Urban aspirations in Seoul: Religion and megacities in comparative studies

Urban aspirations in Seoul: Religion and megacities in comparative studies

Project Director:
Prof. Dr. Peter van der VEER

Collaborative Researchers (in alphabetical order):
Hyun Mee KIM (Professor, Anthropology, Yonsei University Korea)
Ju Hui Judy HAN (Assistant Professor, Geography, University of Toronto)
Nicholas HARKNESS (Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Harvard University, US)
Jin-heon JUNG (Research Fellow & Project coordinator, Anthropology, MPI MMG)
Doyoung SONG (Professor, Anthropology, Hanyang University


The project on Urban Aspirations in Seoul: Religion and Megacities in Comparative Studies is supported by The Academy of Korean Studies Grant funded by the Korean Government from October 2011 to September 2016.

The Seoul Lab will be anchored by three major themes: (1) the urban geography of religion; (2) urban and spiritual life; and (3) multiple aspirations. The urban geography of religion focuses on the way religious institutions and practices have shaped the urban landscape and invested it with meaning. Urban and spiritual life will focus specifically on the way historical forms of sociality and their ritualization have perdured, or been transformed in the context of the institution of faith. The theme of multiple aspirations is aimed at viewing not only the intersection and conflict among multiple religious aspirations in the megacity, but also the place of religious aspiration itself in the broader social space of competing urban goals and ambitions.

We aim to use Christianity as a starting point from which to illuminate multiple religious and urban aspirations. An emphasis on Christianity makes sense in the historical and geographical context of Seoul, a city historically wrought with aspirations for class mobility and rural-to-urban migration, with proportionally more Christian inhabitants than the rest of the nation. But Seoul is a city known not only for its imposing Christian megachurches but also for its great diversity of religious expression. Christianity’s vexed relationship with Buddhism, Shamanism, and Islam is manifested in the multi-religious and multi-cultural dynamics unfolding in present-day urban settings. These contextually situated and enacted relationships will form the centerpiece of our research.

The Seoul Lab will strengthen modern Korean studies in Europe and North America, bring the study of Korean society into a comparative Asian frame, and thus generate new synergies among cultural theorists and social scientists of religion and urban space.