technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Temple-Stay in South Korea: A Wellness Journey amid a Happiness Crisis



mental health


This presentation examines Temple-Stay, a short-term retreat program held for lay persons at Buddhist monasteries, in the context of the prevailing social malaise and happiness discourse in South Korea. Temple-Stay was initially designed by the Chogye Order, the predominant sect of Korean Buddhism, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to engage foreign visitors during the 2002 World Cup. However, it proved to be unexpectedly popular with local residents as well. In a society, where the percentage of the population seeking professional attention for mental health issues remains relatively low, many Koreans have been drawn to this government-subsidized retreat as a safe, affordable, and low-profile getaway. In fact, Temple-Stay has recently been advertised as "a journey for my happiness" and as a scientifically proven stress reducer. The instrumental use of Buddhist teachings and practices has been criticized by some scholars for misrepresenting the true nature of Buddhism or for appropriating it for other ulterior motivations. How should we make sense of the Buddhist establishment's own parceling of the monastic experience as a healing commodity? Based on ethnographic research and an examination of the history, marketing, and program content of Temple-Stay, this presentation shows that its popularity in the twenty-first century has been due to effective marketing of the program as a healing experience and to the perceived need for such a commodity. It then discusses both the risks and opportunities that the marketization of the program presents to the Buddhist establishment and lay participants.


Transcript English (automatic)

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