Asceticism Across the Faiths: Many People in the Major World Religions Have Done it

Asceticism Across the Faiths: Many People in the Major World Religions Have Done it


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Asceticism is a way of life marked by the voluntary abstinence from worldly pleasures. This way of life is most often associated with religion and spirituality, and its practitioners usually aim to achieve certain spiritual goals. Indeed, this lifestyle is observed (to some extent) by the adherents of various major world religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Nevertheless, there are also examples of asceticism being practiced for non-religious purposes, as seen, for instance, in certain philosophical traditions.

Basawan. ‘Jain Ascetic Walking Along a Riverbank.’ ca.1600. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Ascetic Athletes

The roots of the term ‘asceticism’ is found in the Greek word ‘askēsis’, which may be translated to mean ‘practice’, ‘training’, ‘exercise’, or more specifically, ‘athletic discipline’. This is a reference to the regiment that ancient Greek athletes would follow whilst preparing for physical contests. By abstaining from various physical pleasures, and by subjecting their bodies to difficult physical tests, these athletes were able to achieve the highest possible degree of physical fitness. It may be said that many professional athletes today also follow in the footsteps of their ancient Greek counterparts in this ascetic practice.

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Discobolus. Marble, Roman copy after a bronze original of the 5th century BC. From the Villa Adriana near Tivoli, Italy. (Valerio Perticon/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Christian Asceticism

This Greek concept later became a feature of early Christianity , as evident in the New Testament. The idea of asceticism was first used by Paul in his second letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7), in which he famously compares keeping the Christian faith to both a fight and a race, clear references to the ancient Greek association of asceticism with athletics. The concept of asceticism continued to develop as time went by, and it became an important feature in Christian monasticism. Each monastic order observed asceticism to some degree, though some more than others. The Carthusians and Cistercians, for instance, are two Catholic monastic orders notable for their strict adherence of the ascetic way of life.

‘St Hugh of Grenoble in the Carthusian Refectory’ (1630-1635) by Francisco de Zurbarán.

Hindu and Buddhist Ascetics

Asceticism is not a unique Christian practice, as it is found also in various other world religions. For example, in Hinduism, holy men called sadhus are known for their extreme ascetic practices. These practices vary from one sect to another, and even from one sadhu to another. Hindu sadhus not only renounce worldly pleasures, but even subject their bodies to extreme mortification. One ascetic, for example, stared at the Sun until he went blind, whilst another held his hands above his head until they withered. It goes without saying that few are able to achieve such acts of extreme asceticism.

A sadhu by the Ghats on the Ganges, Varanasi. ( CC BY 2.0 )

The Buddha also practiced extreme asceticism prior to achieving enlightenment. He eventually realized that this was not the way to Enlightenment, thus leading to his discovery of the Middle Way, a path that lies between the two extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence. Nevertheless, some level of asceticism was maintained in Buddhism.

A wall painting in a Laotian temple, depicting the Bodhisattva Gautama (Buddha-to-be) undertaking extreme ascetic practices before his enlightenment. A god is overseeing his striving and providing some spiritual protection. The five monks in the background are his future 'five first disciples', after Buddha attained Full Enlightenment.

Like the Christian monastic orders, asceticism in Buddhism involved the renunciation of the world. The extent of this asceticism, however, differed between the two main Buddhist sects – the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. One of the beliefs held by the latter is that it is rather unlikely, even impossible, for a layperson to achieve Enlightenment. Therefore, the only way to achieve this goal is to renounce the world by joining a monastery. The Mahayana school, however, disagrees with this view, and therefore has a less ascetic character.

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Islamic Asceticism

Asceticism is not limited to those who have taken religious vows. In Islam, for instance, Muslims are required to fast during the month of Ramadhan. They are not allowed to eat, drink, or have sexual relations between sunrise and sunset. Additionally, Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran, and are expected to improve their spiritual lives.

Finally, it may be said that asceticism has been observed for non-religious purposes as well. As mentioned earlier, asceticism was, and still is, practiced by many athletes prior to competitions. In addition, asceticism has been promoted by certain philosophical traditions, such as Stoicism and Cynicism, as this was believed to allow their practitioners to gain mastery over their desires and passions.

‘A learned ascetic.’


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APHG CHATER 7

In every town we passed, and in many villages along the way, churches lay in ruins, their roofs collapsed, their steeples toppled. The bells were gone where stained‐glass windows once adorned the churches there were now gaping holes. My host did not want me to photograph the churches.
"Why let them collapse?" I asked, "Why not remove them altogether?" He pointed his finger to emphasize his point, "Religion causes conflict. We had many religions in the Soviet Union, and they set Soviet against Soviet. And the Orthodox Church opposed our communist victory. That's what these useless relics are for. They remind the people of our victory and their freedom."

When the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established in 1924, the communist regime led by Vladimir Lenin inherited a multicultural empire originally forged by ruthless tsars whose cruelties precipitated the revolution in the first place. The Soviet Union (short for USSR) extended from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic to Central Asia. It was territorially the largest state in the world and culturally one of the most diverse.

Planners of the Soviet Union officially recognized the cultural diversity of the country by creating "republics" mostly named after the dominant people within the boundaries of each republic, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Culturally, the Soviet Union favored Russia, which was evidenced by the country's policy of Russification. Through Russification, the Soviet Union sought to spread the Russian language and culture throughout the entire Soviet Union. Politically, the Soviet Union believed its people would show less allegiance to their republics and more allegiance to the Soviet Union if power rested in the local rather than the republic scale. Each republic had a diversity of people within its boundaries. The Republic of Russia, for example, included 70 distinct territories, which largely corresponded with ethnic groups.

Culturally, the Soviet Union also espoused an official policy of atheism with the goal of discouraging and suppressing religious practice. This was no easy task: among Soviet citizens were many millions of adherents to numerous faiths ranging from Christianity to Buddhism and from Islam to Judaism. In the Russian Republic, the Russian Orthodox Church was at the heart of Slavic culture.

The Russian Orthodox Church posed the greatest potential challenge to communist rule, so Soviet leaders set about arresting religious leaders, closing churches, seizing church bells and other religious paraphernalia. As a result, much of the Russian Orthodox Church's architectural heritage and artistic legacy was lost. The Soviet government forced schools to teach the "evils" of religious belief. Many churches, were simply left to decay others were converted to "practical" uses such as storage sheds and even livestock barns.

In more remote corners of the Soviet Union, where Islam was firmly established, the communist rulers tolerated Islamic practice among the old, but not among the young, who were indoctrinated into the tenets of Marxism. The Soviets appeared to regard Buddhism as a lesser threat the mostly Buddhist Kalmyks did not face the same pressure. Jewish citizens saw their synagogues close, but close‐knit communities often managed to stay below the communist radar. In any case, the Soviet planners believed that time would slowly but surely erase the imprints of the empire's many faiths.

By the 1960s, when I took this photo, it seemed as though the Soviet plan to diminish religion would succeed. In the mainly Muslim republics, Islam was tightly controlled and in retreat, but Islamic structures tended to be preserved as museums or libraries. However, in the Russian Republic, Moscow showed little residue of centuries of Orthodox Christianity. In 1931 the Soviet regime decided to destroy one of Moscow's great monuments, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The Soviet government planned to build a palace to commemorate Soviet leaders on the site. The government never built the palace, and the large pit that was to contain its foundation marked the site for decades. Russian geographer Dmitri Sidorov described the pit as "Russia's most famous geographical symbol for the failed communist endeavor."

Religions diffuse through expansion diffusion, including both contagious and hierarchical, and religions also diffuse through relocation diffusion. In any of these cases, leaders or followers of a religion interact with people who do not espouse the religion, and the interactions sometimes lead to conversion. Spatial interaction occurs because of migration, missionary efforts, and even conquest. Along these paths, major religions of the world have diffused.

The cultural landscape is marked by religion—most obviously by church, synagogues, temples, and mosques, cemeteries and shrines, statues and symbols (Fig. 7.2). Other more subtle markers of religion dot the landscape as well. The presence or absence of stores selling alcohol or of signs depicting the human form in particular ways reflect prevailing religious views. Religion is also proclaimed in modes of dress (veils, turbans) and personal habits (beards, ritual scars). The outward display of religious beliefs often reveals the inward structure of a religion. For example, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in 1991, the government proclaimed that possessing a beard would be a condition for the appointment of judges. The beard requirement is an outward display of religion, and it also shows the inward structure of Islam in Pakistan, where women are not in a place of judicial power.
"Each religion approaches the disposition of the deceased in different ways, and cultural landscapes reflect religious traditions. In largely Christian, western regions, the deceased are buried in large, sometimes elaborate cemeteries. The Hindu faith requires cremation of the deceased. Wherever large Hindu communities exist outside of India, you will see crematoriums, the equivalent of a Hindu funeral home."
Religion is an extraordinarily difficult concept to define. In the chapter "Geography of Religion and Belief Systems," written for Geography in America, geographers Robert Stoddard and Carolyn Prorak define religion as "a system of beliefs and practices that attempts to order life in terms of culturally perceived ultimate priorities." Stoddard and Prorak explain that the idea of "perceived ultimate priorities" is often expressed in terms of "should": people explain and justify how they and others "should" behave based on their religious beliefs. From eating habits to dress codes, religions set standards for how adherents "should" behave (Fig. 7.3). "Shouldness" goes beyond religion to other belief systems, but in this chapter we focus on formal religions, their distribution, and their role in making and shaping places and cultures. The idea that a "good" life has rewards and that "bad" behavior risks punishment has an enormous influence on cultures, on how people behave, and on how people perceive and evaluate the behavior of others.

Pork is the most common meat source in China, but pork production is slim to none in predominantly Muslim countries, including Bangladesh and Indonesia and in the predominantly Hindu country of India, where pork consumption is prohibited for religious reasons. Source: Geographical Trends in Livestock Densities and Nutrient Balances, 2011. http://pigtrop.cirad.fr
Religion manifests itself in many different ways. We can see religion in the worship of the souls of ancestors who are thought to inhabit natural objects such as mountains, animals, or trees in the belief that a certain living person possesses special abilities granted by a supernatural power and in the belief in a deity or deities, as in the great world religions. In some places, societies are so infused with religion that religious tradition strongly influences behaviors during waking hours through ritual and practice and even during periods of sleep in prescribing the orientation of the body.

Across the multitude of religions, some religious practices such as ritual and prayer are common. Rituals may mark important events in people's lives: birth and death, attainment of adulthood, or marriage. Rituals are typically expressed at regular intervals in a routine manner, as is done on certain days in the Christian and Jewish worlds, certain times of the day in the Muslim world, or according to certain astronomical events in the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian worlds. A common ritual is prayer, whether at mealtime, at sunrise and sundown, at night upon retiring, or in the morning when arising.

Although religious beliefs and prescriptions influence many societies, in other places, religion, at least in its organized form, has become less significant in the lives of people. Secularism is the indifference to or rejection of formal religion. The most secular countries in the world today are in Europe. A 2009 Pew survey asked people in 56 countries how important religion is in their lives. Among the wealthiest countries surveyed, the United States stood out as the highest, with 57 percent of Americans surveyed saying religion is very important in their lives. Only 13 percent of people surveyed in France, 8 percent in Sweden, and 7 percent in the Czech Republic agreed that religion is very important in their lives. Regionally, survey respondents in Subsaharan Africa, South Asia, Southwest Asia, and South America more strongly agreed that religion is very important in their lives: 98 percent in Senegal, 97 percent in Bangladesh, 95 percent in Indonesia, and 78 percent in Brazil reported religion to be very important in their lives.

