Korea, (North) Democratic Republic of
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  Preferred Religion (2015)1: Atheist

  Majority Religion (2015)2: Not Religious (incl. Atheist) (70.9%)

Religious Adherents, (2015)2

Korea, (North) Democratic Republic of Eastern Asia World
Buddhist Syncretic 11% 0.2% ---
Buddhist (all denominations combined) 1.5% 19.3% 6.6%
 
  • Mahayana Buddhist
  • 1.5% 18.4% 4.3%
     
  • Other and Unknown Buddhist
  • < 0.1% 0.2% 0.5%
    Christian (all denominations combined) 0.2% 7.8% 29.9%
     
  • Catholic
  • 0.2% 1.3% 15%
     
  • Other and Unknown Christian
  • < 0.1% 3.6% 2.3%
    Other Religionist 0.1% < 0.1% 0.2%
    Not Religious (incl. Atheist) 70.9% 35.6% 12%
    Unknown 16.5% 9.7% 4.8%

    Religious Demography3

    The country has an area of 46,500 square miles and a population estimated at 22.7 million. The number of religious believers was unknown but was estimated by the Government to be 10,000 Protestants, 10,000 Buddhists, and 4,000 Catholics. Estimates by South Korean and international church-related groups were considerably higher. In addition, the Chondogyo Young Friends Party, a government-approved group based on a traditional religious movement, had approximately 40,000 practitioners, according to the Government. According to a South Korean press report, in 2002 the chairman of the Association of North Korean Catholics stated that the Catholic community in the country had no priests but held weekly prayer services at the Changchung Catholic Church in Pyongyang. However, some doubted that all of those attending services were Catholic.

    In Pyongyang there were reportedly four state-controlled Christian churches: two Protestant churches under lay leadership (Bongsu and Chilgol Churches), the Changchung Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church. The Chilgol Church is dedicated to the memory of former leader Kim Il-sung's mother, Kang Pan-sok, who was a Presbyterian deaconess. The number of congregants regularly worshiping at these churches is unknown.

    The Presbyterian Church of Korea in the South was partnering with the Christian Association in North Korea to rebuild Bongsu Church. In the fall of 2006, according to press reports, a delegation of 90 Christians from South Korea visited the Bongsu church to celebrate completion of its first phase of renovation. According to religious leaders who traveled to the country, there were Protestant pastors at these churches, although it was not known if they were resident or visiting.

    In its July 2002 report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the country reported the existence of 500 "family worship centers." However, according to the 2007 Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) White Paper, defectors interviewed were unaware of any such centers. Observers stated that "family worship centers" may be part of the state-controlled Korean Christian Federation, while an unknown number of "underground churches" operate apart from the Federation and are not recognized by the Government. Some NGOs and academics estimate there may be up to several hundred thousand underground Christians in the country. Others question the existence of a large-scale underground church or conclude that no reliable estimate of the number of underground religious believers exists. Individual underground congregations are reportedly very small and confined to private homes. At the same time, some NGOs reported that the individual churches are connected to each other through well-established networks. The regime has not allowed outsiders the access necessary to confirm such claims.

    There were an estimated 300 Buddhist temples. Most were regarded as cultural relics, but religious activity was permitted in some. A few Buddhist temples and relics have been renovated or restored in recent years under a broad effort aimed at "preserving the Korean nation's cultural heritage." In 2007 reconstruction was completed on the Shingye or Singyesa (Holy Valley) Temple, which was destroyed during the Korean War. The Republic of Korea (ROK) Government and foreign tourists funded the reconstruction. A South Korean monk, the first to permanently reside in North Korea, has lived at the temple since 2004 but serves primarily as a guide for visiting tourists rather than as a pastor caring for Buddhists living in the area.

    The Government announced in June 2007 that 500 monks and Buddhist followers were making day-long pilgrimages to the recently renovated Ryongthong temple in Kaesong strictly for religious purposes. Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang who visited the temple were told that the two monks living there may be joined by more. State-controlled press reported on several occ

    Sources

    1.  The Religious Characteristics of States Dataset Project: Government Religious Preference (GRP) measures government-level favoritism toward, and disfavor against, 30 religious denominations. A series of ordered categorical variables index the state's institutional favoritism in 28 different ways. The variables are combined to form five composite indices for five broad components of state-religion: official status, religious education, financial support, regulatory burdens, and freedom of practice. The five components' composites in turn are further combined into a single composite score, the GRP score. The RCS Data Project would like to acknowledge, recognize, and express our deepest gratitude for the significant contributions of Todd M. Johnson the principal investigator of the World Christian Database and the co-principal investigator of the World Religion Database.

    2.  The Religious Characteristics of States Dataset Project: Demographics reports the estimates of religious demographics, both country by country and region by region. The RCS was created to fulfill the unmet need for a dataset on the religious dimensions of countries of the world, with the state-year as the unit of observation. It estimates populations and percentages of adherents of 100 religious denominations including second level subdivision within Christianity and Islam. The RCS Data Project would like to acknowledge, recognize, and express our deepest gratitude for the significant contributions of Todd M. Johnson the principal investigator of the World Christian Database and the co-principal investigator of the World Religion Database.

    3.  The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report is submitted to Congress annually by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This report supplements the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom. It includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. These State Department reports are open source.

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