In the spring of 2020, South Korea became the second most infected country in the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid spread of the virus was attributed to a Christian religious group known as Shincheonji. The association of this already controversial religion with the spread of the virus quickly led to public condemnation of the group. The public response to the group’s association with the virus was, in part, built on an existing foundation of distrust and suspicion. In this paper, I examine the details of Shincheonji’s association with the coronavirus and the public reaction to it. I show the political work done by classificatory language pertaining to religion, specifically as it influences perceptions of the legitimacy of marginal religions and how the public should treat them. I also examine how public discourses on what religion should or should not do shape the definitions and boundaries of religion and associated categories.

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