Throughout much of human history, virtually all religions were either animistic, polytheistic, or both. Somewhere around 3500 years ago, however, a monotheistic religion developed in Southwest Asia called Zoroastrianism. (The Parsi we talked about at the beginning of Chapter 4 are Zoroastrians who moved to India.) Some believe that the monotheism of late Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can be traced to Zoroastrian influences. Others believe that Judaism itself was the first monotheistic religion. Whichever the case, the eventual diffusion of Christianity and Islam spread monotheistic ideas throughout much of the world and marked a major theological shift from the long dominance of polytheistic and animist beliefs in most places. The transformation from polytheistic to monotheistic religions happened quite rapidly in Subsaharan Africa. In 1900, neither religion had many followers in Subsaharan Africa, though Islam had many followers in North Africa by 1900. By 2010, the number of Muslims in Subsaharan Africa had grown from 11 million to 234 million, and the number of Christians had grown from 7 million to 470 million.

By 500 bce (Before the Common Era), four major hearths of religion and philosophy were developed in the world (Fig. 7.5). The hearth of Greek philosophy is along the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. From a hearth in South Asia, along the Indus River Valley, came Hinduism from a hearth on the eastern Mediterranean came Judaism and from a hearth on the Huang He River Valley in China came Chinese philosophies. These early‐established religions and philosophies profoundly impacted other religions, as the arrows in Figure 7.5 demonstrate. Philosophies and religions diffused from their hearths, affecting one another and influencing the ways founders established newer religions. The two religions with the greatest number of adherents in the world today, Christianity and Islam, were both influenced by Judaism and Greek philosophy.
Second, some of the regions shown as belonging to a particular religion are places where faiths have penetrated relatively recently and where traditional religious ideas influence the practice of the dominant faith. Many Christian and Muslim Africans, for example, continue to believe in traditional powers even as they profess a belief in a universalizing religion. A 2010 Pew Research survey of 25,000 people in 19 African countries found "Large numbers of Africans actively participate in Christianity or Islam yet also believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, reincarnation and other elements of traditional African religions." The survey found 25 percent of Christian Africans and 30 percent of Muslim Africans they interviewed believed in the protective power of sacrifices to spirits or ancestors. The country with the highest percentage of respondents who agreed with this statement was Tanzania with 60 percent, and the lowest was Rwanda with 5 percent.

In Cameroon, 42 percent of those surveyed believed in the protective power of sacrifices to spirits or ancestors. For example, the Bamileke tribe in Cameroon lives in an area colonized by the French, who brought Catholicism to the region. The Bamileke are largely Christian today, but they also continue to practice aspects of their traditional, animist religion. Ancestors are still very important in the lives of the Bamileke. Many believe ancestors decide everything for them. It is common practice to take the skull of a deceased male member of the tribe and place it in the basement of the home of the family's oldest living male. Birth practices also reflect traditional religious practices. The Bamileke bury the umbilical cord in the ground outside their home so that the baby remembers where he or she came from. Members of the Bamileke tribe also commonly have two weddings today: one in the church and one traditional.

Finally, Figure 7.6 does not reflect the rise in secularism in the world, especially in Europe. In a number of areas many people have moved away from organized religion entirely. Thus, France appears on the map as a Roman Catholic country, yet a large proportion of people in France profess adherence to no particular faith, and only 13 percent of French people say religion is very important in their lives.

Despite the limitations of the map of world religions, it illustrates how far Christian religions have diffused (2.25 billion adherents worldwide), the extent of the diffusion of Islam (1.57 billion), the connection between Hinduism (950 million adherents) and one of the world's major population concentrations, and the continued importance Buddhism (347 million followers) plays in parts of Asia. Many factors help explain the distributions shown on the map, but each of the widespread religions shares one characteristic in common: they are all universalizing religions. Universalizing religions actively seek converts because they view themselves as offering belief systems of universal appropriateness and appeal. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism all fall within this category, and their universalizing character helps explain their widespread distribution.

Universalizing religions are relatively few in number and of recent origin. Throughout human history, a greater number of religions have not actively sought converts. Rather, a given religion has been practiced by one particular culture or ethnic group. In an ethnic religion, adherents are born into the faith and converts are not actively sought. Ethnic religions tend to be spatially concentrated—as is the case with traditional religions in Africa and South America (250 million followers). The principal exception is Judaism (13 million adherents), an ethnic religion whose adherents are widely scattered as a result of forced and voluntary migrations.

From the Hearth of South Asia

In terms of number of adherents, Hinduism ranks third after Christianity and Islam as a world religion. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the modern world, dating back over 4000 years, originating in the Indus River Valley of what is today part of Pakistan. Hinduism is unique among world religions in a number of ways. The religion does not have a single founder, a single theology, or agreement on its origins. The common account of the history of Hinduism holds that the religion is based on ancient practices in the Indus River cities of Mohenjo‐Daro and Harappa. The ancient practices included ritual bathing and belief in reincarnation, or at least a long journey after death. The common history says that Aryans invaded (some say migrated) into the Indus region and gave the name Hinduism to the diverse religious practices of the people who lived along the Indus River.

Despite the ambiguous beginnings of Hinduism, one thing is certain: Hinduism is no longer associated with its hearth in Pakistan. The vast majority of Pakistanis are Muslim, and as Figure 7.6 demonstrates, the vast majority of Indians are Hindu. Archaeologists hypothesize that flooding along the Indus spurred the migration of early Hindus eastward to the Ganges River. The Ganges (Ganga, as Indians call it) is Hinduism's sacred river. Hindus regard its ceaseless flow and spiritual healing power as Earthly manifestations of the Almighty.

Just as there is no consensus on Hinduism's origins, there is a lack of agreement on defining Hinduism relative to other major world religions. Some define Hinduism as a polytheistic religion because of the presence of many gods. However, many Hindus define their religion as monotheistic. The one god is Brahman (the universal soul), and the other gods in the religion are various expressions of Brahman. Similarly, Western academics define Hinduism today as an ethnic religion because Hindus do not actively seek converts. At the same time, historical evidence shows Hindus migrating into Southeast Asia and diffusing their religion, as a universalizing religion would, before the diffusion of Buddhism and Islam into Southeast Asia (Fig. 7.7). Although Hinduism is now more of an ethnic religion, the religion has millions of adherents in the populous region of South Asia, extending beyond India to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal
The extensive, walled structure at the temple complex in Angkor Wat marks the earliest period of Hinduism's diffusion into Southeast Asia. Eventually, Buddhism supplanted Hinduism in Cambodia, and many Hindu temples such as this now suffer from neglect and destruction. © Alexander B. Murphy.

The Hindu religion is not centrally organized. The religion does not have an administrative or bureaucratic structure like Christianity and Islam. The Hindu religion does not have a prophet or a single book of scriptures, although most Hindus recognize the sacredness of the Vedas, the four texts that make up the sacred books of Hinduism. Hinduism is a conglomeration of beliefs characterized by a great diversity of institutional forms and practices. The fundamental doctrine is karma, which has to do with the transferability of the soul. According to Hindu doctrine, all beings have souls and are arranged in a hierarchy. The ideal is to move upward in the hierarchy and then escape from the eternal cycle of reincarnation through union with Brahman (the universal soul). A soul moves upward or downward according to the individual's behavior in the present life. Good deeds and adherence to the faith lead to a higher level in the next life, whereas bad behavior leads to demotion to a lower level. All souls, those of animals as well as humans, participate in this process. The principle of reincarnation is a cornerstone of Hinduism.

Hinduism's doctrines are closely bound to Indian society's caste system, for castes themselves are steps on the universal ladder. However, the caste system locks people into particular social classes and imposes many restrictions, especially in the lowest of the castes and in those considered beneath the caste system, Dalits. Until a generation ago, Dalits could not enter temples, were excluded from certain schools, and were restricted to performing the most unpleasant tasks. The coming of other religions to India, the effects of modernization during the colonial period, the work of Mahatma Gandhi, and affirmative action policies helped loosen the social barriers of the caste system. The Indian government's affirmative action policies reserve seats in universities and jobs in government for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and Dalits.

As Figure 7.8 shows, Hinduism evolved in what is today Pakistan. From there, Hinduism migrated to the Ganges River and diffused throughout South Asia and into Southeast Asia before the advent of Christianity. It first attached itself to traditional faiths and then slowly replaced them. Later, when Islam and Christianity appeared and were actively spread in Hindu areas, Hindu thinkers attempted to integrate certain new teachings into their own religion. For example, elements of the Sermon on the Mount (Jesus' sermon in which he described God's love for the poor and the peacemakers) now form part of Hindu preaching, and Christian beliefs contributed to the weakening of caste barriers. In other instances, the confrontation between Hinduism and other faiths led to the emergence of a compromise religion. Islam stimulated the rise of Sikhism, whose followers disapproved of the worship of idols and disliked the caste system, but retained the concepts of reincarnation and karma.

The hearths and major routes of diffusion are shown on this map. It does not show smaller diffusion streams: Islam and Buddhism, for example, are gaining strength in North America, although their numbers are still comparatively small. ©E. H. Fouberg, A. B. Murphy, and H. J. de Blij, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Given its current character as an ethnic religion, it is not surprising that Hinduism's geographical extent is relatively small. Indeed, throughout most of Southeast Asia, Buddhism and Islam overtook the places where Hinduism had diffused during its universalizing period. In overwhelmingly Muslim Indonesia, the island of Bali remains a Hindu outpost. Bali became a refuge for Hindu holy men, nobles, and intellectuals during the sixteenth century, when Islam engulfed neighboring Java, which now retains only architectural remnants of its Hindu age. Since then, the Balinese have developed a unique faith, still based on Hindu principles but mixed with elements of Buddhism, animism, and ancestor worship. Religion plays an extremely important role in Bali. Temples and shrines dominate the cultural landscape, and participation in worship, festivals, and other ceremonies of the island's unique religion is almost universal. Religion is so much at the heart of Balinese culture that it is sometimes described as a celebration of life.

Outside South Asia and Bali, Hinduism's presence is relatively minor. Over the last two centuries, Hinduism has diffused to small parts of the world through migration. During British colonialism, the British transported hundreds of thousands of Hindu adherents from their colony of India to their other colonies in East and South Africa, the Caribbean, northern South America, and the Pacific Islands (see Fig. 7.2). Because Hinduism is not a universalizing religion today, the relocation diffusion produced pockets rather than regions of Hinduism.

Buddhism splintered from Hinduism over 2500 years ago. Buddhism and several other religions appeared in India as a reaction to questions about Hinduism's teachings at the time. Reformers questioned Hinduism's strict social hierarchy that protected the privileged and kept millions in poverty. Prince Siddhartha, who was heir to a wealthy kingdom in what is now Nepal, founded Buddhism. Siddhartha was profoundly shaken by the misery he saw around him, which contrasted sharply with the splendor and wealth in which he had been raised. Siddhartha came to be known as Buddha, the enlightened one. He may have been the first prominent Indian religious leader to speak out against Hinduism's caste system. Salvation, he preached, could be attained by anyone, no matter what his or her caste. Enlightenment would come through knowledge, especially self‐knowledge elimination of greed, craving, and desire complete honesty and never hurting another person or animal.

After Buddha's death in 489 bce at the age of 80, the faith grew rather slowly until the middle of the third century bce, when the Emperor Asoka became a convert. Asoka was the leader of a large and powerful Indian empire that extended from the Punjab to Bengal and from the Himalayan foothills to Mysore. He not only set out to rule his country in accordance with the teachings of Buddha he also sent missionaries to carry Buddha's teachings to distant peoples (Fig. 7.9). Buddhism spread as far south as Sri Lanka and later advanced west toward the Mediterranean, north into Tibet, and east into China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia, over a span of about ten centuries (Fig. 7.8). Although Buddhism diffused to distant lands, it began to decline in its region of origin. During Asoka's rule there may have been more Buddhists than Hindu adherents in India, but after that period Hinduism gained followers in India. Today Buddhism is practiced by relatively few in India, but thrives in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Nepal, Tibet, and Korea. Along with other faiths, Buddhism is part of Japanese culture.

