Public Scripture Reading Rituals in Early Korean Protestantism
A Comparative Perspective
Keywords:Korean Protestantism, Great Revival, public scripture, J. L. Austin, Roy Rappaport
Many scholars assert that the Bible study meeting, which has public scripture reading as its central feature, played a crucial role in the rapid growth of Korean Protestantism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most scholars agree that the Bible study meeting promoted “the Great Revival,” which led to a fourfold increase in church membership in Korea between 1903 and 1907. These meetings have not been widely studied by academics. Analysis of the Korean public scripture reading from a comparative perspective provides a vivid illustration of the social function of the performative dimension of scriptures, but it also suggests the need to further define the meaning of “performative.” As to the first point, the particular ways in which the Bible was read in the Korean context contributed to the growing number of converts to Christianity. Bible readings in the context of study groups in early Korean Protestantism facilitated the absorption of Christianity into Korean culture by building on traditional religious practices and by offering a way for native Koreans to take the lead in the growth of the new religion. Second, these scripture readings were performative in the way defined by J. L. Austin’s theory of performative speech and elaborated by Roy Rappaport’s description of the indexical function of ritual, because they affected Koreans’ conversions into Christianity and strengthened their Christian faith. Austin’s necessary conditions of performative utterances were satisfied through ritualization of the activity of reading and ritualization of the Bible itself.
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