Cheondogyo ( 천도교 )
Cheondogyo, which means "religion of the Heavenly Way" (천, or cheon, means "heaven", 도, or do, means "way" and 교, or gyo, means religion), is an indigenous religion to the Korean peninsula. The religion has only existed for about 150 years, but it has a small following in South Korea and is the major religion of North Korea.
Cheondogyo originated out of the Donghak ( 동학 ) movement that was led by an aristocrat named Choe Jeu ( 최제우 ) in 1860. Donghak translates to "Eastern Learning" and praised the god Haneullim (this is the same god as Hwanin, which I discussed in the post on Korean Mythology). Haneullim translates to "Lord of Heaven" and the followers of Donghak believed in an internal god that resided in all human beings rather than a supernatural god. Choe Jeu's message consisted of themes that were critical of the Joseon Dynasty and for this reason he was martyred on March 10, 1864.
Donghak became increasingly popular with progressives and peasants, which in turn resulted in increased persecution from the government. The name of the religion was changed to Cheondogyo in 1905 in an effort to stop this persecution and the tactic seems to have worked because King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty eventually embraced the religion and advocated its spread around the country. Cheondogyo is considered to be the first of Korea's "new religions" that developed at the end of the Joseon Dynasty.
Cheondogyo was obviously influenced by numerous religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Korean Shamanism, and Neo-Confucianism (not technically a religion, but still influential). The religion preaches that god (Haneullim) resides within all human beings. Its founder, Choe Jeu, advocated for the spread of democracy, human rights and the pursuit of happiness on earth. The religion strives to transform it adherents into more intelligent and moral human beings and claims that all humans are equal because they all contain god. However, this equality does not seem to have extended to foreigners as one of the main goals of the religion was to drive out Japanese and Western influence to "purify" the land. I also found that the religion does believe in an afterlife, but I was unable to find out exactly what specific ideas were included in the idea of the afterlife.
Cheondogyo initially gained acceptance and widespread popularity with the peasant population because of its message of equality and its anti-Joseon views. Cheondogyo reach the height of its popularity in the early 20th century, but it still has followers today. It is the predominant religion in North Korea with 2.8 million followers, which is about 13% of the population. It also had 1.13 million followers in South Korea as of 2005, which corresponds to a little over 2% of the population.
Daejonggyo ( 대종교 )
Daejonggyo, which means "Great Ancestral Religion", was initially named Dangungyo ( 단군교 ), which means "Religion of Dangun", when it was founded in 1909 by Na Cheol ( 나철 ). The religion focuses its worship on Dangun, who was the legendary founder of the Gojoseon Kingdom in 2333 BC. Na Cheol claimed that Daejonggyo was the oldest religion in Korea, since worship of Dangun had existed since the time of the king's rule, but had been almost completely forgotten by the time Daejonggyo revived the practice. Na Cheol died in 1916 when he committed suicide due to guilt about his apparent failures and claimed himself to be a martyr. The religion has not experienced long-lasting popularity and as of 1995, only 10,000 Koreans still adhered to the religion.
Na Cheol preached that Koreans have their own god (Dangun) and therefore have no reason to worship foreign gods. The primary focus of the religion was to create national unity in response to continual pressure from foreign nations. Na Cheol taught that Dangun was part of a holy trinity, along with Hwanin and Hwanung, that bears a strikingly close resemblance to Christianity. Despite this obvious influence of Christian thought, the religion appears to have predominantly resembled the ideals of Confucianism.
A Side Note
Na Cheol's teaching about a Trinitarian god provides a brilliant example of the Korean claim that monotheism has existed on the peninsula for 5,000 years. First of all, even if the story of Dangun's reign is assumed to be correct, Korean history only stretches back 4,344 years, so let's not exaggerate that number to 5,000. Secondly, having reviewed many sources covering the religious history of Korea, I find it pretty ridiculous that anyone would try to claim that monotheism existed during this time period. Koreans, along with many people in the world at that time, worshiped everything that existed in nature. There also does not seem to be much evidence to support the idea that Hwanin, Hwanung and Dangun were worshiped as one god.
So why make the claim? Koreans have always had a tremendous sense of pride in their history, but the rising popularity of Christianity within their culture presented some discrepancies between the past and the present. How could the historical realm of polytheism mesh with the modern realm of Christianity? Well the easiest solution would seem to be to alter history a little bit to make it seem as though all three of the heavenly gods were worshiped as a single deity, which provides a brilliant segue to Christianity.
Jeung San Do ( 증산도 )
Jeung San Do was founded in 1974 and has its foundations in Korean shamanism and Daoism.
The holy text of Jeung San Do, the Dojeon ( 도전 ), was written in 1992 and provides an account of the teachings of Jeung San Sangjenim ( 등산상제님 ) and Taemonim ( 태모임 ). Sangjenim means "God the father" and Jeung San, who was born in 1871, is a well known individual in Korea. He is regarded by most as a prophet and a miracle worker, but his followers believe that he was the embodiment of God. Jeung San witnessed the events of the Donghak movement and as a result of his experience resolved to save the world from suffering. He is said to have achieved perfect enlightenment in 1901 when he became the first person to ever "master the nature of humans". In that same year, he began to work on "renewing heaven and earth". In order to do this he established a federation of spirits called the Creative Government and through this establishment he went about correcting past wrongs on earth and setting a new course for the future. The Dojeon predicts that world civilizations will be destroyed and replaced with paradise on earth to be enjoyed by followers of Jeung San Do.
For anyone interested, an English version of the Dojeon can be viewed here.
Other New Religions
Daesun Jinrihoe ( 대순진리회 )
Bocheongyo ( 보천교 )
Multiple sects of Christianity have arisen in Korea over recent years as well
Hananim, Hanunim, Hanullim, and Hanollim: The Construction of Terminology for Korean Monotheism by Don Baker