Religion in Korea

Religion in Korea refers the various religious traditions practiced on the Korean peninsula. The oldest indigenous religion of Korea is the Korean folk religion, which has been passed down from prehistory to the present.[1] Buddhism was introduced to Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms era in the 4th century, and the religion flourished until the Joseon Dynasty, when Confucianism became the state religion.[2] During the Late Joseon Dynasty, in the 19th century, Christianity began to gain a foothold in Korea.[3] While both Christianity and Buddhism would play important roles in the resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century,[4] only about 4% of Koreans were members of a religious organization in 1940.[5]

Since the division of Korea into two sovereign states in 1945—North Korea and South Korea—religious life in the two countries has diverged, shaped by different political structures. Religion in South Korea has been characterized by a rise of Christianity and a revival of Buddhism, though the majority of South Koreans have no religious affiliation or follow folk religions.[6][7] Religion in North Korea is characterized by state atheism in which freedom of religion is nonexistent. Juche ideology, which promotes the North Korean cult of personality, is regarded by experts as a kind of national religion.[8]


  1. ^ Yu (2012), p. 41.
  2. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica (2008), p. 162.
  3. ^ Kim (2012).
  4. ^ Yu (2012), p. xv.
  5. ^ Baker, Don (2013). "Korea's Path of Secularisation". In Ghosh, Ranjan (ed.). Making Sense of the Secular: Critical Perspectives from Europe to Asia. Routledge. pp. 182–193. ISBN 978-1136277214.
  6. ^ Baker, Donald L. (2008). Korean Spirituality. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0824832339.
  7. ^ "성, 연령 및 종교별 인구 - 시군구" [Population by Gender, Age, and Religion - City/Country]. Korean Statistical Information Service (in Korean). 2015. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  8. ^ Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (PDF). United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2017. p. 56.



Bocheonism (Korean: 보천교 Bocheongyo or Pochonkyo, "religion of the vault of heaven/firmament") was one among more than 100 new religious movements of Korea of the family of religions called Jeungsanism, rooted in Korean shamanism and recognizing Gang Il-sun (Kang Jeungsan) as the incarnation of Sangje, the Supreme God. It was founded by Cha Gyeong-seok (1880-1936) on Ibam Mountain in Daeheung-ri, Ibam-myeon, Jeongeup, Jeollabuk-do, in the year 1911. Today this site is part of Naejangsan National Park.

Cha Gyeong-seok was originally a Donghak (Cheondoist) priest, who converted to Jeungsanism after meeting Gang Il-Sun. After Gang's death, Goh Pan-Lye (Subu, literally “Head Lady,” 1880-1935, although in Kang's circle there was more than one "Subu"), a female disciple of Kang Jeungsan, around September 1911 gathered around her a number of Kang's followers. Cha Gyeong-seok was Goh’s male cousin and became the leader of Goh's branch. Dissatisfied with this situation, Goh separated from Cha in 1919 and established her own new religion. Cha continued under the name Bocheon-gyo, which was adopted in 1921, at a great ritual held in Hamyang County, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Eventually, Bocheonism became the largest Korean new religious movement and possibly the largest religion in Korea, with some six million followers, including leading activists in the Korean independence movements. Bocheonism, however, declined rapidly after Cha's death in 1936, and fragmented into several competing group, as did Goh's organization. The largest among these branches is Jeung San Do.

Cha prophesied that the unification of the world would take place beginning in Korea. Branches of Bocheonism are also credited with encouraging local culture in the Jeongeup region, including the pungmulgut performance tradition.


Cheondoism (spelled Chondoism in North Korean sources) (Korean: Cheondogyo; hanja 天道教; hangul 천도교; literally "Religion of the Heavenly Way") is a 20th-century Korean religious ideology, based on the 19th-century Donghak religious movement founded by Ch'oe Che-u and codified under Son Pyŏng-Hi. Cheondoism has its origins in the peasant rebellions which arose starting in 1812 during the Joseon dynasty.

Cheondoism is essentially Confucian in origin, but incorporates elements of Korean shamanism. It places emphasis on personal cultivation, social welfare in the present world, and rejects any notion of an afterlife. Splinter movements include Suwunism and Bocheonism.

Choe Je-u

Choe Je-u, who used the pen name Su-un (18 December 1824 – 15 April 1864), was the founder of Donghak, a Korean religious movement against foreign invasions and critical of Joseon Dynasty government policies of the time. His teachings led to peasant revolts in Korea which were contemporary with the Taiping Rebellion in China, and he was martyred by order of the Daewongun, only weeks before the death of Hong Xiuquan.

