Some Tears of Religious Aspiration: Dynamics of Korean Suffering in Post-War Seoul, South Korea

by Jin-heon Jung

Working Papers WP 12-19
October 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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This paper aims to demonstrate urban religious aspirations that articulate Protestant churches’ socio-political location in the Seoul landscape through analyses of some prominent Korean church founders’ conversion narratives. By historicizing and contextualizing religious accounts that have mobilized a series of massive conversions in post-war South Korea, I want to shed light on a nucleus of Korean Christian practices that arise out of the aspirations that inspire a war-scarred people in search of a better life in this world and the next. My preliminary comparative analyses of some Korean church founders’ religious accounts reveal that suffering, whether personal or national, appears as central in the narrativization of their conversion experiences and serves to further the church traditions they founded. With comparative analyses of two religious leaders’ contributions to Christianity, this article discusses the extent to which past suffering serves to foster a religious aspiration that is reified with the increasing number of mega-churches in Seoul’s metropolitan landscape, and, through missions, on the world map.

Jin-heon Jung is a Research Fellow at the Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany, after finishing his PhD in anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is co-editing a book with Dr. Alexander Horstmann on religion and refugees, coordinating a research project on Urban Aspirations in Seoul, and working on a monograph manuscript of the Christian encounters of North Korean migrants and South Korean  churches. His publications include “Underground Railroads of Christian Conversion: North Korean Migrants and Evangelical Missionary Networks in Northeast Asia,” Encounters, Vol. 4; “State and Church in the Making of Post-division Subjectivity: North Korean Migrants in South Korea” in John Lie (ed.); Multiethnic Korea, Berkeley: UC Berkeley Press, (forthcoming); and a coauthored book, South Korean Multiculturalism: A Critical Review (Han’guk tamunhwa juŭi: hyŏnsil kwa chaengchŏm) Korea: Hanul Academy Publication, 2007 (in Korean).