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Laurel Kendall Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF

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Shin Yunbok, Munyeo sinmu, 1805

Laurel Kendall
Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF

South Korean Popular Religion in Motion

Thu, Nov 19, 2009 4 PM

Anthropologist Laurel Kendall talks about her initial fieldwork among South Korea’s (mostly female) shamans and their clients 30 years ago and the more recent experiences and observations that prompted her to write her new book, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF.

Kendall is a curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History and on faculty at Columbia University. Her original research concentrated on shamanism in Korea in the context of village women’s lives. In the decades since that work, South Korea has experienced an unprecedented economic, social, political, and material transformation, and Korean villages have all but disappeared. But Kendall attests that the shamans not only persist but are very much a part of South Korean modernity.

Cosponsored by Ohio State’s Korean Studies Initiative (part of the East Asian Studies Center), Center for Folklore Studies, and Department of Comparative Studies.

Laurel Kendall (Ph.D., Columbia University 1979) is curator of Asian Ethnographic Collections at the American Museum of Natural History and adjunct professor at Columbia University. Her interest in Korea began during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1970, and that country continues as her main area of specialization, although she also does comparative work in Vietnam.

Kendall’s research concerns popular religion in contemporary East Asian life, a project informed by considerations of gender, ritual, material culture, modernity, medicine, and consumption. Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (University of Hawaii, 2009), her new book and the focus of her lecture, is a study of changes in the South Korean shaman world since her first fieldwork there more than thirty years ago.

Kendall is also the author of Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits (University of Hawaii 1985), The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman (University of Hawaii, 1988), and Getting Married in Korea (University of California, 1996). She edited Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea (University of Hawaii, 2002) and cowrote The Museum at the End of the World: Encounters in the Russian Far East (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) with Alexia Bloch. Kendall is also currently the editor of the Contemporary Anthropology of Religion monograph series sponsored by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion and American Anthropological Association.

The president of the Society for East Asian Anthropology, an official section of the American Anthropological Association, Kendall works collaboratively with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and the Vietnam Women’s Museum on issues related to museums, sacred objects, and religious practice. At the American Museum of National History (AMNH), Kendall has curated and host curated numerous exhibitions, most recently serving as a member of the team for Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids. In 2003, she co-curated the exhibition Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit, a collaborative project carried out between AMNH and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology for which Kendall was awarded a Friendship Medal by the government of Vietnam. In 1997, she organized an international conference and related activities through which the AMNH commemorated the centenary of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. These efforts brought together scholars, including Native scholars, from North America, the Russian Federation, and Europe. On the basis of contacts made through the centenary, Kendall initiated a program of outreach to local museums in the Russian Far East where the local populations’ ancestors had been subjects of the Jesup Expedition.