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Korean studies is an academic discipline that focuses on the study of Korea, which includes the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and diasporic Korean populations. Areas commonly included under this rubric include Korean history, Korean culture, Korean literature, Korean art, Korean music, Korean language and linguistics, Korean sociology and anthropology, Korean politics, Korean economics, Korean folklore, Korean ethnomusicology and increasingly study of Korean popular culture. It may be compared to other area studies disciplines, such as American studies and Chinese studies. Korean studies is sometimes included within a broader regional area of focus including "East Asian studies".

The term Korean studies first began to be used in the 1940s, but did not attain widespread currency until South Korea rose to economic prominence in the 1970s. In 1991, the South Korean government established the Korea Foundation to promote Korean studies around the world.[1]

Korean studies was originally an area of study conceived of and defined by non-Koreans. Korean scholars of Korea tend to see themselves as linguists, sociologists, and historians, but not as "Koreanists" unless they have received at least some of their education outside Korea and are academically active (for example publishing and attending conferences)in languages other than Korean (most Korean studies publications are in English but there is also a significant amount of Korean Studies activity in other European languages), or work outside Korean academia. In the mid-2000s, Korean universities pushing for more classes taught in English began to hire foreign-trained Koreanists of Korean and non-Korean origin to teach classes. This was often geared towards foreigners in Korean graduate schools. There are now graduate school programs in Korean Studies (mostly active at the MA level) in most of the major Korean universities. BA programs in Korean Studies have now been opened at two Korean universities. The BA programs are distinctive in that they have few foreign students.

Debates in the Field

What exactly Korean Studies is, who is teaching it, who is learning, and what should be taught continues to be debated.

There has been a small series of works debating Korean Studies published in academic journals. A sort of historical overview by Charles Armstrong titled "Development and Directions of Korean Studies in the United States" comes strongly from Armstrong's perspective teaching history at Columbia University, as his work: "Focusing on the discipline of history, ... traces the emergence of Korean Studies in the 1950s, the evolution of the field and the changing backgrounds of American scholars working on Korea in the 1960s to 1980s, and the rapid growth of Korean Studies since the early 1990s."[2] Another historian, Andre Schmid published an early contribution to the debate in 2008, challenging the ways that English academia was pushing or shaping the directions of Korean Studies. Schmid explained, "In the unequal global cultural arena where English still dominates, the direction of Korean Studies in the United States disproportionately shapes international representations of Korean culture."[3] University of Berkeley Sociologist John Lie contributed two pieces to the debate, the more recent of which challenged the Korean Studies, claiming "senior Koreanists seem rather content with their progress, telling their followers bizarre tales from the field and seeking to reproduce the archaic and mistaken Harvard East Asia paradigm." Lie discusses the weaknesses he sees in this paradigm for the remainder of the essay.[4] In 2018 CedarBough T Saeji published an article in Acta Koreana bringing in the perspective of teaching Korean Studies in Korea, focusing on "1) the struggle to escape the nation-state boundaries implied in the habitual terminology, particularly when teaching in the ROK, where the country is unmarked (한국,“Han’guk”), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is marked (북한,“Pukhan”), and the diaspora is rarely mentioned at all; 2) the implications of the expansion of Korean Studies as a major within the ROK; 3) in-class navigations of Korean national pride, the trap of Korean uniqueness and (self-)orientalization and attitudes toward the West."[5]

Notable centers of Korean studies outside Korea

The following are the major centers that have opened Korean Studies outside Korea.







United States

The United States is one of the countries with the highest interest in Korean studies, with Korean language and Korean studies courses open at all Ivy League universities, including Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania.





United Kingdom








New Jeland

Korean Studies Programs in Korea

A-Z order

Academic Journals

Associations for Korean Studies overseas


The term Koreanist generally indicates an academic scholar of Korean language, history, culture, society, music, art, literature, film, or any other subject who primarily publishes in a Western language. All such Koreanists are fluent in Korean and various other relevant research languages.

Koreanists who have published at least one Western-language academic book include:

See also


  1. ^ "Introduction". Korean Foundation website. Archived from the original on 2005-12-20. Retrieved 2006-01-12.
  2. ^ Armstrong, Charles K. (December 2014). "Development and Directions of Korean Studies in the United States" 역사 박물관 영문저널 VOL.1. Journal of Contemporary Korean Studies. 1 (1). Korea: 35–48. Retrieved January 18, 2020. PDF download
  3. ^ Schmid, Andre (2008). "Korean Studies at the Periphery and as a Mediator in US - Korean Relations". 사이間SAI. Korea.
  4. ^ Lie, John (2017). "The Tangun Myth and Korean Studies in the United States". Transnational Asia. USA. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  5. ^ Saeji, CedarBough (December 15, 2018). "No Frame to Fit It All: An Autoethnography on Teaching Undergraduate Korean Studies, on and off the Peninsula". Acta Koreana. 21 (2). Korea: 443–460. doi:10.18399/acta.2018.21.2.004. S2CID 239613119. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  6. ^ Lee, Sung-Yoon (September 6, 2017). "The Way to Make North Korea Back Down". The New York Times. USA. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  7. ^ "North Korea has compelling need to conduct more missile..." CNBC. USA. September 21, 2017. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.

Further reading

Library guides