Journal of Korean Religions, vol. 3, no. 2 (2012): Korean Shamans in the Present Tense

Editor’s Introduction
Laurel Kendall, 5

I agreed to comment on the three contributions to this symposium in a desire to see how the study of shamans in contemporary Korea is developing. I was curious about how and in what ways it continues to attract the attention of young scholars like Dong-kyu Kim and Jun Hwan Park, as well as offering new questions to veterans of Korean shaman studies like Jongsung Yang. As these contributions abundantly demonstrate, and as many of us have argued for a long time, there is no such thing as a fixed “Korean shamanism,” but rather a body of religious practices that survive precisely because they are fluid, responsive to other changes in Korean society. Like quicksilver contemporary South Korea, and the shamans who share in its dynamism, scholarship too is a moving target, with new projects and new approaches continuously added to the conversation. At the same time, all of these works build upon some viable scholarship that has gone before.

Symposium: Korean Shamans in the Present Tense


Reconfiguration of Korean Shamanic Ritual: Negotiating Practices among Shamans, Clients, and Multiple Ideologies
Dong-kyu Kim, 37

In this paper, I suggest that shamanic rituals should be understood as negotiating practices between shamans, clients, and competing ideologies rather than as expressing or conveying an unchanging essence or meaning. Here, the ritual space is assumed to be a “matrix” in which these practices occur and hence shamans can verify and reinforce their shamanship, which is constructed by the looping effects between academic discourses and shamans’ self-identity creation. Within the matrix, shamans make their rituals seem more plausible and efficacious while encountering their clients’ various needs. Based upon practice theory and such concepts as looping effects and the matrix, I will here examine two kinds of shamanic ritual. First, I examine mukkuri (무꾸리, divination), which I define as an initiatory stage for further negotiation processes, such as kut or other rituals, while trying to show how a shaman utilizes a specific divinatory style to strengthen the plausibility of his or her divination. Second, I introduce some outstanding aspects of the reconfiguration of modern kut performance, and explicate the cause of those reconfigurations. This approach to shamanic rituals will provide an alternative interpretive framework to overcome “Restoristic Folklore Scholarship.”

“Money is the Filial Child. But, at the same time, it is also the Enemy!”: Korean Shamanic Rituals for Luck and Fortune
Jun Hwan Park, 39

In the world of Korean shamanism, there is a particular god, called taegam, which is allegedly famous for its love of money and its abundance of greed for material wealth. During the shamanic ritual of chaesu-kut, the rites for good fortune and luck, this god is popularly worshipped as the Deity of Wealth and is typically symbolized by money placed all over its face and spirit costumes. Nonetheless, as money has the two sides of heads and tails, taegam also has two very different faces—so-taegam and taegam. This article explores the ambiguity of the two taegam gods, focusing on the symbolic action of money-offerings and how its meaning is taken from the perspective of the ritual actors, in the hope of shedding light on the place of Korea’s traditional popular religion of shamanism in today’s transformed urban landscape. By discussing the semantics of “money is the filial child” (a remark made by so-taegam) and “money is the enemy” (as remarked by taegam), statements I often heard during my fieldwork in Seoul, I suggest that the ambivalent symbolic nature of taegam should be seen as an indispensible vehicle for understanding ritual life, as well as everyday life, of urban Korean people since it is closely related to both normative orientations and the contradictory aspects of the material culture of contemporary urbanites inhabiting the borderless, globalized, and fluctuating modern capitalist market. This conclusion is reached partly with reference to existing sociological theories of money and anthropological inquiries into the ambivalent aspects of taegam.

An Interview with Jongsung Yang, Curator of the Exhibition Mediator between Heaven and Earth-Shaman
Seong-nae Kim, Daniel Kister, and Dong-kyu Kim, 73

Jongsung Yang is a curator of the National Folk Museum of Korea (NFMK), where he focuses on its international exchange program, performance arts, and journal publication. He has worked at the NFMK as a curator since 1993 and also as a member of the editorial staff of the International Journal of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which was launched by the NFMK in 2008. He earned a PhD in Folklore and Cultural Anthropology (Indiana University, 1993) and is the author of Cultural Protection Policy in Korea: Intangible Cultural Properties and Living National Treasures (Jimoondang International, 2003). He has conducted anthropological research on the shamanism of various ethnic groups and countries, such as Nepal, Mongolia, and Korea. As a curator of the NFMK, he has organized several special exhibitions, including “Wood and Paper” (2008) and “The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac” (2010), as well as performance events of shamanic arts. He has been a member of the Korean Committee for Cultural Assets since 1998.


