In Pursuit of Religious Perfection

In Pursuit of Religious Perfection: Women, Intimate Labour, and Genderizing Seoul

Hyun Mee KIM (Professor, Yonsei Unversity, Korea)


Globalization refers to the phenomenon of production, labor, market and images moving across state borders. Religion plays a pivotal role in formulating new scenes and the acumen of global interactions.  As a megacity, Seoul is a place where people from different races, gender, sexual orientation, and national identities negotiate, create and renew their identities.  Since many studies have adopted a gender-neutral approach to studying global cities  as the place of capital accumulation, labor arrangements and consumptive desires, little consideration has been given to the role of the gendered agent in transforming the city into a new form of social reproduction and life patterns.

This five-year research focuses on the ‘gendered’ aspect of Seoul in terms of people’s religious practices and lived experiences. Women from many countries travel to Seoul to experience and consume as fans of Korean popular culture and as spouses of Korean men. Also, women in Seoul, in this age of the global transitioning of social reproduction, maneuver the complicated and contradictory demands of fulfilling the role of home managers based on the rigid gender division of labor, maintaining intimacy and spirituality, and reproducing the lifestyles of uniqueness and suave charms including the style of food and spirituality of life.

Existing scholarship on religions in Seoul has highlighted the evangelist tendencies of mega Christian churches, motives for going to churches and the process of their settlement and practices.  Religion is often studied in an introspective way without connecting it to other forms of global social reproduction, such as family-making and other consumptive activities.

In this context, my research will be conducted in two different phases over five years on two themes: gender and migration as pilgrimage, and women’s religious activities to enhance self-improvement and the therapeutic self in Seoul.