Buddhism beliefs

Religious beliefs in North Korea

Until the late 4th century AD, Korea was dominated by its native indigenous religion which was socially guided by shamans. However, it was during this time that the country was introduced to Buddhism and Confucianism from China. Under the Kingdom of Goryeo (918-1392), which had unified the country, Buddhism became a major force in the country and flourished. However, after the Kingdom of Goryeo was replaced by the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910), Korean Confucianism became the official state ideology and religion. During this period, Buddhism and indigenous shamanism were harshly suppressed, restricted and persecuted.

Christianity came to the country in the early 17th century, but by the mid-18th century it had been banned and Christians were harshly persecuted until Korea was opened up in 1876 with the Treaty of Kanghwa. After that, the state of Joseon began to crumble politically and culturally, the persecution of Christians was banned, and the religion quickly gained a foothold in the country. All of this was short-lived as Korea was later annexed by Japan from 1910 to 1945. During this time, Japan’s Shinto state religion was imposed on the country. After the end of World War II, Korea was divided into two countries in 1948 because America, Britain, the Soviet Union and China could not reach an agreement on the Korean solution of a unified country.

Religion in the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea:


The status of non-religious people in North Korea, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population, is influenced by a variety of different factors. In North Korea’s original constitution of 1949, it is stipulated that there is freedom of religion and religious services. In 1972 an amendment was added saying there is religious freedom and people are also free to oppose religion. In the 1992 amendment, which was retained in the 1998 constitution, it says that there is freedom of religion and that religious buildings and ceremonies are permitted.

Despite what the Constitution says, many suspect that the ruling Kim family eradicated religion in the country for many years and only sponsors official religious groups to give the illusion of religious freedom and to deflect criticism from human rights. However, it is almost impossible for outside observers to know what is going on in the country, so people can only guess based on the writings of the founder Kim II-sung (1912-1994), the people who have defected from the country or intelligence reports. . The country also promotes state-sponsored atheism because it is communist and has a national Juche doctrine that says people should stop being dependent on spiritual ideas. All of these factors over the decades have led to a very irreligious country, as the practice or promotion can have extremely serious consequences if not officially sanctioned by the government.

Korean shamanism

As mentioned in the introduction, Korean shamanism is the oldest and most indigenous religion of Korea and the Korean people. In Korean shamanism, the shaman-priest acts as an intermediary between spirits or gods and the human plane of existence by performing rituals to try to solve problems. The myths about them vary saying that the priest-shamans are descendants of heavenly kings or descendants of his male son. The main belief of Korean shamanism is in the Haneullim or Hwanin, who is the supreme god and the source of all beings. Towards the end of the Joseon Kingdom, the religion was heavily demonized and suppressed by Korea’s growing Christian population. Following the division of Koreans and the resulting Korean War (1950-53), many followers of Korean shamanism in North Korea are known to have migrated to South Korea to escape the government. No one knows the current status of the religion in North Korea, but it is estimated that around 16% of the population practices the religion in secret.


Chondoism is a religious movement in Korea based and inspired by the neo-Confucian Donghak movement of the mid-19th century, which arose in reaction to the encroachment of Western powers and the loss of Korean culture and religion. Chondoism evolved in the early 20th century as a religion following the Donghak peasant revolution (1894-1895), when the third patriarch of the Donghak movement decided that the religion needed to be modernized to legitimize it and prevent persecution. It was during this time that he officially changed the name from Donghak to Chondoism. The religion has its origins in Korean Confucianism, but also contains elements of Korean shamanism. The main goals of religion are personal cultivation, social well-being, and rejection of any kind of afterlife. Religion is ostensibly represented in the politics of North Korea by the minor party Chondoist Chongu, which is one of four parties included in the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, under the leadership of the Communist Party of North Korea . Today, it is estimated that around 13% of the North Korean population follows the religion. Very little is known about the activities of the religion, but it is the only religion favored by the government and it is also considered the ethnic religion of Korea. The religion has been represented at international religious conferences and events by the state-sponsored Chondoist Church and Chondoist Party.


As mentioned earlier, Buddhism is Korea’s second oldest religion and was at one time the country’s dominant religious, cultural and political force, before being suppressed for about half a millennium by the Joseon Kingdom. Buddhism began to slowly recover in Korea in the early 20th century, but this progress stalled in North Korea following the division of the country and the Korean War, which caused most Buddhists to flee to South Korea. The Korean Buddhist Federation, which was established under the North Korean government, governs and controls Buddhism in the country and represents the religion at international religious conferences. The country’s Buddhist monks need state permission to practice the religion legally and are totally dependent on state salaries to support themselves. There are 60 Buddhist temples in North Korea, but most are not used for active worship, but rather as cultural relics. The country has an academy of Buddhist studies, which also provides training for Buddhist clergy. Currently, Buddhism makes up about 5% of North Korea’s population and has fared better than other religious groups under the Kim family.

Christianity, Islam and other beliefs

As mentioned in the introduction, Christianity was growing rapidly in Korea in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The religion became very popular in the northern part of Korea, especially after the Manchu Revival of 1908. Missionaries played a major role in modernizing the country and later supporting the independence struggle against the Japanese. Before the division of Korea Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea had a Christian population of around 16% and was a center of the religion. After North Korea was established as a communist state, most Christians fled to South Korea to escape persecution. The religion was particularly hated in North Korea because of its ties to the West, especially America.

The Korean Christian Federation, established by the government, plays a similar role to the Korean Buddhist Federation, monitoring religion in the country and representing the religion at international religious conferences. In recent decades, attitudes towards Christianity have become less hostile with the establishment of the five churches in Pyongyang, allowing papal representatives to visit the country and even sending North Korean novice priests to study in Italy. The only presence of Islam in the country is at the Iranian Embassy in Pyongyang where the only mosque in the country, the Ar-Rahman Mosque, is located. The mosque is intended for embassy staff, as well as other foreigners. Besides this Islam, as well as all other religions, no known presence in the country.

The future of religion in North Korea

The future of religion in North Korea will most likely retain the same status quo it currently has for the foreseeable future. Barring a massive change in the ideology of the current government and leadership or the overthrow or collapse of the government, nothing is likely to change in the way North Korea treats religion and those who practice religion.