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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Spring 2002, Vol. 29 No. 1

The Role of Religion in Korean Higher Education 

Jeong-Kyu Lee


It is widely believed that religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity, had great effects on the entirety of Korean culture and society. Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism were amalgamated into Korean culture and became, in the main, axes of Korean traditional religious thought, in addition to Korean folk beliefs and shamanism. From an educational point of view, Buddhism and Confucianism had a significant impact on formal and informal elite education in the early Korean states and still remains important. Taoism, on the other hand, has affected internal and external life as opposed to Korean education. Christianity, a newly grafted religion, has also exerted an important influence upon the development of modern higher education. Therefore, the parameters of the study are Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity.

Throughout the history of Korean education, religion and education are inseparable. The examination of the role of religion in Korean higher education gives Western educators historically valuable ideas about religious components in Korean higher education. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the role of religion in Korean elite and higher education during the premodern and modern periods. In this study, "premodern era" is defined as the fourth century to the late nineteenth century, and "modern period" from 1880 to 1910.

Numerous studies have shown that religious thought has affected the spiritual and practical worlds in premodern and contemporary Korea. However, several studies examining the influence of religious and philosophical thought on Korean education1 indicate that three religious traditionsBuddhism, Confucianism, and Christianityhad an enormous impact on premodern and modern education in Korea.

In terms of Korean educational history and philosophy, there are few studies2 that examine the religious and philosophical ideas that historically affect Korean higher education. Kim3 briefly analyzes the basic philosophy and organization of Korean higher education, and Lee4 reviews religious and philosophical factors influencing the development of Korean higher education in terms of educational administrative theory and practice. Studies concerning the role of religion in premodern elite and modern higher education have yet to be conducted. For this reason, this study will focus on the contribution of Buddhism and Confucianism to premodern elite education in Korea, particularly the interaction between Confucianism and Christianity with modern higher education in Korea and on the role of religion in current Korean higher education.

[Spring 2002 Issue Contents]