Originally, such concepts served traditional cultures to mentally structure and explain environmental events or to influence them positively for society ; by addressing the community , the natural environment or the presented transcendent beings at the same time . In contrast to the world religions, they are still more focused on the here and now. They mostly promote the emotional and spiritual bond to ethnicity and nature, which is also expressed in their ethics and rich mythologies . The concept of individual salvation or the hope of an existence on the other side can hardly be found; The focus is on the salvation of the community. Traditional belief systems have no founders of religion , no universal validity claim and no explicit moral code. They are open to foreign influences, so that a great variety of different ideas and forms have developed over the millennia.
There are thousands of different local beliefs around the world. Since the first contact with the world religions , there have been considerable missionary efforts around the world in order to eradicate the “pagan” ideas . As far as is known, their official following makes up only four percent of the world's population. The trend is sharply decreasing, as its followers are increasingly professing a world religion for various pragmatic reasons. However, this does not mean that they have completely abandoned the old traditions and actually live the new religion . Purely locally developed, largely uninfluenced religious ideas can only be found among the few isolated peoples of the tropics. More or less strongly mixed with elements of world religions, they can still be found in remote wilderness regions of northern Canada, eastern Greenland, Siberia and Australia, in large parts of black Africa, India and in the mountainous countries of Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
In the absence of a theory of religion, “ethnic religion” is understood today as a collective term without reference to a specific scientific concept . Only the lack of textual records of religious content, the unity of an ethnic group (ethnic group) with their beliefs and practices, as well as a primarily nature-related spirituality (in various forms) are generally recognized criteria for delimitation.
Today the term is mostly used in German ethnology , less often in cultural anthropology . There, as in religious studies , terms such as non-scripted religions , tribal religions or indigenous religions are also used. Previously common terms such as primitive or archaic religions are rejected by most scientists or only used with reservations because of their derogatory tendency and the imprecise or misleading terminology ( “nature” as opposed to “culture” ). This also applies to the concept of the "original religion"; and for the still popular term natural religions , which is misleading because it is by no means limited to the whole of nature as an object of religious worship and because it is often associated with a supposed "natural state" of humans. The word “religion” is currently being criticized by some scholars in relation to ethnic concepts, as the term is too fixated on Christianity and European cultures.
Every abbreviation used so far for such systems of belief more or less suggests a unit of religious studies. In fact, however, there is an enormous variety of religious ideas and practices with the most varied of characteristics, which are only perceived as a supposed unit because of their strangeness . Therefore, most of today's professionals avoid a generalizing definition of the term . As a makeshift cluster designation , “Ethnic Religions” has established itself among a large number of current experts.
Term or designation? Different perspectives
The term “ethnic religion” appears in Goethe's educational novel Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre as early as 1821 . Even in Goethe's time there was disagreement about the term. The use of the term ethnic religion in modern science - which is used today as a neutral substitute for various other misleading or derogatory expressions - uses the technical term ethnic ( ancient Greek éthnos '[foreign] people' ) introduced by Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann , which is used in various multi-word designations can be found.
"Religion" is a secular technical term that originally only appeared in European languages and has no equivalent in other languages. Indigenous peoples mostly only associate Christianity and the Church. On the other hand, they see their own traditional ideas and practices as “something else”, but not as religion. People often see no contradiction in professing a Catholic religion, for example, although almost all rituals and transcendent ideas still follow tradition. On the contrary, it is more astonishing when the old belief is also called religion.
The clear separation of church and state and, last but not least, the contact with foreign cultures led to a clear sharpening of the term “religion” and the characteristics associated with it in European science. However, this definition is artificial, because it gives the impression that religious expressions are something independent, that can be separated from everyday life. Presumably most believers, regardless of tradition, will contradict this view. The concept of religion - as an integration of the system of belief , ethics and ritual - is only helpful in order to have an umbrella term for things of faith and to distinguish other ideological systems from it.
When applied to foreign cultures, however, this generic term is taken ad absurdum , since its fixed sub-terms (e.g. God, immortal soul, heaven and hell, revelation, etc.) are inevitably transported with it. This creates a conceptual dilemma :
- From the perspective of "the West" is today against the backdrop of long evolutionary embossed Research History politically correct , all the comprehensive belief systems with appropriate rituals, communities, ethical principles and a private view of the world than religion to describe.
- From the point of view of "foreigners", however, it is just as understandable that they do not want to cover their completely different ideas with the same term that the colonial rulers brought with them as a synonym for Christianity or Islam.
From the perspective of foreigners, according to a suggestion by the ethnologist and religious scholar Bettina E. Schmidt, the so-called “ethnic religions” should rather be “[...] systems of beliefs and practices that have meaning for a certain group, in a certain historical and cultural context . ” .
International usage of the term
In the English language, the term is used as a replacement for the term primal religion coined by Andrew Walls of the University of Aberdeen in the 1970s and for the term indigenous religion used by his student James Cox since the 1990s.
Deviating from the German usage, it is also used in the Anglo-Saxon-speaking area for followers of scriptural religions that are firmly anchored in an ethnic group or nation, e.g. B. Hindus or Parsees . The ethnic religions described here are addressed in English with terms such as tribal religion or primal religion , which, however, are often perceived as derogatory. The term folk religion , which is also used, refers primarily to the lack of complex forms of institutionalization, clergy and written traditions of a system of religious and non-religious everyday practices such as B. the Chinese folk belief or the cargo cults .
In French, the terms réligion tribale (tribal religion), réligion traditional (with the addition, e.g. africaine ) and réligion ethnique are used almost synonymously.
In Spanish, however, religón étnica is used as a term for both ethnic religions and ethnic-religious groups and contrasted with the term réligion universal .
Ethnic-religious groups, however, have nothing to do with scriptless religions; These are ethnic groups (mostly minorities ) who distinguish themselves from the majority society in particular through their traditional religion (examples: Zoroastrians, Druze , Hui-Chinese ).
The problem of conceptual delimitation is also made clear by the fact that the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER), founded in 1998, etc. a. Hindus, but also supporters of neo-pagan movements organize.
"There is something that opens our spiritual understanding - even if we do not worship God - that is nature."