Competing Chinese Names for God: The Chinese Term Question and Its Influence upon Korea
Sung-Deuk Oak, 89

This paper discusses the theological discourses of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism on the Chinese terms for God and their influence upon the term question in Korea. The term question in China is important to Korea, not only because the former became the linguistic and theological background of the latter in Sino-centric East Asian culture, and because all Chinese terms were imported to Korea and had competed with Korean Protestant terms, but also because theologies and discourses developed in China were used in the controversy in Korea. The paper discusses four groups: Roman Catholics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (the Shangdi-Tianzhu Camp and the Tianzhu Camp), British and American Protestants (the Shangdi Camp and the Shen Camp), British Anglicans (the Tianzhu Camp), and Scottish Presbyterians (the Shangdi-Hananim Camp) in the nineteenth century.

The Figure of Baozhi (418-524): A Model for the Buddhist Historiography of the Koryŏ Dynasty?
Yannick Bruneton, 117

The present paper represents the first step of an appraisal of the influence, in the Korean historiographic tradition, of the archetypal model of Baozhi as a textual and religious paradigm. It shows that, even if the references in Korean sources to Baozhi, the Liang Dhyāna master, are scant (“literary motif” in literati works, Biographies of the monks Wŏnhyo, Yangji and Podŏk in the Samguk yusa, legends of the founding of the Haein and Kyŏnam Temples as transmitted by the Naong School), the fact remains that he had an indelible influence on the pre-modern Buddhist historiography of Korea. In the written culture of Koryŏ and Chosŏn, the paradigmatic figure of Baozhi generally functioned in the same way as in China. However, it would seem that each period selectively adopted one or another of the archetypal functions that characterized the monk, influenced by the construction Baozhi’s myth in China, but also depending upon the political and social position of Buddhism on the Korean peninsula. During the Koryŏ period, Baozhi’s influence was the strongest as one of the models that went into the development of the myth of Tosŏn (the monk-prophet legitimizing the establishment of the dynasty and initiator of Buddhist construction).

Devotionalism Reclaimed: Re-mapping Sacred Geography in Contemporary Korean Buddhism
Pori Park, 153

This paper provides an examination of the popular practices of contemporary Buddhism and the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites, in particular. These pilgrimage sites are old, sacred places of worship where Buddha’s relics were enshrined or are famed for miraculous stories of Bodhisattvas or Arhats. Contemporary sacred places are differentiated from traditional ones by the number of people who flock to them. Traditional places were important mostly to local people and to Buddhist monks. Economic growth since the mid-1980s, however, has caused hundreds of thousands of people to visit these places year-round, and, to accommodate these visitors, temples have built modern facilities, including paved roads, lodging, and parking spaces. With the influx of visitors, these sites have accumulated wealth but are also faced with the many challenges that come with dealing with huge numbers of visitors. Some sites simply offer a convenient place for worship and to receive the blessings of Buddhist deities; others have developed diverse programs of lectures and meditation for their visitors. Since 1994, the Chogye-jong central administration has taken control of some of these sites and has used the wealth for the education of the sangha. Some local factions, however, have fought against such administrative control.


Sŏn Master T’oeong Sŏngch’ŏl’s (1912-1993) Legacy: One Century after his Birth and (almost) Two Decades after his Death
Bernard Senécal, 173

On the Eve of the 25th Anniversary of South Korea’s Democracy

This year (2012), Korean Buddhism celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the birth of T’oeong Sŏngch’ŏl 退翁性徹. Next year, it will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his demise. As the meditation master of Haein-sa 海印寺 from 1967 until 1993, and the Sixth and Seventh Supreme Patriarch of Chogyejong 曹溪宗 between 1981 and 1993, Sŏngch’ŏl is one of the, if not the, most representative figures of modern Korean Buddhism. Furthermore, having been a great reformer of the Buddhist tradition, he is reckoned to be one of the twelve most prominent personalities of the Republic of Korea (hereafter Korea) during the fifty years that followed its foundation in 1948. But Sŏngch’ŏl’s place in Korean Buddhist history is not without controversy … On the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of South Korea’s democracy, [we] critically reflect upon the impact of Sŏngch’ŏl’s legacy on contemporary Korean Buddhism and society. This reflection will be based on the review of two representatives Korean works directly related to Sŏngch’ŏl and/or the Korean Sudden/Gradual Debate: T’oeong Sŏngch’ŏl ŭi kkaedarŭm kwa suhaeng 退翁性徹의 깨달음과 修行 (2006) and Chaengjŏm ŭro salp’yŏ ponŭn kanhwasŏn 爭點으로 살펴보는 看話禪 (2011).


Korean Buddhist Nuns and Laywomen: Hidden Histories, Enduring Vitality. Eun-su Cho, ed.
Reviewed by Shi Zhiru, 187

The Philosophical Thought of Tasan Chŏng. Shin-Ja Kim (Tobias Körtner and Jordan Nyenyembe, translators).
Reviewed by Don Baker, 191

Born Again: Evangelicalism in Korea. Timothy S. Lee.
Reviewed by Hee An Choi, 194

종교권력과 한국 천주교회 Chonggyo kwŏllyŏk kwa Han’guk Ch’ŏnju kyohoe [Religious Power and the Korean Catholic Church]. Kang Inch’ŏl.
Reviewed by Hyunjun Park, 198