An ethnoreligious group (or ethno-religious group) is an ethnic group whose members are also unified by a common religious background. Ethnoreligious communities define their ethnic identity neither by ancestral heritage nor simply by religious affiliation but often through a combination of both. They have a long shared history; a cultural tradition of its own; either a common geographical origin, or descent from a small number of common ancestors; a common language, not necessarily particular to the group; a common literature particular to the group; a common religion different from that of neighbouring groups; being a minority or being an oppressed or a dominant group within a larger community.
Examples of ethnic groups defined by ancestral religions are the Assyrians, the Armenians, the Sikh, the Druze, the Copts, the Yazidis, the Shabaks, the Zoroastrians, the Mandaeans, the Alawites, the Zazas, the Lurs, the Kaka'i, the Huguenots, the Jews and the Serer.
In an ethnoreligious group, particular emphasis is placed upon religious endogamy, and the concurrent discouragement of interfaith marriages or intercourse, as a means of preserving the stability and historical longevity of the community and culture. This adherence to religious endogamy can also, in some instances, be tied to ethnic nationalism if the ethnoreligious group possesses a historical base in a specific region.
As a legal concept
In Australian law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) defines "race" to include "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". The reference to "ethno-religious" was added by the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (NSW). John Hannaford, the NSW Attorney-General at the time, explained that "The effect of the latter amendment is to clarify that ethno-religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, have access to the racial vilification and discrimination provisions of the Act. ...extensions of the Anti-Discrimination Act to ethno-religious groups will not extend to discrimination on the ground of religion."
The definition of "race" in Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) likewise includes "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". However, unlike the NSW Act, it also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of "religious belief or affiliation" or "religious activity".
Development of definition from United Kingdom law
In the United Kingdom the landmark legal case Mandla v Dowell-Lee placed a legal definition on ethnic groups with religious ties, which in turn has paved the way for the definition of an ethnoreligious group. Both Jews and Sikhs were determined to be considered ethnoreligious groups under the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (see above).
The Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 made reference to Mandla v Dowell-Lee which defined ethnic groups as:
- a long shared history, of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it from other groups, and the memory of which it keeps alive;
- a cultural tradition of its own, including family and social customs and manners, often but not necessarily associated with religious observance. In addition to those two essential characteristics the following characteristics are, in my opinion, relevant:
- either a common geographical origin, or descent from a small number of common ancestors;
- a common language, not necessarily peculiar to the group;
- a common literature peculiar to the group;
- a common religion different from that of neighbouring groups or from the general community surrounding it;
- being a minority or being an oppressed or dominant group within a larger community. For example, a conquered people (say, the inhabitants of England shortly after the Norman conquest) and their conquerors might both be ethnic groups
The term "ethnoreligious" has been applied by at least one author to each of the following groups:
- Acehnese
- Afar people
- Goan Catholics
- Hyderabadi Muslims
- Irish Catholics
- Crimean Karaites
- Crimean Tatars
- Lemba
- Mangalorean Catholics
- Rûm[clarification needed]
- Sri Lankan Moors
- Syriac Orthodox
- Syrian Turkmens
- Ulster Protestants
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[...] the three ethnoreligious groups that have played the roles of the protagonists in the bloody tragedy that has unfolded in the former Yugoslavia: the Christian Orthodox Serbs, the Roman Catholic Croats, and the Muslim Slavs of Bosnia.
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Media related to Ethnoreligious groups at Wikimedia Commons