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Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea
344pp. January 2013
Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea
Author: Kallander, George;
A popular teaching that combined elements of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, folk beliefs, and Catholicism, Tonghak (Eastern Learning) is best known for its involvement in a rebellion that touched off the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and accelerated Japanese involvement in Korea. Through a careful reading of sources—including religious works and biographies many of which are translated and annotated here into English for the first time—Salvation through Dissent traces Tonghak’s rise amidst the debates over orthodoxy and heterodoxy in Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) and its impact on religious and political identity from 1860 to 1906. It argues that the teachings of founder Ch’oe Cheu (1824–1864) attracted a large following among rural Koreans by offering them spiritual and material promises to relieve conditions such as poverty and disease and provided consolation in a tense geo-political climate. Following Ch’oe Cheu’s martyrdom, his successors reshaped Tonghak doctrine and practice not only to ensure the survival of the religious community, but also address shifting socio-political needs. Their call for religious and social reforms led to an uprising in 1894 and subsequent military intervention by China and Japan.

The work locates the origins of Korea’s twentieth-century religious nationalist movement in the aftermath of the 1894 rebellion, the resurgence of Japanese power after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), and the re-creation of Tonghak as Ch’ŏngogyo (the Religion of the Heavenly Way) in 1905. As a study of religion and politics, Salvation through Dissent adds a new layer of understanding to Korea’s changing interactions with the world and the world’s involvement with Korea. In addition to students and scholars of Korea’s early modern period, it will appeal to those interested in global politics, Chinese and Japanese studies, world religion, international relations, and peasant history. The extensive, annotated translations will be of particular use in courses on Korea, East Asia, and global religion.

3 maps

Korean Classics Library Series
“In this refreshingly original study of Tonghak, Kallander dismantles some of the myths that have sprung up about Korea’s first indigenous organized religion. He situates Tonghak in its historical context, reading the earliest Tonghak texts the way they were meant to be read when they were first composed, rather than the way they have been interpreted by latter generations. Moreover, in a departure from much previous scholarship on Tonghak, he accurately analyzes Tonghak as more religious than political in origin. This work is a significant contribution to our understanding of both Korean religion and Korean history in the nineteenth century.” —Don Baker, University of British Columbia

“Tonghak (Heavenly Way) is the most significant of Korea’s so-called new religions. Salvation through Dissent is the book we need in order to understand this movement. Especially impressive is the way that George Kallander situates Tonghak in the context of East Asia, not just Korean history. He, for example, reveals how the cultural context shaped the rise of new religions in Korea, Japan, and China, in doing so giving us a better way to understand the rich comparative aspects of these movements. Kallander’s book will be the standard for the study of ‘The Religion of the Heavenly Way’ for years into the future and a strong contribution to the English-language literature on the history of religion.” —Donald Clark, Trinity University
Author: Kallander, George;
George Kallander is assistant professor of history at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Religious Contestation in Choson Korea 
The Tonghak Phenomenon 
Religion, Nationalism, and Modernity 
Researching the Tonghak Past 

1 Securing the People: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and the Confucian State  
Social Stability in the Confucian Tradition: Theory and Practice  
Pursuing Heterodoxy  
The Catholic Challenge 
Searching for Regional Patterns 

2 Uncertain Times, Uncertain Means: Rural Life, Western Ways, and Ch’oe Cheu 
Confronting the West 
Seoul and the Rural South 
Yongdam and the Tonghak Founder 
Recording God’s Words: Conversations with Self and Family, 1860 

3 Kumi Mountain: Center of the World, 1861–1863 
The Path Unfolds 
Heaven, God, and the Noble Person 
Tonghak Faith, Community, and Writing 
Central Government Intervention 

4 The Tonghaks Have Again Arisen, 1864–1894 
Resurrecting Ch’oe Cheu 
Ch’oe Sihyong’s Way 
A Challenge to Orthodoxy 

5 Another Tonghak Revolution, 1904–1907 
Modernization and the Tonghak Divide 
Formation of Ch’ondogyo 
Building the Doctrine: “The Era of Our Teaching’s New Ideas” 


Eastern Scripture 
Selections from Songs of Yongdam 
Selections from Master Haewol’s Discussion on the Teachings 
Ch’oe Sihyong’s Petitions 
Account of the Origin of the Way