It inevitably leads to misunderstandings when we try to describe very strange things in the religious terms of our own culture or religion. For example, the terms God and nature or the derived term natural religion lead to ideas that have completely different meanings in other cultures. The best way is to use the foreign terms and try to explain their meaning. Modern ethnology of religion primarily examines individual religious experiences in their social, cultural and / or historical context without assigning them “clearly” to a specific religion. Particularly in the case of the changeable orally handed down traditions, the statements of various followers differ so widely that it is difficult to summarize them without contradiction under the term of a certain "religion". Even more far-reaching abstractions by scientists, such as the concepts of shamanism or animism , which are supposed to unify the ideas of completely different ethnic groups, are therefore mostly obsolete today. That is not to say, however, that there are no fuzzy matches or indigenous concepts. They only go far beyond what people of European cultures associate with the term “religion”.
The following matches and concepts are often mentioned:
The ethnic religions are generally limited to a relatively small circle of followers who identify themselves as a definable group through a common ancestry and / or culture (language, history, way of subsistence, customs ... and even religion ) and mostly in a narrowly defined group Live settlement area. Exceptions according to the size are Voodoo with around 60 million followers and a worldwide distribution in several local groups and the Shintoism of Japan with at least four million followers.
The term "ethnic" mind includes not only homogeneous minorities or lineages , but also heterogeneous nevertheless feel they belong together because of certain cultural similarities groups. For example, some African religions or the remarkably uniform Polynesian religion go far beyond individual “tribal boundaries”. The accelerating migratory movements, especially in Africa, also lead to an increased syncretism of elements of ethnic religions; but this also makes them an important factor in social inclusion or exclusion .
Lack of writing
The characteristic with which the ethnic religions are "by definition " differentiated from the book religions is their lack of writing . From time immemorial, religious traditions have only been passed on orally and through traditional ritual practices. However, this does not exclude that from the perspective of foreign ethnic groups there is a preservation of religious content through various types of signs and symbols or the “reading” of natural objects or artifacts . The sharp distinction between reality and record (whatever it is) is a western notion. The lack of scriptures makes these religions very changeable, depending on the collective history as well as the individual perception of the people. In contrast to religious books - which are at least open to literary experts - the knowledge is often kept secret by religious specialists in ethnic religions. While the static texts of the religions based on holy scriptures have to be reinterpreted over and over again in the course of cultural change and, if necessary, formulated in a secularized language, otherwise the believers no longer understand them, oral traditions inevitably have to continuously adapt to the change in understanding.
The Germanic religion is a borderline case. A number of ritual texts and formulas with magical meaning have been handed down as runic texts from the long period of transition from the non-written to the written culture from approx. 600 to 1200 , which were probably only understandable for a small elite, but were handed down within them in rudimentary written form were. In addition, there is the written record of oral traditions during or immediately after Christianization. Although the songs of the Elder Edda are myths and not sacred texts, other sources, especially the Snorra Edda , which reports neutrally about pagan customs, also describe religious rituals that had an impact on everyday life in Christian times . Their survival in the representations was felt by Snorri as not without danger for Christians. This probably also applies to the presentation of the old Germanic world of gods in the myths and songs of the Elder Edda. The emergence and transmission of a complex cosmology with a chronology of events, as presented in the Völuspá and Gylfaginning , would, however, require the existence of a developed written culture; either it is a question of subsequent systematization or - as Andreas Heusler suspected - there are actually older written documents that have disappeared.
Shintoism also has a special feature. From the 8th century, i.e. the time of the spread of Buddhism in Japan and the transition from the Chinese script to a phonetic spelling of Japanese with Chinese letters, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki scripts are collections of myths that had no sacred meaning, but supported the continued existence of the Shinto tradition. It was only after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 that they were canonized within the framework of State Shinto .
Hans-Jürgen Greschat mentions the lack of religious founders as a further characteristic . Regardless of whether the respective myths about the origins of the world contain a creator or not, the history of all ethnic religions begins with the primeval times in which the cosmic order arose. Donor personalities such as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha apparently only emerge when this original balance begins to falter due to an increased change in "heating cultures" . The rituals of the ethnic religions are therefore not based on the life of a founder, but mostly on the natural annual cycle and the lunar calendar .
Missing missionary mandate
In contrast to the missionary universal religions, neither the major folk religions (Hinduism, Daoism, Jewish religion) nor the small “tribal religions” have a (divine) mandate to convert people of different faiths. At birth one is “born into” religion and the respective religious ideas are almost everywhere only related to one's own people or cultural group and not transferred to others. Mission is therefore an alien thought.
This attitude, however, often favors the influence of world religions, since foreign beliefs are usually respected and not viewed as “crazy” or “superstition”.
Further possible features for delimitation
Functionally arguing ethnologists like Clifford Geertz emphasize that ethnic religions can fulfill a variety of functions and develop completely different symbolic forms and rituals for them. The local cults (like the tribal religion of the ancient Greeks on the way to the Olympic heaven of gods) are often subject to a functional differentiation through the creation of ever new immanent and transcendent entities. These help to order man's ideas of existence and the world; they motivate people and support them in trying to work on nature; they integrate society and demarcate it from the outside; but with increasing social differentiation of society (in the transition area to the written “high religion”) they can also serve to legitimize rule.
The following characteristics are under discussion and are not recognized by all experts as distinguishing features. For example, they are viewed as overly generalized, criticized as exaggeratedly emphasized facets, or are unsuitable because they also occur in non- ethnic religions.
Spiritual relation to nature
The beliefs of most ethnic religions are symbolized by numerous aspects of the natural environment, since the "goal" of these so-called "natural religions" is also the direct, positive influence on natural conditions. This does not exclude that “rational” forms of influencing nature are used at the same time in the current sense; both forms are equivalent and no distinction is made. The religious repertoire therefore reflects the immediate living space of people as well as the economic and social conditions of their followers and in this context is an “optimal form of religion”. Josef Franz Thiel, for example, expresses this delimitation feature in the theological real encyclopedia . For millennia, belief has been an essential factor in the common cultural identity of every people.
All so-called non-scripted cultures originally operated traditional forms of subsistence - such as hunting, fishing, collecting, gardening or farming - which require a direct examination of the natural environment and an energy-efficient and sustainable adaptation in order to be able to live from it well and permanently. Therefore, maintaining the balance between man and nature played an existential role. In the course of history, this led to a detailed traditional knowledge of the natural order and the “rhythms” of its recurring processes as well as a constant comparison between action and its consequences: nature determined the “rhythm” of life and religion served to preserve it of balance by giving people
- a comprehensive, holistically linked explanatory model that fits the lifestyle and
- offered a canon of values as an ethical and moral framework for action.
