Spice_Religions of Korea.pdf - handout 2 RELIGIONS OF KOREA...

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48 © SPICE handout 2 R ELIGIONS OF K OREA Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shamanism have all been prominent in Korea since early history. Contemporary observers remark that modernization has not affected the demand for religions in Korea, and in recent times the Korean landscape has become dotted with Christian churches, often standing side by side with Buddhist, Confucian, and shamanistic symbols and places of worship. Statistics bear out the fact of Koreans’ resilient religiosity. Half of Korea’s population of fifty million people hold religious affiliations. According to a government survey conducted in 2005, more than 29 percent of Koreans identified themselves as Christian (18.3 percent Protestant and 10.9 percent Roman Catholic), while 22.8 percent were solidly Buddhist. Almost half (46.9 percent) of those questioned claimed not to be religious, but upon closer inspection, even they engaged in religious activities of various kinds, e.g., going to Buddhist monasteries to pray for a child’s academic success, consulting Christian ministers for a healing prayer, and maybe visiting a shaman or two for fortune-telling and even an exorcism. Shamanism Shamanism is Korea’s earliest belief system, dating back to pre-historic times, and forms an enduring part of Korea’s cultural foundation. Shamanism centers on the powers of a priest, i.e., a shaman, to act as an intermediary between the human and spirit realms. In the traditional Korean worldview, a supreme deity, Hanumin , presides over a world in which the sun, moon, stars, earth, mountains, trees, and various parts of the household are imbued with a divine spirit, often manifested in the form of folk deities. Shamanism’s relationship with Korea’s rulers and the state has vacillated over the centuries. Ancient tribal chieftains are thought to have been shamans, and during the early Three Kingdoms Period (57–668 CE), shamans exerted considerable influence in political and military affairs. In later times, especially during the Joseon Period (1392–1910), Confucian bureaucrats often attempted to suppress shamanistic practices. Throughout Korean history, however, members of all levels of society have from time to time sought the assistance of shamans to cure illness, appease the dead, learn about the future, and secure good fortune. Buddhism Buddhism was founded by the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, revered today as the Buddha, around the 5th century BCE. The basic tenets of Buddhism are that life is impermanent, illusory, and filled with suffering caused by desire and ignorance, giving rise to a continuous exorcism— the practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person or an area they are believed to have possessed pre-historic— of, relating to, or denoting the period before written records deity— god or goddess vacillate— alternate or waver between different opinions or actions bureaucrat— an official in

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