Senior Research Scholar, Weatherhead East Asian Institute
Curator of Asian Ethnology and Division Chair and Anthropology Division Chair, American Museum of Natural History
Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School
Research Interests: Korean History focusing on Shamans; Korean and Vietnam; material religion; regional comparisons
As an anthropologist of Korea, Dr. Kendall has been working with and writing about Korean shamans for nearly thirty years. Having attended their performances in the early 1970s as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea, she became interested in the relationship between this largely female tradition and the operation of gender in Korean popular religion. In her 2009 study, Dr. Kendall examined how changes in the shamans’ world since the 1970s keep pace with the social and economic transformation of South Korean society. This project includes questions of space and landscape, performance, ritual consumption, national identity, and market anxieties.
Kendall has also worked colleagues in Hanoi, Vietnam, studying “the sacred life of material goods.” Following the work of Alfred Gell, they are exploring the relationship between people and objects, relationships that have rules, obligations, potential benefits, and dangers. Kendall took these interests back to Korea with a recent publication on the ownership and meaning of Shaman paintings.” Her current work weaves these two projects with other examples in a broad, synthesizing study of how sacred things navigate modern markets when they are produced for sacred use, when they are transformed for tourist and as ethnic art, and when once-sacred objects are sold as antiquities.
Dr. Kendall’s many publications include “God Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings” (with Jongsung Yang and Yul Soo Yoon, University of Hawaii Press, 2015), “Shamans, Nostalgias and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion” (University of Hawai`I Press, 2009), “Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity” (University of California Press, 1996), “The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of Tales and the Telling of Tales” (University of Hawaii Press, 1988) and “Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life” (University of Hawaii Press, 1985). She edited “Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea” (University of Hawaii Press, 2001) and six other books. She is co-author of “The Museum at the End of the World: Travels in the Post-Soviet Russian Far East” (with Alexia Bloch, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
Laurel Kendall, Jongsung Yang, and Yul Soo Yoon, editors, God Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings (University of Hawaii Press, 2015).
Laurel Kendall, editor, Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity: Commodification, Tourism, and Performance (University of Hawaii Press, 2010).
Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (University of Hawaii Press, 2009).
Laurel Kendall, The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of Tales and Telling Tales (University of Hawaii Press, 1988).