No Choice but to Care

Performing Care to Survive in Korean Shamanism and Jeju Women


  • Minwoo Park University of California, Irvine, U.S.A.


Jeju, Korean shamanism, Korea, Religion


Care has been theorized in the context of equality and ethics in academia, with an effort to dismantle the gendered interpretation attached to the concept. In this paper, I study care ontology of Korean shamanism to investigate the ambivalences in care performance that complicates rather than nullifies the gender dimensions. The history of survival embedded in Korean shamanism shows the establishment of peripheral authority in the near-death realms, which is often occupied by women.

I conduct a case study of Jeju shamanism that responds to the island’s historical trauma whose justice work is still in process. The harsh survival stories that Jeju women and shamans share indicate that care functions as ontology and performance, bringing healing power regardless of religious doctrines. I examine Lamentations of the Dead, an act in Jeju shamanic ritual, to observe closely its ambiguous qualities that facilitate interaction with discursive space and time. I attend to the performative aspect of the shamanic ritual, whose improvisational necessity enables radical care uncharted by governmental censorship.

Author Biography

Minwoo Park, University of California, Irvine, U.S.A.

Minwoo (Minu) Park is a PhD Candidate in the Joint Program of Theatre, UC Irvine and UC San Diego. Park studies performance of survival in postcolonial South Korea, on Korean historical trauma and performative survival modalities. Their dissertation is titled “Untying Pain: Healing Through Togetherness in South Korea,” which explores diverse aspects of confronting trauma, ranging from Korean shamanism and contemporary dance to collective activism and food performativity. Locating Korean shamanism at the center of Korean indigenous cosmology, Minu weaves trauma and affect, postcolonial and Indigenous studies with performance and activism in South Korea. They are a teaching associate for UCI’s Development of Drama series and is currently a Graduate Student Representative for Association for Asian Performance.


Cave, Michelle. “Haenyeo.” In Daily Life of Women: an Encyclopedia from Ancient Times to the

Present, 430-32, edited by Colleen Boyett et al. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2020.

Cho, Iljoon. 2018. “Y?nggeullim?n 4.3 w?nhoni ping?ihae un?n k?t.” [Lamentations of the

Dead is a Cry of 4.3 Spirit in Possession] Hankyoreh, October 12.

Choi, Joon-sik. 1995. Han’guk chonggyo iyagi: che 1kw?n k?nse ij?n?i chonggyo [About Korean

Religions: Religion Before Modern Times]. Paju: Hanul Publishing Group.

Conquergood, Dwight. 2010. “Performance Theory, Hmong shamans, and Cultural Politics.” In

Critical Theory and Performance, edited by Janelle G. Reinelt and Joseph R. Roach, 482-

Ann Arbor: University of Michian Press.

Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In A Different Voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

———. 2013. “The Ethic of Care.” Bioètica Fundació Víctor Grífols i Lucas.

Gwon, Gwi-sook. 2014. “Gender and Women’s History: On the Jeju 4.3 Incident,” Tamra

Culture 45, no.0 (February): 170-199.

Hamington, Maurice. 2020. “Care ethics and improvisation: can performance care?” In

Performing Care: New Perspectives on Socially Engaged Performance, 21-35, edited by Amanda

Stuart Fisher and James Thompson. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Hogarth, Hyun-key Kim. 2009. Gut, The Korean Shamanistic Ritual. Seoul: Jimoondang.

Hwang, Y.J. 2020. “‘An Island of Death’: Homo Sacer and Ungrievable Deaths.” Asian Theatre

Journal 27, no. 2 (Fall): 564-580.

Kendall, Laurel. 1985. Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean

Ritual Life. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

———. 2009. Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion.

Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Kim, Dongkyu. 2016. “A Case Study of Regular Rituals and Contemporaneity in Modern Korean

Shamanism.” Korean Shamanism 32 (February): 117-148.

Kim, Eunsil. 2010. “Identity of female Divers and Anti-Japanese Struggle in Jeju.” The Sate and

Politics 16: 27-69.

Kim, Seong-rye. 1991. “Cheju musok: p’ongny?g?i y?ksaj?k tamnon” [Cheju Shamanism:

Historical Discourse of Violence]. Religion.Theology Studies 4 (December): 9-28.

———. 2018. Cultural Anthropology of Korean Shamanism. Seoul: Sonamu.

Lee, Jeong. 2021. “73ny?n?i chinsil, sesang pakk?ro naoda” [73-year-old Truth Comes Out to

the World]. 4.3 and Peace 43 (Summer): 44-47.

Moon, Mubyeong. 2015. “Chuk?n y?nghon ?kulham p’ul?chuko k?klak?lo” [Untying the

Wronged Spirit’s Resentment and Sending Them to Heaven]. Jejusori, November 17.

Sarfati, Liora. 2020. “Healing through Gender Inversion in Korean Possession Trance Rituals.”

TDR: The Drama Review 64, no. 3 (Fall): 16-32.

Taylor, Diana. 2016. “Saving the ‘Live’? Re-performance and Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

Études Anglaises 69, no. 2 (2016): 149-161.

Thompson, James and Amanda Stuart Fisher, eds. 2020. Performing Care: New Perspectives on

Socially Engaged Performance. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Tronto, Joan. 1993. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York and

London: Routledge.

Yi, Yong-Bhum. 2005. “An Examination on the Negative Viewpoint on the Korean Shamanism

in Modern Korea.” Korean Shamanism 9 (February): 151-179.

———. 2006. “Korean Shamanism in Modern Era.” Korean Shamanism 11 (February): 37-65.

———. 2011. “The Significance and Limits of the Important Intangible Assets about Korean

Shamanism in Relation to the Viewpoints on Korean Shamanism.” Asian Comparative

Folklore 5 (August): 411-441.

Yoo, Theodore Jun. 2016. It’s Madness: The Politics of Mental Health in Colonial Korea.

Berkeley: University of California Press.

Yu, Myeongok. 2019. “Salbulsaljowa mudangui indari” [Salbulsaljo and Shaman’s Indari]. Daily

Sports Korea, July 26.

Yun, Kyoim. 2016. “Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Negotiating the Ritual Marketplace on

Contemporary Cheju Island, South Korea.” Journal of Ritual Studies 30, no. 2: 53-65.

———. 2019. The Shaman’s Wages: Trading in Ritual on Cheju Island. University of

Washington Press, 2019.