Ethnic Religion

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, which are not limited in ethnic, national or racial scope.

All ethnic religions are several thousand years old, which most being of an unknown age because they stem from indigenous religions practiced in prehistory. The notable exceptions to this are Confucianism, and Daoism (or Taoism), which both have specific founders (Confucius and Lao Tzu, respectively) yet are still considered to be ethnic religions because they are practiced by a very small number of people primarily located in China (where they are actually illegal but still practiced) and Taiwan and are based on the traditional values and philosophies of that region. The ages of prehistoric religions like Hinduism, Shintoism, and Judaism cannot be accurately measured because their histories are not as well documented as those established within the scope of recorded history.

Indian Art Petroglyph Native American Ancient

Native American Art


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. Terms such as primal religionprimitive 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.

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.” The term folk religion can therefore be used to speak of Chinese and African indigenous religions, but can also refer to popular expressions of more multi-national and institutionalized religions such as Folk Christianity or Folk Islam.


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. Some ethnic religions including Druidism of the Welsh, Hellenism of the Greeks, Druze religion of the Druze, Alawism of Alawites, Alevism of the Alevites, Mandaeism of the Mandaeans, Yazidism of the Yazidis, Zoroastrianism of the Iranians, Chinese folk religion of the Han Chinese, Kejawèn of the Javanese people, Sikhism of the Punjabis, Shinto of the Japanese, Sunda Wiwitan of the Sundanese people and A ƭat Roog of the Serer of Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania. 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.

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

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

Some ancient ethnic religions, such as those historically found in pre-modern Europe, have found new vitality in neopaganism. 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, a notable example of this is the Serbian “Saint-Savianism” of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

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, 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 United States and Canada a popular alternative term has been nature religion. In the English-language popular and scholarly discourse Paganism, with a capital P, has become an accepted term.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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