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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.
Adherents.com 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. 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.
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.
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
- North Africa
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Central and Southern Africa
- West Africa
- partially derived Afro-American religion
- East and Central Asia
(c.f. East Asian religions)
- Chinese Ethnic Religion or Shenism, and Taoism (Hans)
- Dongbaism (Nakhi)
- Muism or Sinism (Koreans)
- Shinto (Japanese)
- Ryukyuan Shinto and Ijun (Ryukyuans)
- Bön (Tibetans)
- Turco-Mongol traditions, Shamanism in Central Asia
- Near East
- Druze (Levantine Arabs)
- Judaism (Jews), historically originates in the Levant
- Yazdânism (Kurds)
- Zoroastrianism (Persians, Parsi, and other Iranians)
- South Asia
- Sikhism and Ravidassia (Punjabi)
- Hinduism and Jainism (Indians, Indian diaspora), Folk Hinduism:
- Kirant Mundhum (Kirat)
- Tribal religions in India
- Northern Asia and Arctic
- American ethnic religions
- Northern American religions and Peyotism
- Anishinaabe traditional beliefs
- Ancient Mexicah Religion, Santa Muerte Worship
- Maya religion (ethnic Maya; Guatemalans)
- historical polytheism (Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic etc.)
- contemporary folk religion (Folk Catholicism); Neo-pagan revivalism
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.
- Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið (1972)
- The Troth (1987)
- Asatru Folk Assembly (1996)
- Swedish Asatru Assembly (1994)
- Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost (1996)
- Folktrú (folklorist Scandinavian Forn Siðr)
- Odinism or Wotanism (ethnically exclusivist movements)
- Odinic Rite of Australia (1936)
- Odinic Rite (1973)
- Odinist Fellowship (1996)
- Theodism (American tribalist movements)
- Armanism or Irminism (or Irminenschaft) (German Paganism and Ariosophical movements)
- Heidnische Gemeinschaft (1985)
- Artgemeinschaft (1951)
- Deutsche Heidnische Front (1998)
- New Armanen-Orden
- Urglaawe (Pennsylvanian Deitsch Paganism)
- Celtic Reconstructionism (1980s)
- Neo-druidism (Druidism, Druidry or Neodruidry)
- Other Indo-European
- Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism (Hellenismos)
- Roman Way to the Gods or Religio Romana
- Armenian polytheism (Hetanism)
- Slavic neopaganism (Rodnovery)
- Baltic polytheism
- Ancient Near East
- Semitic Neopaganism
- Kemetism (Egyptian Neopaganism)
- Tengrism (Turkic)
- Church of the Guanche People (Canary Islands)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.