Special Lecture on Confucianism and Korean Society

Thursday, March 22, 2018
11:00 AM
12:30 PM
Faber Hall 101, Ateneo de Manila University

In terms of religious culture, Korean society is very pluralistic. Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity all firmly coexist in contemporary Korea. Native new religions also have a strong presence. Among these religious cultures, the strong and active Confucian tradition is remarkable. This has refuted modernists’ prediction that the Confucian tradition was outdated and would disappear. Foreign observers claim that the Korean society is the most Confucian in East Asia. In fact, however, Confucianism has received much criticism in Korea along with attacks from abroad. Most western scholars argue that the military dictatorship in Korea was supported by the country’s strong Confucian tradition. Nowadays, many feminist scholars maintain that the severe gender inequalities in Korea also stem from the cultural tradition of Confucian patriarchy. Following Fukuyama’s argument, modern scholars believe that Confucianism is the origin of the nepotism and the low level of trust in Korean society. These Orientalist interpretations are still prevalent; but contrary to the expectation of modernist scholars, Confucian traditions and studies will likely persevere. Independent of the questions of the authoritarian government and male chauvinism, Confucianism continues to be studied and attract much attention from the younger generation. When I did a survey on Confucian values in 1998 when the democratic Kim Daejung government took power a number of young progressive people answered that certain Confucian values should be preserved and cultivated for the further development of the Korean society. Nowadays, with the rise of liberal communitarianism, ecological movements, and autonomous community movements, the Korean society is paying more attention to the cultural wisdoms of Confucianism. I will discuss these new trends, drawing upon historical sociology and social theory.