Like Christianity and Islam, Buddhism changed as it grew and diffused, and now the religion is strongly regional with different forms in different regions. Buddhism's various branches have an estimated 347 million adherents, with Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism claiming the most adherents. Theravada Buddhism is a monastic faith practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. It holds that salvation is a personal matter, achieved through good behavior and religious activities, including periods of service as a monk or nun. Mahayana Buddhism, which is practiced mainly in Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and China, holds that salvation can be aided by appeals to superhuman, holy sources of merit. The Buddha is regarded as a divine savior. Mahayana Buddhists do not serve as monks, but they spend much time in personal meditation and worship. Other branches of Buddhism include the Lamaism of Xizang (Tibet), which combines monastic Buddhism with the worship of local demons and deities, and Zen Buddhism, the contemplative form that is prevalent in Japan.

Buddhism has become a global religion over the last two centuries, diffusing to many areas of the world, but not without conflict in its wake. Militant regimes have attacked the religion in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In Thailand, Buddhism has been under pressure owing to rising political tensions. At the same time, Buddhism has gained adherents in the western world.

"Built about 800 ce when Buddhism was diffusing throughout Southeast Asia, Borobudur was abandoned and neglected after the arrivals of Islam and Christianity and lay overgrown until uncovered and restored under Dutch colonial rule from 1907 to 1911. The monument consists of a set of intricately carved, walled terraces the upper terraces are open. In the upper terraces stand six dozen stupas, each containing a sculpture of the Buddha in meditation, visible when you peer through the openings."

Buddhism is mixed with a local religion in Japan, where Shintoism is found. This ethnic religion, which is related to Buddhism, focuses particularly on nature and ancestor worship (Fig. 7.10). The Japanese emperor made Shintoism the state religion of Japan in the nineteenth century, according himself the status of divine‐right monarch. At the end of World War II, Japan separated Shintoism from the emperor, taking away the state sanctioning of the religion. At the same time, the role of the emperor in Japan was diminished and given a ceremonial status. The number of adherents in Japan is somewhere between 105 and 118 million, depending on the source. The majority of Japanese observe both Buddhism and Shintoism.

In Japan, both Buddhism and Shintoism make their marks on the cultural landscape. This Shinto shrine, with its orange trim and olive‐green glazed tiles, is visible after passing under a torii—a gateway usually formed by two wooden posts topped by two horizontal beams turned up at their ends—which signals that you have left the secular and entered the sacred world. © H. J. de Blij.

From the Hearth of the Huang He River Valley

While the Buddha's teachings were gaining converts in India, a religious revolution of another kind was taking place in China. Two major schools of Chinese philosophy, Taoism and Confucianism, were forming. The beginnings of Taoism are unclear, but scholars trace the religion to an older contemporary of Confucius, Lao‐Tsu, who published a volume titled Tao‐te‐ching, or "Book of the Way." In his teachings, Lao‐Tsu focused on the proper form of political rule and on the oneness of humanity and nature: people, he said, should learn to live in harmony with nature. This gave rise to the concept of Feng Shui—the art and science of organizing living spaces in order to channel the life forces that exist in nature in favorable ways. According to tradition, nothing should be done to nature without consulting the geomancers, people who know the desires of the powerful spirits of ancestors, dragons, tigers, and other beings occupying the natural world and can give advice on how to order things according to Feng Shui.

Among the Taoist virtues are simplicity and spontaneity, tenderness, and tranquility. Competition, possession, and even the pursuit of knowledge are to be avoided. War, punishment, taxation, and ceremonial ostentation are viewed as evils. The best government, according to Lao‐Tsu, is the least government.

Thousands of people began to follow Taoism. Followers worshipped Lao‐Tsu as a god, something of which Lao‐Tsu would have disapproved. People, animals, even dragons became objects of worship.

Confucius lived from 551 to 479 bce, and his followers constructed a blueprint for Chinese civilization in almost every field, including philosophy, government, and education. In religion, Confucius addressed the traditional Chinese tenets that included belief in heaven and the existence of the soul, ancestor worship, sacrificial rites, and shamanism. He held that the real meaning of life lay in the present, not in some future abstract existence, and that service to one's fellow humans should supersede service to spirits.

Confucianism is mainly a philosophy of life, and like Taoism, Confucianism had great and lasting impacts on Chinese life. Appalled at the suffering of ordinary people at the hands of feudal lords, Confucius urged the poor to assert themselves. He was not a prophet who dealt in promises of heaven and threats of hell. He denied the divine ancestry of China's aristocratic rulers, educated the landless and the weak, disliked supernatural mysticism, and argued that human virtues and abilities, not heritage, should determine a person's position and responsibilities in society.

Confucius came to be revered as a spiritual leader after his death in 479 bce, and his teachings diffused widely throughout East and Southeast Asia. Followers built temples in his honor all over China. From his writings and sayings emerged the Confucian Classics, a set of 13 texts that became the focus of education in China for 2000 years. Over the centuries, Confucianism (with its Taoist and Buddhist ingredients) became China's state ethic, although the Chinese emperor modified Confucian ideals over time. For example, one emperor made worship of and obedience to the emperor part of Confucianism. In government, law, literature, religion, morality, and many other ways, the Confucian Classics were the guide for Chinese civilization.

Diffusion of Chinese Religions

Confucianism diffused early into the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and Southeast Asia, where it has long influenced the practice of Buddhism. More recently, Chinese immigrants expanded the influence of the Chinese religions in parts of Southeast Asia and helped to introduce their principles into societies ranging from Europe to North America.

The diffusion of Chinese religions even within China has been tempered by the Chinese government's efforts to suppress religion in the country. Like the Soviet government, the communist government that took control of China in 1949 attempted to ban religion, in this case Confucianism, from public practice. But after guiding all aspects of Chinese education, culture, and society for 2000 years, Confucianism did not fade easily from the Chinese consciousness. Confucianism and Taoism are so entrenched in Chinese culture that the government's antireligion initiatives have not had their desired effect. For example, a Chinese government policy in the 1950s that ran counter to the teachings of Feng Shui met much resistance by tradition‐bound villagers. Feng Shui geomancers in China have the responsibility of identifying suitable gravesites for the deceased so that gravesites leave the dead in perfect harmony with their natural surroundings. The Chinese created burial mounds for their dead at these chosen gravesites. The pragmatic communist Chinese government saw the burial mounds as a barrier to efficient agriculture, so they leveled the burial mounds during the communalization program. Tradition‐bound villagers strongly opposed the practice, and they harbored a reserve of deep resentment that exploded much later in the revolutionary changes of the 1970s.

Geomancy is still a powerful force in China today, even in urban areas with large populations. Geographer Elizabeth Teather studied the rise of cremation and columbaria (resting places for ashes) in Hong Kong, investigating the impact Feng Shui has had on the structures and the continued influence of Chinese religious beliefs on burial practices in the extremely densely populated city of Hong Kong. Traditional Chinese beliefs favor a coffin and burial plot aligned with Feng Shui teachings. However, with the growth of China's population, the government has highly encouraged cremation over the past few decades. The availability of burial plots in cities like Hong Kong is quite low, and the costs of burial plots have risen in turn.

Teather explains that although cremation is on the rise in Hong Kong, traditional Chinese beliefs are dictating the final resting places of ashes. Most Chinese people, she states, have a "cultural need to keep ancestral remains appropriately stored and in a single place." In North America and Europe, a family often chooses to scatter the ashes of a cremated loved one, but a Chinese family is more likely to keep the ashes together in a single identifiable space so that they can return to visit the ancestor during Gravesweeping Festivals—annual commemorations of ancestors during which people visit and tend the graves of their ancestors. Teather describes how Feng Shui masters are consulted in the building of columbaria and how Feng Shui helps dictate the price placed on the niches for sale in the columbaria, with the lowest prices for the niches near the "grime of the floor."

From the Hearth of the Eastern Mediterranean

Judaism grew out of the belief system of the Jews, one of several nomadic Semitic tribes living in Southwest Asia about 4000 years ago. The roots of Jewish religious tradition lie in the teachings of Abraham (from Ur), who is credited with uniting his people to worship only one God. According to Jewish teaching, Abraham and God have a covenant in which the Jews agree to worship only one God, and God agrees to protect his chosen people, the Jews.

The history of the Jews is filled with upheaval. Moses led them from Egypt, where they had been enslaved, to Canaan, where an internal conflict developed and the nation split into two branches, Israel and Judah. Israel was subsequently wiped out by enemies, but Judah survived longer, only to be conquered by the Babylonians and the Assyrians. The Jews regrouped to rebuild their headquarters, Jerusalem, but then fell victim to a series of foreign powers. The Romans destroyed their holy city in 70 ce (Common Era) and drove the Jews away, scattering the adherents to the faith far and wide. Jews retained only a small presence on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean until the late nineteenth century.

Our map shows that, unlike most other ethnic religions, Judaism is not limited to contiguous territories. Rather, Judaism is distributed throughout parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Europe, and parts of North and South America (Fig. 7.6). According to The Atlas of Religion, of all the world's 18 million Jews, 40.5 percent live in the United States, 40.2 percent live in Israel, and then in rank order, less than 5 percent live in France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Argentina. Judaism is one of the world's most influential religions, although it claims only 18 million adherents.

During the nineteenth century, a Reform movement developed with the objective of adjusting Judaism and its practices to current times. However, many feared that this reform would cause a loss of identity and cohesion, and the Orthodox movement sought to retain the old precepts. Between those two extremes is a sector that is less strictly orthodox but not as liberal as that of the reformers it is known as the Conservative movement. Significant differences in ideas and practices are associated with these three branches, but Judaism is united by a strong sense of ethnic distinctiveness.

The scattering of Jews after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem is known as the diaspora—a term that now signifies the spatial dispersion of members of any ethnic group. The Jews who went north into Central Europe came to be known as Ashkenazim, and the Jews who scattered across North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) are called Sephardim. For centuries, both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim were persecuted, denied citizenship, driven into ghettos, and massacred (Fig. 7.11).

In the face of constant threats to their existence, the Jews were sustained by extraordinary efforts to maintain a sense of community and faith. The idea of a homeland for the Jewish people, which became popular during the nineteenth century, developed into the ideology of Zionism. Zionist ideals are rooted in the belief that Jews should not be absorbed into other societies. The horrors of the Nazi campaign against Jews from the 1930s through World War II, when the Nazis established concentration camps and killed some six million Jews, persuaded many Jews to adopt Zionism. Jews from all over the world concluded that their only hope of survival was to establish a strongly defended homeland on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Aided by sympathetic members of the international community, the Zionist goal of a Jewish state became a reality in 1948, when a United Nations resolution carved two states, Israel and Palestine, out of the territory of the eastern Mediterranean.

"Many cities in Europe have distinct Jewish neighborhoods with active synagogues and communities. Others, such as Prague, have historical Jewish neighborhoods, marked with cemeteries and synagogues that have become historical sites or museums. The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague was built in the 1400s and the last person was buried there in 1787. The jumbled mass of tombstones in the cemetery is a result of layers of people (up to 12 layers) being buried within the confines of the cemetery over the centuries."

Figure 7.11
Prague, Czech Republic.

While adherents to Judaism live across the world, many Jews have moved to Israel since its establishment. The Israeli government passed the Law of Return in 1950, which recognizes the rights of every Jew to immigrate to Israel. In 2004, over 10,000 Jews left the former Soviet Union for Israel, along with nearly 4000 Jews from Africa and over 2000 from each of western Europe and North America.

