Negotiating Reactions to Multi-Racial Tensions: The Civic Roles of the Multicultural Church in Korea

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Kyungju KIM, Sogang University, South Korea
Korean society has become increasingly multiracial and multicultural in the global age.  As the immigrant population has steadily grown in Korea over the past 25 years, it has caused demographic changes and social problems such as racial discrimination, undocumented workers and employment instability. Both governments and NGOs have been emphasizing social integration; however, the problem of ethnic and cultural tensions between domestic citizens and immigrants has been treated too lightly thus far. This research examines how citizens understand, support and negotiate with immigrants, on the basis of their life-world, through various activities in religious communities.

This study demonstrates cultural dynamics through citizens’ participation and immigrants’ negotiation at a personal and communal level. We conducted participatory observation at three multicultural churches (immigrant-centered, citizen-centered, and integrated church) and interviewed 30 members. The results of this study reveal that an integrated church model contributes heavily to the successful social integration of immigrants. At the community level, church communities serve as a refuge for immigrants, preserving their dignity and providing well-being services. At the personal level, individual Korean citizens come to understand the customs, cultures and values of immigrants while they empathize with and resolve difficulties immigrants face in the areas of employment, international marriage, and children’s education. Meanwhile, domestic citizens and immigrants come into conflict due to divergent interests, but accept and embrace each other as a result of authentic global citizenship as Christians.  Furthermore, through such interactions with immigrants, Korean citizens improve their civic skills in a global context. But despite these positive developments, challenges remain in resolving the problem of a church power structure where decision-making is centered on Korean citizens.

In conclusion, multicultural church communities would play significant roles in the public spheres where citizens adopt and practice a multicultural citizenship for the social integration in the better world.