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Ancestor worship in South Korea

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Jonghoon Kim

on 23 December 2013

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Transcript of Ancestor worship in South Korea

Ancestor worship in South Korea
Question: Why the “ancestor worship” is relatively important in East Asia than Western society.
In order to answer the question above, we need to find out the difference of Social structure between East Asia & Western society.
Cultures are typically divided into two categories:
Individualist VS Collectivist

Individualist VS Collectivist
Individualist cultures, such as those of the U.S. and Western Europe, emphasize personal achievement regardless of the expense of group goals, resulting in a strong sense of competition.
Ancestor worship is a unique and crucial way to represent Korean's filial piety towards the ancestor. Also it is a social practice that brings family together and strengthens the bond among members. I hope the younger generation of Korea do not dismiss from ancestor worship due to a large amount of Western culture that coming into Korea.
Korea’s “Ancestor Worship”.
The importance of ancestor worship is not only in the concept of respecting our ancestor but also characteristics of Collectivism, Korean society, that putting emphasis on human relationship.
[Since the relationship goes before individual competence, people who can sustain a good relationship with their relatives and harmony with their ancestors are considered as socially competent.]
Collectivist cultures, such as those of China, Korea, and Japan, emphasize family and work group goals above individual needs or desires.
Social norm of Korean society = Taking care of their parents = Filial duty
(Whether you become independent from your family or not)

Some people believe that the ancestor worship actually invites their ghost form of ancestors to come and stay with the family. Others do not believe the ghost but they worship because they want to respect and recollect the memories of their ancestors while they worship.
Family is formed based on love. However, love and kindness among family does not guarantee there will be no problem among family members. The conflicts and disappointments are somewhat inevitable even in blood-related relationship. Then how the ancestor worship helps to keep the family unity and structure?
Answer: Ancestor worship is a ‘convention’ that can hold a family together when a relationship among family members fall apart.

Throughout the worship, family member can reinforce their unity. Also, the practice of ancestor worship brings a family into one setting. This occasional event provides an opportunity for family to interact and reestablish their foregone relationship. For example, if family member gets into a terrible fight, they might decide to never see each other. But, such rituals and practices like ancestor worship requires family to bond every once in a while. Because relationship always needs maintenance and such practice like ancestor worship enables the maintenance to happen, I can say family is constructed through the practice of ancestor worship.
Question: How does the "ancestor worship” links families into ‘larger’ units?
Answer: This question can be answered by mentioning what kind of society that our ancestors lived.

Korean society was mainly agricultural society. In order to survive, people had to cultivate and in order to cultivate, people have to gather together to live. So, larger units of family were naturally formed. People had to respect elders in order to survive in this environment. It is because older people have more experiences and knowledge than younger people. So respecting elders was the behavior which mature people pursued.
So, essentially, agricultural society made people to form a larger family and people’s respect towards their elders transformed into the “ancestor worship” when their parents passed away.

Western society promotes individualism.
That is, an individual skills and ability make people to be recognized as a capable person.

How these cultural difference affect the importance of ancestor worship in Korea?
Question: Is family something constructed through the practice of ancestor worship?
In Contrast..
In Korean society, maintaining a great relationship with other people is more important than pursuing individual competence. Such questions like “Which school you went” and “where your last name originated?” define one’s character. It is because the group they belong represents a strong bonding relationship among the group members.
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