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Multiculturalism and Religion

   
 
  ▲ / Extracted from Google  
 
An eminent sociologist by the name of Emile Durkheim once said that as a civilization advances, the role of religion will be naturally reduced because of the abstract creed it entails. His opinion was that abstractions would only interfere with the advancement of reason because the development of human consciousness and the quest for knowledge heavily depends upon it and religion is only a nuisance in that regard. However, such a prediction proved to be wrong since today’s society clearly shows that more and more people are dependent on religious values because of our advanced civilization and sophisticated social systems. Reliance on religion is only increasing along with its role as an alternative to science and technology.

South Korea is considered by many to be an advanced country with a prominent role in the global economy. Along with the economic role in the global market, high levels of science and technology have attracted various nationalities from different continents. From South East Asia all the way to Africa, many people from diverse nations and cultures have started dipping into Korea to achieve their own “Korean Dreams.” Such numbers have averaged in the millions during the past decade. The so-called multiculturalism within Korea began with the ongoing arrival of people from different countries who sought to make a fortune for themselves. Some of these people became permanent nationals through marriage with Koreans. Both the fortune-seekers and the partner-seekers are the two main groups that comprised the basis for multiculturalism in Korea.

However, with an ever increasing number of diverse peoples, a number of problems have started to appear for obvious reasons. Different races, languages and cultures have all contributed to individual problems amongst these migrants who have struggled to settle down in the most homogenous nation in the world. This is quickly becoming a social issue. Until now, various religious and civic organizations have expanded their roles to support these settlers’ civil and labor rights. As a result, it cannot be denied that the human rights of these emigrants have improved a great deal. Nonetheless, there were some setbacks as well. For instance, the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea had to close down for no apparent reason. This committee actually transcended different religious orders and denominations as well as embracing other civic organizations. It was a true testifier to the history of the migrant movement in Korea. Only time will tell how damaging this loss will be for the growing multicultural society that Korea will become.

A multicultural society is not built by simply living next door to a neighbor you never talk to and ignore. It is about living side by side and integrating, however difficult that may be. This calls for understanding cultural differences, languages, customs, education and human rights. The Joint Committee with Migrants used to put a lot of energy into these issues with effective measures built towards political authority and Korean society itself. As a result, there was great improvement in the way foreign migrants were treated when they were first introduced to this foreign land. However, as more and more people will be continually coming they will need more support than ever before. It would be illogical to think of regulating emigrants in a globalized world like we have today where the movement of goods and services is practiced freely. There are some shortcuts towards social unity. The government will have a large role to aid emigrants to adjust to this society but it will have its limitations. This is where religion and civic organizations come in. This is especially so with religion since it has all the values needed for a society like Korea to truly communicate and strive forward towards consolidation. The notions of love, mercy, compassion and selflessness will be priceless tools for unification.

As consumerism and capitalism deepen within every person and as civilization advances, human beings become more and more fragmented and take on the role of being reduced to tools. The common goal for both Koreans and foreign emigrants is to make money to survive in this harsh environment. In this cruel world of competition and desire, what we need is consolation and understanding. Multiculturalism is here to stay whether we like it or not. This is where religion and religious leaders come in. The love and concern they express will be crucial for newcomers and this will be engraved in their minds for a long time. Currently, Korean society has various problems to deal with. The economy, polarization, welfare and North Korea are recurring themes for discussion while the problems concerning emigrants are rather pushed aside to the periphery. I believe it is mostly up to religious people to take a leading role on embracing these newcomers to our society. Why not show them that religion is not only about dogma and creed, but of action and will. The will to pursue equality for all seems self-evident as we are all of one body and soul.

Won Sunim  onesunim@hotmail.com

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