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Pilgrims and progress : the production of religious experience in a Korean religion Bell, Kirsten 2008

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83Pilgrims and ProgressThe Production of ReligiousExperience in a Korean ReligionKirsten BellABSTRACT: Since its inception, Chondogyo has self-consciouslymaintained an identity as a “new” and “modern” Korean religion. Theseclaims have seen ongoing efforts to rationalize religious practice andtheology and purge the movement of “anti-modern,” “superstitious”elements. This article explores the differing receptions of pilgrimageand ecstatic trance within the organization: the two major forms ofembodied religious experience in Chondogyo. While the former hasbeen actively promoted as a “legitimate” (and modern) form of religiousexperience, the latter is treated with ambivalence and is often connectedwith backward superstition. Through a comparison of these practices, Iexplore the ways in which they intersect with, bolster and challengeconceptions of Korean modernity.In the summer of 2005 I attended my third pilgrimage1 in the Koreanreligion of Chondogyo.2 To provide the reader with a sense of thenature of Chondogyo pilgrimage and the concerns of this article, Iwould like to begin with a short excerpt from my field notes. Day Three of the Pilgrimage, 7 July 2005, 12:30 p.m.: Two girls are having aparticularly difficult time and say that they cannot walk any further. Onegirl starts crying and cries the whole way up to the top of the mountain;her great, heaving sobs can be clearly heard by all the pilgrims. . . . As weare walking, the danjang (the pilgrimage leader) instructs us to thinkNova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 12, Issue 1, pages83–102, ISSN 1092-6690 (print), 1541-8480 (electronic). © 2008 by The Regents ofthe University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permissionto photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’sRights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo.asp.DOI: 10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.83NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 83about the difficulty we are experiencing in relation to the difficulty expe-rienced by Choe Si-hyeong—the Chondogyo patriarch in whose foot-steps we follow. We all make it up the top—barely. The girl is STILLsobbing periodically and every time I think she has calmed down shestarts back up again. Another girl is consoling her and one of the guysis rubbing her feet. Yet another girl has vomited from the heat and isclearly suffering from heat exhaustion as she is very cold and shivering.I know how they feel. I want to cry and vomit myself. I think we have sofar walked about 20 kms today but it feels like more. By my calculationsthat gives us a running total of about 90 kms so far.I take the opportunity to talk to the leader of the pilgrimage who islying prostrate on the ground next to me and ask him about the differ-ence between the pilgrimage (seongji sullye) and other visits to sacred sitesin the religion. He says that the pilgrimage is different because it is dif-ficult. This is part of the intended purpose of the pilgrimage. It is diffi-culty that connects us with the three founders. Choe Si-hyeong’s life wasvery difficult when he was hiding from the government. The difficulty weexperience directly connects us with him. However, he then goes on tocompare the pilgrimage with Membership Training (MT) and says thatif we all have a hard time together it helps us to establish bonds like MT. “Membership training” or “MT” is a common Korean-English (orKonglish) term adopted from Japanese English. Although the term hasbeen taken from the language of business, in the Korean context itrefers to a social retreat during which a group of work colleagues,Nova Religio84Photo 1. Exhausted pilgrims take a break at the top of the mountain. Photocourtesy of Kirsten Bell.NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 84university students or members of a social club go away together to fos-ter a greater sense of group unity and harmony, helped considerably bythe consumption of large amounts of food and alcohol. While Koreanuniversity students often go on MT as part of their college experience(and virtually all of the Chondogyo pilgrims in 2005 were college stu-dents), I found the explicit juxtaposition of the pain and suffering of thepilgrimage and the corporate, secular imagery of the social “bonding”retreat both incongruous and intriguing. Numerous scholars have pointed to the complex and dynamic char-acter of pilgrimage, and its ability to respond to a variety of constant andchanging beliefs, values and needs.3 Pilgrimage therefore provides animportant vehicle for understanding larger social, cultural and politicalprocesses within contemporary life. This article uses pilgrimage as alens into these processes. Through a comparison of various forms of reli-gious experience in Chondogyo—particularly pilgrimage and religioustraining—I consider what they reveal about concepts of modernity bothwithin Chondogyo and South Korea. CHONDOGYO: AN OVERVIEWChondogyo, “The Religion of the Heavenly Way,” is the oldest ofKorea’s many new religious movements (sinheung jonggyo). It wasfounded in 1860 under the name of Donghak, or “Eastern Learning,”when a man named Choe Je-u fell into a trance and experienced a rev-elation from God (Hanullim). Choe’s key insight was the realization thatall human beings bear God (si Cheonju), a theme later formalized in thedoctrine of in nae Cheon (“humans and Heaven are one”), which hasbecome the foundation of the religion’s contemporary theology.4Over the following year Choe was inspired to go out and preach hismessage of enlightenment, aided by two gifts he received from God:jumun—a 21-syllable incantation that produced ecstatic union with Godwhen chanted repeatedly; and yeongbu—a magical talisman that wouldimprove the health of sincere believers when burned into ash and drunkas a medicine.5 Numerous scholars have argued that Choe’s vision ofreligious salvation blends shamanistic, Taoist, Buddhist and Confuciansymbols with Christian elements,6 a strategy that appears to havestrengthened its appeal to the masses.Donghak arose at a time when Korea was on the verge of radicaltransformations. Internally, society was stagnating under a rigidConfucian social hierarchy, which saw destitute peasants over-taxed andgenerally ill-used by corrupt government officials and landed gentry(yangban). External forces such as the West’s encroachment into theEast were also causing considerable alarm. Donghak arose in these cir-cumstances and was directly affected by such concerns. Indeed, Choeexplicitly envisioned Donghak as a rebuttal to the growing