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“Between Heroism and Despair: Opportunities and Barriers for Women in the Early Korean Catholic Church.”

Deberniere Torrey, Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, explores early Korean Catholic texts as indicators of identity, cultural hybridity, and epistemic shift in Korea prior to its opening to the modern world.

In nineteenth-century Korea, Catholic ideology and practice allowed women to act with greater agency than was typical outside the Church under the strict Confucian norms of pre-modern Korean society. Yet instances of self-determined activity among Catholic women, such as choosing the vocation of celibacy, decreased in the latter half of the nineteenth century as the Church became more established. Some scholars argue that this apparent decrease connects to patriarchal or critical views of women in the Catholic teaching of the time, while others argue that the circumstances of persecution compelled the clergy to restrict the activities of women to avoid unwanted attention that would invite persecution. This paper revisits the discussion of this apparent shift by examining the cases of three Catholic women to illuminate additional nuances. It argues that the contrasting reasons given for this decrease in agency could easily be mutually reinforcing, and that evidence suggests an additional reason: concern about soul salvation. 

“Between Heroism and Despair: Opportunities and Barriers for Women in the Early Korean Catholic Church.” Asian Journal of Women’s Studies 23.4 (December, 2017): 421-441. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/12259276.2017.1384904

Last Updated: 11/15/17