Lorain County Community College’s Dr. Young Woon Ko, an associate professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department, recently published Understanding Religious Diversity: A Journey into Religions of the World. “I was writing this book for my world religion class,” Ko said. “But hopefully, this is not only for my class, but for other colleges’ world religion classes.”
Ko said he wasn’t content with textbooks he has used in the past, which inspired him to write this book. “I have used many different books [on] world religions, which are good,” he said. “But I wasn’t satisfied with Asian religions, especially.” Ko stated he felt these previous texts created a solid foundation for Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). However, he felt the coverage of Asian religions was too simplistic. “I wanted to bring more serious scholarship on those,” Ko said. “I want to bring more profound meanings.” Ko implemented this idea by using original texts from East Asian religions without English translation.
Ko, who is in his eighth year at LCCC, also felt inspired by his World Religion students to add more depth to the subject. “From my teaching experience, college students can understand a deeper meaning of those religions, even just the introductory level,” Ko stated. He said his students have influenced the direction he took with this project. “I tried when I was writing this book, I was conscious of our college students,” Ko said. “From my class, their discussions and questions helped a lot.”
He was also cognizant of the cost of his textbook to students.“Another important reason, nowadays, the World Religion textbooks costs are [high]. [They] include a lot of images, that makes the cost high,” Ko said. He added that his students can purchase an E-edition of his text for about $35, and the print version for about $70. Loose leaf versions of previously used texts ran upwards of $200.
It took Ko almost four years to research and write Understanding Religious Diversity, and he plans to include Indigenous and African religions in the second edition, which he hopes to have published next year. This is his third published work, having written The Beauty of Balance: A Theological Inquiry into Paradox, published in 2009, and Jung on Synchronicity and Yijing: A Critical Approach, published in 2011.
Young Ko considers it necessary to not just focus attention on our own individual religions, but to grasp an understanding of the religions around us as well. “We live in a global, religiously diverse society,” Ko said. “So…it’s very important to understand other religions, as well as my own. We are all connected.”
He said World Religion students don’t just gain an understanding of the subject on an academic level, but understand that people all have contrasting concepts of the world. “The religious practice influences their way of life and their way of thinking,” Ko explained. “So, having a better understanding of different religious perspectives and thoughts will have a great impact.”
There are many dangers to religious misconceptions, and Ko feels we often make assumptions too fast. “We misjudge, we judge very quickly,” he said. “It is important to understand and have knowledge of other religions before we just make a judgement on the basis of our own belief systems and cultural orientations.” Ko adds, “It’s the issue of our lives.”