influence ofBell: Pilgrims and Progress85NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 85the West in Korea; further, Donghak was constructed in explicit oppo-sition to Roman Catholicism, known as “Western Learning.” Ironically,Donghak was persecuted by the government as a form of Catholicism,7and in 1864 Choe suffered the same fate as many Catholic martyrs inKorea when he was beheaded for spreading a false doctrine andattempting to deceive the people.8Despite ongoing government persecution, Donghak proved popularwith the disaffected masses and continued to grow under the leadershipof its second founder, Choe Si-hyeong. Indeed, Donghak’s widespreadsupport can be witnessed in its involvement in a massive popular upris-ing against the government in 1894 known as the Donghak PeasantUprising, often labeled the single most important event in Korea’s con-temporary history.9 This aborted revolution inadvertently sparked achain reaction that led to the 1894–95 Sino-Japanese War and culmi-nated in the creation of a Japanese protectorate in Korea in 1905. In the wake of the uprising, the persecution of Donghak becameeven more intense, and in 1898 Choe Si-hyeong was martyred, althoughprior to his death he managed to oversee the publication of theDonghak Scriptures (Donggyeong Daejeon) and establish many hiddencongregations throughout the southern part of the Korea.10 Thus, at theturn of the nineteenth century, leadership of the movement passed toits third revered founder, Seon Byeong-hui. TWENTIETH-CENTURY KOREA AND THEDRIVE TO MODERNIZETwentieth-century Korea was a country confronted with radicalchange. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea and three and a half decades ofJapanese colonialism followed. The colonial period ended abruptly withthe Allied division of the country at the end of World War II and the sub-sequent Korean War. Given the devastating effects of war, the humiliat-ing legacy of Japanese colonialism, and the onslaught of Westernideologies of development and modernization, constructing a positivenational identity in Korea has been particularly difficult. Under the leadership of Park Chung-hee (following his 1961 militarycoup), South Korea began a program of modernization marked byrapid economic growth and dramatic social and political change. ThePark government’s modernist project explicitly aimed to eliminate “tra-ditionalist” elements of Korean society, while promoting elements seento epitomize the nation’s unique cultural identity. The modernization project, from an institutional perspective,meant western style institutional development in the context ofindustrialization, scientific and technological innovation, urbanizationand building of a modern nation-state, and so on. . . . [R]ight from theNova Religio86NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 86beginning there were conflicts and tensions surrounding meanings,values, and norms embedded in the modernization project. . . . As theideology of the modernization project developed, the conflicts andtensions were organized and signified through more paradigmaticopposition, such as West and East/Korea, tradition and modernity. . . .11The demands of cultural nationalism were therefore in direct con-trast to the goal of modernization, given the mutually incompatibleways that tradition and modernity had been defined. As Nicholas Dirkshas pointed out, “the modern has liberated us from tradition and con-stantly conceives itself in relation to it.”12 As an ideological position,modernity thus implies an embrace of technological and social innova-tion and a renunciation of the past, which is associated with oppressiveand irrational tradition.13 Yet it is precisely this “tradition” that the gov-ernment sought to preserve.The government’s attempt to efface “backward” practices whilepreserving unique Korean traditions saw the introduction of a num-ber of contradictory cultural policies during the 1960s and 1970s.14These policies mobilized the whole nation by making the state-spon-sored modernization project a collective effort15 and encompassingall institutions under the auspices of the “New Community”(Saemaeul) movement.16This modernization project has had a particularly strong impacton Korea’s religions, which have experienced an especially ambivalentreception. As Charles Keyes, Helen Hardacre and Laurel Kendallnote, “the process of creating modern nation-states has . . . entailedtwo rather contradictory stances toward religion.”17 Religions havebeen simultaneously lauded as repositories of national tradition andcondemned as relics of a backward and superstitious past. For exam-ple, although Korean shamans are held up as exemplars of indige-nous folk culture, as Kendall points out, they have also beenportrayed as the “superstitious antithesis of modernity.”18 The ecstaticand “superstitious” (misin) aspects of shamanic rituals have been heav-ily criticized as primitive and ignorant, and by 1972 they were targetedby state-initiated, anti-superstition campaigns.19 As Chungmoo Choiasserts, the contradictory policies implemented in South Korearevealed the dilemmas of “a new state with old traditions, tornbetween two modes of thought.”20The rise of Protestant Christianity in twentieth-century Korea21 canbe viewed in the context of its association with development and mod-ernization,22 an association long emphasized by both missionaries andconverts, who tend to represent Christianity as the “ethical base” onwhich modern civilization can be established.23 Indeed, in the earlytwentieth century, some progressive-minded intellectuals, seeing mod-ernization as the most urgent task facing Korea, encouraged Koreans toBell: Pilgrims and Progress87NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 87become Christians out of patriotism.24 However, Christianity began as a“foreign import” and is still regarded as such by many Koreans.25Korean new religious movements have had important roles to play inattempting to resolve the tensions between modernization and nation-alism. The desire to be modern (hyeondaejeok) that has engaged Koreanwomen and men for several generations26 has similarly preoccupiedmany of these religions. As Robert Bellah has shown, such movementsentail “the reinterpretation of a particular religious tradition to show notonly that it is compatible with modernization but also that, when trulyunderstood, the tradition vigorously demands at least important aspectsof modernity.”27In the context of Chondogyo, the attempt throughout the last cen-tury to construct a “modern” religion has seen similar efforts to ration-alize religious practice and theology and purge the movement ofanti-modern, superstitious elements. Indeed, the third founder ofDonghak, Seon Byeong Hui, took up the drive to modernize