The Idea of Human Dignity in Korea

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This study explores the idea of human dignity in the Human Dignity Clause stipulated in the Constitution of South Korea, maintaining that to indigenize the imported idea of human dignity in Korean society, the idea must not only be translated into terms resonant with Korean culture but must also be implemented in the institutions of Korean society. This study will contribute toward an exploration of a more integrative understanding of the notion of human dignity as the basis for human rights, both in the Western conception, derived from Cicero’s formula, “dignitas hominis”, which was expanded in the Christian idea of the dignity of “God-like person-in-community”, as compared with similar kinds of discourse in Korean intellectual history, namely the idea of the supreme and relational worth of a “Heaven-like (han?l kat’?n) person-in-Han-community”. This work will contribute to an interdisciplinary understanding of the question of human dignity and should appeal to scholars in law, sociology, philosophy, ethics, theology, and comparative religious studies.


“Although it is only a precursory attempt, such an endeavor is a refreshing move to go beyond the theoretical debates and rhetoric that have dogged the human rights discourse. This effort promises to shed light on evolving new directions in the comparative social ethical studies of human rights and human dignity in a historical and cross-cultural context. In sum, this book represents, although preliminarily, a promising attempt to delineate the contours of the application of higher ideals to redirect the social ethical orientations of religion, education, and the family toward a fuller humanization of Korean society.” - Dr. Chai-sik Chung, Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics, Boston University School of Theology

“The value of this book rests upon its extensive and persuasive treatment of diverse historical, cultural and religious sources through which the concept of human dignity has been integrated into the rootstock of Korean culture. First of all, this book provides a clear and perceptive history of human dignity and human rights in Korea, including the painful chapters of its history of violation of these fundamental values. Secondly, this book gives a valuable compilation of the diverse and deeply-rooted traditions of human dignity in Korea, which are embodied in its religions, myths, politics, and institutions. Thirdly, comparison of the root concept of human dignity between the East and the West enlightens global readers with cultural sensitivities and sensibilities regarding ideas which we take for granted.” - Dr. Ock-Joo Kim, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical History and Medical Humanities, Seoul National University College of Medicine

Table of Contents

Foreword by Chai-sik Chung
1 An Analysis of Human Rights in Korea
2 Contextual Interpretation of the Idea of Human Dignity
3 Institutional Application of the Idea of Human Dignity
4 Conclusion: Overtures of the Human Dignity Movement in Korea

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