This talk explores the wartime migration of North Koreans and their narrative and performative techniques in creating a distinctly Christian pledge of allegiance to the South Korean state and the US Cold War empire. The politics of subject-making during the Korean War (1950–53), I argue, formed the crucible through which ideas around political refuge and religious freedom emerged in South Korea. Zooming in on mythologized wartime events such as the Hŭngnam evacuation and understudied movements like the Christian evangelistic ministry in prison camps, I trace both the movements of Christians and the circulation of Christian modes of political subjecthood. In doing so, I demonstrate the centrality of Christian moral politics in facilitating the passage from “enemy” to potential “citizen” in the context of a hot Cold War conflict. As one Korean church leader promised in a petition to the US military, the church would make out of Hwang Chang Joo—a refugee who found himself detained in a prison camp—a “good Christian as well as a good citizen” of the Republic of Korea. Situated at the intersection of the history of modern Korea, religion and the global Cold War, and the US empire, this project refocuses the lens on the Korean War period as a pivotal moment for understanding the later “success” of Christianity in postwar South Korea and the making of the South Korean nation-state as a (pupil-)partner to the expanding US military empire in the Pacific. Drawing on research from a work in progress, this talk will also discuss the broader intellectual journey of this project from the doctoral dissertation to its current and early form as a book manuscript. 

About the speaker:

Sandra H. Park is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies (GWIKS). She is a historian of modern Korea, the US empire, and the global Cold War. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript, tentatively titled Anointed Citizenship: The Politics of Christian Border Crossing in Cold War Korea. Drawing on extensive archival research across government, military, and missionary archives, her book project examines the coherence of Christian moral politics as a pledge of allegiance for North Korean border crossers petitioning for citizenship in “Free” South Korea under the US military empire. Her project traces the cross-border movements of Christians and transpacific circulations of Christian political claims during and immediately after the Korean War, contributing to existing literatures on North Korean migrants and citizenship, religion and the global Cold War, and US-Korean relations in the twentieth century.

As an interdisciplinary historian interested broadly in the entanglements between religion and Cold War politics in the transpacific world, Sandra’s research also extends to debates around religious freedom, the making of the US empire in Asia, and the politics of religious devotion in Korean America as well as socialist secularization in revolutionary North Korea. Her previous research on religion and the North Korean people’s court appeared in the Journal of Korean Studies.

Prior to joining GWIKS, Sandra received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at the University of Chicago, where she also earned her M.A. and B.A in History.