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.[1]

In religious studies, an ethnic religion is a religion or belief associated with a particular ethnic group. Ethnic religions are often distinguished from universal religions, such as Christianity or Islam, in which gaining converts is a primary objective and, therefore, are not limited in ethnic, national or racial scope.[2]


A number of alternative terms have been used instead of ethnic religion. The term primal religion was coined by Andrew Walls in the University of Aberdeen in the 1970s to provide a focus on non-Western forms of religion as found in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.[3][4] Terms such as primal religion, primitive religion, and tribal religion have been contested by Walls' student, Jim Cox, who argues that such terms suggest an undeveloped religion which can be seen as a preparation for conversion to Christianity. Cox prefers to use the term indigenous religion.[5]

Another term that is often used is folk religion. While ethnic religion and folk religion have overlapping uses, the latter term implies "the appropriation of religious beliefs and practices at a popular level."[6] The term folk religion can therefore be used to speak of certain Chinese and African religions, but can also refer to popular expressions of more multi-national and institutionalized religions such as Folk Christianity or Folk Islam.[7][8]

In Western contexts, a variety of terms are also employed. In the United States and Canada a popular alternative term has been nature religion.[9] Some neopagan movements, especially in Europe, have adopted ethnic religion as their preferred term, aligning themselves with ethnology. This notably includes the European Congress of Ethnic Religions,[10] which chose its name after a day-long discussion in 1998, where the majority of the participants expressed that Pagan contained too many negative connotations and ethnic better described the root of their traditions in particular nations. In the English-language popular and scholarly discourse Paganism, with a capital P, has become an accepted term.[11]


Ethnic religions are distinctive in their relationship with a particular ethnic group and often in the shaping of one's solidarity with an ethnic identity.[12]

Diasporic groups often maintain ethnic religions as a means of maintaining a distinct ethnic identity such as the role of African traditional religion and Afro-American religions among the African diaspora in the Americas.[13]

Some ancient ethnic religions, such as those historically found in pre-modern Europe, have found new vitality in neopaganism.[14] Moreover, non-ethnic religions, such as Christianity, have been known to assume ethnic traits to an extent that they serve a role as an important ethnic identity marker,[15] a notable example of this is the Serbian "Saint-Savianism" of the Serbian Orthodox Church,[16] and the religious and cultural heritage of Syriac Christianity branch of the Assyrian people.[17][18][failed verification]

List of ethnic religions[edit]

Some ethnic religions include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hardacre 2017, p. 4.
  2. ^ a b Park, Chris C. (1994). Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 9780415090124.
  3. ^ Cox, James L.; Sutcliffe, Steven J. (1 March 2006). "Religious studies in Scotland: A persistent tension with divinity". Religion. 36 (1): 1–28. doi:10.1016/j.religion.2005.12.001.
  4. ^ Max Assimeng, "Traditional religion in Ghana: a preliminary guide to research." Thought and Practice Journal: The Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya 3.1 (1976): 65-89.
  5. ^ Cox, James L. (2007). From Primitive to Indigenous: The Academic Study of Indigenous Religions. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp. 9–31. ISBN 978-0-754-65569-5.
  6. ^ Bowker, John (2000). "Folk Religion". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-191-72722-1.
  7. ^ Rock, Stella (2007). Popular religion in Russia. Routledge ISBN 0-415-31771-1, p. 11. Last accessed July 2009.
  8. ^ Cook, Chris (2009). Spirituality and Psychiatry. RCPsych Publications. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-904671-71-8.
  9. ^ Strmiska, Michael F. (2005). Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. ABC-CLIO. pp. 15–16, 276. ISBN 9781851096084.
  10. ^ Strmiska 2005, p. 14.
  11. ^ Ivakhiv, Adrian (2005). "In Search of Deeper Identities: Neopaganism and "Native Faith" in Contemporary Ukraine" (PDF). Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 8 (3): 30. doi:10.1525/nr.2005.8.3.7. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2005.8.3.7.
  12. ^ Ruane, Joseph B.; Todd, Jennifer, eds. (2011). Ethnicity and Religion: Intersections and Comparisons. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-88037-5.
  13. ^ Oduah, Chika (19 October 2011). "Are blacks abandoning Christianity for African faiths?". theGrio. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  14. ^ Lewis, James R. (2004). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-195-36964-9.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Martensson, Ulrika; Bailey, Jennifer; Ringrose, Priscilla; Dyrendal, Asbjorn (15 August 2011). Fundamentalism in the Modern World Vol 1: Fundamentalism, Politics and History: The State, Globalisation and Political Ideologies. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781848853300 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Winkler 2019, pp. 119–133.
  18. ^ Hunter 2019, pp. 783–796.
  19. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainKohler, Kaufmann (1901–1906). "Judaism". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  20. ^ Jacobs 2007, p. 511 quote: "Judaism, the religion, philosophy, and way of life of the Jews.".
  21. ^ Chatty, Dawn (2010-03-15). Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81792-9.
  22. ^ Simon Harrison (2006). Fracturing Resemblances: Identity and Mimetic Conflict in Melanesia and the West. Berghahn Books. pp. 121–. ISBN 978-1-57181-680-1.
  23. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002), The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people (PDF), Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195153859
  24. ^ Nelida Fuccaro (1999). The Other Kurds: Yazidis in Colonial Iraq. London & New York: I. B. Tauris. p. 9. ISBN 1860641709.
  25. ^ Shi Hu, “Religion and Philosophy in Chinese History” (Shanghai: China Institute of Pacific Relations, 1931), reprinted in Hu, Shih (2013). English Writings of Hu Shih: Chinese Philosophy and Intellectual History. China Academic Library. 2. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-3642311819.
  26. ^ Akbar, Ali (4 April 2017). "Peshawar High Court orders govt to include Kalasha religion in census". Dawn. Retrieved 11 July 2017. Kalasha, the religion followed by Kalash community, lies between Islam and an ancient form of Hinduism
  27. ^ Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh (22 February 2011). Sikhism: An Introduction. I.B. Tauris. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-0-85773-549-2.
  28. ^ Jones, Kenneth W. (1992-01-03). Religious Controversy in British India: Dialogues in South Asian Languages. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-0828-5.
  29. ^ Ramaswamy, Sumathi (1997-11-20). Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891–1970. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20805-6.
  30. ^ "Shinto at a glance". BBC. 2011. Because Shinto is focussed on the land of Japan it is clearly an ethnic religion. Therefore Shinto is little interested in missionary work, and rarely practised outside its country of origin.
  31. ^ Olson, James Stuart (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Greenwood. p. 516. ISBN 978-0313279188.
  32. ^ Westermann, Diedrich; Smith, Edwin William; Forde, Cyril Daryll; International African Institute; International Institute of African Languages and Cultures; Project Muse; JSTOR (Organization), Africa: journal of the International African Institute, Volume 63, pp 86-96, 270-1, Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute (1993)