To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
In Session: Christianity in Korea Beyond the Korean Nation-State
1: Controlling Virgins: French Missionaries’ Gender Policies in Nineteenth-Century Korea
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of British Columbia, Canada
Scholars of Catholicism in Korea have long argued that this religion provided the grounds for some of the first “sprouts” of modernity for gender relations in the country. In particular, conventional interpretations have emphasized the refusal of a number of Korean Catholic women to marry or their efforts to remain virgins. These acts have been largely interpreted as a rejection of Confucian patriarchy. In this manner, Catholicism supposedly provided Korean women a means to take a step towards gender equality prior to the twentieth century. In contrast, I argue that while not without merit, this line of reasoning has underestimated, if not ignored, the power wielded by French missionaries. Though Korean Catholic women may have viewed their decisions as a rejection of a male-dominated Confucian hierarchy, this was not the same as a rejection of patriarchy. Highlighting the discourses on gender relations taking place amongst French missionaries in China, Korea, and Rome, I argue that French missionaries transplanted their beliefs regarding the proper relationships that were to exist between men and women to Asia. Attention to how French missionaries interacted with Korean Catholics, both men and women, is critical when assessing how this religion informed gender relations in the country.