Peering into Korean society with sociological imagination

There is an interesting book on understanding Korean (South of course!) society. There is a discussion of the book here:

For observers of Korean society, including all its idiosyncrasies and mystique, a new book attempts to help interpret the country by offering a sweeping elucidation on crosscutting issues.

“Korean Society: An Introduction” is an academic compilation scrutinizing wide-ranging topics, covering ethnological culture, gender politics, family patterns, educational fever, nationalist religion, ageing society, multiculturalism and international marriage, the globalization of Hallyu, urbanization and its discontents, economic history, anti-Americanism and the challenges of reunification and totalitarian mythmaking in North Korea. 

The book contains a series of articles written by various scholars, and was edited by Andrew Eun-gi Kim, who teaches at the Graduate School of International Studies and Division of International Studies at Korea University in Seoul. Kim, whose research has focused on the sociology of religion, ethnology, popular culture and comparative studies, is a sociologist and graduate of the University of Toronto. 

Kim illuminates nation-building in South Korea through the lens of “civil religion,” a term the academic has coined as a framework for analyzing national identity and its concomitant material progress. Kim’s assertion centers on the notion that the country during its utilitarian heydays from the 1960s through ‘80s cultivated, and inculcated, an ideology of national destiny — to propel and grease the wheels of economic growth. 

“The concept of civil religion refers to beliefs, symbols and rituals, as well as institutions, that reinforce social cohesion; legitimatize the socio-political system; and mobilize citizens to the nation’s common objectives,” Kim writes in the abstract of his article. “This paper argues that a strong civil religion exists in Korea and that it has been integral to its nation-building process. It also asserts that a succession of authoritarian governments from 1961 through 1993 had promoted civil religion to legitimate and mobilize masses for nationwide modernization and industrialization.” 

If such a blind faith in the nation-state still exists in the Korea of today, it is evidently alive and well among the die-hard bands of ultraconservatives and nationalists. With minds molded in the cauldron of the Saemaul Undong during the period of a “developmental dictatorship,” these individuals wholly embraced and supported the nation’s breakneck expansion without regard for minorities or leftists. 

Always interesting to figure how nations are built over the years…


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