This framework for action consisted on the one hand of the sanctification of natural phenomena - such as B. sacred mountains , rocks, waterfalls, springs, groves ; Rain, wind, sun, moon; certain animals or plants - which either appeared particularly powerful (whale, elephant, bear, trees, etc.) or were existential for survival (bison, salmon, yams, corn, etc.), as well as special natural principles (sexuality, Seasons). Such objects of worship have been personified or animated by adding a human-like soul, indwelling spirit, supernatural life force, and the like to them. Ä. were attributed. Since this so-called animism can be found in different degrees and directed at different objects in all ethnic religions, the term animism is also used colloquially and in theology as a synonym for ethnic religions. However, it has a pejorative appeal and can be seen as a relic of evolutionist perspectives because of its reference to the outdated animism theory.
The second aspect of the moral framework consisted of various sacred taboos and ritual regulations for dealing with the environment. They should primarily serve to preserve the vital resources . Compliance with such norms automatically leads to effective nature conservation, which, however, must not be misunderstood as "altruistic ecocentrism", because religious cults such as hunting magic or fertility rites also serve to gain power over the non-human world. The decisive factor is the degree of piety of those involved - in other words: their motivation to adhere to the norms - which, however , can be classified as very high in the case of intact local communities .
The originally animistic conception of the all-soulness of nature was partly transferred to the world of objects as a whole. The idea of the liveliness of the object world, also taken up by Shintoism, is z. B. can still be found in Japanese popular belief, according to which everyday objects and, above all, thrown things come to life and can then cause more or less harmless confusion as tsukumogami . This belief has an evident ecological function in a resource-poor economy like that of Japan; At the same time, he encouraged Japanese technicians to develop culture-specific developments ( Tamagotchi , care and entertainment robots ) and led to their social acceptance.
Changeable and present spirits and gods
Animism (all-soulfulness) and polytheism (polytheism) have long been regarded as the distinguishing feature of the belief systems assessed as "primitive". Today, however, it is no longer ignored that various animistic and polytheistic elements can also be found in the world religions. Due to the derogatory connotation that has been associated with the two terms since then, they are only rarely mentioned as a fundamental characteristic of non-scripted religions. The ethnologist Klaus E. Müller, on the other hand, still considers the special forms of ethnic worlds of spirits and gods to be clear distinguishing features.
All ethnic religions know a diverse " afterlife in this world" in which various gods, ancestors, free souls, animal or plant spirits , numinous forces, demons and much more occur who live in all possible natural phenomena and are responsible for all significant events. However, their respective meaning cannot be classified. Nevertheless, some common characteristics can be formulated:
- In the monotheistic systems one God is considered to be the creator of the world. He dominates and penetrates it, but stands above it and is worshiped. In the ethnic religions, a so-called " high god belief " is also often present. Heaven is usually assumed to be the seat of the highest being; but this highest transcendent being does not constantly intervene in what is happening on earth and is hardly anchored in cult in everyday life. Instead, different spiritual beings or forces act here, with whom people communicate daily and who they revere, but often also fear. In polytheistic religions, where the forces of nature are more personalized, the gods have superhuman but specialized abilities. They are mostly not omnipotent or omnipresent, nor are they immortal or eternal.
- If the idea of a creator god is found , he usually only plays a role in the myths, since he withdrew after the creation of the world and no longer has any direct influence on the present. He is not regularly venerated, but often only called in emergency situations. No sanctuaries are dedicated to him either. As long as the world goes on, his intervention does not seem necessary. Nevertheless, one cannot - as Mircea Eliade does - speak of a Deus otiosus , since the highest being is not addressed directly and openly for reasons of respect; but it is always mentally present.
- Even if some henotheistic (one main god, worship of several gods) or monolatric religions (one main god without worship of other gods) in stratified societies also know high gods who have an influence on human life, are worshiped and are sometimes omnipotent and omnipresent, is a Monotheism in the strict sense cannot be found in any local religion.
- In contrast to the canonical world religions, in which the transcendent beings have clearly defined properties and tasks, they are extremely unclear and changeable in the ethnic religions. The boundaries between gods, spirits and ancestors cannot always be precisely defined. The divine can dwell in numerous separate entities or beings and take various forms.
- The highest being is usually a “tribal” deity or spiritual force, not a universal “world ruler”. It is predominantly typical for the respective economic system (hunter → master of the animals ; arable farmers → female earth deities ; shepherds → heaven god ). This supreme being and many others, all of whom are closely connected to the natural environment, must be appeased with the help of various rites and rituals in order to give people positive living conditions. But in many hunter-gatherer societies there is no concept of a personified supreme being. Instead, all of nature in this predeistic world of ideas is thought of as being permeated by a wind or a breath or a communal soul. This enlivens all things and sacralizes them; There is no special worship of gods or elaborate ideas about the hereafter.
- Many cultures around the world know divine or supernatural powers that are unknown in the world religions (e.g. Oceania: Mana , Algonquin: Manitu , Iroquois: Orenda , Sioux: Wakan , Nuba: Masala, Ainu: Kamuy). Similar to the phenomenon of animism, these forces were previously mistaken for universal ideas (as in Robert Ranulph Marett's concept of animatism ).
- The “ cultural heroes ” often play an important role . These are “creatures” from prehistoric times, from which important cultural elements as well as the institutions and the people themselves are often derived. So stole z. B. Māui , who is worshiped by the Māori , fire to the gods. Some of these heroes are double-faced characters who suddenly appear as malicious neppers, swindlers or charlatans. In this case, they are called tricksters . They should make it clear to people that the order they have created themselves can turn into chaos again at any time if they are not careful.
Lack of religious organizations
The separation of the religious and the profane , the sacred and the everyday is much less clear in non-missionary ethnic groups who live in a traditional subsistence economy than in other civilizations. Even in the rare cases in which ethnic religions have a strict dualism of this world and the hereafter, similar to Christianity, religious associations permeate all actions: "Life is religion" and is not dominated by belief in the hereafter.
