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  • 동학의 테오프락시: 초기 동학 및 후기 동학의 사상과 의례. Tonghak ŭi t’eop’ŭraksi: ch’ogi tonghak mit hugi tonghak ŭi sasang kwa ŭirye [The theopraxy of Tonghak: thought and ritual in early and later Tonghak]
  • Don Baker
동학의 테오프락시: 초기 동학 및 후기 동학의 사상과 의례. Tonghak ŭi t’eop’ŭraksi: ch’ogi tonghak mit hugi tonghak ŭi sasang kwa ŭirye [The theopraxy of Tonghak: thought and ritual in early and later Tonghak]. By 최종성 Ch’oe Chong-sŏng, Seoul: Minsogwŏn, 2009, 288p.

Tonghak, the first organized indigenous religion in Korea, has attracted a lot of scholarly attention in recent decades. A respectable Korean Studies library will have dozens of books on Tonghak on its shelves (a search for “Tonghak” on the Library of Congress website brings up 222 titles). Most of these books focus on the relationship of Tonghak to the uprising of 1894. There are also quite a few books on Tonghak theology, since it is widely recognized that the Tonghak notion of God, as both immanent and transcendent, is quite distinctive. Ch’oe Chong-sŏng’s Tonghak ŭi t’eop’ŭraksi fits into neither of those categories.

Ch’oe places the unusual term “theopraxy” in his title to inform his readers that, first of all, he will focus on the religiosity of Tonghak and leave its political legacy for others to analyze. Moreover, he wants his readers to know that he will move beyond previous discussions of Tonghak’s concept of God to include the Tonghak practitioner’s encounter with God.

Theopraxy, as he defines it, encompasses both theology—understanding God, and ritual—experiencing the presence and vitality of God. He argues persuasively that Tonghak believers are less concerned with knowing who and what God is than they are with feeling the creative power of God within themselves, and cultivating the ability to act in accordance with that feeling. Ultimately, he argues, the goal of Tonghak practitioners is to use Tonghak rituals to become one with God, not in the sense of erasing all differences between God and human individuals but in the sense of aligning their minds with the mind of God so that they can participate in the divine project of creating a more productive and harmonious universe. He explains this to be the reason Ch’ŏndogyo, the largest of the denominations descended from Tonghak, [End Page 151] defines membership in that religious community more by participation in its rituals than by agreement with its doctrinal tenets.

One strength of this book is the attention Ch’oe pays to changes in the Tonghak understanding of God, and of the relationship between God and human beings, over the first half century after Tonghak emerged in 1860 and how those theological changes have influenced Tonghak practices. He recognizes that Ch’oe Cheu, the founder of Tonghak, believed he had a personal encounter with the Supreme Being. This belief stimulated his articulation of a theocentric theology, in which worship of God above as the Lord of Heaven was encouraged. His successors, however, moved toward a more anthropocentric concept of God in which the key Tonghak term Sich’ŏnju (“to serve the Lord of Heaven”) came to be interpreted as a call to respect and serve our fellow human beings, who have a spark of the divine within them. This shift from a theocentric theology to one that is more anthropocentric was accompanied, Ch’oe argues, by a change from rituals of sacrifice, resembling chesa, to rituals that serve as liturgy in which the focus is on the congregation engaged in that ritual. This transformation in Tonghak rituals was signaled by the emergence of the phrase Innaech’ŏn [there is a spark of the divine in every human being].

Ch’oe’s insistence on placing as much emphasis on what members of the Tonghak community do as on what they believe is not the only challenge he mounts to previous scholarship on this important modern religious movement. He also challenges what he labels “mainstream-centrism,” the tendency to treat Ch’ŏndogyo as the only religious organization today that can legitimately claim to be the successor to Tonghak. The last third of this book is devoted to a comparison of Ch’ŏndogyo with Sangjegyo, Tonghakkyo, and Suun’gyo...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2167-2040
Print ISSN
2093-7288
Pages
pp. 151-153
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-14
Open Access
No
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