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Ch’ŏndogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way) is a continuation and modernization of the earlier Tonghak (Eastern Learning) movement and was established in December 1905. Son Pyŏng-hŭi, the Tonghak patriarch, renamed and reorganized his religion to reassert his authority over the movement after several years away from Korea. Much of Ch’ŏndogyo’s early organization occurred during the years that eventually led to the Japanese annexation of Korea in August 1910, a period of intense social, economic and political change. Ch’ŏndogyo was faced with the issus of continuing from Tonghak while also forging a new identity for the modern age. Ch’ŏndogyo continued Tonghak’s stress on being an “Eastern” religion, in harmony with the Three Teachings (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism), in contrast to Christianity coming from the West. However, it also stressed its openness to modernity, technology, and new educational trends and attempted to combine this with earlier tradition. It also presented itself as a national and nationalist religion, and by so doing, it went beyond the Three Teachings, becoming a specifically Korean doctrine adapted to the deep changes affecting the Korean nation. It thereby became a new dynamic actor in Korea’s religious plurality.

Carl Young
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