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The Puzzle of Korean Christianity: Geopolitical Networks and Religious Conversion in Early Twentieth‐Century East Asia1

Duke UniversityCornell University

This article uses the puzzle of Christian success in Korea to develop a model for understanding religious diffusion beyond national borders. The authors argue that the microlevel network explanations that dominate the research on conversion cannot by themselves account for the unusual success of Protestantism in Korea. Instead, events in East Asia in macrolevel, geopolitical networks provoked nationalist rituals that altered the stakes of conversion to either promote or retard conversion network growth. At the turn of the 20th century, unequal treaties both opened this region to missionaries and provoked nationalist rituals. In China and Japan, these rituals generated patriotic identities by attacking Christianity, and network growth slowed or reversed. In Korea, Christianity became compatible with these rituals, and conversion networks grew. This example highlights the greater explanatory power of nested networks for understanding international religious diffusion, relative to microlevel accounts alone.