This blurred separation between the sacred and everyday spheres is due, among other things, to the fact that there are only very few and limited religious organizations in traditional religions. Accordingly, there is also no spiritual profession . Official priests only appear in more complex pre-state societies. Here it is often clan elders who also exercise priestly functions. Regular "ethnic churches" are unknown, and also the existence of various secret societies among indigenous peoples, e. B. with some Bantu tribes, which mostly have to do with the cult of ancestors, does not justify exclusion from the group of ethnic religions.
While the universal religions attach great importance to the immutability of their teachings (→ orthodoxy ), one could also consider the unconventionality and mutability of the orally transmitted world views, which have no fixed dogmas and are flexibly adapted to changed living conditions (e.g. according to Ina Wunn ), as a differentiation criterion. This is evident, for example, in the development of the Ainu religion . This fact becomes particularly clear when one considers the rapid and diverse formation of syncretistic hybrid forms with the beliefs of dominant majority societies: Almost everywhere in the world, traditional societies easily integrated suitable elements from the missionary world religions into their own belief systems, instead of actually being converted, like the missionaries would have liked it (examples are Afro-Brazilian religions or the Native American Church ).
Cyclical conception of time with reference to the present
The Indian political scientist Vine Deloria junior , on the other hand, considers the extensive "timelessness" of ethnic religions to be the decisive criterion for separating them: Time plays a role primarily in the sense of recurring annual cycles, the "primeval times" are mostly vague and without chronology; Ancestors and cultural heroes are made present ; divine punishments take place immediately and not just at the “last judgment” in an indefinite future; and places are sacred by their very nature and not related to specific historical events.
Greschat formulated for the Theological Real Encyclopedia: "This task [to bring about salvation for the community] is accepted as responsibility for the continued existence of the primeval world and necessarily draws religious attention to the present." He also listed this understanding of time as a delimitation criterion.
Religions of reconciliation versus religions of salvation
The Protestant theologian Theo Sundermeier considers the ethnic religions to be a fundamentally different type than the world religions. In his opinion, the essential difference lies in the orientation : The highest goal of the great belief systems - according to Sundermeier the so-called "redemption religions" - is individual redemption from evil or from the suffering of existence in a future, immortal-transcendent reality. The ethnic “religions of reconciliation”, on the other hand, would primarily seek to maintain and renew peace, harmony and the present unity of community and the world; In other words: to stabilize the social, economic and ecological reality in this world and to protect it from damage. The well-being of the individual is linked for better or for worse with the well-being of the neighbor and the community. In this altruistic common good itself the deeper meaning of the " primitive " life would lie - and not in the retribution of good deeds by higher powers in a later life. The hereafter must serve people during their lifetime; it promises neither meaning in life nor redemption or enlightenment. Thoughts about the time after death are not directed to one's own continued existence, but to the life of the following generations. The theologian Dietrich Zilleßen expressed himself in a similar way .
In addition to all bookless local religions, Sundermeier also classifies the historical religions of the ancient Egyptians , Greeks , Romans , Celts and Germanic peoples , the Far Eastern religions of Daoism , Chinese folk beliefs and some of the Hindu or Buddhist syncretistic “mixed religions” of India and Southeast Asia and finally the Jewish religion to the religions of reconciliation. He sees Christianity in two parts: depending on the local denomination , it may be more of a religion of reconciliation (such as South American liberation theology or the Afro-American denominations of North America) than a religion of redemption.
Possible assignment problems
There are some religions whose assignment to ethnic religions is problematic:
- The “syncretistic new religions”, which - above all in the course of the suppression of local religions - emerged as a “crisis reaction” through the influence of foreign cultures, are mostly limited to certain indigenous peoples and are largely based on oral tradition. However, they often refer to the Bible or other sacred texts and almost always have a founder (for example the Ratana church of the Māori through Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, the spirit dance movement of the prairie Indians through Wodziwob, peyotism in North America through Quanah Parker or - with Limitations - Laestadianism among the Sámi by Lars Levi Laestadius ); and the ideas of the transcendent world are always more or less influenced by a revealed religion. An assignment to the traditional ethnic religions is therefore not given in the sense used here.
- The Jesidentum is Ina Wunn ethnically called. Although it has animistic-ethnic elements, it is in principle a monotheistic belief and knows a founder, so that this assignment is not correct in the sense that is otherwise often used in specialist discourse.
- The traditional Tibetan religion Bön knows holy scriptures, has a founder and has a lot in common with Buddhism. Nevertheless, at least the form of the old Bon clearly has animistic features.
- Japanese Shintoism meets all the criteria for ethnic religions, except for the fact that there are two sacred texts.
“We [the indigenous peoples] describe ourselves less as conservationists than as people who are born with the values of self-preservation. We register the warning signals that nature sends out, signs such as climate change, the taste of the water and the sad songs of the birds. "
In addition to the distinctive features that exclusively characterize ethnic religions, there are some other similarities that have been formulated by different authors. They are not restricted to ethnic religions only and therefore do not serve as delimitation features . There are also a relatively large number of exceptions. The main problem is a consequence of the enormous variety of such phenomena, so that any model reduction can inevitably easily be criticized. In the mass media, the impression is often given that the greatest commonality in the thinking of the ethnic groups who only use narrowly limited ecosystems is a spiritually based nature conservation. Although the preservation of livelihoods plays a central role in the similarities, this is a stereotypical simplification that does not do justice to reality, as the introductory quote also shows.
In a differentiated view, five such similarities are formulated relatively often in the literature:
- Emotional kinship with the world
- Omnipresent spirituality
- Individual responsibility
- Ritualized cycles
- Value-preserving myths and cults
These characteristics apply largely to all local religions, but in very different forms.
Emotional kinship with the world
“The first peace, the most important, is that which enters the souls of people when they realize their kinship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and realize that Wakan-Tanka lives in the center of the universe and this center actually is everywhere; it is in each of us. [...] "
In addition to the worship of certain natural objects or phenomena, practically all (formerly) traditional societies have a close spiritual and emotional-kinship bond to their living space - "their" country - which provides direct access to the religious, which is common to people in industrialized nations is incomprehensible.
