Merose Hwang, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, has spent the last year traveling more than 7,000 miles around the globe and countless hours entrenched in Asian Studies, which she coordinates at Hiram.
Beginning in Cleveland’s Lakewood community, Hwang, gave a public presentation on her recent sabbatical field research of the 1948 Jeju Island Massacre in South Korea. With the help of Professor Seong-nae Kim, director of the Institute of the Study of Religions at Sogang University in South Korea, Hwang discussed government policies and a ballooning aging population that has been pushing South Koreans to seek alternative forms of health care. Both professors also examined the socio-psychological health effects of shamanic rituals.
Hwang describes her research as a 20-year journey. “I stumbled onto this research by coincidence,” she says, explaining that in 1997 she enrolled in Sogang University’s Languages program as a Korean language learner. While there, she discovered Professor Kim Seong-nae’s research on shamans and the ‘April Third Massacre.’
Kim’s work had only previously been published in Korean. After Hwang acquired the appropriate language skills, she returned to Korea to conduct her Ph.D. field research. While there, Hwang worked closely with Kim. On her sabbatical research last year, Hwang followed Kim through Jeju Island, retracing her field research and communicating with ritual and memorial experts on the massacre. “The political sensitivity of this history cannot be separated from the triangulated relationship that North and South Korea have with the United States and the ongoing Cold War division of the country,” Hwang says.
The Korean Foundation, established by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1991, awarded Hwang with a Field Research Fellowship last spring. The foundation funds supported her Jeju Island research and position as a visiting researcher at the Institute for the Study of Religion at Sogang University. With the fellowship, Hwang also conducted research at the National Library of Korea and participated in the Academic for Korean Studies summer workshops.
Closer to home, Hwang has also been participating in conferences with her students. For instance, she and undergraduate student Seiji Bessho gave presentations at a national forum highlighting discourse and scholarship at the intersection of medicine and religion. Bessho presented “Investigations into Local Spiritual and Medicine Health Practices under Imperial Japanese Rule” at the Houston, Texas conference.
“Seiji has been a shining example of a student with endless curiosity and diligence. Overseeing his Japanese archival and English translation work has shown me that he has become a careful and serious historian,” Hwang says, referring to Bessho’s work and work ethic.
As the only undergraduate student at the conference, Bessho presented to an audience of mostly academic professionals, physicians, and clergy members. They reveled in Seiji’s research and commended Hiram College’s History Department, Hwang says.
At the conference, Hwang presented a poster titled “Shamans, Genocide, and Community Health.”
In the 2018 Spring 3-week, Hwang will travel to China with Xinlu Yu, associate professor of communication, to lead Hiram College students on a study-away expedition focused on Chinese history, religion, philosophy, cultural values and language.