South Korean Popular Religion in Motion

Shamans, Nostalgias
Thirty years ago, anthropologist Laurel Kendall did intensive fieldwork among South Korea’s (mostly female) shamans and their clients as a reflection of village women’s lives. In the intervening decades, South Korea experienced an unprecedented economic, social, political, and material transformation and Korean villages all but disappeared. And the shamans? Kendall attests that they not only persist but are very much a part of South Korean modernity. Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion, an enlightening and entertaining study of contemporary Korean shamanism, makes the case for the dynamism of popular religious practice, the creativity of those we call shamans, and the necessity of writing about them in the present tense. Shamans thrive in South Korea’s high-rise cities, working with clients who are largely middle class and technologically sophisticated. Emphasizing the shaman’s work as open and mutable, Kendall describes how gods and ancestors articulate the changing concerns of clients and how the ritual fame of these transactions has itself been transformed by urban sprawl, private cars, and zealous Christian proselytizing.

“Laurel Kendall has written a study of contemporary Korean shamans that is both entertaining and enlightening. Most studies of the topic treat shamans as an anachronistic remnant of the past. Kendall challenges that approach, drawing on several decades of close observation of shamans in action to reveal how shamanism is constantly evolving. It is an important work that will appeal to a wide audience.” —Don Baker, University of British Columbia

September 2009 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3343-5 / $49.00 (CLOTH)