His birth-name was Choe Je-seon ("save and proclaim"). During his childhood, he was also called Bok-sul ("blissfully happy"). He took the name Je-u ("saviour of the ignorant") in 1859. His disciples called him Su-un ("water cloud"), which was the name he used for his writings, and also called him Daesinsa, the great teacher.


Daejongism (Korean: 대종교, romanized: 大倧敎 Daejonggyo or Taejongkyo, "religion of the Divine Progenitor" or "great ancestral religion") or Dangunism (Korean: 단군교, romanized: 檀君敎 Dangungyo or Tangunkyo, "religion of Dangun") is the name of a number of religious movements within the framework of Korean shamanism, focused on the worship of Dangun (or Tangun). There are around seventeen of these groups, the main one of which was founded in Seoul in 1909 by Na Cheol (나철, 1864-1916).Dangunists believe their mythos to be the authentic Korean native religion, that was already around as Gosindo (古神道, "way of the Ancestral God" or "ancient way of God") at the time of the first Mongol invasions of Korea, and that was revived as "Daejongism" (Daejonggyo) just at the start of the Japanese occupation. The religion was suppressed during the Japanese rule.The religion believes in one God manifested in three persons, whose earthly incarnation was the legendary king Dangun, who ruled over a Korean empire around 5000 years ago. Its main tenet is that the Koreans have their own God and they have no need to worship foreign gods. Its emphasis is on the national identity and unity of the Korean people (known as minjok) and as such has been associated with Korean nationalism (and sometimes ultranationalism).Daejongism does not focus so much on institutions or rituals but rather on central doctrines and associated mythologies, so that it is more definable as a creed or a faith system rather than an organized religion. In the decade of 1910-1920, it had its major growth, reaching an estimated following of 400,000. Its popularity was largely due to its efforts on behalf of Korean independence. Once this aim was achieved, its membership declined, although Daejongism acquired a reputation for its educational and scholarly institutions, which published in particular monumental works about Korea's struggle for independence and Daejongism's contribution to it. A 1995 census found that fewer than 10,000 Koreans claimed to follow the religion., although Korean census figures systematically underestimate the number of followers of new religions, who are often reluctant to indicate their religious affiliation.

Dol hareubang

Dol hareubangs, also called tol harubangs, hareubangs, or harubangs, are large rock statues found on Jeju Island off the southern tip of South Korea. They are considered to be gods offering both protection and fertility and were placed outside of gates for protection against demons travelling between realities.

Dongcheon High School

Busan Dongcheon High School is a private school for those graduating from middle school. The school was established in 1980, and is located in Nam-gu, Busan. It is one of the eighty-four high schools in Busan.

The school is the only high-school run by The Cheondoism Foundation, a Korean traditional religion.

The school gives education based on "human is god" motto, and the religion of the school is Cheondoism. Graduates have made significant contributions in many fields.


Donghak (東學, lit. “Eastern Learning”) was an academic movement in Korean Neo-Confucianism founded in 1860 by Choe Je-u. The Donghak movement arose as a reaction to seohak (西學, "Western learning"), and called for a return to the "Way of Heaven". While Donghak originated as a reform movement and revival of Confucian teachings, it gradually evolved into a religion known today as Cheondoism in Korea under the third patriarch.

Freedom of religion in Korea

Freedom of religion in Korea may refer to:

Freedom of religion in South Korea

Freedom of religion in North Korea

Ganghwa hyanggyo

Ganghwa hyanggyo is in charge of Confucian education for its surrounding area. It is located on Ganghwa island. Ganghwa hyanggyo was established in Gocheon-ri in 1127 (Injong 5), and was relocated several times to the present location in 1731 (youngjoe 7). The functions of the organization are: memorial services for ancestors in hyanggyo and the study of Confucianism.


Gosure is a form of ritual action from Korean folk religion, in which food is thrown into the air after shouting "Gosure". This ritual stems from the belief that people will get ill if the ritual is not performed.


Haneullim or Haneulnim (하늘님 "Heavenly King"), also spelled Hanunim (하느님), Hwanin (환인), also called Sangje (상제 "Highest Deity") also known simply as Haneul (하늘 "Heaven") or Cheon (천 "Heaven", in Sino-Korean), or Cheonsin (천신 "God of Heaven"), is the concept of the sky God peculiar to Korean shamanism, and religions rooted in Korean shamanism (including Cheondoism and Jeungsanism). In some of these religions he is called Okhwang Sangje (옥황상제 "Highest Deity the Jade Emperor").

Hinduism in Korea

Hinduism is a minority religion in Korea. There are 10,414 Indians in South Korea, most of whom are Hindus. Through Buddhism, it has also had an indirect impact on certain aspects of traditional Korean thought. The Four Heavenly Kings that can be seen in Korean Buddhist temples originated from the Lokapālas.


