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oldest religion (ur- being a Germanic prefix for original, primitive, elder, primeval, or proto-) is a notion of an "original" or "oldest" form of religious tradition. The term contrasts with organized religion, such as the theocracies of the early urban cultures of the Ancient Near East or current world religions. The term originates in German Romanticism.
Friedrich Creuzer put forward the notion of a monotheistic primeval religion in 1810 - an idea taken up by other authors of the Romantic period, such as J. J. Bachofen, but decidedly opposed by Johann Heinrich Voss. Goethe in a conversation with Eckermann on 11 March 1832 discussed the human Urreligion, which he characterized as "pure nature and [pure] reason, of divine origin". The final scene of his Faust Part Two (1832) has been taken as evoking "the 'Urreligion' of mankind".
Often used in the sense of natural religion or indigenous religion, the religious behaviour of pre-modern tribal societies such as shamanism, animism and ancestor worship (e.g. Australian aboriginal mythology), the term Urreligion has also been used by adherents of various religions to back up the claim that their own religion is somehow "primeval" or "older" than competing traditions. In the context of a given religious faith, literal belief in a creation myth may be the base of claim of "primality" in the context of creationism (e.g. Biblical literalism, or literal belief in the Hindu Puranas).
In particular, Urmonotheismus comprises the historical claim that primeval religion was monotheistic. Some have rejected this hypothesis, although certain Christian apologetics circles still defend it.
Nineteenth-century Germanic mysticism sometimes claimed that the Germanic runes bore testimony of a primeval religion. Some more recent new religious movements that claim to restore primeval religion include Godianism and Umbanda.
In the context of organized religion, especially monotheism, claims of an "oldest religion" may also be attached to a positive dating claim of a founding figure rather than a notion of absolute "primality". Thus, Vyasa, the "splitter of the Vedas" is dated to the remote Dvapara Yuga in the Puranic Hinduism. Jainism dates Rishabha to a similarly remote period.
- In his Mutterrecht und Urreligion , Bachofen connects primeval religion and matriarchy.
- Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker, besonders der Griechen. In Vorträgen und Entwürfen. Leipzig and Darmstadt, Heyer und Leske, 1810-12.
- Biblical Borrowings in Goethe's "Faust": A Historical Survey of Their Interpretation, by O. Durrani The Modern Language Review 1977
- Gnuse, Robert Karl (1997). No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel. Sheffield Academic Press. p. 136. ISBN 1-85075-657-0.
- Pajak, Sylwester, Urreligion und Uroffenbarung bei P. W. Schmidt, St. Augustin 1978.
- J L Studach Die Urreligion oder das entdeckte Uralphabet, 1856
- Onyioha, K. O. K (1980). African Godianism : a revolutionary religion for mankind through direct communication with God. Owerri; New York: Conch Magazine. p. 124. ISBN 0914970313.
- Gerhard Muller, Theologische Realenzyklopädie, de Gruyter (2003), p. 265