Journal of Korean Religions, vol. 4, no. 2 (2013): North Korea and Religion

Editor’s Introduction
Guest Editor Carl Young, 5

The topic of this special issue is “North Korea and Religion.” At first glance, religion and North Korea are two subjects that may not appear to be closely associated. North Korea is a communist country and Marxist Communism has traditionally been very negative towards religion. Although North Korean communism has often strayed far from its Marxist roots, in relation to religion, the North Korean regime has actually gone beyond many communist regimes in its repression and control of religious organizations. As shown by several articles in this special issue, the policy of the North Korean state towards religion has gone through several phases and its relations towards religious organizations have been complex, ambivalent, and unpredictable, in many ways in line with much of the regime’s behavior on other issues. …

Special Issue: North Korea and Religion


Buddhists in the Two Koreas: North-South Interactions
Bernard Senécal, 9

Northern Buddhists are often described as the ‘‘most active and powerful’’ North Korean religious organization. Moreover, many Korean Buddhists see their tradition as an indigenous one, unlike Christianity, which they deem ‘‘imported.’’ Accordingly, Buddhist representatives from both sides of the DMZ believe that a merger of North and South Korean Buddhism is an essential key to the peninsula’s reunification. However, that vision comes up against a number of obstacles. Firstly, no matter how dynamic it is, the Chobulyŏn 朝佛聯, which is the North Korea’s sole Buddhist body, has remained subordinate to the Chuch’e sasang 主體思想 (or Juche, Self-Reliance ideology) since its birth in 1972. Secondly, many Southern Christian groups, untroubled by their ‘‘imported nature’’, compete fiercely with Buddhists for the religious conquest of the North. Thirdly, two other factors have hampered the efforts made by Southern Buddhists to get closer to their Northern counterparts: the lack of continuity characterizing the reunification policies of the last four Southern presidential administrations; and the Chogyejong’s 曹溪宗 lack of autonomy regarding those policies. Despite these obstacles, Venerable P’ŏpt’a 法舵(b. 1945), alias the Bodhisattva of Reunification, maintains that it is imperative to keep engaging North Korean Buddhists as they are, and to keep providing material help to Northerners—especially food—through Buddhist channels. Doing otherwise would not only be counter to the spirit of universal compassion which typifies Mahāyāna Buddhism, but also leave Southern Buddhists unprepared in the case of unexpected political changes in P’yŏngyang.
Keywords: North Korean Buddhism, South Korean Buddhism, Interaction, reunification, Pŏpt’a 法舵, Beopta 法舵

Into the Sunset: Ch’ŏndogyo in North Korea, 1945–1950
Carl Young, 51

Ch’ŏndogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way) was active in both the religious and political spheres during the Japanese colonial period between 1910 and 1945. Ch’ŏndogyo believers and organizations were important in the March First Movement of 1919 and various moderate nationalist movements in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of its membership was located in the northern provinces of Korea during this time. The division of the peninsula strongly affected Ch’ŏndogyo in both the northern and southern zones and eventually contributed to the weakening of its religious and social organizations on both sides of the dividing line. This article will focus on developments in Ch’ŏndogyo in what became North Korea, taking into account both internal and external processes. National division led to the creation of separate religious and political organizations in the North and the South because of the increasing difficulties in communication between the two zones. In the North, tensions between those within the religion that favored increasing cooperation with the nascent Communist regime and those that wanted greater religious and political autonomy eventually led to the end of autonomy for Ch’ŏndogyo’s political party, the Ch’ŏndogyo Ch’ŏngudang (Ch’ŏndogyo Young Friends’ Party), and the destruction of its religious institutions.
Keywords: Ch’ŏndogyo, North Korea, Ch’ŏndogyo Ch’ŏngudang, Korean national division, Korean unification movements

The South Korean Catholic Church’s Attitude towards North Korea: from Antagonism to Development of Dialogue and Cooperation
Evelyne Chérel-Riquier, 67

Since the liberation of the Korean peninsula in 1945, the South Korean Catholic Church’s relationship with North Korea has been characterized by several types of attitudes, ranging from the Church’s historically strong antagonistic position toward communism to the more recent development of dialogue and cooperation with North Korea. The purpose of this article is to present and analyze chronologically several key periods that reveal the different kinds of relationships the South Korean Catholic Church has sought to build with North Korea. This paper will focus on three periods: the period of the foundation of the two Korean states when the Korean Catholic Church’s relationship with the emerging North Korean state was strongly antagonistic; the period of South Korean military dictatorship when the South Korean Catholic Church’s anti-communist ideology began partly to erode; and the period after the democratization of the South Korean state when some South Korean governments entered into a period of dialogue and cooperation with North Korea, a movement in which the South Korean Catholic Church participated.
Keywords: Catholicism, communism, democratization, social movements, humanitarian aid

Jucheism as an Apotheosis of the Family: The Case of the Arirang Festival
Hyang Jin Jung, 93