The oldest form of political-social organization is the domination-free acephaly , an egalitarian consensus democracy , which in turn emerged from the close family ties of early predatory groups . This results in the great appreciation that family obligations ( biological , marital or mythical ) and their fulfillment are shown. The animistic belief in the animated nature of natural phenomena, the omnipresence of complex ecological entanglements and totemistic or spiritually based relationships to other living beings, such as the idea of an alter ego, extend “family thinking” to large areas of the environment. In so-called “natural religions” man does not consider himself the crown of creation ; there he sees himself more as a “brother among siblings”. In this sense, Aby Warburg speaks in his study of the snake cult of the Pueblo Indians of totemism as a "form of Darwinism through mythical affinity", which makes bloody animal sacrifices unnecessary and takes the form of an interaction between humans and animals. It is a mythological-psychological relationship as a preliminary stage to the rational explanation of the world.
“When one of us dies, his soul divides. One part stays in the country and turns into a tree, the other goes to Bralgu Island for a while. The spirits occasionally come to the mainland. [...] "
Notions of metamorphosis as from this Aboriginal quote often form the basis for psycho-mental communication with the "transcendent relatives" - with spirits, demons , angels , gods, ancestors, etc. The shamanic journey , the trance dance and the are known here above all Vision quest . In the case of unaffected ethnic religions, every member knows which objects and processes are related and therefore sacred, which taboos are to be observed, which rituals are necessary to maintain cosmic harmony and which consequences violations of these norms should trigger. The consequences are believed to be seen in accidents and illnesses, which are generally interpreted as a reaction to the wrongdoing of people (lack of respect for ghosts, violations of rules and traditions) or the working of harmful spells by malevolent witches or sorcerers.
Much more than with the so-called “ high religions ”, the everyday life of traditional people is permeated by belief in such supernatural powers and magical powers. Since the transition from human to non-human "persons" is fluid in an all-soul world, the work of the supernatural plays a role in very many peoples in all areas of life, so that religion is not a separate area of life, but life itself .
The ideas of the supernatural are very different depending on the ethnic group: They can be beneficial, helpful and strengthening for the whole group or for the individual; but also malicious, dangerous and debilitating. Accordingly, all actions of natural religious people - even games, art, dance or music are not (only) for entertainment - always have some kind of spiritual reference.
According to Klaus E. Müller, the “interface” to the spirit world is at least a two-part soul concept , in which a distinction is made between the vital soul and the free soul . The vital soul is connected to the body and serves to maintain the body functions. It is primarily localized in warm and hard parts of the body and, like the body itself, is transitory. The free soul, on the other hand, is immortal, detachable from the body and thus has the characteristics of a spirit that, in many cultures, goes into the afterlife as an ancestral soul after death. It is the cause of life and all mental functions and can be released from the body during sleep, in a trance or drug intoxication , through fright, affects or serious illnesses.
The “mystical experience” - the necessary direct and personal contact with the higher powers and the ability to influence them - requires a special gift “from above” in all ethnic groups. Which people have this gift is different from people to people.
“In every living being there is a little god. And because we worship everything that lives, we cannot be ruthless with what nature has given us. "
With peoples who do not know any separation of everyday life and things of faith, no fixed canon and no form of "church organization", the practice of religion is largely left to the individual: He can freely decide in which situation he performs which ritual - for example to appease the Ghosts of slain animals, as with most hunter-races. Nobody is monitoring this; there is no distinction between “true” and “false” beliefs and sins such as blasphemy or heresy are unknown. Instead, everyone naturally trusts that all group members willingly submit to tradition and the applicable taboos.
The most important starting point for ethnic religiosity is the direct experience of the transcendent . In addition to prayer and various sacrificial rituals, people have various options available to them, depending on tradition. Common practices include fasting , dreaming , deliberate isolation, or ingesting hallucinogenic substances to create visionary impressions that are viewed as contact with the numinous forces. In addition, in almost all local religions, various necromancers , healers, magicians , seers , etc. - all as part-time specialists - mediate between humans and the hereafter . The sacred knowledge is passed on (and possibly changed) by these specialists and / or by all those who claim to have had visionary experiences. There is no clear separation between lay people and religious experts. The existence of such religious specialists seems to have been archaeologically proven for Neolithic South Africa.
The approach to religion is mostly pragmatic : You only worship those forces who can and want to help . The worship of divine powers for the sake of their greatness or holiness is practically unknown. Collective rituals are also rarely instructed “from above”. Despite the lack of separation between everyday life and religion, the great individual devotion and the presumed omnipresence of otherworldly powers, as a rule no turning away from reality can be observed and there are also groups in which the importance of spiritual activities is minor.
“At some point the supernatural beings also encountered the places where the unfinished human children were lying. They were moved with pity at the sight of it and decided to save the people. They separated them from one another and opened their sense organs so that they could perceive and develop. Then they teach them to live in harmony with their ancestors on earth and to master ceremonies, chants and magic. "
The continuity in the biosphere is particularly evident through the permanent repetition of various cycles. This fact is found in one form or another in all ethnic religions. This is very impressive in the dream time of the Aborigines, who use various rituals to maintain the mutual exchange of prehistoric times and the present that they perceive. In many cases, this concept extends to an assumed eternal return of the world, similar to the samsara concept in Hinduism and Buddhism : A final world end is unknown, after the destruction a new world automatically arises again. Wherever there is a linear course of history directed towards a definitive end of the world, there is always an influence of the Christian or Islamic mission.
The religious strategies for the eternal cycles result from the already described emotional kinship feeling : Specifically, they are based on the projection of human life cycles - birth-childhood-aging-death (rebirth), day-night rhythm, seasons, etc. - on the whole World, which are then sanctified in equally regularly recurring collective rites (especially rites of passage ) and individual rituals . The strict repetition is intended to bring people into harmony with the natural cycles and in this way participates in the eternal, divine existence of the cosmos.
Changes that do not correspond to the cycles were seen by traditional people as a threat to the cosmic equilibrium, so that many “natural religious” peoples have developed strategies to preserve the status quo of life as unchanged as possible. Claude Lévi-Strauss coined the term “cold cultures” in this context . It is completely different with the “peoples who live in history”, for whom progress and change with an unknown goal have the highest priority.