Christianity can be traced back to the same hearth in the Mediterranean as Judaism, and like Judaism, Christianity stems from a single founder, in this case, Jesus. Christian teachings hold that Jesus is the son of God, placed on Earth to teach people how to live according to God's plan. Christianity split from Judaism, and it, too, is a monotheistic religion. Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem, and during his lifetime, he traveled through the eastern Mediterranean region preaching, performing miracles, and gaining followers. Christians celebrate Easter as the day Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified three days prior (Good Friday). According to Christian teaching, the crucifixion of Jesus fulfilled an ancient prophecy and changed the fate of Jesus' followers by giving them eternal life.

The first split in Christianity, between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox, developed over a number of centuries. At the end of the third century, the Roman Emperor Diocletian attempted to keep the empire together by dividing it for purposes of government. His divisions left a lasting impression. When the Roman Empire fell and broke apart, the western region, centered on Rome, fell on hard times. The eastern region, with Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) at its heart, became the new focus of the Byzantine Empire (Fig. 7.12). Christianity thrived there and radiated into other areas, including the Balkan Peninsula. This split into west and east at the end of the Roman Empire became a cultural fault line over time. It was formally recognized in 1054 ce when the Roman Catholic Church (centered in Rome) and the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church (centered in Constantinople) separated.

Figure 7.12
The Roman Empire, divided into west and east.

This map reflects the split in the empire, with the western empire focusing on Rome and the eastern empire focusing on Constantinople. © H. J. de Blij, A. B. Murphy, and E. H. Fouberg, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The Eastern Orthodox Church suffered blows when the Ottoman Turks defeated the Serbs in Kosovo in 1389, when the Turks took Constantinople in 1453, and when the Soviet Union suppressed Eastern Orthodox churches in the twentieth century. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church remains one of the three major branches of Christianity and is experiencing a revival in former Soviet areas.

The Roman Catholic Church claims the most adherents of all Christian denominations (more than 1 billion). Centered in Rome, Catholic theology teaches the infallibility of the pope in interpreting Jesus' teachings and in formulating ways to navigate through the modern world. The power of the Roman Catholic Church peaked in the Middle Ages, when the Church controlled sources of knowledge and worked in conjunction with monarchs to rule much of western Europe.

During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic authorities often wielded their power in an autocratic manner and distanced themselves from the masses. The widespread diffusion of the Black Death during the 1300s and the deaths that resulted caused many Europeans to question the role of religion in their lives. The Roman Catholic Church itself also experienced divisions within its hierarchy, as evidenced by the Western Schism during the early 1300s, which at one point resulted in three people claiming to be the pope. Reformers to the Church soon followed. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, John Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others challenged fundamental teachings of Roman Catholicism, leading to the Protestant Reformation and opposing the practices of the Church's leaders. The Protestant sects of Christianity compose the third major branch of Christianity. Like Buddhism's challenge to Hinduism, the Protestant Reformation affected Roman Catholicism, which answered some of the challenges to its theology in the Counter‐Reformation. Some countries in Europe, including Switzerland (Fig. 7.13), are still divided into Catholic and Protestant regions.

Figure 7.13
Religions in Switzerland.

These data show the concentration of religions by canton and commune in Switzerland. Two cantons, Neuchatel and Geneva, separated religion from the commune government thus, religion is no longer taught in the public schools in these two cantons. In Switzerland's other 24 cantons, religious matters (including taxes of individuals and businesses to support churches) are handled by the canton governments. Adapted with permission from: Bundesamt fur Statistik, Office federal de la statistique, Switzerland, 2005.

Christianity is the largest and globally the most widely dispersed religion. Christian churches claim more than 1.5 billion adherents, including some 430 million in Europe and the former Soviet Union approximately 355 million in North and Middle America approximately 310 million in South America perhaps 240 million in Africa and an estimated 165 million in Asia. Christians thus account for nearly 40 percent of the members of the world's major religions. Roman Catholicism, as noted earlier, is the largest segment of Christianity. Figure 7.6 reveals the strength of Roman Catholicism in parts of Europe and North America, and throughout much of Middle and South America. Among religious adherents in significant parts of North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, Protestant churches prevail. Eastern Orthodox churches have as many as 180 million followers in Europe, Russia and its neighboring states, Africa (where a major cluster exists in Ethiopia), and North America.

Diffusion of Christianity

The dissemination of Christianity occurred as a result of expansion combined with relocation diffusion. In western Europe, Christianity declined during the centuries immediately after the fall of the Roman Empire. Then a form of contagious diffusion took place as the religious ideas that had been kept alive in remote places such as coastal Ireland and Scotland spread throughout western Europe. In the case of the Eastern Orthodox faith, contagious diffusion took place from the religion's hearth in Constantinople to the north and northeast. Protestantism began in several parts of western Europe and expanded to some degree through contagious diffusion. Much of its spread in northern and central Europe, however, was through hierarchical diffusion, as political leaders would convert—sometimes to escape control from Rome—and then the population would gradually accept the new state religion.

The worldwide diffusion of Christianity occurred during the era of European colonialism beginning in the sixteenth century. Spain invaded and colonized Middle and South America, bringing the Catholic faith to those areas. Protestant refugees who were tired of conflict and oppression in Europe came to North America in large numbers. Through the efforts of missionaries, Catholicism found adherents in Congo, Angola, Mozambique, and the Philippines. The Christian faith today has over 33,000 denominations. Hundreds of these denominations engage in proselytizing (purposeful spreading of religious teachings) around the world, creating an incredibly complex geographical distribution of Christians within the spaces of the world map that are shaded in "Christian" (Fig. 7.6).

The Christian faith has always been characterized by aggressive and persistent proselytism, and Christian missionaries created an almost worldwide network of conversion during the colonial period that endures and continues to expand today (Fig. 7.14).

Figure 7.14
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

A Baptist missionary from Arkansas, Dr. J.P. Bell examines a child in a Mexican town with almost no medical facilities. Christian missionary work expanded around the globe during colonialism. Today, missionaries from North America and Europe work not only in their home countries, but also in developing countries where they work to bring food, shelter, education and health care around the world. Missionaries from developing countries also travel in North America and Europe to inform church members of needs in their home countries. © Paul S. Howell/Getty Images.

Like Christianity, Islam, the youngest of the major religions, can be traced back to a single founder, in this case, Muhammad, who was born in Mecca in 571 ce. According to Muslim belief, Muhammad received the truth directly from Allah in a series of revelations that began when the Prophet was about 42 years old. During these revelations, Muhammad spoke the verses of the Qu'ran (Koran), the Islamic holy book. Muhammad admired the monotheism of Judaism and Christianity he believed Allah had already revealed himself through other prophets including Judaism's Abraham and Christianity's Jesus. However, Muhammad came to be viewed as the one true prophet among Muslims.

After his visions, Muhammad had doubts that he could have been chosen to be a prophet but was convinced by further revelations. He subsequently devoted his life to the fulfillment of the divine commands. In those days the eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula were in religious and social disarray, with Christianity and Judaism coexisting with polytheistic religions. Muhammad's opponents began to combat his efforts. The Prophet was forced to flee Mecca, where he had been raised, for Medina, and he continued his work from this new base.

In many ways, the precepts of Islam revised Judaic and Christian beliefs and traditions. The central precept is that there is but one god, who occasionally reveals himself through the prophets, such as Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad. Another key precept is that Earthly matters are profane only Allah is pure. Allah's will is absolute he is omnipotent and omniscient. Muslims believe that all humans live in a world that was created for their use but only until the final judgment day.

Adherents to Islam are required to observe the "five pillars" of Islam (repeated expressions of the basic creed, frequent prayer, a month of daytime fasting, almsgiving, and, if possible, at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in one's lifetime). The faith dictates behavior in other spheres of life as well. Islam forbids alcohol, smoking, and gambling. In Islamic settlements, the people build mosques to observe the Friday prayer and to serve as social gathering places (Fig. 7.15).

Figure 7.15
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

The soaring minaret of the Sabah State Mosque creates a strong Muslim imprint on the cultural landscape of the city. © H. J. de Blij.

Islam, like all other major religions, is divided—principally between Sunni Muslims (the great majority) and the Shi'ite or Shiah Muslims (concentrated in Iran). Smaller sects of Islam include Wahhabis, Sufis, Salafists, Alawites, Alevis, and Yazeedis. The religion's main division between Sunni and Shi'ite occurred almost immediately after Muhammad's death, and it was caused by a conflict over his succession. Muhammad died in 632 ce, and to some, the rightful heir to the Prophet's caliphate (area of influence) was Muhammad's son‐in‐law, Ali. Others preferred different candidates who were not necessarily related to Muhammad. The ensuing conflict was marked by murder, warfare, and lasting doctrinal disagreements. The Sunni Muslims eventually prevailed, but the Shi'ite Muslims, the followers of Ali, survived in some areas. Then, early in the sixteenth century, an Iranian (Persian) ruling dynasty made Shi'ite Islam the only legitimate faith of that empire—which extended into what is now southern Azerbaijan, southeastern Iraq, and western Afghanistan and Pakistan. This gave the Shi'ite branch unprecedented strength and created the foundations of its modern‐day culture region centered on the state of Iran.

Decendants of Muhammed through his daughter Fatimah and his son‐in‐law Ali are recognized through honorific titles such as sayyids, syeds or sharifs. They generate respect from both Sunni and Shi'ites, however Shi'ites place much more emphasis on lineage. Shi'ite veneration of the descendants of Muhammad has contributed to a much more centralized and hierarchical clergy than in the Sunni world.

In the Shi'ite branch, Imams are leaders whose appointments they regard as sanctioned by Allah. Shi'ites believe that the Imam is the sole source of true knowledge, without sin and infallible, making them a potent social as well as political force. Sunni Islam is much less centralized. An imam for a Sunni is simply a religious leader at a mosque or recognized religious scholar.

At the time of Muhammad's death in 632 ce, Muhammad and his followers had converted kings on the Arabian Peninsula to Islam. The kings then used their armies to spread the faith across the Arabian Peninsula through invasion and conquest. Moving west, in waves of invasion and conquest, Islam diffused throughout North Africa. By the early ninth century, the Muslim world included emirates extending from Egypt to Morocco, a caliphate occupying most of Spain and Portugal, and a unified realm encompassing Arabia, the Middle East, Iran, and most of what is today Pakistan. Ultimately, the Arab empire extended from Morocco to India and from Turkey to Ethiopia. Through trade, Muslims later spread their faith across the Indian Ocean into Southeast Asia (Fig. 7.16). As Muslim traders settled trading ports in Southeast Asia, they established new secondary hearths of Islam and worked to diffuse the religion contagiously from the secondary hearths. Recent diffusion of Islam into Europe (beyond Spain and Portugal), South Africa, and the Americas has largely been a result of migration—of relocation diffusion.

Figure zoom Figure 7.16
Diffusion of Islam.

This map shows the diffusion of Islam from 600 ce to 1600 ce © H. J. de Blij, P. O. Muller, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Today, Islam, with more than 1.57 billion followers, ranks second to Christianity in global number of adherents. Islam is the fastest growing of the world's major religions, dominating in Northern Africa and Southwest Asia, extending into Central Asia, the former Soviet Union and China, and including clusters in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and southern Mindanao in the Philippines. Islam is strongly represented in India, with over 161 million adherents, and in Subsaharan Africa, with approximately 190 million adherents. Islam has followers in Bosnia and Albania and has substantial numbers of adherents in the United States and western Europe (Fig. 7.17). The largest Muslim country is actually outside of the Middle East, in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has nearly 200 million adherents. In fact, of Islam's 1.57 billion followers, more than half live outside Southwest Asia and North Africa. And not everyone in Southwest Asia and North Africa is Muslim. The region is home to millions of Christians, Jews, and other smaller religious sects.

Figure 7.17
London, England.

This large mosque in East London serves the United Kingdom's largest Muslim community. It attests to the scale of Islamic migration to the United Kingdom over the past several decades. Global religions are not grouped into neat geographical spaces they are now found side by side all over the world. © Alexander B. Murphy.

