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Reviewed by:
  • Korean Popular Beliefs by Yong Bhum Yi et al.
  • Dong Kyu Kim
Korean Popular Beliefs, by Yong Bhum Yi, Kyung Yup Lee, Jong Seong Choi, and Boudewijn Walraven, Paju, Seoul, and Edison: Jimoondang, 2015, 239 pp.

English readers unfamiliar with Korean folklore scholarship might be confused by the term ‘‘beliefs’’ used in this book, Korean Popular Beliefs, because the authors utilize this term to indicate practices as well as beliefs. However, I would like to remind the readers of the fact that the ‘‘popular beliefs’’ in the title is a translation of the Korean min’gan sinang, which can also be translated as folk religion, and suggest that they first read the last chapter of this work, in which Walraven explains the history and meanings of such terms. Despite the possible confusion caused by the translation, I believe that this book is the most comprehensive text for students of Korean studies and, particularly those interested in Korean folk religious culture.

The book’s four authors with different disciplinary backgrounds—religious studies (Yong Bhum Yi and Jong Seong Choi), folklore (Kyung Yup Lee), and anthropology (Boudewijn Walraven)—are well qualified to produce this informative book in that they have conducted research on Korean folk religion for more than twenty years and published extensively on the subject. In addition to providing a great deal of information on Korean popular beliefs of the past and the present, this book also discusses changing aspects of Korean popular beliefs. In the work’s preface, Yong Bhum Yi clarifies the orientation of this book as follows: ‘‘this book does not approach Korean popular beliefs in terms of the symbol or archetype of Korean traditional culture. Rather, it is interested in their present aspect as a phenomenon of a living religion’’ (xi), differentiating this book from existing literature, particularly those works produced by nationalist folklore scholars.

This book is composed of two parts, with the first consisting of five chapters focusing on different types of Korean popular beliefs. In ‘‘Village Beliefs,’’ [End Page 179] author Kyung Yup Lee defines what these popular beliefs are, how they have developed and been transmitted, and how they have been shaped by geographical and occupational circumstance. He also introduces a variety of sacred objects as well as tutelary gods which are worshipped in village ceremonies, and explains how such ceremonies are generally structured and performed.

In ‘‘Family Popular Beliefs,’’ Jong Seong Choi examines beliefs ‘‘centered on blood ties’’ (55) and practiced for the well-being of a family member. The author shows how these beliefs can be revealed in two aspects (57): the spatiality of the house (kaok) and the family (kajok) and its welfare. However, the worship of various divinities for the protection and well-being of the family can extend outside the physical confines of a home, for instance, encompassing mountain divinities, which are also worshipped in the family ritual. Choi describes in detail the nature and function of gods connected to popular familial beliefs, and explains that although family popular beliefs were formed in traditional society, ‘‘they have not lost all of their power’’ (80), and suggests the development of a new perspective to understand family popular beliefs in an urban setting.

Yong Bhum Yi begins the chapter ‘‘Shamanism’’ with an emphasis on the regional differences in understanding Korean traditional shamanism, in the sense that the identity of mudang (Korean shaman), who is the most important figure in shamanism, is a decision ‘‘almost always made according to one’s place of birth’’ (83). Moreover, Yi examines different shaman types, shaman’s activities for individual clients and communities, and a variety of shamanic rituals, as well as how modern shamanism is being newly constructed through the crossing of regional boundaries.

In ‘‘Geomantic Beliefs,’’ Kyung Yup Lee summarizes the basic principles of these beliefs and describes how they came to Korea and shaped the formation of Korean people’s religious culture. In particular, readers can see the impact of these beliefs from his descriptions of ancestor worship, burial culture, and house/city construction. Finally, while noting the weakening of geomantic beliefs in some ways, he notes that they are being revised in university curriculums and on the Internet...


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pp. 179-182
Launched on MUSE
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