Oak on Christianity

Summary and Reflection

Religion has been a bound of contention from time in memorial. Each ethnic group has its own god and beliefs. Inter-religion conflicts are common as people interact with others. They occur in various forms such as through criticism. Sung-deuk Oak discusses the confrontation between Anglo-American missionaries and Shamanism in his article Healing and exorcism: Christian encounters with Shamanism in early modern Korea.


Oaks article discusses the confrontation between Christianity and Shamanism. He argues that Anglo-American missionaries contributed to destroying Shamanism and other traditional Korean beliefs by labeling them as idol worship and religions that promoted superstition and polytheism.

Various factors facilitated the Korean’s acceptance of Christianity. First, Koreans lived in constant fear of evil spirits that lead to diseases according to them. The missionaries introduced medicines that were effective against these diseases leading people to abandon their traditional beliefs for Christianity. Second, the Sino-Japanese war weakened Korean’s beliefs in Chinese gods and made Christianity a more suitable religion for them. As a result, Christian missionaries were able to convert many Koreans in the period following this war. Third, the mechanisms that the missionaries used to preach Christianity tuned well with Koreans. Generally, biblical teachings were designed in a way to accommodate Koreans. For instance, Koreans’ experiences were likened to those of the Jewish people in the Bible to show the relevance of Christianity in the lives of Koreans.

Oak argues that various missionaries’ scholars conducted extensive studies that shed more light about Shamanism and other Korean folk religions. Among the studies that he discusses George H. Jones, Eli B. Landis, James S. Gale, Homer B. Hulbert, and Horace G. Underwood. Generally, all the missionary scholars explored Shamanism and come up with its characteristics such as terms that are used to refer to gods, the role of fetishes, types of spirits and how rituals are conducted among others.

Despite the criticism that protestant missionaries leveled against Shamanism, they too were influenced by some aspects of the Korean Folk Religion. Oaks provides evidence for literature such as John L. Nevius who argued that demon possession existed in Korea and that Christians involved in exorcism to cure these evil spirits or demons. His conclusions were based on testimonies from Chinese Christians’ and missionaries. However, exorcism in the case of Christians relied on new methods such as singing hymns and praying instead of the Korean method that involved the use of rituals conducted by Mudang. Charles A. Clark also confirms Nevius’ arguments that demon possession and Christian’s exorcism was present in Korea. He argues that Christians had embraced the idea of demon possession and they were applying biblical teachings to get rid of the evil spirits. For instance, he talks about the Korean Bible Woman who were involved in spreading Christianity during conduction Christian exorcism prayer meetings.


Oak’s article raises some critical and controversial arguments. First, it is evident that an individual’s culture playa a huge rule in determining their faith. For instance, Koreans believed that evil spirits caused diseases. To protect themselves, they relied on their traditional religions whereby a Mudang played the role of healing them.  Their conversion to Christianity was not based on scientific arguments about germs and medicine. It was simply founded on the belief that Christianity was more effective at defeating the evil spirits that were causing diseases compared to Shamanism. Therefore, cultural beliefs are the main factor that determines the religious affiliation that a person identifies with. Second, it is true though conversation to say that some of the methods that missionaries used to convert Koreans were unethical. Generally, their criticism of Shamanism was based ethnocentricism. For instance, they criticized the traditional Korean religions because of the stigma that European cultures had about witches as superstition. Today, this kind of criticism would be considered as a lack of cultural sensitivity.

Furthermore, their techniques of conversation displayed some level of manipulation. For instance, Koreans were told that their country lagged compared to Anglo-Saxon nations due to their continued worship of traditional Korean religions. These arguments were not necessarily, and it was a malicious strategy of getting people to abandon their faith for Christianity. Lastly, the article raises the question of whether religion is based on culture or the existence of a powerful being that controls the world. For instance, scientific evidence disproves the Korean belief that a spirit causes diseases. Based on the ideas presented in the article, religion changes as society evolves. Therefore, it is possible that the dominant religions such as Christianity will change in the future as scientific knowledge advances and society evolves.

In conclusion, Anglo-American missionaries played a huge role in destroying Shamanism and other Korean religions. However, Shamanism also impacted the way that these missionaries perceived demon possession and exorcism. They ended up integrating these concepts that were against their denomination.



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