Finally, Figure 7.6 identifies large areas in Africa and several other parts of the world as "Indigenous and Shamanist." Indigenous religions are local in scope, usually have a reverence for nature, and are passed down through family units and groups (tribes) of indigenous peoples. No central tenet or belief can be ascribed to all indigenous religions. We do not group indigenous religions because they share a common theology or belief system. Instead, we group indigenous religions because they share the same pressures from the diffusion of global religions—and they have survived (Fig. 7.18).

"Arriving at the foot of erosion‐carved Uluru just before sunrise it is no surprise that this giant monolith, towering over the Australian desert, is a sacred place to local Aboriginal peoples. Throughout the day, the changing sun angle alters its colors until, toward sunset, it turns a fiery red that yields to a bright orange. At night it looms against the moonlit, starry sky, silent sentinel of the gods. Just two years before this, my first visit in 1987, the Australian government had returned "Ayers Rock" (named by European settlers after a South Australian political leader) to Aboriginal ownership, and reclaimed its original name, Uluru. Visitors continued to be allowed to climb the 1100 feet (335m) to the top, from where the view over the desert is awesome.

My day had begun eventfully when a three‐foot lizard emerged from under my motel‐room bed, but the chain‐assisted climb was no minor challenge either. At the base you are warned to be "in good shape" and some would‐be climbers don't make it, but the rewards of persisting are dramatic. Uluru's iron‐rich sandstone strata have been sculpted into gullies and caves, the latter containing Aboriginal carvings and paintings, and on the broad summit there are plenty of places where you can sit quietly to contemplate the historic, religious, and cultural significance of a place that mattered thousands of years before globalization reached Australia."

Figure 7.18
Uluru, Australia.

Shamanism is a community faith in which people follow their shaman—a religious leader, teacher, healer, and visionary. Shamans have appeared at various times to various peoples in Africa, Native America, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. These appearances had similar effects on the cultures of widely scattered peoples. Perhaps if these shamanist religions had developed elaborate bureaucracies and sent representatives to international congresses, they would have become more similar and might have evolved into another world religion. Unlike Christianity or Islam, the shamanist faiths are small and comparatively isolated.

Shamanism is a traditional religion, an intimate part of a local culture and society, but not all traditional religions are shamanist. Many traditional African religions involve beliefs in a god as creator and provider, in divinities both superhuman and human, in spirits, and in a life hereafter. Christianity and Islam have converted some followers of traditional religions, but as the map indicates, they have failed to convert most African peoples, except in limited areas. Figure 7.6 shows where the adherents to traditional religions remain in the majority.

The world map of religion might mislead us into assuming that all or even most of the people in areas portrayed as Christian or Buddhist do in fact adhere to these faiths. This is not the case. Even the most careful analysis of worldwide church and religious membership produces a total of about 4 billion adherents—in a population of over 6 billion. Hundreds of millions of peoples are not counted in this figure because they practice traditional religions. But even when they are taken into account, additional hundreds of millions do not practice a religion at all. Moreover, even church membership figures do not accurately reflect the number of active members of a church. When polled about their church‐going activities, fewer than 3 percent of the people in Scandinavia reported frequent attendance, and in France and Great Britain, less than 10 percent reported attending church at least once a month. The lack of members active or otherwise underscores the rise of secularism—indifference to or rejection of organized religious affiliations and ideas.

The level of secularism throughout much of the Christian and Buddhist worlds varies from country to country and regionally within countries. In North America, for instance, a poll in 2002 asked whether people felt religion was very important to them. Only 30 percent of Canadians agreed with this statement, whereas 59 percent of Americans felt religion was very important to them. In France, the government recently banned the wearing of overt religious symbols in public schools. The French government wanted to remove the "disruption" of Muslim girls wearing hijab (head scarves), Jewish boys wearing yarmulke (skullcaps), and Christian students wearing large crosses to school. The French government took the position that banning all religious symbols was the only egalitarian approach.

Looking at polls that ask about the importance of religion for people in a country does not give us the complete picture, however. Canada's 30 percent rate would be much, much lower if we removed recent or second‐generation immigrants from the tally. Immigrants often hold onto their religion more fervently in part to help them ease into a new place and to link into a community in their new home. Buddhists and Hindus on Canada's west coast and Muslims in the eastern part of Canada have a higher rate of adherence to their religion than many long‐term residents of the country.

In some countries, antireligious ideologies are contributing to the decline of organized religion. Church membership in the former Soviet Union, which dropped drastically during the twentieth century under communist rule, rebounded after the collapse of the Soviet system but to much lower numbers. Maoist China's drive against Confucianism was, in part, an antireligious effort, and China continues to suppress some organized religious practices, as reports of religious persecution continue to emanate from China.

In many areas labeled Christian on the world map of religions, from Canada to Australia and from the United States to western Europe, the decline of organized religion as a cultural force is evident. In the strongly Catholic regions of southern Europe and Latin America, many people are dissatisfied with the papal teachings on birth control, as the desire for larger families wanes in these regions of the world. In Latin America, the Catholic Church is being challenged by rapid social change, the diffusion of other Evangelical Christian denominations into the region, and sexual abuse scandals similar to those that have occurred in the United States and Canada.

Secularism has become more widespread during the past century. People have abandoned organized religion in growing numbers. Even if they continue to be members of a church, their participation in church activities has declined. Traditions have also weakened. For example, there was a time when almost all shops and businesses were closed on Sundays, preserving the day for sermons, rest, and introspection. Today, shopping centers are mostly open as usual, and Sunday is increasingly devoted to business and personal affairs, not to church. To witness the rise of secularism among Christians in America first‐hand, explore your town, city, or suburb on a Sunday morning: how many people are wearing casual clothes and hanging out at the coffee shop reading newspapers, and how many people are attending church services?

At the same time that secularism is on the rise in the United States, many people who do follow their religion seem to be doing so more fervently. Religious traditions are stronger in some cultural regions of the United States than in others, and Sunday observance continues at a high level, for example, in the Mormon culture area of the United States. Even though Catholic dioceses are closing churches and declaring bankruptcy in some parts of the Northeast, other Catholic dioceses are building new churches and enormous activity halls in other parts of the country. Moreover, Evangelical and other alternative churches are growing rapidly in some parts of the United States and western Europe. Entire industries, such as Christian music and Christian publications, depend on the growing commitment of many Americans and Europeans to their religion.


Contents

Definition Edit

There is "considerable disagreement as to the precise definition and proper usage" of the term "modern Paganism". [6] Even within the academic field of Pagan studies, there is no consensus about how contemporary Paganism can best be defined. [7] Most scholars describe modern Paganism as a broad array of different religions, not a single one. [8] The category of modern Paganism could be compared to the categories of Abrahamic religion and Indian religions in its structure. [9] A second, less common definition found within Pagan studies—promoted by the religious studies scholars Michael F. Strmiska and Graham Harvey—characterises modern Paganism as a single religion, of which groups like Wicca, Druidry, and Heathenry are denominations. [10] This perspective has been critiqued, given the lack of core commonalities in issues such as theology, cosmology, ethics, afterlife, holy days, or ritual practices within the Pagan movement. [10]

Contemporary Paganism has been defined as "a collection of modern religious, spiritual, and magical traditions that are self-consciously inspired by the pre-Judaic, pre-Christian, and pre-Islamic belief systems of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East." [1] Thus it has been said that although it is "a highly diverse phenomenon", "an identifiable common element" nevertheless runs through the Pagan movement. [1] Strmiska described Paganism as a movement "dedicated to reviving the polytheistic, nature-worshipping pagan religions of pre-Christian Europe and adapting them for the use of people in modern societies." [11] The religious studies scholar Wouter Hanegraaff characterised Paganism as encompassing "all those modern movements which are, first, based on the conviction that what Christianity has traditionally denounced as idolatry and superstition actually represents/represented a profound and meaningful religious worldview and, secondly, that a religious practice based on this worldview can and should be revitalized in our modern world." [12]

Discussing the relationship between the different Pagan religions, religious studies scholars Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson wrote that they were "like siblings who have taken different paths in life but still retain many visible similarities". [13] But there has been much "cross-fertilization" between these different faiths: many groups have influenced, and been influenced by, other Pagan religions, making clear-cut distinctions among them more difficult for scholars to make. [14] The various Pagan religions have been academically classified as new religious movements, [15] with the anthropologist Kathryn Rountree describing Paganism as a whole as a "new religious phenomenon". [16] A number of academics, particularly in North America, consider modern Paganism a form of nature religion. [17]

Some practitioners eschew the term "Pagan" altogether, preferring the more specific name of their religion, such as Heathen or Wiccan. [18] This is because the term "Pagan" originates in Christian terminology, which Pagans wish to avoid. [19] Some favor the term "ethnic religion" the World Pagan Congress, founded in 1998, soon renamed itself the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER), enjoying that term's association with the Greek ethnos and the academic field of ethnology. [20] Within linguistically Slavic areas of Europe, the term "Native Faith" is often favored as a synonym for Paganism, rendered as Ridnovirstvo in Ukrainian, Rodnoverie in Russian, and Rodzimowierstwo in Polish. [21] Alternately, many practitioners in these regions view "Native Faith" as a category within modern Paganism that does not encompass all Pagan religions. [22] Other terms some Pagans favor include "traditional religion", "indigenous religion", "nativist religion", and "reconstructionism". [19]

Various Pagans who are active in Pagan studies, such as Michael York and Prudence Jones, have argued that, due to similarities in their worldviews, the modern Pagan movement can be treated as part of the same global phenomenon as pre-Christian religion, living indigenous religions, and world religions like Hinduism, Shinto, and Afro-American religions. They have also suggested that these could all be included under the rubric of "paganism" or "Paganism". [23] This approach has been received critically by many specialists in religious studies. [24] Critics have pointed out that such claims would cause problems for analytic scholarship by lumping together belief systems with very significant differences, and that the term would serve modern Pagan interests by making the movement appear far larger on the world stage. [25] Doyle White writes that modern religions that draw upon the pre-Christian belief systems of other parts of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas, cannot be seen as part of the contemporary Pagan movement, which is "fundamentally Eurocentric". [1] Similarly, Strmiska stresses that modern Paganism should not be conflated with the belief systems of the world's indigenous peoples because the latter lived under colonialism and its legacy, and that while some Pagan worldviews bear similarities to those of indigenous communities, they stem from "different cultural, linguistic, and historical backgrounds". [26]

Reappropriation of "paganism" Edit

Many scholars have favored the use of "Neopaganism" to describe this phenomenon, with the prefix "neo-" serving to distinguish the modern religions from their ancient, pre-Christian forerunners. [27] Some Pagan practitioners also prefer "Neopaganism", believing that the prefix conveys the reformed nature of the religion, such as its rejection of practices such as animal sacrifice. [27] Conversely, most Pagans do not use the word "Neopagan", [19] with some expressing disapproval of it, arguing that the term "neo" offensively disconnects them from what they perceive as their pre-Christian forebears. [18] To avoid causing offense, many scholars in the English-speaking world have begun using the prefixes "modern" or "contemporary" rather than "neo". [28] Several Pagan studies scholars, such as Ronald Hutton and Sabina Magliocco, have emphasized the use of the upper-case "Paganism" to distinguish the modern movement from the lower-case "paganism", a term commonly used for pre-Christian belief systems. [29] In 2015, Rountree stated that this lower case/upper case division was "now [the] convention" in Pagan studies. [19] Among the critics of the upper-case P are York and Andras Corban-Arthen, president of the ECER. Capitalizing the word, they argue, makes "Paganism" appear as the name of a cohesive religion rather than a generic religious category, and comes off as naive, dishonest or as an unwelcome attempt to disrupt the spontaneity and vernacular quality of the movement. [30]

