Korean shamanism in America

So the tricky thing about Korean shamanism in America is that no one seems to know anything about it. At least in the English-language academic literature, there’s nothing. Silence. Crickets. (Crickets and not the cicadas [매미] of a Korean summer.)

But that’s the interesting thing, too. I’m beginning to think that I should write my thesis about shamanism in America. And possibly Western responses to shamanism at different periods as well. Start with an overview of the first references to it from missionaries and such, then look at the more sympathetic anthropological literature, then pivot to the US. Where there is nothing. Where it would be up to me to do field research.

That scares me. I haven’t a clue how one does such a thing. But then, neither do most anthropologists when they start, as far as I can tell. And considering how void the literature is, even my fractured images — gleaned through translators, bad English, and misunderstood observations — might add value.

So how do I find shamans, or fortune tellers, or other Koreans in America who work with the spirit world? Will they trust me? Let me do research? Let me record them as they work with others? All of this is unsettling to think about. Unlike archives, which are there when you need them, actual human subjects can be slippery. What if they don’t show up? What if they make it impossible for me to do the work I need to do to graduate?

And yet … This is a subject that grabs me. It’s interesting. It’s juicy. It’s unpredictable and raw and real and maybe a little dangerous. It’s an adventure, and it promises a more intimate connection with the culture I’m studying than a journey through the dusty archives of New England churches that sent missionaries a hundred years ago.

I’ll talk to my advisor tomorrow and see what we come up with.