Research & Projects

My research covers issues of the politics and history of religion and secularism in modern Korea. I am especially interested in examining such topics as the intellectual and discursive history of the concepts of religion and secular, formulations of and debates over religious freedom, marginal religions (including co-called cults and new religions), the historiography of religion, the religious Cold War, the politics of religious geography and space, and more. My published research can be found on the Publications page and a list of research presentations can be found in my CV.

Research Projects

Modern Religion and Empire in Korea: The subject of my dissertation, currently in its early stages of research and planning, is a detailed study of how encounters with foreign religion and growing encroachments by imperialist and colonialist powers generated conflicts and debates in Korea that led to the (re)formulation of concepts of “modern” religion, religious freedom, and secularism in Korea.

Concepts of Religion and Religious Freedom in North Korea: For my most recent project, I’ve been conducting research on how the North Korean regime conceptualizes and views religion and its relationship to history, politics, and modern secular society, and how this informs and influences the North Korean regime’s concept of what restrictions and limitations should be placed on the freedom of religion. This project utilizes North Korean sources including political speeches, media reports, multiple iterations of the DPRK Constitution, and especially North Korean textbooks held in the Yale University East Asia Library. I examine how and why North Korea sees religion as something tied to imperialism, colonialism, and feudalism, and is thus counterrevolutionary and a potential vector for foreign influence. I will continue to develop and workshop the paper for eventual publication. I’ve presented this work at a conference at Boston University in September 2021, the New England regional conference of the Association for Asian Studies in December 2021, the USC KSI Graduate Symposium in February 2022, the Association for Asian Studies conference in March 2022, and the 44th Annual Susman Graduate Conference at Rutgers University in April 2022.

Shincheonji and COVID-19: In 2020, I researched the political and popular discourse surrounding the association between the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and the first COVID-19 cluster infection in South Korea in February and March 2020. I’ve presented this research at the New England regional conference of the Association for Asian Studies, where it earned a Graduate Student Paper Prize, and a conference at Korea University. I also gave remarks based on this work in a public-facing webinar on the subject hosted by CESNUR. The paper was published in the journal Nova Religio in August 2021.

Geographic Historiography of Shinto Shrine Sites in Seoul: Building on my earlier work on Shinto in colonial Korea, I conducted research and writing about the history, memory, and legacy of the former sites of Shinto shrines in Seoul, South Korea. This project includes digital mapping, photography, tracing historical change of place/space, and analyzing contemporary cultural memory and historiography of the former Shinto shrine sites. I have presented this research at academic conferences at Harvard University and Kyushu University and have plans to revise it for publication. Watch my presentation of this research at the Contesting Memorial Spaces in the Asia-Pacific Conference, hosted by Kyushu University.

Religions Policy of the United States Army Military Government in Korea: The Topic of my MA thesis at the University Pennsylvania, I examined the religions policy of the United States Army Military Government in Korea (South Korea) from 1945-1948. Among the many primary source documents utilized for this research were those of the Presbyterian Church (USA) found at the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society and of the United States government found at the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Research at the latter archive was supported by funding from the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve presented this research at five academic conferences, including at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, George Washington University, the Mid-Atlantic regional conference of the Association for Asian Studies, and the Implicit Religion USA conference. I plan to further develop the project for future presentations, publication, and possibly as a dissertation chapter.

Shinto in Colonial Korea: In my first foray into Shinto studies and one of my earliest works on religion in Korea, I conducted research on the history of Shinto and Shinto shrines, and their political mobilization and changing meaning during the era of Japanese colonization in Korea. I’ve presented this research at a symposium at the University of Pennsylvania and a conference at Columbia University.

Shamanism and 2016 Presidential Controversy in South Korea: Following the “Choi-gate” scandal surrounding South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her so-called “shaman adviser” Choi Soon-sil in late 2016, I researched the popular discourse surrounding shamanism and politics in South Korea at that time, putting it in context of historical precedents of attitudes regarding shamans and shamanism. I have presented this research at a symposium at the University of Pennsylvania and a conference at the University of Michigan.

American Protestant Missionaries’ Departure from and Return to Korea in the 1940s: In 2017, I conducted research into the diplomatic and religious challenges faced by American Protestant missionaries in Japanese-ruled Korea, their departure after the outbreak of World War II, and especially the wartime planning for their eventual return to Korea and the circumstances of that postwar return. This work was heavily based on primary source documents of the Presbyterian Church (USA) found at the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society and of the United States government found at the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Research at the latter archive was supported by funding from the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Other Projects

Yale Korean Studies Website: In 2020, I directed and supervised the design and launch of the Yale Korean Studies website. I created, compiled, and edited content for the initial launch of the website. Currently, I continue to manage the website, and edit and update content as needed.