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Peripheral Ritual Lives: Exploring the Marginality of Women’s Shamanic Subculture in South Korea

Dr. Simon Mills

Dieser Vortrag wird in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Zentrum für Genderforschung organisiert.

18. Mai 2022, 14.00 Uhr, Reiterkaserne, Raum 150


In South Korea, shamanism has long existed as a peripheral religious subculture, wherein the vast majority of participants – both shamans and adherents – are women. Small tight-knit groups cluster around their locally-based religious authority figures, gathering in out-of-the-way places to chat, ascertain the true causes of problems, identify possible solutions, and conduct rituals. In their worldview, the spiritual dimension is always involved in human affairs, and petitions and offerings are made to the spirits of the living, the lingering spirits of the dead, the ancestral spirits, and a large pantheon of gods relating to all facets of life and the natural world. By chanting prayers, singing songs, sharing stories, beating out powerful rhythms, summoning spirits, and undertaking richly symbolic participative ritual actions, the shamans and their followers seek to bring the spirits back into a state of harmonious equilibrium.

This paper specifically addresses the following question: why is it that these women and their practices exist on the fringes of society, often viewed with suspicion or contempt? To shed light on this topic, I explore historical conceptions of gender and gender roles in Korean culture, examine the shamans’ beliefs and practices in more depth, apply sociological theories concerning marginalisation, and consider the shamans’ own testimonies regarding how they came to be where they are.

Dr. Simon Mills

Dr. Simon Mills is an ethnomusicologist specialising in South Korean music, music’s roles in ritual and healing contexts, systems of musical representation (terminology and notation systems), musical analysis, and performance theory. His main area of expertise is Korean shaman music, which he has researched extensively in the field, working with both charismatic and non-charismatic ritualists. More recently, his research has branched out to explore Korean Buddhist chanting practices and amateur music-making in communities. Dr. Mills is based in the Music Department of Durham University, UK.