A jangseung or village guardian is a Korean totem pole usually made of wood. Jangseungs were traditionally placed at the edges of villages to mark for village boundaries and frighten away demons. They were also worshipped as village tutelary deities.

In the southern regions of Jeolla, Chungcheong, and Gyeongsang, jangseungs are also referred to as beopsu or beoksu, a variation of boksa (복사/卜師), meaning a male shaman.

In the Jeolla region, jangseungs are often made of stone bearing some resemblance to the dolhareubangs of Jeju Island.

In Seoul, 18th century Joseon Dynasty King Jeongjo ordered jangseungs erected in the area near Sangdo to ward off evil spirits when he made a royal procession to Suwon, where his father's tomb was located. Since then, the district has been called Jangseungbaegi and has given its name to the Jangseungbaegi Station on the Seoul Metropolitan Subway's Line 7.

Jangseungs are usually adorned with inscriptions describing the personae of the carved figures along the front of the poles. "Male" jangseungs usually bear inscriptions in Hangul or Hanja reading "Great General of All Under Heaven," or Cheonha-daejanggun (Hangul: 천하대장군, Hanja: 天下大將軍) and are decorated with headpieces resembling those worn by Korean aristocrats or scholars. "Female" jangseungs, on the other hand, wear less elaborate headpieces and usually bear inscriptions reading "Female General of the Underworld," or Jiha-yeojanggun (Hangul: 지하여장군, Hanja: 地下女將軍) or "Great General of the Underworld," or Jiha-daejanggun (Hangul: 지하대장군, Hanja: 地下大將軍).

Korean Confucianism

Korean Confucianism is the form of Confucianism that emerged and developed in Korea. One of the most substantial influences in Korean intellectual history was the introduction of Confucian thought as part of the cultural influence from China.

Today the legacy of Confucianism remains a fundamental part of Korean society, shaping the moral system, the way of life, social relations between old and young, high culture, and is the basis for much of the legal system. Confucianism in Korea is sometimes considered a pragmatic way of holding a nation together without the civil wars and internal dissent that were inherited from the Goryeo dynasty.

Korean pagoda

Korean pagodas are a traditional Korean architectural form that began in the Three Kingdoms of Korea period. Koreans created a unique and distinct pagoda tradition using stone.

Spirit tablet

A spirit tablet, memorial tablet, or ancestral tablet, is a placard used to designate the seat of a deity or past ancestor as well as to enclose it. The name of the deity or past ancestor is usually inscribed onto the tablet. With origins in traditional Chinese culture, the spirit tablet is a common sight in many East Asian countries where any form of ancestor veneration is practiced. Spirit tablets are traditional ritual objects commonly seen in temples, shrines, and household altars throughout China and Taiwan.


Suunism (Hangul: 수운교; Hanja: 水雲敎; RR: Suungyo) is one of the Korean ethnic religions derived from Sinism. It is a splinter from Cheondoism that in turn originated as an organised formation of the Donghak movement. "Suwun" was another name used by Choe Je-u. Suwunists claim to have transmitted a purer version of his teaching.The religion's headquarters are located in Daejeon, where Suwun himself moved in 1929 after having preached in Seoul since 1923. The religion focuses on the worship of Okhwangsangje Hanulim (the "Great Jade Emperor of Heaven"), in order to make the earth a paradise through the reconnection to the One. An important symbol of the faith is Gungeul ("Archer Bird"). The doctrine includes belief in the Maitreya.

Taoism in Korea

Taoism or "Do" is thought to be the earliest state philosophy for the Korean people spanning several thousand years. However, its influence waned with the introduction of Buddhism during the Goryeo kingdom as the national religion and the dominance of neo-Confucianism during the Joseon dynasty. Despite its diminished influence during those periods, it permeated all strata of the Korean populace, integrating with its native animism as well as Buddhist and Confucian institutions, temples, and ceremonies. The Taoist practice in Korea developed, somewhat in contrast to China, as an esoteric meditative practice in the mountains taught by the "mountain masters" or "mountain sages".

One of Korea's well-known founding myths in which a tiger and a bear seek to become human during an encounter with Hwanung may be viewed as a Taoist parable. The exact origin, despite various theories by historians, is in question because the royal records maintained by the early Korean kingdoms were destroyed during the two occasions in which the royal libraries were burned by invading Chinese armies. Later attempts to study the history and philosophy of Korean Taoism were suppressed during the Joseon kingdom which embraced only Confucianism as the proper field of study.


Yongdamjeong (lit. Dragon Pool Pavilion) is a sacred place to Cheondoism, located on Mt. Gumi in Gajeong-ri, Hyeongok-myeon, Gyeongju, South Korea.

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