LECTURE> Numata Event at the University of Calgary

Wendi Adamek's picture

The Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies at the University of Calgary is pleased to present the following talk by Dr. Se-Woong Koo 

Friday Feb. 8th, 3:30-5pm in SS 541, Dept. of Classics and Religion

"Happiness Is Here and Now: Repackaging South Korean Buddhism for an Ailing Nation"


South Korea's Buddhist community is in a crisis. Its biggest and most representative order, Chogye, has been beset with high-profile corruption scandals that have even its own lay followers questioning clerical leadership. The most recent national survey on religious belief, from 2015, showed that the community had lost nearly three out of its 10.5 million followers in the preceding decade.

In attempting to overcome the current challenge, South Korean Buddhist orders have embarked on a series of projects to render their teaching accessible — as counseling sessions or weekend getaways for easy consumption, best exemplified by their heavy promotion of a retreat program known as "Templestay."

But what stands out above all is their recent focus on happiness, or lack thereof, in contemporary South Korea. Discourse on national unhappiness has been on the increase since the 1990s, but it is in the 2000s that Jungto Society made a mark as a Buddhist entity by dispensing practical life advice to laity. In 2012 Chogye monk Haemin's book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down was published, topping the best-seller chart for weeks. Since then he has become closely associated with the notion of "healing," coinciding with the rebranding of South Korean Buddhism as a religion of consolation in the past few years.

This ‘new’ form of Buddhism undoubtedly possesses popular appeal. Yet the rise of Haemin and others like him illustrates the radical process of transformation that South Korean Buddhism currently undergoes, calling into question the very meaning of Korean Buddhism, and of Buddhism itself.


Se-Woong Koo earned his PhD in Religious Studies from Stanford University in 2011. He taught Asian religion and philosophy at the Asian University for Women (Chittagong), Yale University (New Haven), and Ewha Woman's University (Seoul); and was visiting researcher at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. In 2014 he founded Korea Exposé, an independent media outlet specializing in the Korean Peninsula and led it until May 2019. He has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times opinions page and has been quoted extensively by international media including Al Jazeera and BBC World News on Korean politics and social affairs. Koo is currently at work on a book about contemporary South Korean society and its discontents.



Wendi Adamek
Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies
Department of Classics and Religion
University of Calgary
2500 University Dr. NW
Calgary, AB Canada T2N1N4
For more information please call: 403-220-5886          
To receive event notices, send email to numatach@ucalgary.ca


My apologies, the date for Dr. Koo's talk should be Feb. 7th!
Thank you,
Wendi Adamek