In this article, I am concerned with the religious nature of North Korean statehood and the religiosity of the people, as exemplified by North Korea’s hallmark mass gymnastics show, the Arirang Festival. As a ritual occasion of the highest import in Jucheism, the Festival displays the topography of statehood and shapes the mind-heart of the people through the extraordinary bodily discipline of the supposed disciples of Jucheism. By relying on video footage as well as film and other narratives about the mass gymnastics show, this article analyzes the relational structure and normative affects involving the Father (Kim Il Sung) and his faithful embodied in the Festival. By using former performers’ accounts, the research also examines the phenomenological here and now of religiosity experienced by the faithful vis-à-vis the Father in the otherworldly time and place of Jucheism. The main argument is that Jucheism in its affective-relational features is significantly modeled after the familial relational dynamics shared among Koreans. The Arirang Festival illustrates that the creativity and endurance of North Korean statehood lies in large part in its exploitation for its own purposes of the familiar and familial psychodynamics of ordinary North Koreans.
Keywords: North Korea, Arirang Festival, affective-relational complex, religiosity, Jucheism

Korean Christian Churches, the ibuk ch’ulsin Minority and the Perception of the North
Marie-Orange Rivé-Lasan, 123

Some research has already been done regarding the importance of Christian churches in South Korea and their impact on the socio-political field. Nevertheless, the case of those Protestant churches that were imported from the North into the South in the suitcases of migrants around the period of the Korean War deserves special attention for several reasons. Firstly, networking among South Korean political actors originating from the northern part of the Korean peninsula was often done through these Christian churches, not only at the familial level but also at professional and political levels. Secondly, these migrants’ particular ties with North Korea, which persist in spite of generational turnover, confers upon them a specific perception and idea about the North Korea from which they escaped. Between their will to protect themselves against the communist threat and their desire to help those North Koreans who were not as lucky as themselves, their vision regarding the North from the 1950s to the present has played a role in their actions as political actors in the South. Even though conservatism prevails, many of the activities undertaken in North Korea by South Koreans are done by Christian clergy.
Keywords: Christian churches, social networks, elites, South Korea, perceptions of North Korea

North Korean Refugees and the Politics of Evangelical Mission in the Sino-Korean Border Area
Jin-Heon Jung, 147

This article examines evangelical missionary work intimately tied with humanitarian aid for North Korean refugees in the Sino-North Korean border area as an emblem of South Korean churches’ North Korean mission. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, with limited access to certain field sites due to local security concerns, I shed light on refugees’ religious conversion as a complex cultural project and process in which ideas of and practices for religious freedom and salvation become immensely contested in the very logic of ‘‘saving,’’ in both humanitarian and biblical terms. My primary concerns in this Chinese context are twofold: the problems of evangelical missionary works associated with universal human rights discourses and the church as an intra-ethnic contact space where refugees’ religious and social lives are pre-figured. Based on fieldwork in the Yanbian area, this ethnography discusses empirical questions about religious conversion, intra-ethnic interactions, and salvation.
Keywords: North Korean refugees, evangelical mission, religious freedom, humanitarian aid, churches, salvation


The Posal between the Mudang and Buddhist: In-between and Bypassing
Antonetta L. Bruno, 175

Buddhism and Musok in Korea have been closely interrelated in many ways for a long time. Their affinities and similarities are acknowledged in terms of inclusiveness, inter-relationships and syncretism, while their differences are underlined by exclusiveness and specificities. In the classification of religions Musok is considered a popular religion, not an institutionalized religion like Buddhism. There has been little scholarly interest in the religious phenomenon that stands between Musok and Buddhism. This space is occupied by the hybrid religious figure of the posal. The posal is a religious officiant sharing her name with Buddhist officiants and also displaying similarities in her religious practices with the mudang. The posal’s religious identity, as I argue in this paper, threatens Musok and Buddhism. From the posal’s perspective, Musok and Buddhism are both institutional and thus have clearly outlined beliefs. Indeed, from this perspective, Musok is not less institutionalized than Buddhism. The analysis of the relationship between the posal and Musok and between the posal and Buddhism is based on data collected from mudang and Buddhist blogs and other websites. The discourse analysis will demonstrate the ambiguous boundaries of identities between the religious figures of the mudang, posal and Buddhists and how the posal’s lack of institutional identity and status cause the mudang and Buddhist to use their institutional authorities to curse the posal in two respects: spiritually and socially.
Keywords: borders, identity, Buddhist, mudang, posal


조선시대 달력의 변천과 세시의례. Chosŏn sidae tallyŏk ŭi pyŏnch’ŏn kwa sesi ŭirye [Calendar change and seasonal rites during the Chosŏn dynasty]. 이창익 Chang-ik Lee.
Reviewed by Dong-kyu Kim, 197

Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea. George L. Kallander.
Reviewed by Paul Beirne

植民地朝鮮と宗教: 帝国史, 国家神道, 固有信仰. Shokuminchi Chōsen to shūkyō: Teikoku shi, kokka shintō, koyū shinkō [Colonial Korea and religion: imperial history, state Shinto, and indigenous beliefs]. 磯前順一 Isomae Jun’ichi and 尹海東 Yun Hedon [Yun Haedong].
Reviewed by Izumi Niwa