withevangelical zeal, instigating a number of reforms that fundamentallytransformed the religion. In 1905 he changed the sect’s name fromDonghak (Eastern Learning) to Chondogyo (Religion of the HeavenlyWay). This was followed by attempts to unify and standardize the reli-gion’s theory and update religious practices. The magical talisman(yeongbu) did not survive these early drives to modernize, and othermagical practices were culled in the early twentieth century.Significantly, the incantation (jumun), Choe’s other gift from God,managed to outlive the movement’s transition into a “modern” reli-gion, although Chondogyo theologians have taken pains to emphasizethat while yeongbu was a kind of magical charm (bujeok), jumun wasmore fundamentally religious.28 As Carl Young notes, “The abandon-ment of folk tradition was part of a reinterpretation that affirmed thatit was not necessary to convert to Western ways and religion, but thatmodernity could be achieved while being faithful to a Korean reli-gious tradition.”29In 1906 Seon introduced a new religious form—siil sik—a weeklySunday service that bore a striking resemblance to Christian worship,down to the sermon and hymns. He also set up a parish system and abol-ished personal control of the sect in favor of a bureaucratic and demo-cratic headquarters (Jungang Chongbu) overseen by an elected leader.Furthermore, Seon created numerous organizational bodies such asthe Women’s Association (Yeoseonghoe) and the Youth Association(Jeongnyeonhoe), which were direct copies of Christian versions.Through such measures Seon attempted to represent Chondogyo as arational, modern religion opposed to superstition.30 However, just as thecompeting demands of modernization and cultural nationalism havebeen difficult to reconcile at the nation-state level, they have proved sim-ilarly difficult to reconcile in Chondogyo. Nova Religio88NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 88THE PARTICULARITIES OF PILGRIMAGEThe remainder of this article explores the ways in which forms ofChondogyo worship have been caught up in the religion’s struggle toassert a “modern” yet distinctively Korean identity. Tracing the emer-gence of pilgrimage in Chondogyo yields interesting insights into theways that modernity has been conceptualized in South Korea.Chondogyo pilgrimage (seongji sullye) is an annual event of recentvintage—the first pilgrimage was held in 1982. All pilgrimages follow ageneral pattern, although their specific elements tend to change fromyear to year. Held over the course of three to seven days, pilgrimagesendeavor to retrace the footsteps (dalmagagi) of various key figures inChondogyo. The three venerated founders of the religion—Choe Je-u,Choe Si-hyeong, and Seon Byeong-hui—are the primary focus of pil-grimage journeys, although pilgrimages are also regularly held toretrace the footsteps of Jeon Beong-jun, a Chondogyo adherent who ledthe 1894 Donghak Uprising. Thus, annual pilgrimages follow a set sched-ule designated by the Chondogyo headquarters and rotate around the keyfigures and historical events in the religion’s history (see figure 1). As the goal of the pilgrimage is to walk in the footsteps of key lead-ers, the bulk of the journey takes place on foot. After meeting in a des-ignated location somewhere in the countryside and staying the night inthe relative comfort of a hostel (minbak), the pilgrimage officially beginsthe following day. For the duration of the journey, pilgrims awakenbetween 4:00 and 4.30 a.m. and walk from 7:00 a.m. until anywherebetween 5:00 and 9:00 p.m., stopping only to prepare meals of ramennoodles and take occasional short breaks, which become increasinglyBell: Pilgrims and Progress89FIGURE 1. Chondogyo Pilgrimage Cycle 1998–2005Year Key Figure Event Re-enacted1998 Choe Si-hyeong Retracing his footsteps before he died.1999 Cheon Bong Jun Retracing his footsteps during the DonghakPeasant Uprising.2000 Choe Je-u Retracing his footsteps during important events ofhis life.2001 Choe Si-hyeong Retracing his footsteps during the DonghakPeasant Uprising.2002 Seon Byeong-hui Retracing his footsteps during the DonghakPeasant Uprising.2003 Seon Byeong-hui Retracing his footsteps during the March FirstMovement.2004 Choe Je-u Retracing his footsteps during important events ofhis life.2005 Choe Si-hyeong Retracing his footsteps before he died.NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 89frequent given the bodily deterioration pilgrims experience as the pil-grimage progresses. After setting up camp, pilgrims retire between 10:00and 11:00 p.m. to the crowded confines of small, leaky, sex-segregatedtents. On the eve of the end of the pilgrimage a large celebration is heldinvolving copious amounts of food and drink to celebrate the comple-tion of this important event.While anyone is free to attend, the pilgrimage is organized by theChondogyo’s University Student Group (Daehagsaengdan) in con-junction with the Youth Association and attended largely by members ofthese groups. Thus, the average age of pilgrims tends to range between18 and 25, although a 39-year-old housewife attended in 2005. However,older Chondogyo adherents often complete at least part of the pil-grimage, joining pilgrims on the weekend and occasionally bringing thewhole family, including small children. Only a small proportion ofadherents participate in the full pilgrimage,31 and it has been shrinkingin size each year, reflecting a decline in the size of Chondogyo.32Nevertheless, there is a general sense that pilgrims are completing thepilgrimage for all adherents, especially those who cannot make the jour-ney themselves.The walking pilgrimage takes place at the height of the Korean sum-mer, with its high levels of humidity, constant downpours, and occa-sional threat of typhoon.33 Given South Korea’s unrelentingly hillyterrain, the circumstances under which pilgrimages take place areNova Religio90Photo 2. Pilgrims on the 2005 Chondogyo pilgrimage. Photo courtesy ofKirsten Bell.NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 90invariably difficult, and the demanding conditions are compounded bythe grueling schedule. It therefore comes as no surprise that the con-stant refrain of pilgrims from almost their first step to their last is“himdeulda” or some variation of it. This word, translated as “exacting,arduous, painful,” has been the one constant on the three pilgrimagesI have attended. However, despite the difficulty involved, pilgrimage inChondogyo is not penitential, nor do the pilgrims suffer for the glory ofGod. Rather, their pain creates a conduit between the pilgrims and thefounders of religion—and ultimately God. According to the brochure provided at the beginning of each pil-grimage, by walking in the footsteps of the Chondogyo patriarchs andexperiencing