Like all agricultural societies, Korean life has long centered around tightly knit families. Koreans regard family as the basic social unit and consider harmony at home the first step toward harmony in the community and in the nation as a whole. Many Koreans consider themselves extensions of their families and often regard the welfare of the family as more important than that of themselves or individual members. Family roles are based on gender and age. Exchanging roles and sharing power are not encouraged, due to strong beliefs that order and harmony exist when there are distinctions between the roles and duties of men and women. Custom forbids people marrying within their own clan, no matter how distant the cousin might be. In order to know who is who, families and clan keep detailed genealogical records that might go back many hundreds of years. Even in today’s westernized Korea many people take pride in reciting the glorious history of their lineage.
Korea has been influenced by four three major religions: an indigenous shamanism called Mugyo, followed by Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity. Additionally, a large mosque in It’aewon-dong holds services for those of the Islamic faith. Many Koreans follow more than one religion and many Christian converts practice ancestor worship and perform Buddhist rites. The core of Mugyo can be found in ceremonies that appeal to spirits for help solving human problems. Even as Korea has become one of the most modern, advanced societies in the world, old ideas about the natural world are still honored and many ancient herbal remedies remain in high demand.