Ethnic religion

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Altar to Inari Ōkami at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Shinto is the ethnic religion of the Japanese people.

Ethnic religion may include officially sanctioned and organized civil religions with an organized clergy, but they are characterized in that adherents generally are defined by their ethnicity, and conversion essentially equates to cultural assimilation to the people in question. Contrasted to this are imperial cults that are defined by political influence detached from ethnicity. A partly overlapping concept is that of folk religion referring to ethnic or regional religious customs under the umbrella of an institutionalized religion (e.g. folk Christianity). Adherents of an ethnic religion may constitute an ethnoreligious group.

In antiquity, religion was one defining factor of ethnicity, along with language, regional customs, national costume, etc. With the rise of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, ethnic religions came to be marginalized as "leftover" traditions in rural areas, referred to as paganism or shirk (idolatry). The notion of gentiles ("nations") in Judaism reflect this state of affairs, the implicit assumption that each nation will have its own religion. Historical examples include Germanic polytheism, Celtic polytheism, Slavic polytheism and pre-Hellenistic Greek religion. cites Barrett's 2001 world religion calculations for a demographic estimate, ranging at 457 million "tribal religionists, "ethnic religionists," or "animists," including African Traditional religionists, but not including Chinese folk religion or Shintoism.

Over time, even revealed religion will assume local traits and in a sense will revert to an ethnic religion. This has notably happened in the course of the History of Christianity, which saw the emergence of national churches with "ethnic flavours" such as Germanic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Syrian, Greek, Russian and others.

The term ethnic religion is therefore also applied to a religion in a particular place, even if it is a regional expression of a larger world religion. For example, Hinduism in the Caribbean has been considered an ethnic religion by some scholars, because Hindus in Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname consider themselves a distinct ethnic group.[1] Some Korean Christian churches in the United States have been described as an ethnic religion, because they are closely associated with the ethnic identity of immigrant Korean Americans.[2]

Some scholars classify entire religions as either universal religions that seek worldwide acceptance and actively look for new converts, or ethnic religions that are identified with a particular ethnic group and do not seek converts.[3]

Judaism is considered an ethnic religion by some authors (defining of the Jewish people), but not by others. Hinduism as a whole is mostly classed as one of the world religions, but some currents of Hindu nationalism take it as definitive of an Indian or Hindu ethnicity or nation. Within Hinduism, there are regional or tribal currents with ethnic traits, sometimes termed Folk Hinduism.

Indigenous traditional ethnic religions[edit]

The symbol of the Ndut initiation rite in Serer religion.
Indian devotees of Shiva in pilgrimage.
A typical Chinese local-deity temple in Taiwan.
Further information: List of mythologies
Further information: Paganism and Modern paganism
African traditional religions
East and Central Asia

(c.f. East Asian religions)

Near East
South Asia
Northern Asia and Arctic
American ethnic religions

Reconstructionist revivals[edit]

Further information: Paganism and Polytheistic reconstructionism
Main article: Germanic neopaganism
Further information: Forn Siðr and Ásatrú
Heathen altar for Haustblot in Björkö, Westgothland, Sweden. The big wooden idol represents god Frey (Ing), the picture in front of it goddess Freya (Walpurgis), and the small red idol god Thor.

Heathenism (also Heathenry), or Greater Heathenry, is a blanket term for the whole Germanic Neopagan movement. Various currents and denominations have arisen over the years within it.

Main article: Celtic neopaganism
Other Indo-European
A Romuvan ritual in Lithuania.
Ancient Near East

See also[edit]


  1. ^ van der Veer, Peter; Steven Vertovec (April 1991). "Brahmanism Abroad: On Caribbean Hinduism as an Ethnic Religion". Ethnology 30 (2): 149–166. doi:10.2307/3773407. JSTOR 3773407. 
  2. ^ Chong, Kelly H. (1997). "What It Means to Be Christian: The Role of Religion in the Construction of Ethnic Identity and Boundary Among Second- Generation Korean Americans". Sociology of Religion 59 (3): 259–286. doi:10.2307/3711911. JSTOR 3711911. 
  3. ^ Hinnells, John R. (2005). The Routledge companion to the study of religion. Routledge. pp. 439–440. ISBN 0-415-33311-3. Retrieved 2009-09-17.