Seonghan Kim

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS)



First Advisor

Daniel L. Brunner

Second Advisor

Kent L. Yinger


The church in Korea is well known for its rapid growth between 1960 and 1990, but remarkable church growth has been a part of Korean church history since the first missionaries arrived. This paper is the result of critical dialogue between the field of sociology and the study of religion. It applies the theory of religious economy to the Korean mission field during the period of 1884-1910. Religious economy is a sociological theory which has made unique and influential contributions to recent religious studies, especially in the United States. The theory attempts to explain the human side of religion based on 'sect-church' continuum theory and rational choice theory. On the supply side of religious economy, this thesis addresses how the dynamics within Christianity in the U.S. at the time shaped the early Korean church. Especially in the earliest period, the Korean mission field was heavily populated by American missionaries who were from Presbyterian and Methodist denominations. In the sect-church continuum perspective, Presbyterians and Methodists had already become a 'church' in late nineteenth century North America. Yet, higher mission involvement is a sect characteristic. This thesis examines this interesting phenomenon within 'sect-church theory,' which is one of the main components of a religious economy. This thesis suggests that para-church organizations, such as the Student Volunteer Missionary movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, can play the role of sect-formation within the church without splitting a denomination. On the demand side of the religious economy, this paper considers the reasons for the success of the Presbyterian Church in Korea. The question is, why (when Presbyterians and Methodists arrived in Korea at same time) did Presbyterians become the "winners" in the race to convert the nation, while Methodists did not? This study critically reviews previous studies from a religious economy perspective. The adoption of Nevius mission methods has been considered the most important basis for Presbyteriru1 victory on the Korean mission field. This paper looks beyond explanations of the Nevius Methods' appeal, such as 'high demands and high rewards,' to the socio-economic conditions that are prerequisites for the successful implementation of Nevius methods.