what they experienced, pilgrims can attain direct com-munion with God. Although the goal is to duplicate the circumstancesunder which the religious founders traveled, buses may be used whenabsolutely necessary, if the planned route covers a great deal of groundin the limited time frame. Generally, pilgrims tend to walk on averagebetween 30 to 40 kilometers per day; for example, in 2005 we walked160 kilometers in five days. The reasons for attending the pilgrimage vary considerably. In 2005one pilgrim explained that although she was not very keen on theprospect of the pilgrimage, she came to fulfill a promise she made toGod if she passed her university entrance exam. Others said they werepressured to participate by friends. However, when asked, most pilgrimsstated they were making the pilgrimage to learn more about Chondogyoand strengthen their understanding of Chondogyo truths. On the 2005pilgrimage, a young woman explained that during a discussion aboutreligion in one of her university classes, she told her professor shebelonged to Chondogyo and he asked, “What’s that?”34 Because shefelt she could not describe her religion well, she joined the pilgrimageas a good opportunity to learn more about her faith. Unlike other forms of Chondogyo worship, such as the Sunday serv-ice (siil sik), the pilgrimage is regarded as providing jigjeop—direct, per-sonal, immediate “experience” of God. As one adherent explained,looking at a picture of an animal is different from actually going to thezoo. That is, the pilgrimage is like actually experiencing the animalsrather than just studying them from afar. Jigjeop is an extremely important concept in Chondogyo, and is usedby adherents to distinguish their religion from Christianity. Indeed,Chondogyo religious identity tends to be defined in opposition toChristianity—or at least a stereotyped understanding of it. Thus,Chondogyo adherents regularly preface statements about their religionwith, “unlike Christianity, we believe. . . .” The first point of contrastconcerns the relation between the human and divine. Chondogyoadherents often say, “unlike Christianity, in Chondogyo it is possible tobecome Jesus.” Or, “unlike Christianity, in Chondogyo everyone canBell: Pilgrims and Progress91NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 91be God.” A second, related view is that unlike Christianity, Chondogyois a religion of experience, as opposed to study. It is a little ironic thatthe pilgrimage has become a means through which Chondogyo adher-ents assert the superiority of their faith over Christianity, given that theyappear to have borrowed this practice from their Christian cousins. While there has been a strong tradition of pilgrimage in Korea, par-ticularly in Korean Buddhism, these earlier pilgrimages tended to beinformal and solitary undertakings. Thus, the group-walking pilgrimagepracticed in Chondogyo today does not represent the continuation of along history of pilgrimage in the country. In fact, the term seongji sullyeitself is not used in pre-modern Korean texts and seems to have beencoined by modern Christians.35 Pilgrimage in Chondogyo takes its cuesfrom Christian walking pilgrimages, such as the Road to Chartres, wherethe focus is on the journey rather than the sacred site itself (e.g.,Lourdes). Like the walking pilgrimages popular in Korea amongProtestant Christian youth groups, there is a self-conscious attempt todivorce this form of worship from “magical” phenomena, such as themiracles and cures seen to characterize Lourdes, Medjugorje, and otherfamous pilgrimage sites.PILGRIMAGE VERSUS RELIGIOUS TRAININGThere is a much older religious practice in Chondogyo that is alsostrongly associated with jigjeop: religious training (suryeon). Suryeon con-stitutes the original method of obtaining religious knowledge and waspresent from the beginning of Chondogyo. In stark contrast to theChristian-style Sunday service, religious training is more overtlyBuddhist in orientation, following the lunar calendar and proceedingin 49-day cycles. There is little formal religious instruction, as adher-ents sit cross-legged on the floor and chant jumun (the 21-syllableincantation) over successive two-hour periods in both loud (hyeon-song) and silent (muksong) forms. The training is notable in that it reg-ularly produces an ecstatic trance known as gangnyeong (“descent ofthe spirit”).36 Gangnyeong generally manifests itself in convulsions or“shaking” (tteollida), as well as crying, moaning and occasional minoracts of self-mortification (such as pulling one’s hair or punching somepart of the body). There are a number of similarities between religious training and pil-grimage, and spontaneous comparisons between the two are notuncommon among pilgrims. Like pilgrimage, religious training is agroup affair. Generally a group of people, whether members ofChondogyo’s Women’s Association or members of a parish (gyogu), willmake a trip up to one of Chondogyo’s remote sudowon (religious train-ing centers), all of which are located in the mountains, much in themanner of Buddhist temples in Korea. There they spend a week inNova Religio92NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 92intensive religious training, waking between 4:00 and 4.30 a.m. andtraining until 9:00 p.m., with short breaks for food and rest. Like pil-grimage, religious training is difficult: sitting cross-legged on the floorand chanting for twelve hours a day is not easy. Similarities between meditation and pilgrimage have not been loston scholars such as Victor and Edith Turner, who have famously char-acterized pilgrimage as “extroverted mysticism, just as mysticism is intro-verted pilgrimage.”37 Similarly, Alan Morinis emphasizes the continuitiesbetween what he labels terrestrial and metaphorical or “inner” pilgrim-ages. In the latter form, ascetics learn to visit the sacred shrines in theirown bodies, conceiving devotion as a journey to God.38Yet, despite their similarities, pilgrimage and religious training havea very different reception in Chondogyo today. While pilgrimage is arecent addition to Chondogyo’s religious repertoire, religious traininghas a contested history and the forms of ecstatic trance it produces arepresently received with a great deal of ambivalence. Indeed, althoughreligious training is currently endorsed in Chondogyo, for a long periodit was banned. According to one informant, the ban on religious train-ing was the result of a political struggle within the movement: one fac-tion argued that exclusive emphasis should be on formal study ofreligious philosophy, while the other believed religious training to bemore important. For a time, those promoting formal study won outand demanded that people stop religious training. Thus, for a longperiod there was no official religious training in Chondogyo. During thisBell: Pilgrims and Progress93Photo 3. Religious training at a sudowon. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Bell.NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 93period the only formally available form of worship was the Christian-styleSunday service, but during the 1980s religious training was reinstatedand today is considered an integral part of religious practice. However,some people in Chondogyo’s central headquarters still disapprove ofreligious training, particularly its connection with ecstatic trance.Indeed, the condemnations of trance I have witnessed have invariablycome from officials within Chondogyo’s headquarters. While religious training has been under attack for some time, reli-gious authorities endorse pilgrimage and its reception is far less ambigu-ous. There are several reasons for this. Importantly, although religioustraining may be seen as a form of “inner” pilgrimage, whereby adherentsare transported to the divine realm of God, this process occurs in anunmediated and uncontrolled fashion.39 Pilgrimage, on the other hand,is more amenable to external control, and a number of scholars havewritten about the ways it may be harnessed by a religious organizationto enhance its own legitimacy.40 The religious organization can suc-cessfully indoctrinate pilgrims, in their highly aroused state, with ortho-dox ideology and beliefs. In Chondogyo, the central administration maintains control over thesite and purpose of each annual pilgrimage. Although there are severalsacred places (seongji) that all Chondogyo adherents recognize,41 pil-grimage sites become such because the central administration deemsthem to have sacred significance. Because the site of the pilgrimagechanges each year, in many respects individual pilgrimage sites do notbuild up a specific identity that prefigures people’s conception of the pil-grimage experience. Thus, the annual pilgrimage’s specific purpose androute can be configured to reflect the organization’s current concerns.42The booklet pilgrims receive at the beginning of the pilgrimageinforms them of how they should understand the event. As the excerptfrom my field notes at the beginning of this article reveals, throughoutthe course of the pilgrimage participants are continually reminded of itspurpose and are brought into stark relation to those symbols and beliefsthe organization wishes to impress upon them. Comments from a pil-grim on the 1999 pilgrimage, which retraced the steps of Jeon Bong-Junand the other Donghak revolutionaries, reveal this technique to beeffective.43 The pilgrim wrote of the special feeling surrounding thesacred sites and noted that he felt as if he were girding himself for bat-tle, just as revolutionaries had done 105 years earlier.44 It is clear that intheir heightened state of enthusiasm and commitment, pilgrims are farmore susceptible to this symbolism because they experience it at adirect, bodily level. Aside from representing a form of religiosity that entails jigjeop in asomewhat controlled form, pilgrimage has an added advantage overreligious training. Unlike pilgrimage, religious training is potentiallyand pejoratively associated with Korean shamanism—a connectionNova Religio94NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 94many Chondogyo adherents explicitly recognize. According to oneinformant, the shaman dances with the energy of the gods, but after-wards returns to a normal state; a similar experience of altered con-sciousness is found in religious training. Other adherents emphasize thesimilarities of ecstatic trance (gangnyeong) to shamanic trance. Thesecomparisons do not refer to any actual connection, given the radicallydifferent circumstances in which the two occur, but they do reveal some-thing of the way ecstatic trance is perceived in Chondogyo, given thenegative view that most adherents hold of shamanism.Considering the popularity of Pentecostal Christianity in Korea andthe widespread belief that Christianity is a “modern” religion, one mightask why expressions of religious ecstasy in Chondogyo are often deemedto be connected with shamans (mudang or mansin) and superstition(misin). This is an important question. Numerous scholars have notedthat Pentecostal forms of Christianity in Korea appear to have beenshamanized.45 Indeed, “mainline Protestant theologians sometimesblame ‘shamanism’ for predisposing Koreans to Pentecostal religions inwhich prayer is a magical means to a materialist end”46 and some arguethat the content and structure of Korean Christian beliefs are basicallyshamanistic.47 Further, Youngsook Kim Harvey asserts that churchesthat move away from a Pentecostal worship style lose members to thosethat do not.48 The fact that the largest Christian congregation in Korea(and the world, for that matter) is Pentecostal would seem to supportthis assertion.49 However, it should be emphasized that while scholarsand theologians may assert a connection between Pentecostal forms ofecstasy and shamanic beliefs and practices, Pentecostal Christians inKorea energetically deny this connection.50 Indeed, on the whole theyhave been more successful in disassociating ecstatic forms of religiousworship from shamanism than Chondogyo.Pilgrimage, unlike religious training, entails jigjeop (direct experi-ence), but it does not produce the same problematic manifestations ofcharisma that dog the latter practice. Moreover, despite its Christianinfluence, Chondogyo is strongly associated with a distinctively Koreanidentity: although pilgrimage has been modeled on Christian forms, itfirst emerged in the context of the minjung undong—“the people’smovement”—a form of populist nationalism that peaked in SouthKorea during the 1980s. PILGRIMAGE, KOREAN NATIONALISMAND THE MINJUNG MOVEMENTI only became aware of the connection between Chondogyo pil-grimage and the minjung movement in 2005. On the second day of thepilgrimage, we were in a small town when in the distance I spotted agroup of young people dressed similarly to ourselves, right down to theBell: Pilgrims and Progress95NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 95large straw hats and blue shirts we wore to identify ourselves asChondogyo pilgrims. I was told it was merely a group of university stu-dents who had come during their summer vacation to help farmerswith harvesting. These student trips to the countryside, known as nong-chon hwaldong undong (farming village activism), are a legacy of the stu-dent movement and were instrumental in facilitating both student andfarmer activism throughout the 1980s.51 Spurred by a desire to reclaimthe minjung voice, students visited rural villages during summer vaca-tions to help with harvesting and stimulate political consciousnessamong farmers. I cannot