From social motives to spiritual development: A Cultural Historical Activity Theory analysis of communal spiritual development in a Korean American house church

Open Access
Park, Sinwoong
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 14, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Gary Kuhne, Dissertation Advisor
  • Gary Kuhne, Committee Chair
  • Fred Michael Schied, Committee Member
  • Melody M Thompson, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Adult Education
  • Spiritual Development
  • House Church
  • Community of Faith
  • Cultural Historical Activity Theory
This study focused on a unique culturally shaped church formation, a Korean house church in the U. S., and how the members of the Korean house church learn and develop their spirituality in their communal relations and activities. As a more tightly knitted small group, the Korean house church facilitated the inclusion of the marginalized Korean Americans in their relations and activities, and in the process of the inclusion in the house church, the Korean Americans have been deeply involved in communal spiritual development activities by actively settling in the religious group as a regular member instead of their past barriers and by spiritually making more meaningful relationships with God and others. This qualitative study used ethnographical inquiry to investigate the communal spiritual development activities of seven members of Canaan Mokjang, a house church, by interviewing and observing them in their house and church (SBCH) over a two-month period. Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) was used as the analytical framework, and it provided the useful comprehensive framework to understand informal religious learning as a socio-cultural phenomenon within the house church context. Indeed, learning occurred in the dynamic relations and complex interactions of the subject and object in the house church, mediated with a diverse socio-cultural religious context and actions. This study revealed three communal spiritual development activities (activity systems) by adopting CHAT to analyze the informed data from the seven participants: social engagement, spiritual union, and spiritual leadership development. Through the three activity systems, participants have developed their motives from social engagement to spiritual unions to spiritual development by observing and experiencing various social and spiritual practices. The participants found a different relationship within the house church, and the relationship allowed them to be more tightly linked to other members. In this sense, they called their relations a “spiritual family.” Although some contradictions occurred during the process of performing the three activity systems and often these hampered them to be more involved in the activities, the process of overcoming the contradictions caused the participants to learn how they engaged in the religious small group, how they could be a spiritual family, and how they focused on developing spiritual leaders and their spirituality. From the research findings, this study discussed how a collective informal learning process of a small religious group in the communal spiritual development activities could transcend the boundary of limitation of formal and nonformal learning processes of traditional church, and how CHAT as an analytical framework could help the researcher to find the complex interactions, contradictions and learning processes in the religious informal learning context. Although there were several limitations in the study, this study provided some implications for adult religious education and some suggestions for the further research.