The Christian Right and Refugee Rights: The Border Politics of Anti-Communism and Anti-Discrimination in South Korea

Summer School Lecture

In the spring of 2018, over five-hundred Yemenis flew on cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur to the southwest resort island of Jeju Island in South Korea. In search of safety and livelihood, oceans away from the brutal civil war back in Yemen, these migrants sought asylum under the aegis of South Korean refugee law. Within days of arrival, this relatively small group of foreigners encountered a massive, highly organized anti-asylum movement nationwide. By all accounts, the Christian Right served as the chief architects of the anti-asylum protests which resulted in the Ministry of Justice’s staggering decision to indefinitely close its borders to Yemenis and deny all applicants but two refugee status.

In this lecture, professor Angie Heo (University of Chicago Divinity School) examines how the Korean Christian Right supplied the moral rhetoric of xenophobic sentiment and the political logics of heightened border control. Heo demonstrates how the arrival of Yemeni refugees incited discourses of national security and human rights in ways that enabled evangelical conservatives to take the lead in opposing refugee rights. She argues that the anti-asylum movement owed much of its support to an anti-communist Protestant view of international refugee rights through the lens of anti-discrimination rights at home.  By directing attention to Korean-specific histories of war and displacement, Heo decenters European and North American perspectives on understanding refugee politics in the context of the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen. Ultimately, this lecture will also engage broader methodological assumptions at play in scholarship on religion, mobility, and politics, with special attention to the implications for refugees, migrants, and marked minorities.

This online lecture is part of the UCSIA Summer School program on ‘Religion, Mobility and Politics’. From 23 to 27 August 2021, the online UCSIA Summer School brings together a multidisciplinary and international group of 15 PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the fields of theology, humanities and social sciences. The programme offers them the opportunity to attend classes taught by field experts Jayeel Cornelio (Ateneo de Manila University), David Henig (Utrecht University) and Angie Heo (University of Chicago Divinity School), to present their own work and to discuss their ideas in a relaxed and open atmosphere. Learn more about the annual summer course via

Date & Time

Thursday 26 August 2021
4.00 – 5.30 p.m. UTC+2
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Online via Zoom.
How does it work?


Free entrance.
Please register online in advance.


4.00 p.m.

Welcome by Stijn Latré, director UCSIA

4.05 p.m.

The Christian Right and Refugee Rights: The Border Politics of Anti-Communism and Anti-Discrimination in South Korea

Angie Heo, Assistant Professor Anthropology and Sociology of Religion, University of Chicago Divinity School

4.50 p.m.

Response by David Henig, Associate Professor Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University

5.05 p.m.


5.30 p.m.




Angie Heo is assistant professor of anthropology and sociology of religion at University of Chicago Divinity School. She is an anthropologist of religion, media, and economy and is broadly interested in minority politics, critical mission history, postcolonial nationalism, and global religious movements. Heo’s first book The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt (University of California Press, 2018) offers a form-sensitive account of Coptic Orthodoxy and Christian-Muslim relations from before the Arab uprisings to their post-revolutionary aftermath. Heo’s second book (in progress) turns to various sites of religious freedom, transnational capitalism, and Cold War empire in the Korean peninsula.



David Henig is associate professor of cultural anthropology at Utrecht University. Before coming to Utrecht, he held appointments at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and the University of Kent. Over the past decade, he has carried out extensive fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he studied the transformation of political economy and reconfiguration of religious institutions and practices in the face of ruptures caused by the political violence and cultural and economic dispossession ensuing from the violent disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992 and its aftermaths. This research resulted in numerous articles, one monograph, Remaking Muslim Lives: Everyday Islam in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina (University of Illinois Press, 2020); and a co-edited volume with Nicolette Makovicky, Economies of Favour after Socialism (Oxford University Press, 2017). 

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