5. History, Sacred Texts, and Overview of Beliefs
Cheondoism, also known as Chondoism, is a relatively young religious movement that surfaced in Korea during the 1900’s. It has its roots in the 1860’s Donghak movement which focused on Eastern learning as a way of rebelling against Western learning. This particular teaching appealed mainly to peasant farmers who began liberation rebellions at the beginning of the 20th century. It was then that Cheondoism took shape. This move toward Cheondoism was an attempt to formalize the religion and avoid persecution from the Korean Empire.
Followers of this religion believe that all life was generated by a God that is in all things. This God-like presence within all living beings is also compared to Heaven, the ultimate in goodness. The sacred text is called the Great Sacred Scripture and contains the commandments in the word of the Hanulnim (the Master Heaven within all living things). Followers believe that improving the self, brings one closer to Heaven and that this earthly existence can be converted into a paradise. The religion has, over time, adopted some of the central ideas from Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
4. Global Presence and Notable Practitioners
Notable followers of this religion include Jeon Bongjun, the founder of the Donghak movement. He helped to organize farmers in the late 1800’s to revolt against high taxes and to retrieve property that had been taken on unsubstantiated claims. Son Byong-Hi is another important member in Cheondoism. He joined the Donghak movement in his younger years and later became the commander of the Donghak Peasant Revolution. Additionally, he united several religions together during Japanese colonialism to fight for independence.
The vast majority of its followers are located in North and South Korea. Estimates suggest that there are 1.13 million followers in South Korea with around 280 churches for attendance and as many as 2.8 million in North Korea.
3. Development and Spread of the Faith
This faith was able to spread throughout the Korean Peninsula due to its affiliation with the peasant rebellion. People of indigenous descent were tired of being oppressed by outsiders (Japanese and Christians). Joining the Donghak movement was seen as a solution to their problems. When Cheondoism was later founded, its followers found community in their shared desire to improve their quality of life.
2. Challenges and Controversies
Controversies surrounding this religion are few. However, one of the commandments calls for removing all Japanese and Western influence from the Korean land. While this was written during a different period in history and mainly to motivate followers of the Donghak Rebellion, it is still quite controversial to have this listed as a religious commandment. In fact, this is the only religion to have received Kim Il-Sung's approval to continue practicing after the totalitarian regime took over. Under his rule, all Buddhist temples, Christian churches, and Shaman centers were shut down.
1. Future Prospects
The growth of this religion is not likely given that it is so nationalistic in nature the majority of its followers will remain in North and South Korea. The only people who are likely to join or identify with this religion are those born into families that practice Cheondoism. Individuals from other countries are not likely to convert to this religion given the language barrier and ill-regard for the westernized lifestyle.