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It seems to me that while 단식 is a generic term for not eating, 금식 has more religious connotations and includes things like refraining "fasts" from meat/added sugar/etc. that people may practice for more spiritual reasons.

Are these intuitions correct? What are the important differences (if any) between these terms?

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  • Yes, your understanding sounds right. – Jason O. Aug 12 '17 at 17:10
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In addition, I think 금식 is also used for medical reasons: for example, one may say "검사 전날 7시부터는 금식하시기 바랍니다."

I think fasting in a form of protest (which is quite common in Korea) is always called 단식.

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The difference between 금식 and 단식 is whether the one who has decided to stop eating food. If (s)he decided not to eat by her(him)self, it is 단식. But other(ex. doctor) decided, it is 금식.

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is eating. is stopping or ceasing, discontinuing. is prohibiting or preventing. So 단식 is not eating but not forcibly or not by others' will. 금식 is not eating to follow some rules or advises, not by internal willingness. However, of course, you may be the one prohibiting yourself from eating.

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