begin to do justice to the complexities of the minjung move-ment here, given the considerable debate as to how to characterize thephenomenon. In the 1980s the term “minjung” could be combined withalmost anything from history to music, art, film, religion and politics.52However, according to Ken Wells, “the master narrative of the minjungmovement is the struggle for cultural definition, for the sense of whatit means to be and act as ‘the Korean people’ amidst the far-reachingglobal and domestic changes that have affected them personally.”53 AsNancy Abelmann notes, the movement wrestled “legacies of anticolo-nial, antiimperial, and leftist struggle occluded by the dictates of the offi-cial memory of the cold war and of military authoritarianism.”54While minjung activism clearly arose as a response to the repressivepolitical regime under Chun Doo Hwan’s military junta (1980–1988), itmust also be located within South Korea’s newly industrialized economiccircumstances and its emerging status as an Asian tiger economy.55 Thiseconomic success led to a “swelling of national pride,”56 an increasingreflexivity about Koreanness, and the search for a new cultural iden-tity.57 According to Kendall, during this period, “[o]ne often heard itstated that perhaps too much of Korean culture had been thrown awayin the rush to modernize,”58 and there was increasing interest in reclaim-ing “lost” cultural forms, along with growing anti-American sentiment inthe country. Thus, the 1980s witnessed a heightening of two contradic-tory impulses: the ongoing drive to develop and “modernize,” and anattempt to rediscover nativistic religions and traditional culture byKorean intellectuals.59 During this period there was a growing sense ofloss at the sacrifices Koreans had made in the drive to be modern. The changes in religious practice in Chondogyo in the 1980s must beseen in light of these developments. As previously indicated, at thebeginning of this period the only form of worship in Chondogyo was siilsik (Christian-style Sunday service) because religious training had beenbanned. Thus, despite its status as an indigenous religion, Chondogyolooked rather Christian. I therefore speculate that the reintroductionof religious training during this period was connected to this new, self-conscious attempt to assert a distinctively Korean identity. As we haveseen, however, despite its reintroduction, religious training has continuedNova Religio96NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 96to carry the stigma attached to shamanism. It appears that pilgrimageemerged during this period as a religious form responsive to the needsof the movement to develop practices both modern and distinctivelyKorean.It is possible to trace the origins of Chondogyo pilgrimage directly tothe student farming village activism and the search for the authentic min-jung spirit. Given the influence of the student movement on universitycampuses during the 1980s,60 a large number of 1980s hakpeon (studentswho entered college in this period) attended summer trips at least oncebefore graduating. In light of the 1982 origins of Chondogyo pilgrimageas an event organized by Chondogyo university students—many of whichhad undoubtedly been on these trips to the villages—the connectionseems undeniable. Moreover, these student trips exhibit strong parallelswith the Chondogyo pilgrimage in organization, arduous schedule, tim-ing, friendship bonds, and the goal of recapturing the minjung spiritthrough experiencing the lives of underprivileged farmers. The connection becomes even more apparent when exploring theminjung counterhistories written during the 1980s, as many of theseactivists located the birth of the minjung spirit in the Donghak move-ment—in particular, the 1894 Donghak Peasant Uprising.61 Indeed, inthe 1980s minjung activists celebrated Donghak as the birth of theKorean spirit;62 Jeon Bong-jun, leader of the uprising, became the mostpopular icon of the minjung movement and ideology.63 The fact that theearliest Chondogyo pilgrimages were attended by many university stu-dents who were not Chondogyo adherents seems to provide further evi-dence of the ways Chondogyo pilgrimage was being framed ascelebrating the birth of minjung consciousness. It is also interesting thatso many Chondogyo pilgrimages continue to focus on retracing thefootsteps of the 1894 Donghak revolutionaries, suggesting further evi-dence of the pilgrimage’s roots within the minjung movement.It therefore seems that pilgrimage is viewed as less problematic thanthe other two major forms of worship in Chondogyo: religious trainingand the Sunday service. Religious training is associated with Korean“tradition,” but is too closely associated with the negative connotationsattached to Korean shamanism; on the other hand, the Sunday serviceis seen to be modern, but too strongly associated with Christianity.Pilgrimage, while clearly taking a Christian form, is intrinsically tied tothe search for a distinctively Korean identity and therefore fits the cri-teria for an indigenous, modern religious practice. CONCLUSIONMy goal in this article has been to explore ways in which forms ofworship in the Korean religion of Chondogyo have become tied upwith larger social, historical, and political forces that have shapedBell: Pilgrims and Progress97NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 97contemporary South Korea. It is clear that the competing demands ofcultural nationalism and modernization, which have led to contradic-tory policies in South Korea, have also created certain tensions withinChondogyo. Chondogyo leaders’ desire to represent their religion as amodern, indigenous movement has led to some rather contradictorytendencies. Practices such as religious training (suryeon) have been asso-ciated with stigmatized shamanism, while forms of worship such as theSunday service (siil sik) were instituted precisely because of their asso-ciation with “modern” Christianity, a religion Chondogyo is foreverdefining itself against. Pilgrimage, on the other hand, seems to providea form of worship that fits Chondogyo’s goal to assert “indigenousmodernity.” Although pilgrimage in its present form is an adaptation of aChristian practice, its origins are firmly located in the minjung move-ment and the search to reclaim a distinctively Korean identity. It pro-vides adherents with direct experience ( jigjeop) of God in a form morecontrollable by the organization than ecstatic trance (gangnyeong) man-ifested during religious training. In other words, it represents a form ofembodied spirituality that is essentially containable. For these reasons,its emergence in 1982 can be seen to represent a timely response to theongoing dilemmas Chondogyo faces in its desire to show its compati-bility with the