Social Implications of Spiritual Turns in Korea: Moral Clashes on Homosexuality

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Anna BRINKMAN, Sogang University, South Korea
Amid ongoing debate over contemporary society’s extent of secularization or desecularization, scholars acknowledge that religion and spirituality continue to heavily influence public and private attitudes about morality. Few social issues have been as hotly contested in recent years as homosexuality and homosexual marriage, and religious individualization has been proposed as a key factor in changing views of what constitutes moral or immoral behavior as it shifts the locus of moral decision-making from religious canon to the individual believer. This study explores the extent and impact of religious individualization on Korean youth in their attitudes toward homosexuality and related policy issues such as homosexual marriage. 

Although Korea’s traditional Confucian value system and conservative cultural tendencies of Korea’s three major religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, and Buddhism) have long engendered reluctance to embrace homosexuality on both a personal and societal level, Korean university students are dramatically more accepting of homosexuality than older generations.

This study utilizes qualitative interviews with 40 university students residing in Seoul, representing all three religious groups and religious non-affiliation. Findings indicated that youth who fit patterns of “believing and belonging” in these religions are experiencing a tangible shift towards individualization in their religious practice, perhaps best described by Wuthnow’s reference to the shift in American religiosity post-1950s from a “dwelling” to a “seeking” model that takes the form of a quest and emphasizes subjectivity and autonomy. We examined correlations between the degree of expressions of religious individualization and participants’ responses regarding homosexuality, ranging from vehement opposition to acceptance and support. A distinct pattern also emerged as the majority of respondents mentioned ethical standards or making right versus wrong choices as a key life impact of their religious beliefs, undermining the notion that highly individualized religion is overall less morally oriented than traditional forms of religion.