Value-preserving myths and cults
“Everything was in balance: our prayers, our rituals, our ancestors, nature. We always knew that if the balance were broken, everything would change. Therefore it was necessary that our prayers and rituals be undisturbed. Then the Christian whites came 90 years ago. From then on everything started to change. [...] Our beliefs changed, our customs changed, and since then nature has changed too. [...] "
Instead of the established doctrines in the high religions, the orally transmitted myths and the cult associated with them in the ethnic religions ensure the transmission and preservation of the faith and the associated values. They are far more than similes or fairy tales , but rather form the collective cultural memory and the religious symbol system of traditional peoples. The idea of a close connection between man and the cosmos, which could only be maintained by adhering to the cult (as it becomes clear in the introductory quote from the Solomon Islands), used to be found in practically all ethnic groups living close to nature. The strong attachment to the myths and the overpowering, partly human, partly animal ancestral figures that appear in it are therefore characteristic. As a rule, they are pictorial stories from a (not historically comprehensible) prehistoric age, when communication between humans and other beings (animals, spirits, deities) was normal. This is particularly evident in the dream time of the Australian Aborigines. Even if the myths often appear incoherent, unclear and sometimes even contradicting their content, they place the people who grew up with them, their environment and the ultimately incomprehensible reality in a closely-knit context of meaning. “It is characteristic of the myths of the natural religions that even the smallest details of the lifeworld are taken up and interpreted in relation to the actions of the mythical ancestors. Every tree, every watering hole, every clan name, even the place of a house in the village has its religious counterpart in myth. ”Together with the cult activities derived from them, the ethnic religions unfold their psychosocial effect (for example as a world explanation , motivational basis or to strengthen solidarity ).
These cult acts are extremely diverse; however, rotate among all ethnic groups among other things
- for thanks and humility towards creation,
- for forgiveness for human intervention in the natural balance and
- about respect and reverence for life, ancestors and traditions.
Almost everywhere, cultic acts consist of individual and collective rituals. The latter are often expressed in music (e.g. in Sámi joik ) and in dance . Moreover, the ritual of sacrifice is known in some form to a great many ethnic groups; if not with all.
In the case of the ethnic cults of the dead, it can also be seen that in the external process and with regard to their meaning all over the world they are divided into three stages: separation (detachment from the deceased), liminal phase (unqualified intermediate state) and integration (rebirth, acceptance into the realm of the dead, incarnation of the spirit etc.) are structured. The goals are always to act out the grief for the individual and to protect against instability in the community that can result from the loss of people.
“In the small society, the religious is indeed the 'inevitable'. Religion is represented in cult, it determines the ethics of the group and of the individual and has its counterpart in the sacred, however it is named and understood. "
Many attempts have been made to establish a classifying typology of religion . For the ethnic religions - or for all religions as a whole - this has not yet succeeded convincingly by today's standards. According to Ina Wunn , today's models are still too strongly influenced by evolutionist views, which assumed a gradual development of religion from an (allegedly) primitive cultural "primary" to an (allegedly) highly developed level.
The enormous diversity of ethnic religions is very difficult to categorize; not least because of the inadequate ethnographic source material. So far, there are only very few traditional religions (such as the Indian ones), detailed family trees with the resulting systematics, which were prepared according to modern scientific standards.
As an alternative, a geographical classification (the religions of North America, Siberia, Polynesia, etc.) is mostly used today, which naturally only allows very limited conclusions to be drawn about family relationships.
Two frequently cited typologies that manage without devaluations and exaggerated analogisms are the classifications according to cult practice and socio-ecological framework conditions, which are explained below and whose results also complement each other well.
(The description suggests clear demarcations between the types. Please note that these are actually very strongly idealizing models: in reality there are at least as many mixed forms as ideal-typical forms and the boundaries between the categories are extremely simplified!)
Typology according to cult practice
The Canadian-American anthropologist Anthony FC Wallace presented a four-part typology of religions according to cult practice in 1966 (cults and rituals are characterized by a long life and little variability, so that they are well suited for cross- cultural studies). Wallace sees a connection between the form of organization and technology of an ethnic group and the manner in which it acts in ritual terms (“cult institutions”). Its results were fundamentally confirmed and further refined in 2007 by Roberts and Sanderson (by comparison with an analysis by Murdock and White of 186 pre-industrial communities).
The types presented below build on one another: That is, in societies that practice Olympic cults, communal, shamanic and individual cults also occur and so on.
Shamanic religion type
The simplest form of cult are individual rituals that can be performed by any person anytime and anywhere (for example, prayer, small offerings or a search for visions). Wallace does not name a religion in which only such rituals are performed. The “next higher” cult form are rites that are carried out by specially trained necromancers (he generally calls shamans) at the request of a person, a family or a community with a specific goal (to heal illness, bring hunted animals, guide the dead, influence the weather, avert disaster etc.). Wallace summarizes ethnic religions in which individual and shamanic cults are present to form the "shamanic type of religion".
Followers of the shamanic type of religion are strongly bound to nature and worship gods and spirits who reveal themselves directly (as the respective cause of things) in natural phenomena (animism). It occurs in societies that 63% live primarily from hunting and gathering, 83% are organized as tribal societies and 90% do not have their own script.
Sanderson sees the success of these religions in healing the sick and especially in reducing anxiety within the community.
Communal religion type
This form of cult involves the rites that are held jointly by the members of a group (such as initiation rites, religiously inspired dance ceremonies, sacrificial ceremonies, etc.). Many of these ceremonies are based on calendar cycles. Wallace describes ethnic groups who know not only the individual and shamanic cults but also common rites as a “communal” or “collective type of religion”.
In this type, the ancestor cult is added to the animistic belief . 52% of the followers of communal religious types live from agriculture , 52% are organized in tribal societies and 31% in chiefdoms and 81% have no script.
Sanderson sees the most important reason for the success of these traditional religions in the cult of ancestors as an important social factor for the cohesion of the more complex structured societies.
Olympic religion type
If a religion also contains cults that are well organized and often standardized by a full-time specialist (priest) in front of and with the community (in ethnic religions mainly sacrifices), Wallace speaks of the "Olympic" or "ecclesiastic type of religion" ( according to Roberts and Sanderson "polytheistic type").