demands of Korean modernity. The field work on which this article is primarily based was funded by aNew Staff Grant from Macquarie University, although the article is alsoinformed by earlier field work conducted during my Ph.D. research and asubsequent three-month field work stint in South Korea, which was fundedby a Korea Foundation Fellowship in 2002. This article started life as apaper presented at the 2005 Australian Anthropological Society AnnualConference and the present arguments rely, in part, on valuable feedbackprovided by workshop participants, as well as later feedback from partic-ipants at the Anthropology Department Seminar Series at MacquarieUniversity. Darlene McNaughton was, as usual, kind enough to read aversion of the manuscript and her sharp eye helped me clarify my argu-ments. The six anonymous reviewers for Nova Religio also provided use-ful feedback, which prompted me to rethink some of my initial assumptionsabout the material.ENDNOTES1 I also participated in the pilgrimage in 1998 and 2002.2 Romanization of this word, according to guidelines of the Ministry of Cultureand Tourism in the Republic of Korea, is Cheondogyo. However, throughoutthis article I use the spelling that Chondogyo leaders prefer.Nova Religio98NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 983 Jill Dubisch, In a Different Place: Pilgrimage, Gender, and Politics at a Greek IslandShrine (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); and Alan Mirinis, ed.,Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press,1992).4 KIM Yong Choon, The Ch’ondogyo Concept of Man: An Essence of Korean Thought(Seoul: Pan Korea Book Corporation, 1989).5 Roderick Bucknell, and Paul Beirne, “In Search of the Yeongbu: The LostTalisman of Korea’s Tonghak Religion,” Review of Korean Studies 4, no. 2 (2001):201–22.6 CHUNG Chai Sik, “Religion and Cultural Identity: The Case of ‘EasternLearning,’” International Yearbook for the Sociology of Religion 5 (1969): 118–32. Seealso Kim, Ch’ondogyo Concept of Man; Bucknell and Bierne, “In Search of theYeongbu”; Benjamin Weems, Reform, Rebellion and the Heavenly Way (Tucson:University of Arizona Press, 1964); and CH’OE Dong-hi, “Object of Faith inEastern Learning,” Korea Journal 5, no. 12 (1965): 4–12.7 There is clear evidence that Choe Je-u had come into contact with Catholicismand was clearly influenced by its teachings, although he defined his own religionin opposition to it. See Weems, Reform, Rebellion and the Heavenly Way, 8; andBucknell and Bierne, “In Search of the Yeongbu,” 204.8 Weems, Reform, Rebellion and the Heavenly Way, 7–12.9 See Robert Pearson Flaherty, “JeungSanDo and the Great Opening of theLater Heaven: Millenarianism, Syncretism and the Religion of Gang Il-sun,”Nova Religio 7, no. 3 (March 2004): 29–31.10 Carl Young, “Embracing Modernity: Organizational and Ritual Reform inCh’ondogyo, 1905–1910,” Asian Studies Review 29, no. 1 (2005): 47–60.11 KIM Eun Shil, “The Cultural Logic of the Korean Modernization Project andIts Gender Politics,” Asian Journal of Women’s Studies 6, no. 2 (2000): 50–77.12 Quoted in Laurel Kendall, Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, andModernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 72.13 Laurel Kendall, “Introduction,” in Under Construction: The Gendering ofModernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea, ed. Laurel Kendall(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), 2.14 Kendall, Getting Married in Korea, 72.15 Kim, “Cultural Logic of the Korean Modernization Project.”16 The Saemaeul movement was an ambitious project initiated in the early 1970sto modernize rural villages. See OH Myung-seok, “Peasant Culture andModernization in Korea: Cultural Implications of the Saemaeul Movement inthe 1970s,” in Korean Anthropology: Contemporary Korean Culture in Flux, ed. KoreanNational Commission for UNESCO (Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym, 2003), 159–74. AsOh notes, the goal of the Saemaeul movement was to accelerate modernizationwhile maintaining the virtues of tradition, an impossible task given the way thatmodernization had been defined. Nevertheless, “[t]he movement has leftindelible effects on the landscape and life of Korea’s villages” (159).17 Charles Keyes, Helen Hardacre, and Laurel Kendall, “Introduction: ContestedVisions of Community in East and Southeast Asia,” in Asian Visions of Authority:Religion and the Modern States of East and Southeast Asia, ed. Charles Keyes, HelenHardacre, and Laurel Kendall (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 6.Bell: Pilgrims and Progress99NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 9918 Laurel Kendall, “Who Speaks for Korean Shamans When Shamans Speak ofthe Nation?” in Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China,Malaysia, Fiji, Turkey, and the United States, ed. Dru Gladney (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 1998), 63.19 Chungmoo Choi, “Hegemony and Shamanism: The State, the Elite, and theShamans in Contemporary Korea,” in  Religion and Society in Contemporary Korea,ed. Lewis Lancaster and Richard Payne (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies,1997), 19–48. The association between shamanism and backward tradition is along-standing one, and did not emerge only in the twentieth century. SeeYoungsook Kim Harvey, “The Shaman and the Deaconess: Sisters in DifferentGuises,” in Religion and Ritual in Korean Society, ed. Laurel Kendall and Griffin Dix(Berkeley: Institute for East Asian Studies, 1987), 149–70. 20 Choi, “Hegemony and Shamanism,” 27.21 South Korea is the only country in continental Asia today where Christianityis officially the dominant religion. Currently over one-quarter of South Korea’sreligious population define themselves as Christian, although it is unclear howaccurately census statistics reflect religious affiliation.22 I am not suggesting that the connection between Christianity andmodernization is the sole reason for the religion’s remarkable success, as thereis a range of very complex factors and historical accidents undoubtedlyresponsible for its contemporary dominance. See Spencer Palmer, Korea andChristianity (Seoul: Seoul Computer Press, 1986). Indeed, the influence ofChristianity throughout twentieth-century Korea has been disproportionate toits size because of the large number of Christians among vocal Korean reformistintellectuals and leading nationalists. See Kenneth Wells, New God, New Nation:Protestants and Self-reconstruction Nationalism in Korea 1896–1937 (Sydney: Allen &Unwin, 1990). 