Korea is the only Asian nation with a significant Protestant presence. One in five South Koreans professes the faith. With more than eight and a half million believers, Protestantism as an organized religion ranks second numerically, not far behind Buddhism, but in terms of power and influence, it is unrivalled. Protestants occupy a central position in the country’s politics, society, and culture. Western missionaries, mostly Americans, introduced Protestantism in the late 19th century. As bearers of Anglo-American civilization, the missionaries built not only churches but also modern hospitals and schools. Korean converts, however, quickly assumed leadership under a policy of self-propagation, self-government, and self-support. In the 1920s and 1930s, the church came of age under popular revivalists who commanded national audiences. The process of indigenization also involved the adaptation to local beliefs and practices, producing a distinctive Korean Protestant tradition. Moreover, because of Japanese colonization, Protestantism did not suffer the stigma of Western imperialism common in other mission fields. Many Protestants, in fact, became nationalist leaders. Following World War II, Korea suffered the division of the country and the Korean War. Protestantism was extinguished in the communist north, leading to a mass exodus to the south, but in South Korea, it thrived. Industrialization and urbanization provided opportunities for the churches to create a sense of community, but it was primarily the aggressive one-on-one proselytization and mass evangelistic campaigns that fueled the dramatic expansion. From the 1960s to 1980s, South Korea became the fastest-growing Christian population in the world. The growth stalled in the 1990s because of the church’s support for previous dictatorial regimes as well as scandals involving Protestant political and corporate leaders. Yet Protestantism today remains a vibrant force in South Korea, home to the largest churches in the world and the base for thousands of Korean missionaries.
Sean C. Kim
Barbara Watson Andaya
The 21st century has often been touted as the “Asian century,” largely because of the remarkable resurgence of China as an economic power. There are nonetheless other developments afoot, foremost among which is the rising numbers of individuals who identify as Christians. Apart from the Philippines, Timor Leste, Asian Russia, Cyprus, Armenia, and Georgia, Christians are still a minority in the forty-eight countries that the United Nations classifies as “Asia,” a vast region that stretches from the Urals and the Caspian Sea to Papua New Guinea. However, over the past two decades, a marked increase in Asian Christians, especially in Korea, India, and China, has led to predictions that by 2025 their numbers, now estimated at 350 million, will escalate to 460 million. Yet for many Asians, Christianity is still tainted by a “foreign” past because it is associated with the European arrival in the late 15th century and with the imposition of colonialism and the influence of the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. A historical approach, however, shows that such perceptions are countered by centuries of local adaptations of Christianity to specific cultural contexts. Although the processes of “accommodation” and “adaptation” have a complex history, a long-term view reveals the multiple ways through which millions of Asian men and women have incorporated “being Christian” into their own identities.
The 19th century in India, and especially the last quarter, was a period in the development of what were to become India’s major new religious movements, with lasting significance into the century that followed, within India and beyond. Essential to these movements was the notion of social “reform” and its associated idea of religious revival. These twin concepts involved a range of debates about existing religious traditions for Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, the need to adapt them to social and political transformations, ideas about the “modern,” and institution building around education and social work. The very concept of community identity also underwent change, with the establishment, for example, of the idea of “Hinduism” as a world religion. The three main contexts to these debates were the formalization of the colonial state, the development of the socio-religious institution, and the impact of anti-colonial nationalism. The nature of colonial power in India shifted from trade expansion and conquest, to formal crown colony control over the course of the 19th century, and this had a profound impact on the nature of religious movements, ideas about reform, and social change. India’s main religious traditions confronted an array of challenges: direct, in the form of missionaries, and indirect, in the shape of new social and political ideas. Partly in response to these changes, an array of ideologues built new organizations that reshaped the institutional landscape of India. Finally many of the leaders and intellectual influences of these organizations became pivotal to debates about national belonging and political representation as the century came to a close.