It is characteristic of the Olympic type that a large number of human-like gods (good and bad, intelligent and stupid) live in a pantheon , each of which fulfills special functions and some of which are represented by certain sanctuaries ( temples , shrines , idols , etc.) become. Olympic religions occur in societies that live 50% from agricultural or traditional agriculture and 42% from horticulture . 33% of the people live in segmental societies , 25% in chiefdoms or principalities and 42% in their own states . 66% of the Olympic religions are writtenless.
According to Sanderson, these systems - found in both ethnic and major Eastern religions - also deal with questions about the meaning of life.
Monotheistic religion type
With the monotheistic type, Wallace breaks the principle of cult practice, because apart from the larger spectrum of cults they correspond to the Olympic type (so that, strictly speaking, they are not a separate category).
In addition, Wallace and Sanderson and Roberts use a very broad definition of monotheism, which, in addition to the actual Abrahamic “one-god religions”, also includes Hinduism (Vishnu and Shiva as a manifestation of a divine principle), Buddhism , Daoism and Confucianism (Buddha, Laociianism and Confucius as godlike personalities).
This type of religion (which includes all world religions) occurs 78% in agricultural cultures and 19% in livestock societies. 60% of them are politically organized in states and 87% have a script. Ethnic religions do not belong in this category.
Typology by way of life
The second typology of religions, which is often used due to the lack of an evolutionary family tree classification, is a division according to the formative environmental factors and the resulting ways of life. On the one hand it is certain that society and (ethnic) religion can only be found in the closest symbiosis; and on the other hand, a similar “religious environment” - primarily the concrete use of the natural conditions, but also the social organization, economic factors, technology and the political constellation - often leads to relatively similar ideas. It follows that religions change rapidly as soon as environmental conditions change. In this respect, the type of change is directed and reacts directly to the religious needs triggered by the environmental change. For example, a god of hunting loses its meaning when a group - for example due to the influence of western civilization - switches to sedentary agriculture.
This connection explains why the religion of Eskimo sea hunters, the fishing and hunter religion of the North American northwest coast or the agricultural religion of the Iroquois have relatively similar “counterparts” in other parts of the world, although there is no common ancestry. This type of view also forms the basis of the research approach to religious ecology .
The emphasis on the adjective relative in relation to the similarities indicates the weaknesses of this typology:
- Such correspondences are well documented and easily explainable in directly neighboring groups with a similar way of life by subsuming homologous and analogous processes as well as by direct cultural transfer . Building on this - in combination with other cultural elements - various models of so-called cultural areas were developed, which combine cultures of the same type over large areas. But already at this level of abstraction many deviations and exceptions are (inevitably) lost.
- Despite astonishing analogies that also exist across continents, it must not be overlooked that there are also many groups that have the same economic and social structures and that have nevertheless produced completely different systems of religious symbols.
A distinction is made between the following categories:
Religions of nomadic or semi-nomadic hunters, fishermen and gatherers
Here there is almost always an animistic belief in spirits: Practically all natural phenomena are considered to be animated or inhabited by spirits . Often a mythical-family connection to animals, but also to plants, mountains, springs and much more - the so-called totems - is established, which as symbols have an important meaning for the establishment of identity - either in the sense of a profane group badge or a sacred symbol. Central is possibly the idea of a natural order, which consists above all in the fact that certain living beings are the "property" of certain higher beings, who are called the lord or mistress of animals . Food and hunting taboos and forgiveness rituals are often derived from the relationship to other beings or the fear of acts of revenge on the part of the “owners”, some of which have an important function in conserving resources. Cultic acts consist, for example, in animal mimes, ritual transformations into animals or incantation rites before hunting expeditions. The spirits are - apart from the highest being - of equal rank and thus reflect the egalitarian social structure of the hunter peoples.
(The information about the hunters is written in the present tense, although there is hardly a single group whose religion is not already highly fragmented.)
Religions of the semi-sedentary or temporarily sedentary planters, hunters and fishermen
In the horticultural and moving field farmers - who grow tuberous plants such as cassava and yams or various types of vegetables, as well as hunting and fishing - the animistic spirit world is joined by the worship of extensive numinous powers or deities. Often they are not clearly human, but are instead viewed as a “unified sum of souls” of various natural phenomena - such as the world soul or mother earth - but are fundamentally above spirits. The origin of tree and tuber fruits is attributed to earth deities. In some planter cultures in America and Southeast Asia there is a belief in connections similar to that of the Dema deities of New Guinea, from whose dead bodies the new crops emerge. The change to agricultural production is also clearly reflected in the prehistoric myths: Often their end and the beginning of today's existence are associated with a dramatic event. Sexuality, marriage, and death are paramount in these religions. The ancestor cult, which occurs only rudimentarily among the hunters, plays a much larger role with some simple planters. In addition to individual and shamanic cults, there are also religious acts on a collective level (such as the rites of religious secret societies). They reinforce the cohesion of the group, which is more based on the special knowledge and skills of individuals than in the case of hunters. Religious taboos and totemic "kinship structures" are common, as with the hunters.
Religions of the long-term settled field and arable farmers
These religions are almost always polytheistic and the multitude of deities and spiritual beings - as a reflection of the greater human self-image as creative "cultural beings" and complex, hierarchical social structures - is often described as human-like. Almost always there is therefore a main god who is superior to the others. On the other hand, there is usually hardly any animistic belief in all soul. With the peoples who revere the earth as the source of all life, it is even more at the center of worship than with the planters; often in the form of an anthropomorphic earth goddess who are responsible for the fertility of the fields. The realization that successful, long-term area-like soil construction is dependent on balanced weather conditions, brought about the belief in sky gods who - depending on local conditions - are worshiped as sun or weather gods. Although the meaning of the “earth mother” is usually greater, it is not uncommon for the idea of a “world parent couple” to consist of heaven and earth deities. In the belief of numerous farmers, fire - often endowed with feminine characteristics or associated with a goddess - also plays a special role. There are also numerous societies in which separate love and fertility goddesses play a dominant role. Totem groups can also be found among soil farmers; Taboo rules are less meaningful, however. The ancestor cult with regular and permanent worship of the dead - which, with regard to sedentariness, accommodates the static attachment of the dead to the ground - is widespread. In these societies there are also full-time religious functionaries (priests) who coordinate the organized cult activities.
