in its borrowing of Buddhist tradition. In turn, Buddhism had used the same process of selection. In its interactions with Buddhism and Confucianism, Korean Buddhism reinforced those beliefs and practices which were congenial to its own values (Guisso & Yu 93). By this means, these religions were enabled to control and determine their future forms.
Taoism during the Choson dynasty was basically confined to the royal court and did not actually impact on shamanism. Shamanism traditionally coexisted with other religions, including the Catholic and Protestant religions. Roman Catholicism was smuggled onto the Korean peninsula two centuries ago (Chang x).”