The term "neo-pagan" was coined in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and Romanticist Hellenophile classical revivalism. [α] By the mid-1930s "Neopagan" was being applied to new religious movements like Jakob Wilhelm Hauer's German Faith Movement and Jan Stachniuk's Polish Zadruga, usually by outsiders and often pejoratively. [31] Pagan as a self-designation appeared in 1964 and 1965, in the publications of the Witchcraft Research Association at that time, the term was in use by revivalist Witches in the United States and the United Kingdom, but unconnected to the broader, counterculture Pagan movement. The modern popularisation of the terms pagan and neopagan as they are currently understood is largely traced to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, co-founder of the 1st Neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds who, beginning in 1967 with the early issues of Green Egg, used both terms for the growing movement. This usage has been common since the pagan revival in the 1970s. [32]

According to Strmiska, the reappropriation of the term "pagan" by modern Pagans served as "a deliberate act of defiance" against "traditional, Christian-dominated society", allowing them to use it as a source of "pride and power". [18] In this, he compared it to the gay liberation movement's reappropriation of the term "queer", which had formerly been used only as a term of homophobic abuse. [18] He suggests that part of the term's appeal lay in the fact that a large proportion of Pagan converts were raised in Christian families, and that by embracing the term "pagan", a word long used for what was "rejected and reviled by Christian authorities", a convert summarizes "in a single word his or her definitive break" from Christianity. [33] He further suggests that the term gained appeal through its depiction in romanticist and 19th-century European nationalist literature, where it had been imbued with "a certain mystery and allure", [34] and that by embracing the word "pagan" modern Pagans defy past religious intolerance to honor the pre-Christian peoples of Europe and emphasize those societies' cultural and artistic achievements. [35]

Ethnicity and region Edit

For some Pagan groups, ethnicity is central to their religion, and some restrict membership to a single ethnic group. [36] Some critics have described this approach as a form of racism. [36] Other Pagan groups allow people of any ethnicity, on the view that the gods and goddesses of a particular region can call anyone to their form of worship. [37] Some such groups feel a particular affinity for the pre-Christian belief systems of a particular region with which they have no ethnic link because they see themselves as reincarnations of people from that society. [38] There is greater focus on ethnicity within the Pagan movements in continental Europe than within the Pagan movements in North America and the British Isles. [39] Such ethnic Paganisms have variously been seen as responses to concerns about foreign ideologies, globalization, cosmopolitanism, and anxieties about cultural erosion. [40] [41]

Although they acknowledged that it was "a highly simplified model", Aitamurto and Simpson wrote that there was "some truth" to the claim that leftist-oriented forms of Paganism were prevalent in North America and the British Isles while rightist-oriented forms of Paganism were prevalent in Central and Eastern Europe. [15] They noted that in these latter regions, Pagan groups placed an emphasis on "the centrality of the nation, the ethnic group, or the tribe". [13] Rountree wrote that it was wrong to assume that "expressions of Paganism can be categorized straight-forwardly according to region", but acknowledged that some regional trends were visible, such as the impact of Catholicism on Paganism in Southern Europe. [42]

Eclecticism and reconstructionism Edit

— Religious studies scholar Michael Strmiska [43]

Another division within modern Paganism rests on differing attitudes to the source material surrounding pre-Christian belief systems. [38] Strmiska notes that Pagan groups can be "divided along a continuum: at one end are those that aim to reconstruct the ancient religious traditions of a particular ethnic group or a linguistic or geographic area to the highest degree possible at the other end are those that freely blend traditions of different areas, peoples, and time periods." [44] Strmiska argues that these two poles could be termed reconstructionism and eclecticism, respectively. [45] Reconstructionists do not altogether reject innovation in their interpretation and adaptation of the source material, however they do believe that the source material conveys greater authenticity and thus should be emphasized. [44] They often follow scholarly debates about the nature of such pre-Christian religions, and some reconstructionists are themselves scholars. [44] Eclectic Pagans, conversely, seek general inspiration from the pre-Christian past, and do not attempt to recreate past rites or traditions with specific attention to detail. [46]

On the reconstructionist side can be placed those movements which often favour the designation "Native Faith", including Romuva, Heathenry, and Hellenism. [14] On the eclectic side has been placed Wicca, Thelema, Adonism, Druidry, the Goddess Movement, Discordianism and the Radical Faeries. [14] Strmiska also suggests that this division could be seen as being based on "discourses of identity", with reconstructionists emphasizing a deep-rooted sense of place and people, and eclectics embracing a universality and openness toward humanity and the Earth. [47]

Strmiska nevertheless notes that this reconstructionist-eclectic division is "neither as absolute nor as straightforward as it might appear". [48] He cites the example of Dievturība, a form of reconstructionist Paganism that seeks to revive the pre-Christian religion of the Latvian people, by noting that it exhibits eclectic tendencies by adopting a monotheistic focus and ceremonial structure from Lutheranism. [48] Similarly, while examining neo-shamanism among the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia, Siv Ellen Kraft highlights that despite the religion being reconstructionist in intent, it is highly eclectic in the manner in which it has adopted elements from shamanic traditions in other parts of the world. [49] In discussing Asatro – a form of Heathenry based in Denmark – Matthew Amster notes that it did not fit clearly within such a framework, because while seeking a reconstructionist form of historical accuracy, Asatro nevertheless strongly eschewed the emphasis on ethnicity that is common to other reconstructionist groups. [50] While Wicca is identified as an eclectic form of Paganism, [51] Strmiska also notes that some Wiccans have moved in a more reconstructionist direction by focusing on a particular ethnic and cultural link, thus developing such variants as Norse Wicca and Celtic Wicca. [48] Concern has also been expressed regarding the utility of the term "reconstructionism" when dealing with Paganisms in Central and Eastern Europe, because in many of the languages of these regions, equivalents of the term "reconstructionism" – such as the Czech Historická rekonstrukce and Lithuanian Istorinė rekonstrukcija – are already used to define the secular hobby of historical re-enactment. [52]

Naturalism, ecocentrism, and secular paths Edit

Some Pagans distinguish their beliefs and practices as a form of religious naturalism, embracing a naturalistic worldview, [53] including those who identify as humanistic or atheopagans. Many such Pagans aim for an explicitly ecocentric practice, which may overlap with scientific pantheism. [54]

— Religious studies scholar Michael Strmiska [55]

Although inspired by the pre-Christian belief systems of the past, modern Paganism is not the same phenomenon as these lost traditions and in many respects differs from them considerably. [55] Strmiska stresses that modern Paganism is a "new", "modern" religious movement, even if some of its content derives from ancient sources. [55] Contemporary Paganism as practiced in the United States in the 1990s has been described as "a synthesis of historical inspiration and present-day creativity". [56]

Eclectic Paganism takes an undogmatic religious stance [57] and therefore potentially sees no one as having authority to deem a source apocryphal. Contemporary paganism has therefore been prone to fakelore, especially in recent years as information and misinformation alike have been spread on the Internet and in print media. A number of Wiccan, pagan and even some Traditionalist or Tribalist groups have a history of Grandmother Stories – typically involving initiation by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other elderly relative who is said to have instructed them in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors. As this secret wisdom can almost always be traced to recent sources, tellers of these stories have often later admitted they made them up. [58] Strmiska asserts that contemporary paganism could be viewed as a part of the "much larger phenomenon" of efforts to revive "traditional, indigenous, or native religions" that were occurring across the globe. [59]

Beliefs and practices vary widely among different Pagan groups however, there are a series of core principles common to most, if not all, forms of modern paganism. [60] The English academic Graham Harvey noted that Pagans "rarely indulge in theology". [61]

Polytheism Edit

One principle of the Pagan movement is polytheism, the belief in and veneration of multiple gods or goddesses. [60] [61] Within the Pagan movement, there can be found many deities, both male and female, who have various associations and embody forces of nature, aspects of culture, and facets of human psychology. [62] These deities are typically depicted in human form, and are viewed as having human faults. [62] They are therefore not seen as perfect, but rather are venerated as being wise and powerful. [63] Pagans feel that this understanding of the gods reflected the dynamics of life on Earth, allowing for the expression of humour. [63]

One view in the Pagan community is that these polytheistic deities are not viewed as literal entities, but as Jungian archetypes or other psychological constructs that exist in the human psyche. [64] Others adopt the belief that the deities have both a psychological and external existence. [65] Many Pagans believe adoption of a polytheistic world-view would be beneficial for western society – replacing the dominant monotheism they see as innately repressive. [66] In fact, many American neopagans first came to their adopted faiths because it allowed a greater freedom, diversity, and tolerance of worship among the community. [67] This pluralistic perspective has helped the varied factions of modern Paganism exist in relative harmony. [57] Most Pagans adopt an ethos of "unity in diversity" regarding their religious beliefs. [68]

It is its inclusion of female deity which distinguishes Pagan religions from their Abrahamic counterparts. [65] In Wicca, male and female deities are typically balanced out in a form of duotheism. [65] Among many Pagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine in their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women. [β]

There are exceptions to polytheism in Paganism, [69] as seen for instance in the form of Ukrainian Paganism promoted by Lev Sylenko, which is devoted to a monotheistic veneration of the god Dazhbog. [69] As noted above, Pagans with naturalistic worldviews may not believe in or work with deities at all.

Pagan religions commonly exhibit a metaphysical concept of an underlying order that pervades the universe, such as the concept of harmonia embraced by Hellenists and that of Wyrd found in Heathenry. [70]

Animism and pantheism Edit

A key part of most Pagan worldviews is the holistic concept of a universe that is interconnected. This is connected with a belief in either pantheism or panentheism. In both beliefs, divinity and the material or spiritual universe are one. [71] For pagans, pantheism means that "divinity is inseparable from nature and that deity is immanent in nature". [57]

Dennis D. Carpenter noted that the belief in a pantheistic or panentheistic deity has led to the idea of interconnectedness playing a key part in pagans' worldviews. [71] The prominent Reclaiming priestess Starhawk related that a core part of goddess-centred pagan witchcraft was "the understanding that all being is interrelated, that we are all linked with the cosmos as parts of one living organism. What affects one of us affects us all." [72]

Another pivotal belief in the contemporary Pagan movement is that of animism. [61] This has been interpreted in two distinct ways among the Pagan community. First, it can refer to a belief that everything in the universe is imbued with a life force or spiritual energy. [60] [73] In contrast, some contemporary Pagans believe that there are specific spirits that inhabit various features in the natural world, and that these can be actively communicated with. Some Pagans have reported experiencing communication with spirits dwelling in rocks, plants, trees and animals, as well as power animals or animal spirits who can act as spiritual helpers or guides. [74]

Animism was also a concept common to many pre-Christian European religions, and in adopting it, contemporary Pagans are attempting to "reenter the primeval worldview" and participate in a view of cosmology "that is not possible for most Westerners after childhood". [75]

Nature worship Edit

All Pagan movements place great emphasis on the divinity of nature as a primary source of divine will, and on humanity's membership of the natural world, bound in kinship to all life and the Earth itself. The animistic aspects of Pagan theology assert that all things have a soul - not just humans or organic life - so this bond is held with mountains and rivers as well as trees and wild animals. As a result, Pagans believe the essence of their spirituality is both ancient and timeless, regardless of the age of specific religious movements. Places of natural beauty are therefore treated as sacred and ideal for ritual, like the nemetons of the ancient Celts. [76]

Many Pagans hold that different lands and/or cultures have their own natural religion, with many legitimate interpretations of divinity, and therefore reject religious exclusivism.

While the Pagan community has tremendous variety in political views spanning the whole of the political spectrum, environmentalism is often a common feature. [77]

Such views have also led many pagans to revere the planet Earth as Mother Earth, who is often referred to as Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. [78]


5. Politicians Who Share Your Faith Can Base Decisions on Their Religion

People who aren’t Christian might not be harmed by Christian leadership if we actually had separation of Church and State.

