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, in which gaining converts is a primary objective and, therefore, are not limited in ethnic, national or racial scope.[2]

Altar to Inari Ōkami at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Shinto is the ethnic religion of the Japanese people.[1]


A number of alternative terms have been used instead of ethnic 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."[3] 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.[4][5]

In Western contexts, a variety of terms are also employed. In the United States and Canada a popular alternative term has been nature religion.[6] 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,[7] 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.[8]


Ethnic religion are defined as religions which are related to a particular ethnic group, and often seen as a defining part of that ethnicity's culture, language, and customs. Diasporic groups often maintain ethnic religions as a means of maintaining a distinct ethnic identity such as the role of African traditional religion and African diaspora religions among the African diaspora in the Americas.[9]

Some ancient ethnic religions, such as those historically found in pre-modern Europe, have found new vitality in neopaganism.[10] 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,[11] a notable example of this is the Serbian "Saint-Savianism" of the Serbian Orthodox Church,[12] and the religious and cultural heritage of Syriac Christianity branch of the Assyrian people.[13][14][15]

List of ethnic religions

See also


  1. Hardacre 2017, p. 4.
  2. Park, Chris C. (1994). Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 9780415090124.
  3. Bowker, John (2000). "Folk Religion". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-191-72722-1.
  4. Rock, Stella (2007). Popular religion in Russia. Routledge ISBN 0-415-31771-1, p. 11. Last accessed July 2009.
  5. Cook, Chris (2009). Spirituality and Psychiatry. RCPsych Publications. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-904671-71-8.
  6. Strmiska, Michael F. (2005). Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. ABC-CLIO. pp. 15–16, 276. ISBN 9781851096084.
  7. Strmiska 2005, p. 14.
  8. 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.
  9. Oduah, Chika (19 October 2011). "Are blacks abandoning Christianity for African faiths?". theGrio. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  10. Lewis, James R. (2004). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-195-36964-9.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Pierre Ameer, John (2008). Assyrians in Yonkers: Reminiscences of a Community: Harvard College Library Assyrian collection. University of Michigan Press. p. 125. ISBN 9781593337452.
  14. Minahan, James (2002). Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: A-C. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 206. ISBN 9780313321092.
  15. L. Danver, Steven (2002). Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. p. 517. ISBN 9781317464006.
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