Characteristics of the Concept "Jonggyo"(Religion) and the Network of its Related Concepts in Modern Korea.

The term jonggyo (religion) was first used in Korea in the late 19th century when the Joseon government signed trade treaties with the western powers and established modern diplomatic relations with them. The Joseon government, which thought that the Catholics and the Protestants were closely associated with western military powers and understood these western religions as a conduit for western power, remained on alert in order to prevent the religions of the west from intruding into the country's internal affairs. In this context, the term jonggyo was closely linked with the problem of the regime's security. From the beginning, there has been close relationships between religion and politics. Other elements have been added into the term jonggyo after Japan's occupation of Korea. First, many Korean intellectuals tried to explain why the Joseon dynasty had collapsed and they tended to point to the corruption of Confucianism as the main reason. The arguments that the empty formality of Confucianism should be thrown away and that Confucianism had to be reformed quickly spread and exerted a great deal of influence upon the people. These anti-Confucian arguments caused many disputes and one of them involved the question of "Is Confucianism a religion or not?" This question demonstrated that Confucianism could be viewed in terms of the concept of religion. Second, one of the main concerns of the Japanese colonial rulers was also to preempt altogether the religious forces from challenging the authority of the Government-General. In order to control religions, the Japanese Government-General classified religions in various ways and tried to eliminate the potential religious threat according to the classification of religions. In this process, the dividing line between religion and non-religion was drawn, and the terms like pseudo-religion and superstition was frequently adopted. In this connection, the Government-General periodically collected religious data of the Korean people through surveys and census programs. The data of religion became a necessary part of the colonial governmentality. After the March 1 Movement of 1919, the Government-General changed its colonial policy from the suppressive military rule to politically placatory rule. With this change, the new term "culture" came to be widely used in Korea. In contrast to the term "civilization," which was associated with the establishment of modern nation-states, the concept of "culture" was more associated with the ideas of social integration as well as with the elaboration of social stratification. Moreover as the socialism gained influence widely, the socialistic critiques of religion grew powerful. Against the anti-religious discourses, Christian and Chondogyo churches criticized socialistic ideology. In addition, Christian and new religious mysticisms emerged as sectarian movements rooted in their own traditional backgrounds. In this context, the meaning of the term jonggyo became more complicated and expanded. The semantic horizon of the term jonggyo was by and large established by the year of 1945. Within its overall scope, particular elements were emphasized or combined with others over time. For example, by the 1970-80s when anti-communistic ideology was predominant in Korea, attitudes toward religion were often taken as a testing ground for discerning good from evil. The question of whether religion were tolerated or not was a main criterion by which to distinguish liberal democracy from communism. While the Constitution of Korea stipulated freedom of religion, prohibition of a state religion, and the principle of separation of religion and politics, in reality the individual freedom of religion has been sometimes violated and the political influence of religion was never overlooked.


In the context of conceptual-political history of Korea, my research can be divided into three parts. First, I will show how the term jonggyo emerged in the first place and what caused it to change over time. Second, I will examine the relationships between the term jonggyo and its related concept like peudo-religion and non-official religion etc. and its association with colonial government. Third, from a comparative perspective, I will explore the characteristics of the term religion (“jonggyo", "zongjiao", "shukyo") in the historical contexts of Korea, China, and Japan.


Based on the three research projects described above, I will clarify the three groups of the following questions. First, what was the historical context of the new term jonggyo in Korea and how various meanings were included in the term? How was the term jonggyo related to the concept of civilization in the period of 1880-1910s? And after 1920s, how did the emerging concept of culture bring about conceptual change to the term jonggyo? What was the conceptual relationship between the term jonggyo and the concepts of civilization, nation-state, culture and society? Second, how did the colonial government make use of the term jonggyo in order to control the people? How did the colonial government utilize the conceptual classification system of the term jonggyo (e.g. recognized religion, non-recognized religion, pseudo-religion, superstition) for its colonial control? What was the conceptual "other" of religion? How were the excluded others mobilized in taking advantage of the current religious issues? Third, in understanding Korean, Japanese and Chinese cases, what are the relevant criteria of comparison? What kind of insights can the comparative work of conceptual history in the East Asia benefit other area studies? My research projects will address these questions through in-depth examination.

Affiliated Persons


Dr. Sukman Jang

Individual Researcher