The constitution says we do – but the reality is that Christianity influences the government every day.

From shutting down abortion clinics, to placing creationism and abstinence only education in schools, to spending years blocking marriage equality, Christian politicians can effectively apply their religious beliefs as law, without being labeled extremists.

Of course, that’s not much of a perk for a queer , pro-choice , sex positive Christian like me. But even though my interpretation of Christianity is very different from conservative politicians’, I recognize that people in positions of authority can cite Christianity in decisions affecting the whole country.

I can’t ignore that this gives me certain advantages, like having our leaders cite prayer as a source of comfort after tragedies. That’s not everyone’s preferred method of coping, but it works for me, and it’s assumed that it works for everyone else, too.


3. If You’re Tried in Court, You’re Likely to Be Judged by a Jury That Shares Your Faith

With Christianity so commonly treated as the norm, it’s unlikely that jurors would hold your Christian faith against you. Someone who practices a faith that’s seen as strange or dangerous doesn’t get that benefit.

For instance, if man on trial has a traditional African spiritual practice that jurors associate with imperial tropes of “savage,” “uncivilized” African religions, the jury might judge the defendant negatively.

The bias in favor of Christians is clear when custody trials involve parents of different faiths – you’re more likely to get custody of your children if you’re Christian.


Useful books and references

BBC. Irish atheists challenge blasphemy law . 2 January 2010. 8 August 2010 .

Beal, Timothy Kandler. Religion in America: A Very Short Introduction . New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Rorive, Isabella. “Religious symbols in the public space: In the search of an European answer .” 2010. Cardozo Law Review. 8 August 2010 .

Sweetman, Brenda. Why politics needs religion: The place of religious arguments in the public square . New York: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Former US President John F. Kennedy on the separation of the Church and State

A primer on political science and religion by Miroljub Jevtic, Political Science Professor at the University of Belgrade:


Contents

Definition Edit

There is "considerable disagreement as to the precise definition and proper usage" of the term "modern Paganism". [6] Even within the academic field of Pagan studies, there is no consensus about how contemporary Paganism can best be defined. [7] Most scholars describe modern Paganism as a broad array of different religions, not a single one. [8] The category of modern Paganism could be compared to the categories of Abrahamic religion and Indian religions in its structure. [9] A second, less common definition found within Pagan studies—promoted by the religious studies scholars Michael F. Strmiska and Graham Harvey—characterises modern Paganism as a single religion, of which groups like Wicca, Druidry, and Heathenry are denominations. [10] This perspective has been critiqued, given the lack of core commonalities in issues such as theology, cosmology, ethics, afterlife, holy days, or ritual practices within the Pagan movement. [10]

Contemporary Paganism has been defined as "a collection of modern religious, spiritual, and magical traditions that are self-consciously inspired by the pre-Judaic, pre-Christian, and pre-Islamic belief systems of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East." [1] Thus it has been said that although it is "a highly diverse phenomenon", "an identifiable common element" nevertheless runs through the Pagan movement. [1] Strmiska described Paganism as a movement "dedicated to reviving the polytheistic, nature-worshipping pagan religions of pre-Christian Europe and adapting them for the use of people in modern societies." [11] The religious studies scholar Wouter Hanegraaff characterised Paganism as encompassing "all those modern movements which are, first, based on the conviction that what Christianity has traditionally denounced as idolatry and superstition actually represents/represented a profound and meaningful religious worldview and, secondly, that a religious practice based on this worldview can and should be revitalized in our modern world." [12]

Discussing the relationship between the different Pagan religions, religious studies scholars Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson wrote that they were "like siblings who have taken different paths in life but still retain many visible similarities". [13] But there has been much "cross-fertilization" between these different faiths: many groups have influenced, and been influenced by, other Pagan religions, making clear-cut distinctions among them more difficult for scholars to make. [14] The various Pagan religions have been academically classified as new religious movements, [15] with the anthropologist Kathryn Rountree describing Paganism as a whole as a "new religious phenomenon". [16] A number of academics, particularly in North America, consider modern Paganism a form of nature religion. [17]

Some practitioners eschew the term "Pagan" altogether, preferring the more specific name of their religion, such as Heathen or Wiccan. [18] This is because the term "Pagan" originates in Christian terminology, which Pagans wish to avoid. [19] Some favor the term "ethnic religion" the World Pagan Congress, founded in 1998, soon renamed itself the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER), enjoying that term's association with the Greek ethnos and the academic field of ethnology. [20] Within linguistically Slavic areas of Europe, the term "Native Faith" is often favored as a synonym for Paganism, rendered as Ridnovirstvo in Ukrainian, Rodnoverie in Russian, and Rodzimowierstwo in Polish. [21] Alternately, many practitioners in these regions view "Native Faith" as a category within modern Paganism that does not encompass all Pagan religions. [22] Other terms some Pagans favor include "traditional religion", "indigenous religion", "nativist religion", and "reconstructionism". [19]

Various Pagans who are active in Pagan studies, such as Michael York and Prudence Jones, have argued that, due to similarities in their worldviews, the modern Pagan movement can be treated as part of the same global phenomenon as pre-Christian religion, living indigenous religions, and world religions like Hinduism, Shinto, and Afro-American religions. They have also suggested that these could all be included under the rubric of "paganism" or "Paganism". [23] This approach has been received critically by many specialists in religious studies. [24] Critics have pointed out that such claims would cause problems for analytic scholarship by lumping together belief systems with very significant differences, and that the term would serve modern Pagan interests by making the movement appear far larger on the world stage. [25] Doyle White writes that modern religions that draw upon the pre-Christian belief systems of other parts of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas, cannot be seen as part of the contemporary Pagan movement, which is "fundamentally Eurocentric". [1] Similarly, Strmiska stresses that modern Paganism should not be conflated with the belief systems of the world's indigenous peoples because the latter lived under colonialism and its legacy, and that while some Pagan worldviews bear similarities to those of indigenous communities, they stem from "different cultural, linguistic, and historical backgrounds". [26]

Reappropriation of "paganism" Edit

Many scholars have favored the use of "Neopaganism" to describe this phenomenon, with the prefix "neo-" serving to distinguish the modern religions from their ancient, pre-Christian forerunners. [27] Some Pagan practitioners also prefer "Neopaganism", believing that the prefix conveys the reformed nature of the religion, such as its rejection of practices such as animal sacrifice. [27] Conversely, most Pagans do not use the word "Neopagan", [19] with some expressing disapproval of it, arguing that the term "neo" offensively disconnects them from what they perceive as their pre-Christian forebears. [18] To avoid causing offense, many scholars in the English-speaking world have begun using the prefixes "modern" or "contemporary" rather than "neo". [28] Several Pagan studies scholars, such as Ronald Hutton and Sabina Magliocco, have emphasized the use of the upper-case "Paganism" to distinguish the modern movement from the lower-case "paganism", a term commonly used for pre-Christian belief systems. [29] In 2015, Rountree stated that this lower case/upper case division was "now [the] convention" in Pagan studies. [19] Among the critics of the upper-case P are York and Andras Corban-Arthen, president of the ECER. Capitalizing the word, they argue, makes "Paganism" appear as the name of a cohesive religion rather than a generic religious category, and comes off as naive, dishonest or as an unwelcome attempt to disrupt the spontaneity and vernacular quality of the movement. [30]

The term "neo-pagan" was coined in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and Romanticist Hellenophile classical revivalism. [α] By the mid-1930s "Neopagan" was being applied to new religious movements like Jakob Wilhelm Hauer's German Faith Movement and Jan Stachniuk's Polish Zadruga, usually by outsiders and often pejoratively. [31] Pagan as a self-designation appeared in 1964 and 1965, in the publications of the Witchcraft Research Association at that time, the term was in use by revivalist Witches in the United States and the United Kingdom, but unconnected to the broader, counterculture Pagan movement. The modern popularisation of the terms pagan and neopagan as they are currently understood is largely traced to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, co-founder of the 1st Neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds who, beginning in 1967 with the early issues of Green Egg, used both terms for the growing movement. This usage has been common since the pagan revival in the 1970s. [32]

According to Strmiska, the reappropriation of the term "pagan" by modern Pagans served as "a deliberate act of defiance" against "traditional, Christian-dominated society", allowing them to use it as a source of "pride and power". [18] In this, he compared it to the gay liberation movement's reappropriation of the term "queer", which had formerly been used only as a term of homophobic abuse. [18] He suggests that part of the term's appeal lay in the fact that a large proportion of Pagan converts were raised in Christian families, and that by embracing the term "pagan", a word long used for what was "rejected and reviled by Christian authorities", a convert summarizes "in a single word his or her definitive break" from Christianity. [33] He further suggests that the term gained appeal through its depiction in romanticist and 19th-century European nationalist literature, where it had been imbued with "a certain mystery and allure", [34] and that by embracing the word "pagan" modern Pagans defy past religious intolerance to honor the pre-Christian peoples of Europe and emphasize those societies' cultural and artistic achievements. [35]

Ethnicity and region Edit

For some Pagan groups, ethnicity is central to their religion, and some restrict membership to a single ethnic group. [36] Some critics have described this approach as a form of racism. [36] Other Pagan groups allow people of any ethnicity, on the view that the gods and goddesses of a particular region can call anyone to their form of worship. [37] Some such groups feel a particular affinity for the pre-Christian belief systems of a particular region with which they have no ethnic link because they see themselves as reincarnations of people from that society. [38] There is greater focus on ethnicity within the Pagan movements in continental Europe than within the Pagan movements in North America and the British Isles. [39] Such ethnic Paganisms have variously been seen as responses to concerns about foreign ideologies, globalization, cosmopolitanism, and anxieties about cultural erosion. [40] [41]

Although they acknowledged that it was "a highly simplified model", Aitamurto and Simpson wrote that there was "some truth" to the claim that leftist-oriented forms of Paganism were prevalent in North America and the British Isles while rightist-oriented forms of Paganism were prevalent in Central and Eastern Europe. [15] They noted that in these latter regions, Pagan groups placed an emphasis on "the centrality of the nation, the ethnic group, or the tribe". [13] Rountree wrote that it was wrong to assume that "expressions of Paganism can be categorized straight-forwardly according to region", but acknowledged that some regional trends were visible, such as the impact of Catholicism on Paganism in Southern Europe. [42]

Eclecticism and reconstructionism Edit

— Religious studies scholar Michael Strmiska [43]

Another division within modern Paganism rests on differing attitudes to the source material surrounding pre-Christian belief systems. [38] Strmiska notes that Pagan groups can be "divided along a continuum: at one end are those that aim to reconstruct the ancient religious traditions of a particular ethnic group or a linguistic or geographic area to the highest degree possible at the other end are those that freely blend traditions of different areas, peoples, and time periods." [44] Strmiska argues that these two poles could be termed reconstructionism and eclecticism, respectively. [45] Reconstructionists do not altogether reject innovation in their interpretation and adaptation of the source material, however they do believe that the source material conveys greater authenticity and thus should be emphasized. [44] They often follow scholarly debates about the nature of such pre-Christian religions, and some reconstructionists are themselves scholars. [44] Eclectic Pagans, conversely, seek general inspiration from the pre-Christian past, and do not attempt to recreate past rites or traditions with specific attention to detail. [46]

On the reconstructionist side can be placed those movements which often favour the designation "Native Faith", including Romuva, Heathenry, and Hellenism. [14] On the eclectic side has been placed Wicca, Thelema, Adonism, Druidry, the Goddess Movement, Discordianism and the Radical Faeries. [14] Strmiska also suggests that this division could be seen as being based on "discourses of identity", with reconstructionists emphasizing a deep-rooted sense of place and people, and eclectics embracing a universality and openness toward humanity and the Earth. [47]

