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Now Blogging Afresh at Ad Orientem 西儒 - The Western Confucian

Friday, September 05, 2003

Religion Affiliation of My Students

I ask my students to provide me with their religious affiliation at the begining of each semester. Here are the results for this semester:

132 (100%) Total

84 (71.2%) None
25 (19.9%) Protestant
12 (9.1%) Catholic
11 (8.3%) Buddhist

NOTE: Many students mistakenly use the word "Christian" when they mean "Protestant." Even many Catholics will say, "I'm a Catholic, not a Christian."

I have been unable to find any reliable statistics about religious affiliation in Korea, not even from and its page about Korea, but I've seen the following statistics in a number of places:

25%-35% Christian (including Catholics, I presume)
5%-10% (of the total) Catholic
20-25% Buddhist
50-56% None

Koreans don't have to worry about the injuction against Laodicea in Revelation 3:16: "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." (RSV). Koreans are definitely not lukewarm. They are either very hot or very cold. They are at the same time one of the most religious nations and one of the most irreligious. The Christians and, to a lesser extent, the Buddhists, are very fervent in their beliefs. Those without religion seem to have no need whatsoever for spirtual fulfillment in their lives, outside of certain ancestral rites.

The relatively small percentage of Buddhists might be of surprise, given that Korea is an East Asian country. Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the first millenium A.D., but met with suppression in the second millenium, during the Choseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which adopted neo-Confucianism as its goiverning ethos. The renunciation practiced in Buddhism was seen as a threat. Now, if you go to a Buddhist temple, the only believers you usually see are middle-aged women.

The section on Religion from The Journal of Hamel and Korea has some interesting observations about religion in 17th Century Korea from a first-hand Dutch observer, many of which hold true for today.