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This research examines Temple Stay, a short-term retreat program for lay people at Buddhist monasteries, in the context of the prevailing social malaise and self-help movements in South Korea. Temple Stay was initially designed by the Chogye Order, the predominant sect of Korean Buddhism, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to engage foreign visitors during the 2002 World Cup. However, it proved to be unexpectedly popular with local residents as well. In a society, where the fraction of the population seeking professional attention for mental health issues remains low, Koreans have been drawn to Temple Stay as a safe, affordable, and low-profile mental wellness program while increasingly unwilling to commit to Buddhism as a religion they wish to practice. This study looks at the history, marketing, program content, and the demographics of its audience. To understand the program’s reception, my research also uses participant observation and interviews with former participants, including those who have experienced both Temple Stay and professional counseling services. I argue that the popularity of Temple Stay among Koreans has been due not only to effective marketing of the program as an experiential healing commodity, but also to the perceived need for such a commodity amid the anxieties produced by the neoliberal restructuring of society following the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis. This study recognizes Temple Stay as a culturally syntonic mental wellness program that is also in keeping with Buddhism’s historic adaptability to social conditions and its core mission, the alleviation of suffering.
Kyoim Yun (PhD) is associate professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Kansas. An award-winning teacher and advisor, she has been developing the university’s Korean Studies program since 2007. Her research has led to published articles in the Journal of Korean Studies, Journal of Shamanic Practice, Journal of Folklore Research, Journal of American Folklore, and Journal of Ritual Studies. She also served as guest editor for the special issue of Folklore Forum on Folklore of East Asia. Her book The Shaman’s Wages: Trading in Ritual on Cheju Island was published by the University of Washington Press. She has been working on new ethnographic research on the role of Korean Buddhism in promoting hope and optimism among the laity in South Korea.
Friday, April 24 at 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Will C. Hogg Building (WCH), 4.118 Meyerson Conference Room
120 INNER CAMPUS DR, Austin, Texas 78712