Dec 07 BAKS conference report #5: James Grayson

Professor James Grayson – Professor of Modern Korean Studies and Director of Centre for Korean Studies, Sheffield University
Ch’udo yebae: a Protestant substitute for Confucian ancestral rituals

Abstract: An early resolution of a conflict of values is necessary if a missionary religion is to find acceptance in the culture of the receiving society. In East Asia, under the influence of Confucianism, filial piety came to be seen as the principal personal and social moral value, which moral sentiment was to be given visible representation in the performance of ancestral rituals. Christian missions, Catholic and Protestant, faced a conflict between filial piety and ancestral rites on the one hand, and the proscription of the performance of idolatrous rites on the other hand. From the end of the nineteenth century, Korean Protestants have resolved this conflict by developing a Christian ritual which is a substitute for Confucian ancestral rites. Within a century, this rite has become the central rite in a complex of Confucian-based Christian death and funerary rituals.

Notes (the usual caveats about my amateur efforts apply)

  • The development of the Ch’udo Yebae, the memorial service, is easier to trace for the more liturgically-based Methodists than it is for the Presbyterians
  • First Methodist records are much earlier than first thought: the first record dating to 1897 — a report of a memorial service in the papers of the Chongdong First Methodist Church.
  • By 1935 the service had made it into the Korean Methodist Prayer Book — the order of service (and who does what) is specified in detail (prayers, hymns, bible readings etc)
  • It is made clear that the service is a memorial, and clearly not ancestor worship. It’s conducted on the death day only, and for three years only (the period of mourning).
  • More recent systematisation has detailed diagrams of the layout of the space where the ceremony is held (“Christianity being confucianised?”)

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One thought on “Dec 07 BAKS conference report #5: James Grayson

  1. Addendum 24 November 2009.

    Dr Grayson gave a version of his talk again, tonight at the KCC.

    To add to the above,

    Since the 1970s, the Korean Presbyterians have been going great guns, catching up with and taking over from the Korean Methodists in providing liturgy for paying respects to one’s parents. The Presbyterians have come up with
    – rites for the removal of mourning clothes
    – rites in case you have to move your parents’ tomb
    – rites to mark the first, and subsequent annual, visits to your parents’ tomb,

    as well as the Ch’udo Yebae itself. These Korean protestants sure are competitive!

    I asked Dr Grayson about the Korean Anglicans (who are high church) and Korean Catholics. They don’t have any need for these new-fangled rites to accommodate “ancestor worship”. They already have masses for the dead.

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