This article examines how the ideological orientations of the Tonghak religion, particularly the eschatological vision of time, empowered its practitioners and peasants to imagine a new world and act out their faith. By paying attention to the notion of kaebyŏk, I explore how different temporalities—redemptive time, now-time, and progressive time—played a significant role in the Tonghak movement from its formation through its reconfiguration as Ch’ŏndogyo. In the shifting geopolitics of East Asia at the turn of the twentieth century, Tonghak emerged as a dissonant theology whose prediction of an apocalyptic upheaval of the universe was discordant with the conceptions of time dominant in both traditional Chosŏn and modern Korea. Viewing history as cyclical, the Tonghak founders conceptualized kaebyŏk as an unexpected critical event that could happen in an abrupt, ever-present now. This unique temporal consciousness underpinned the revolutionary characteristics of Tonghak thought and laid the foundation for its followers to manifest their aspirations for social change through a massive uprising at now-time. Yet Tonghak’s theoretical agenda gradually lost its revolutionary edge during the modernization of the church. By adopting ideologies of civilization and enlightenment as well as social Darwinism, Ch’ŏndogyo focused on the self-cultivating role that kaebyŏk played within the progressive vision of time.

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