Buddhism first made its way into Korea in the 2nd year (A.D. 372) of the reign of King Sosurim of the Goguryeo Kingdom. After its introduction, Buddhism exerted a powerful influence in the Baekje Kingdom and Silla Kingdom. The Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto, which are designated as World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO, are Buddhist creations from the Silla Kingdom that are said to reflect the importance of Buddhism at this time.
Buddhism has exercised a far-reaching influence on Korean culture throughout its long history. Korea’s invaluable Buddhist heritage abides in the nation’s buildings, sculptures, paintings and handicrafts.
Protestantism came to Korea after the signing of the Korean-American Treaty in 1882. Since Christianity challenged the basic values of Joseon society, its believers were subject to persecution in the early years, but as Christians took an increasingly active role in the anti-colonial struggle against the Japanese and churches promoted more educational opportunities, Christianity gained more acceptance. Today Korean churches evangelize abroad, and approximately twenty five percent of the Korean population is Christian. Catholicism first came to Korea as a western academic theory. Korean tributary missions to the imperial court of China took an interest in Jesuit missionary books and brought them back to Korea for further study. In 1784, the first Korean was baptized in Beijing and returned to Korea to set up a house of worship. Despite considerable persecution by the government, numerous people joined the Catholic Church. Presently, over two million people in Korea belong to the Catholic church.
Confucianism was a common philosophy in ancient Korea that brought about profound changes and exerted considerable influence on the Korean people. It has become an indispensable component of the Korean moral system, way of life, and national law. Confucianism, which was the major philosophy of the Joseon Dynasty, eventually gave rise to ‘Silhak,’ or ‘practical learning.’ Confucianism has deeply permeated the consciousness of Korean people and can be seen today in many forms, including two ceremonies that continue today: ‘Jongmyo Jerye,’ the royal ancestral service at Jongmyo Shrine, and ‘Seokjeon Daeje,’ the worship rites at the Seonggyungwan in honor of Confucius, his disciples, and other celebrated Chinese and Korean Confucian scholars.