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Original Research

Ancestor worship in Korea and Africa: Social function or religious phenomenon?

Choon Sup Bae

Verbum et Ecclesia; Vol 25, No 2 (2004), 338-356. doi: 10.4102/ve.v25i2.273

Submitted: 05 October 2004
Published:  06 October 2004

Abstract

Ancestor worship is a dilemma for Christian communities  in Korea and Africa, who have difficulty adapting Western theology to their Third World cultures. Allan Culpepper calls  ancestor worship a cultural phenomenon, not a hindrance to the Gospel message, which this article refutes. Ancestor worship is religious rather  than social in function. Common features of ancestor worship in Africa and Korea are 1) conventional  superstition (shamanism in Korea, animism in Africa), 2) belief in immortality, and  3) ancestor veneration/filial piety. Theological assessment reveals the incompatibility of ancestor worship with Christianity. 1)  Fear of ancestors is replaced by liberation  in Christ. 2) The dead exist in a mode completely different to earthly existence and have no power in the world. 3) Ancestors cannot fulfil the intermediary role reserved for the Holy Spirit. Ancestor worship should  be viewed as idol worship. Contextualisation of kerygma becomes distorted when religious pluralism is tolerated.

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Author affiliations

Choon Sup Bae, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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