23 Young, “Embracing Modernity,” 49.24 Harvey, “The Shaman and the Deaconess,” 154.25 Wells, New God, New Nation, 7.26 Kendall, Under Construction, 5.27 Robert Bellah, “Epilogue: Religion and Progress in Modern Asia,” in Religionand Progress in Modern Asia, ed. Robert Bellah (New York: Free Press, 1965), 207.Of course, this preoccupation is not unique to Korean new religious movements,but can be seen in religious reform movements around the world, fromProtestant Buddhism in Sri Lanka to Hindu reform movements in India. SeeRichard Gombrich, and Gananath Obeyeskere, Buddhism Transformed: ReligiousChange in Sri Lanka (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); NinianSmart, “Tradition, Retrospective Perception, Nationalism and Modernism,” inReligion, Modernity and Postmodernity, ed. Paul Heelas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998),79–89.28 See CHOI Dong-hee, “Tonghak Thought and Modernization (I),” KoreaJournal 13, no. 10 (1973): 4–9.29 Young, “Embracing Modernity,” 56.30 Young, “Embracing Modernity,” 56.31 The pilgrimage is by no means large, generally drawing only between ten andthirty-five people. On the first pilgrimage I attended in 1998 there were thirtyNova Religio100NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 100people. On the second in 2002 there were twelve pilgrims, although one femaledropped out on the second day. On the pilgrimage in 2005 there were elevenpilgrims.32 In the 1995 census there were 26,818 South Koreans who claimed affiliationwith Chondogyo. This figure represents less than 0.1 percent of the population.See Office of Religious Affairs, Hanguk’e chonggyo hyo˘nhwang [Current Status ofReligions in Korea] (Seoul: Munhwa Kwangwangbu [Ministry of Culture andTourism], 1998).33 A typhoon actually hit during the pilgrimage I attended in 2002, radicallydisrupting the proceedings.34 This is a fairly common response, as Chondogyo is not widely recognized inKorea today, although most people have heard of its original form, Donghak.For a discussion of why Chondogyo is largely invisible today, despite itscelebrated origins, see Kirsten Bell, “Cheondogyo and the Donghak Revolution:The (Un)making of a Religion,” Korea Journal 44, no. 2 (2004): 123–48.35 T. Vladimar, personal communication, Koreaweb Discussion List, 1999.36 For a discussion of ecstatic trance in Chondogyo, see Kirsten Bell, “TheGendering of Religious Experience: Ecstatic Trance in Cheondogyo,” AsianJournal of Women’s Studies 9, no. 2 (2003): 7–37; and Kirsten Bell, “The Troublewith Charisma: Religious Ecstasy in Ch’ondogyo,” Asian Studies Review 29 (2005):3–18. 37 Victor Turner, and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture:Anthropological Perspectives (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978), 33.38 Alan Morinis, “Introduction,” in Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage,ed. Alan Morinis (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992), 4. 39 I have written elsewhere about the ways in which religious training andaccompanying manifestations of charisma undermine and disrupt the politicalstructure of Chondogyo. See Bell, “The Trouble with Charisma.”40 Turner and Turner, Image and Pilgrimage.  See also R. L. Stirrat, “Place andPerson in Sinhala Catholic Pilgrimage,” in Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropologyof Christian Pilgrimage, ed. John Eade and Michael Sallnow (London: Routledge,1991), 122–36.41 Such as Yeongdam Pavilion on Gumi Mountain where Choe Je-u experiencedthe divine revelation that compelled him to form his new religion, and theburial places of the three revered founders.42 For example, 1998 commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the deathof the religion’s second founder, Choe Si-hyeong, and the pilgrimage that yearretraced his footsteps before he died. 43 These comments were published in Siningan (New Humanity), the monthlyChondogyo magazine highlighting important news and events in the religionavailable by subscription to all adherents in the country. It should be pointed outthat these comments were undoubtedly chosen for publication in Chondogyo’sofficial magazine because they reflected the official goal of the pilgrimage:direct experience (jigjeop) by walking in the footsteps of key leaders.44 KANG Han-Sun, “Che 17ch’a Daehagsaengdan Songji Sullyegi” [The 17thAnnual Chondogyo University Student’s Association Pilgrimage], in Siningan, 9(1999): 100–03.Bell: Pilgrims and Progress101NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 10145 Harvey, “The Shaman and the Deaconess”; and Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven:The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-firstCentury (London: Cassell, 1996). 46 Laurel Kendall, “Korean Shamans and the Spirits of Capitalism,” AmericanAnthropologist 98, no. 3 (1998): 514.47 Harvey, “The Shaman and the Deaconess,” 159.48 Harvey, “The Shaman and the Deaconess,” 159.49 Cox, Fire from Heaven, 221.50 Cox, Fire from Heaven, 226. The fact that Pentecostal Christians and ministersstrenuously deny a connection with shamanism provides further evidence of thewidespread stigma attached to shamanism. See KIM Chongho, KoreanShamanism: The Cultural Paradox (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2003). 51 Nancy Abelmann, “Reorganizing and Recapturing Dissent in 1990s SouthKorea: The Case of Farmers,” in Between Resistance and Revolution: Cultural Politicsand Social Protest, ed. Richard Fox and Orin Starn (New Brunswick, N.J.: RutgersUniversity Press, 1997), 251–76.52 Abelmann, “Reorganizing and Recapturing Dissent,” 251.53 Kenneth Wells, “Introduction,” in South Korea’s Minjung Movement: The Cultureand Politics of Dissidence, ed. Kenneth Wells (Honolulu: University of HawaiiPress, 1995), 3. 54 Abelmann, “Reorganizing and Recapturing Dissent,” 251.55 CHO Hae-joang, “Constructing and Deconstructing ‘Koreanness,’” inGladney, Making Majorities, 73–91.56 Kendall, Getting Married in Korea, 73.57 Cho, “Constructing and Deconstructing ‘Koreanness.’”58 Kendall, Getting Married in Korea, 73.59 Cho, “Constructing and Deconstructing ‘Koreanness,’” 80.60 Abelmann, “Reorganizing and Recapturing Dissent,” 254. As Abelmannpoints out, while not all university students in the 1980s were committedactivists, the vast majority shared the movement’s perspective.61 Minjung narratives depict the Donghak Uprising as a revolution against theoppressive government. See Bell, “Cheondogyo and the Donghak Revolution,”for a discussion of the ways in which the uprising has been appropriated byseveral political movements to enhance their own agendas.62 Kenneth Wells, “The Cultural Construction of Korean History,” in Wells,South Korea’s Minjung Movement, 11–30.63 SONG Changzoo, “The Contending Discourses of Nationalism in Post-colonial Korea and Nationalism as an Oppressive and Anti-democratic Force,”Ph.D. diss., University of Hawaii, 1999, 7. Nova Religio102NR1201_04  6/2/08  10:58 AM  Page 102


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