Conversion Logistics: Technologies of Belief Contagion and Containment in Contemporary Korea

Department: Center for Critical Korean Studies

Date and Time: May 11, 2021 | 5:00 PM-6:30 PM

Event Location: Zoom Webinar

Event Details

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Conversion Logistics: Technologies of Belief Contagion and Containment in Contemporary Korea

Tuesday, May 11, 5 PM (PDT)

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Steven Chung
Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Princeton University

In early 2020, Shincheonji, a new religious movement centered in Korea, became among the earliest and most dramatic super spreading vectors in the covid-19 pandemic. The doctrinal and biochemical virality that saturated the broad public response to Shincheonji surfaced a resonance between largely conservative theological prescriptions for religious practice and a cluster of discourses about the importance of family harmony, the transparency of political and religious institutions and the importance of discipline in school, work and even leisure. But it also opened up an area for thinking about conversion, brainwashing and religion: the ritual materiality, spatial distribution and technological mediation of organizational control networks. The place of what might more simply be called media networks appears to be integral to Shincheonji’s operational functions. A topographical plotting of these networks may help to chart, without resort to the language of pathologization, heresy and criminalization, the means of conversion within the movement and, further, to more creatively reflect on the contemporary materialities of belief.

Steven Chung is associate professor in the East Asian Studies department, associate faculty in Comparative Literature, and chair of the University Committee for Film Studies. His research and teaching interests range widely: from Korean and East Asian film and media to global histories of political and religious conversion to traditions in film theory and critical theory. His first book, Split Screen Korea, published in 2014 and winner of that year’s Association for Asian Studies Prize for Best Book in Korean Studies, explored the aesthetic and political terrain of the postcolonial and postwar Korean peninsula through the work of filmmaker Shin Sang-ok. His current research tracks the circulation and reconfiguration of audiovisual technologies throughout Cold War in East and Southeast Asias.