During the Korean War (1950-1953), most of the Korean peninsula was devastated by
indiscriminate bombing, and those who survived the war suffered poverty and famine in
the 1950s. In the 1960s and 70s, industry and the economy became the top priority in
the setting of national policies. As a result, water and air was intolerably polluted by
industrial and domestic waste and by the smoke emissions of vehicles and factories, and
environmental concern consequently became an urgent priority in the 1980s-90s.
Although there were some voices of protest from environmental organizations against
this indiscriminate industrialisation, their campaigns could not prevent the onslaught.
The old Korean proverb "body and land are not two but one (#±T—)", reflects the
belief of most Korean people that they cannot live apart from the land of Korea. The
contemporary ecological crisis reminds us of a serious question: Can people and nature
continue to co-exist in the future? The environmental movement, apart from aiming at
protecting the natural world from human beings' exploitation, should seriously find a
way to change a world view or one's sense of values which continuously influence
people's lifestyle. 'Ecological worldview' in this thesis denotes a religious or
philosophical reflection on the way that humanity and all other organisms can co-exist,
critically reviewing the failings of the existing world views, which led to the present
ecological crisis, and suggesting a relationship model between humanity and other
Shamanism, Taoism, Confucianism, Donghak, Christianity, etc were introduced,
accumulated, and shaped the Korean mentality during the course of history and
contributed to a unique Korean culture in which various religions co-exist. Presently,
Buddhism and Christianity are statistically the major religions of Korea. Shamanism,
Taoism, Confucianism, etc have widely influenced the customs of Korean society. In
this understanding of the multi-religious context, this thesis examines Korean ecological
theology through three thinkers who have their backgrounds in Donghak, Buddhism and
Christianity, respectively. Chiha Kim, a poet, writer, and civil activist, Pomnyun, a
Buddhist monk and campaigner for South and North Korea unification, and Hyunju Lee,
a Methodist minister and writer of children's stories, are all well-known representatives
of ecological theology at present.
They all argue that understanding the relationship between ultimate reality, humanity,
and the natural world can overcome ecological crisis, although they are not satisfied
with this artificial classification of ultimate relality, humanity, and nature. The basis for
the relationship has been described according to their religious backgrounds as 'life',
'dependent origination', and 'incarnation', but they commonly describe it in terms of
'indivisibility', 'interconnectedness', or 'oneness'. 'Life' is described as 'an endless
dynamic generation' within all existences (Chiha Kim). 'Dependent origination' is the
principle that states that all realities have been endlessly interconnected (Pomnyun).
Hyunju Lee argues that all existences are an expression of divine incarnation, and all
beings having spirituality cannot exist independent from each other but are one.
Korean ecological theology in the multi-religious context point to 'Cheon-ji-in Habil
Sasang (Ahi2Aia"-' JSitS, the Idea of the Unity of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity)'.
That is, although all realities have their own independent natures and unique forms, they
all have 'a triune nature' as their fundamental common nature which can be understood
through the concepts of'holistic dynamism', 'organic interconnectedness', and
'spirituality or sociality'. In this understanding, Korean ecological theology rejects any
centrism, which may lead to hierarchy because ultimate reality, humanity, and the
natural world exist in 'one inseparable community'.