Saturday, November 14, 2015

Catholic Inculturation in Korea

Inculturation is a word we often hear  when we speak about the Gospel and culture. Evangelization has to be sensitive to the culture in which one is living and how to make the Gospel message understood  in that environment.  Articles in two Catholic Weeklies introduce a  new book to the readers by a  seminary professor, Fr. Lee Dae-geun. He   received a prize for his recent book on  'Korean Religious  History of Ideas'  which was the author's  efforts to understand why Korea was fertile ground for Catholic  teaching.

Korean Catholicism, we need to remember, met people with a shamanistic history and Fr. Lee's efforts wanted to understand the encounter of these two religions. To understand Christianity in Korea, and the people's religious sensibilities, we have to understand  shamanism, which  influenced Korean culture and temperament, and continues to do so, according to Fr. Lee.

Easy it is for us to think that shamanism, exorcism rites, superstition and the like have mostly disappeared. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have come into the country from outside but shamanism was modified to adapt to the teachings of each of these religions.

Studies of shamanism have been going on for some time. No longer is it the study of folklore or history, but now it extends to sociology, anthology, religion, and psychology. Fr. Lee examines the influence of shamanism  on Christianity. He wants to examine the motivational force that enabled the Korean people to accept Christianity when it entered Korea. He was surprised at the ease in accepting Christianity. The book is the study of the reasons in accepting Christianity, a foreign import.

Fr, Lee has a doctorate in Korean Philosophy and Asian studies and in his examination of folklore and rites of the harvest, he came to a new understanding  of the legendary founder of Korea, Dan-gun, from whom the  Korean people are descended. He recommends that their identity as Koreans and as Christians be understood  as the meeting of these two religions.   

Fr. Lee's book was praised for his efforts to understand the religious sensibilities of the Korean people but he has been criticized in making some great leaps in what he has included in the book and also in simplifying much. In the critique of the book that followed the article, it was mentioned that many did find the acceptance of Christianity easy but with the teaching on Creation and Redemption there were also many who  gave their lives for the faith, which brings doubt to the minds of many on some of the points that were made in the book.

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