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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Protestantism in Korea and Japan from the 1880s to the 1940s

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2005, v.45 no.4, pp.261-290

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Abstract

One of the most remarkable facts about religion in South Korea is that Protestantism, which was introduced in 1884, is the second largest religion with nearly nine million adherents and that it has been the fastest growing religion for the last four decades. This is all the more astonishing given the fact that Christianity has failed to strike roots in Japana neighbouring country with strikingly similar social organizational arrangements and shared cultural traditions and practiceswhere less than one percent of the population has converted to the new religion. The key historical-sociological problematic raised by this phenomenal development is obvious: what confluence of historical, religio-cultural, and social conditions and factors account for the Christian success story in South Korea and the corresponding failure of this imported Western religion to make similar progress in Japan? This study argues that the main reasons for the different response lie in the political and religious context between the late nineteenth century and the mid 1940s. The factors that set the stage for the different fate of Protestant Christianity in Korea and Japan are many, but the following three have been most important: 1) the difference in socio-political contexts (political instability and defeat versus relatively greater stability and triumph); 2) contrasts in the missionaries efforts and their impact (appreciation versus indifference and contempt); and 3) dissimilarity in the religio-cultural milieu (lack of religious opposition versus concerted opposition by traditional religions and Shinto-centered unity).

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