Authored by Mary Yang

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Death rituals, the ceremonies of burying and honoring the dead, are indispensable customs across cultures, religions, and civilizations worldwide. The Korean peninsula, with its own distinctive customs and cultural characteristics, has historically been subject to the religious influences of neighboring countries, particularly China. Deeply rooted in Shamanism during the Neolithic era, Korea was later profoundly shaped by Chinese Confucianism in the fourth century A.D., and further influenced by Western Christianity in the late nineteenth century. Today, South Korea is often described as a ‘mono-ethnic, yet multireligious’ nation.1 As inhabitants of such a religiously and philosophically diverse country, South Korean Christians experience an inherent clash between Confucian and Christian religious traditions, most notably those pertaining to death rites. Furthermore, in their practice of Western religion in a country deeply shaped by Eastern religious philosophy, South Korean Christians struggle to balance ‘religious piety to God’ and their ‘filial duty to ancestors,’ as both cultural phenomena are integral to their religious and South Korean identity. This research paper will examine the complex cultural interplay between the death rites of contemporary South Korean Christians and Confucian adherents.

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  1. Chang-won Park, Cultural Blending in Korean Death Rites, (New York, Continuum, 2010), 32.