KYOTO: Korea-Japan dialogue starts for Asian theology of reconciliation

November 30, 2006

Theologians from Korea and Japan, its colonizer in the first half of the 20th century, have begun a dialogue in search of an Asian theology that can act to reconcile, and that goes beyond nationalism in both countries.

The two-day Korea-Japan Theology Forum 2006 was held in Kyoto from November 24. It was hosted by the Japan Society of Christian Studies (JSCS). Organizers said the meeting was unprecedented and that it was the most significant communication between theologians from the two countries in recent years.

"The biggest reason for holding the forum is that there has, in Korea, been a major theological concern with nationalism," coordinator Katsuhiro Kohara of Doshisha University told Ecumenical News International before the meeting. "So far, Christianity in Korea has grown integrally with nationalism," he said, noting there were also those who disagree with this standpoint.

Politically, sentiments of resentment against Japanese linger in some Asian countries, particularly in Korea, which Japan occupied from1910 to 1945, and in China. Some Asians feel Japan has not atoned enough nor apologized fully for its aggression and atrocities up to 1945.

Lee Jeong Bae, a Korean scholar of indigenous theology from the Methodist Theological Seminary in Seoul led 31 delegates as the president of the Korean Society of Systematic Theology. He presented a view on "transnational" Asian theology rooted in an East Asian philosophy called Donghak, or eastern learning.

"What is necessary is to 'indigenize criticism' [against deviant nationalism] in solidarity with forces outside religion," said Sadamichi Ashina, a Japanese associate professor of Christian studies at Kyoto University and the executive director of the JSCS.

The Rev. Renta Nishihara, an Anglican theologian at Tokyo's St. Paul's University (also known as Rikkyo) said: "Modern Christianity in Japan has shifted its basis from rural people to urban elites, and has lost its power to criticize those in power."

Said Kim Ae Young, a feminist theologian from Hanshin University in Osan, Korea, "A new concept of 'nation' seeks to include people and women who throw themselves into movements for social change toward a construction of a new north east Asia."