Strmiska nevertheless notes that this reconstructionist-eclectic division is "neither as absolute nor as straightforward as it might appear". [48] He cites the example of Dievturība, a form of reconstructionist Paganism that seeks to revive the pre-Christian religion of the Latvian people, by noting that it exhibits eclectic tendencies by adopting a monotheistic focus and ceremonial structure from Lutheranism. [48] Similarly, while examining neo-shamanism among the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia, Siv Ellen Kraft highlights that despite the religion being reconstructionist in intent, it is highly eclectic in the manner in which it has adopted elements from shamanic traditions in other parts of the world. [49] In discussing Asatro – a form of Heathenry based in Denmark – Matthew Amster notes that it did not fit clearly within such a framework, because while seeking a reconstructionist form of historical accuracy, Asatro nevertheless strongly eschewed the emphasis on ethnicity that is common to other reconstructionist groups. [50] While Wicca is identified as an eclectic form of Paganism, [51] Strmiska also notes that some Wiccans have moved in a more reconstructionist direction by focusing on a particular ethnic and cultural link, thus developing such variants as Norse Wicca and Celtic Wicca. [48] Concern has also been expressed regarding the utility of the term "reconstructionism" when dealing with Paganisms in Central and Eastern Europe, because in many of the languages of these regions, equivalents of the term "reconstructionism" – such as the Czech Historická rekonstrukce and Lithuanian Istorinė rekonstrukcija – are already used to define the secular hobby of historical re-enactment. [52]

Naturalism, ecocentrism, and secular paths Edit

Some Pagans distinguish their beliefs and practices as a form of religious naturalism, embracing a naturalistic worldview, [53] including those who identify as humanistic or atheopagans. Many such Pagans aim for an explicitly ecocentric practice, which may overlap with scientific pantheism. [54]

— Religious studies scholar Michael Strmiska [55]

Although inspired by the pre-Christian belief systems of the past, modern Paganism is not the same phenomenon as these lost traditions and in many respects differs from them considerably. [55] Strmiska stresses that modern Paganism is a "new", "modern" religious movement, even if some of its content derives from ancient sources. [55] Contemporary Paganism as practiced in the United States in the 1990s has been described as "a synthesis of historical inspiration and present-day creativity". [56]

Eclectic Paganism takes an undogmatic religious stance [57] and therefore potentially sees no one as having authority to deem a source apocryphal. Contemporary paganism has therefore been prone to fakelore, especially in recent years as information and misinformation alike have been spread on the Internet and in print media. A number of Wiccan, pagan and even some Traditionalist or Tribalist groups have a history of Grandmother Stories – typically involving initiation by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other elderly relative who is said to have instructed them in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors. As this secret wisdom can almost always be traced to recent sources, tellers of these stories have often later admitted they made them up. [58] Strmiska asserts that contemporary paganism could be viewed as a part of the "much larger phenomenon" of efforts to revive "traditional, indigenous, or native religions" that were occurring across the globe. [59]

Beliefs and practices vary widely among different Pagan groups however, there are a series of core principles common to most, if not all, forms of modern paganism. [60] The English academic Graham Harvey noted that Pagans "rarely indulge in theology". [61]

Polytheism Edit

One principle of the Pagan movement is polytheism, the belief in and veneration of multiple gods or goddesses. [60] [61] Within the Pagan movement, there can be found many deities, both male and female, who have various associations and embody forces of nature, aspects of culture, and facets of human psychology. [62] These deities are typically depicted in human form, and are viewed as having human faults. [62] They are therefore not seen as perfect, but rather are venerated as being wise and powerful. [63] Pagans feel that this understanding of the gods reflected the dynamics of life on Earth, allowing for the expression of humour. [63]

One view in the Pagan community is that these polytheistic deities are not viewed as literal entities, but as Jungian archetypes or other psychological constructs that exist in the human psyche. [64] Others adopt the belief that the deities have both a psychological and external existence. [65] Many Pagans believe adoption of a polytheistic world-view would be beneficial for western society – replacing the dominant monotheism they see as innately repressive. [66] In fact, many American neopagans first came to their adopted faiths because it allowed a greater freedom, diversity, and tolerance of worship among the community. [67] This pluralistic perspective has helped the varied factions of modern Paganism exist in relative harmony. [57] Most Pagans adopt an ethos of "unity in diversity" regarding their religious beliefs. [68]

It is its inclusion of female deity which distinguishes Pagan religions from their Abrahamic counterparts. [65] In Wicca, male and female deities are typically balanced out in a form of duotheism. [65] Among many Pagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine in their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women. [β]

There are exceptions to polytheism in Paganism, [69] as seen for instance in the form of Ukrainian Paganism promoted by Lev Sylenko, which is devoted to a monotheistic veneration of the god Dazhbog. [69] As noted above, Pagans with naturalistic worldviews may not believe in or work with deities at all.

Pagan religions commonly exhibit a metaphysical concept of an underlying order that pervades the universe, such as the concept of harmonia embraced by Hellenists and that of Wyrd found in Heathenry. [70]

Animism and pantheism Edit

A key part of most Pagan worldviews is the holistic concept of a universe that is interconnected. This is connected with a belief in either pantheism or panentheism. In both beliefs, divinity and the material or spiritual universe are one. [71] For pagans, pantheism means that "divinity is inseparable from nature and that deity is immanent in nature". [57]

Dennis D. Carpenter noted that the belief in a pantheistic or panentheistic deity has led to the idea of interconnectedness playing a key part in pagans' worldviews. [71] The prominent Reclaiming priestess Starhawk related that a core part of goddess-centred pagan witchcraft was "the understanding that all being is interrelated, that we are all linked with the cosmos as parts of one living organism. What affects one of us affects us all." [72]

Another pivotal belief in the contemporary Pagan movement is that of animism. [61] This has been interpreted in two distinct ways among the Pagan community. First, it can refer to a belief that everything in the universe is imbued with a life force or spiritual energy. [60] [73] In contrast, some contemporary Pagans believe that there are specific spirits that inhabit various features in the natural world, and that these can be actively communicated with. Some Pagans have reported experiencing communication with spirits dwelling in rocks, plants, trees and animals, as well as power animals or animal spirits who can act as spiritual helpers or guides. [74]

Animism was also a concept common to many pre-Christian European religions, and in adopting it, contemporary Pagans are attempting to "reenter the primeval worldview" and participate in a view of cosmology "that is not possible for most Westerners after childhood". [75]

Nature worship Edit

All Pagan movements place great emphasis on the divinity of nature as a primary source of divine will, and on humanity's membership of the natural world, bound in kinship to all life and the Earth itself. The animistic aspects of Pagan theology assert that all things have a soul - not just humans or organic life - so this bond is held with mountains and rivers as well as trees and wild animals. As a result, Pagans believe the essence of their spirituality is both ancient and timeless, regardless of the age of specific religious movements. Places of natural beauty are therefore treated as sacred and ideal for ritual, like the nemetons of the ancient Celts. [76]

Many Pagans hold that different lands and/or cultures have their own natural religion, with many legitimate interpretations of divinity, and therefore reject religious exclusivism.

While the Pagan community has tremendous variety in political views spanning the whole of the political spectrum, environmentalism is often a common feature. [77]

Such views have also led many pagans to revere the planet Earth as Mother Earth, who is often referred to as Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. [78]


Yale University Hosts First Session Between Prominent Muslims, Christians

Top-tier religious leaders in the Muslim world are emerging as major proponents of dialogue with Christians and other world faiths. With two distinct initiatives this month, they are breaking new ground and sending signals to Muslims and others globally that interreligious understanding and joint action are Islamic values.

Those involved see the initiatives, if sustained, as breaking down misperceptions, strengthening mainstream religious voices on the world stage, and diminishing the influence of extremism.

This week, Yale University hosts the first of four meetings between prominent Muslim and Christian leaders from across the globe, with discussions rooted in foundational principles of the two faiths. The conference beginning Tuesday is the first fruit of “A Common Word between Us and You,” the letter sent last fall by 138 Muslim leaders from 40 nations to the leaders of the world’s Christian churches.

It follows a separate initiative, held earlier in July in Madrid, called by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who surprised the world by urging 200 Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of Eastern religions to gather together for purposes of dialogue and reconciliation. While some people expressed skepticism because of the Saudi kingdom’s continued restrictions on other faiths, many conferees were encouraged.

“When the king says publicly that diversity is a sacred notion in Islam … that’s a big deal,” says Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld, president of the National Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership in New York, who attended the conference. “It’s world-changing.”

The 29-page letter that Muslim clerics from the major sects sent to Christian churches said “the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.” It invited Christians to join with them on the basis of “what is common to us and most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments” – love for God and love for one’s neighbor.

“A Common Word represents a global Islamic consensus, and that means this engagement will have implications throughout the Muslim world,” says Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Muslim group and director of SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Ankara, Turkey.

The Christian response was positive, leading to planning for four conferences: Muslims with Protestant leaders in New Haven, Conn., this week with Anglicans at Cambridge University in October with Catholics at the Vatican in November and finally, at Georgetown University in Washington next spring, where the social and political implications of the dialogues will come to the fore.

“Common Word has taken on an active life with a lot of potential impact … which should lead eventually to joint projects in several areas,” says John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown.

The dialogue begins with theological interaction at Yale. “We’ll be discussing our core religious commitments, which are important because they define who we are,” says Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. That is a foundation for “addressing a wide range of very practical and very difficult issues.”

The 150 leaders participating include Evangelical and mainline Protestants (i.e., president of the National Association of Evangelicals), Muslims from several continents (Sunni, Sufi, and Shi’a, including ayatollahs from Iran), and a few Jewish leaders.

While exploring concepts of God and the two commandments, discussions are expected to touch also on current issues, such as the implications for how Muslims and Christians speak about each other.

The Yale conference is starting “an intensive conversation between Christian and Muslim communities,” not only globally but also nationally and locally in the US, says Antonios Kireopoulos, director of interfaith relations with the National Council of Churches (NCC).

After receiving the Muslims’ letter last fall, the 35 member denominations of the NCC embarked on a theological study of the document and have prepared a response, which will be ready in September, he says. They intend to disseminate the Muslim and Christian documents to their churches so congregations can initiate dialogues with local mosques.

The materials will highlight commonalities and differences between the faiths. “It’s important to highlight those, too, and to learn that though we have differences, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk to one another,” Dr. Kireopoulos says.

In February the NCC also formalized dialogue with the Islamic Society of North America. The two plan to meet twice a year to foster education about the other faith and to address any issues that arise, such as hostile rhetoric or hate crime.

Jordan’s leading role

The Common Word initiative has been spearheaded by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, who heads the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. Jordan has also reached out to major Christian churches by inviting them to build houses of worship at the site along the Jordan River where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus. Several are under construction.

“The dedication of the site scheduled for next spring, which will be a global religious event, symbolizes in another way Muslim outreach and leadership,” says Dr. Esposito of Georgetown.

The long-term impact of the Saudi-sponsored Madrid conference seems less certain, tied to whether follow-up events materialize. But given the king’s stature as custodian of the Muslim holy sites, “the conference will likely have ripple effects throughout the Muslim community and other communities,” says Shanta Premawardhana, who represented the World Council of Churches. “It gives legitimation to Muslims around the world to do similar things.”

Others say these developments should encourage those in the West who still wonder what Islam is really like and whether there’s a real chance for dialogue.

“Our hope and expectation is that there will be more lines of communication opening and a trickle-down effect as Christian and Muslim leaders … speak to their constituencies and [foster] more understanding and respect,” Dr. Kalin says.


Watch the video: ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙΣΤΙΑΝΙΣΜΟΥ 1 Ο ΙΗΣΟΥΣ από τη ΝΑΖΑΡΕΤ ΘΡΗΣΚΕΙΕΣ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΣΜΟΥ. Social Spirit Greece