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Influencers Are Attracting South Korean Youth To Buddhism


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At an annual lantern-lighting festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday, a South Korean DJ dressed as a Buddhist monk energized a crowd with electronic music and the mantra, “This too shall pass!” The performer, Youn Sung Ho, has gained popularity among Millennials and Gen Z by merging modern entertainment with Buddhist themes.

His innovative approach is part of a broader trend where South Korean influencers revitalize interest in Buddhism among the younger generation. This trend is particularly significant given the broader decline in religious belief in South Korea. A Gallup poll found that only 22% of South Koreans in their 20s identified as religious in 2021, compared to 45% in 2004. However, the accessibility and appeal of social media are changing this landscape, drawing younger generations back to spiritual practices through modern, relatable formats.

Youn, also a comedian, created his monk alter ego, NewJeansNim, after a successful performance at the lantern-lighting ceremony last year. Initially performing as himself, he donned a hanbok, traditional Korean attire resembling a monk’s robe. The video of his performance went viral, garnering millions of views on social media. Realizing the potential impact, Youn quickly developed the NewJeansNim character to continue engaging with his audience in this unique way.

The rise of South Korean influencers like Youn is contributing to a renewed interest in Buddhism among young South Koreans. This trend is notable given the overall decline in religious belief in the country. Youn’s performances, blending electronic music with Buddhist messages, resonate with younger audiences who might not otherwise engage with traditional religious practices. His ability to incorporate humor and contemporary culture into his acts makes Buddhism more approachable and relevant to today’s youth. This innovative approach helps demystify the religion, making it more attractive to a generation accustomed to fast-paced, digital interactions.

Other influencers and social media-savvy monks are also playing a significant role in this resurgence. They use platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok to share teachings, meditation techniques, and live-streamed ceremonies, making Buddhist practices more accessible and engaging. These efforts are helping to bridge the gap between ancient traditions and modern lifestyles, fostering a new wave of interest in South Korea’s Buddhism among the younger population.

The impact of these influencers highlights the evolving nature of religious engagement in the digital age. As young South Koreans seek meaning and connection in their lives, figures like Youn Sung Ho are providing a bridge between the old and the new, revitalizing Buddhism in a contemporary context. By leveraging modern technology and social media, these influencers are making South Korean religion more relatable and accessible, ensuring that ancient spiritual practices continue to thrive in the modern world.

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