A packed room of students and faculty listened and asked questions as Dr. Laurel Kendall, curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, discussed Korean shamans and various issues in their contemporary practices in an Asian Studies lunch discussion.
Dr Kendall explained how the designation of shamanic practices as cultural or religious related to the changing contexts in Korea. Some identify the practices as representing their Korean heritage while some shamans assert their rights as a religion, often in response to restrictions on their practices that they identify as arising from complaints from Christians about disruptions from shamanic rituals.
Dr. Kendall’s lecture later that afternoon described a case where a teenager died during particular practices in Virginia. The main media account of this tragedy connected the event with a Korean shamanic exorcism. However, Dr. Kendall noted the various ways the details of the case do not fit Korean shaman practice. While shamans have been brought to the United States to conduct exorcisms, this case has the appearance of a Korean Pentecostal Christian exorcism that became extremely harsh (in contrast to typical Korean Pentecostal exorcisms).
Thanks to Nhung Walsh for the photographs. UA’s Asian Studies program organized Dr. Kendall’s visit with support from the Korea Foundation, the Northeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies, and the Department of Modern Languages and Classics at UA.