Religions of nomadic or semi-nomadic cattle herders
Among the nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoral peoples who live in areas that are too dry for plant cultivation, the highest god - as the ruler of the life-giving rain - almost always lives in heaven. Names and ideas of God are often associated with the sky or the sun. Most of these religions are polytheistic, some (especially in Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula ) are monotheistic - albeit always alongside animistic nature spirits similar to the hunters. Due to the mobile way of life, the ancestor cult is usually not very pronounced and since nothing is cultivated, earth deities also have little significance. Instead, the respective farm animals always have a particularly important religious meaning in the shepherd religions (as well as in the hunting equestrian cultures ). Since most nomads have always traded with soil farmers in order to get their own plant-based food, there were numerous contacts with their religions. This often had an influence on one's own beliefs and cults and explains, for example, the strong influence of Islam and Buddhism on the Central Asian shaman religions. As with the simple plants, mainly individual, shamanic and collective cults are performed. Since these people live in fragile ecosystems, there are numerous religious taboos. Totemic groups, on the other hand, rarely occur because there is no dependency on wild animals - and therefore no perceived kinship connection to them is necessary. Nomadic pastoral cultures are almost invariably organized in a patriarchal manner: just as women have always had to do with plants, so men with animals. In pastoral cultures, women are often excluded from religious functions or are sometimes not allowed to have anything to do with cattle.
Religions of complex sedentary cultures
Peoples who, in the course of the development to urban cultures - almost always connected with an expansive expansion of their sphere of influence - live on different economic methods (plant and / or animal production as well as handicrafts, trade and commerce) and who in this context need a multi-layered social structure, have either complex gods or a clear monotheism. The differentiated division of labor and the more frequent discussion of cultural things (compared to the immediate environmental reference of hunters, farmers and shepherds) lets nature - and with it the ideas of ghosts and totemic group formation - take a back seat. Instead, the ideas of God are much more abstract and "remote". Here people no longer live “on the same level” with the powers that surround them. The inaccessible gods and religion are something separate from everyday life; Spiritual needs can only be satisfied with the help of specialized mediators according to fixed rituals. At the same time, secularization (“secularization”) can often be observed; the individual becomes a believer ; the collective “compulsion” to adopt an “innate” ethnic religion is hardly any longer pronounced. The emergence of the social order is ascribed to supernatural powers; the ancestry of the clan groups is often traced back to mythical ancestors. Almost everywhere in historical-ethnic religions of this type there was a central sun deity who represented the life-giving and all-sustaining power of the sun. Moon, sea, and weather deities were also common. Instead of simple taboo rules, there are mostly complicated commandments. The religious specialists work full-time and as a rule the priests belong to the state bureaucracy; there is therefore no separation between church and state (→ theocracy ) .
These religions include, above all, the book religions, which, however, do not belong to the ethnic religions; In addition, the non-written complex religions of the historical empires in America ( Maya , Aztecs and others in Central America → Chronology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica ; Sicán , Inca, etc. in South America → List of historical states in America ) and Sub-Saharan Africa (antiquity / early Middle Ages: Reiche from Ghana , Kanem , house states ; modern times: Congo , Lunda , Luba etc.), whose complex structures were destroyed in the colonial period.
Development of the oldest religions
At some point in prehistory, man's religiosity emerged (universal reverence for the transcendent wholeness of the world). It is controversial whether this is a genetically fixed disposition that offers evolutionary advantages (→ “ God's gene ”) . What is certain, however, is that there was no recent group of people without a religion.
The direct religious worship of nature and probably also animistic ideas are the oldest religious expressions of mankind. Finds from the hunter cultures of the younger Paleolithic (such as Venus statuettes , sacrificial sites and cave paintings ) presumably show religious symbols; the reconstruction of “palaeolitical religions” is highly speculative. This is already evident from the fact that the biological and cultural descendants of the creators of prehistoric works of art (such as the Aborigines of Australia or the San of South Africa) are not able to clearly interpret the symbols shown.
For the beginning Neolithic, however, one can already speak with certainty of certain ethnic religions. At the same time, the natural cycle was increasingly personified. This is especially true for the so-called mother goddess or Magna Mater . Depictions of animals also play an important role, whereby the depiction of animals that are less important as meat suppliers indicates that their depiction is occupied with more abstract meaning that is detached from their food function or from hunting magic. The female-bull symbolism can be found in different variants in Southeast Europe and Anatolia . However, this is not a cross-room cult.
Behavioral science-oriented researchers assume that the willingness to cooperate, trust and fairness towards followers of one's own religious group (but not towards other groups) is greater if the members of this group share a common cognitive representation of an all-knowing or well-knowing, punitive or rewarding supernatural being. For religions of all kinds - for scriptless as well as for scriptural religions - the rule of thumb is that ideas of punishment prove to be far more effective for behavior than expectations of reward.
Radical changes took place in the Bronze Age: With increasing social differentiation and economic consolidation, a caste of priests emerged; Analogous to the strengthening of the role of the family within the clan association, the Olympic type of religion develops with its complicated kinship and rivalry relationships between personified deities. The afterlife cult is also becoming more complex, the grave goods are becoming more numerous, and human sacrifices are not uncommon.
Since then, the religions have developed in a variety of ways: New living conditions, concrete spiritual experiences of individuals, drastic historical events, experiences with drugs (which were interpreted religiously), contacts with peoples of different faiths, in some cases also manipulation in the interest of maintaining or gaining power, however Especially the process of oral transmission over many generations has inevitably changed the historical-ethnic religions. It will therefore hardly be possible to precisely reconstruct even parts of these complex processes. The only thing that is certain is that the so-called scriptless religions are in principle strongly related to the present and are not “conserved” original religions.
Early contacts with the world's religions
The ethnic religions of Europe and the Middle East, which are disparagingly referred to as “pagan”, date back to antiquity (example: Bedouin religion through the spread of Judaism) to the late early Middle Ages (examples: compulsory baptism of the Saxons by Charlemagne, Christianization of Scandinavia , Islamization of Central Asia ) fell victim to the “divine conversion mandate” of the universal religions. Where Christianity or Islam was enforced by violence by the ruling class that benefited from it, it took centuries until the pagan elements were wiped out of popular piety to the extent that they were removed from popular piety (and also with violence: see for example the persecution of witches or forced Islamization in the Ottoman Empire ) Churches and Islamic institutions were no longer seen as a threat to “pure faith”.
The remaining traces of pagan ideas in Christian Europe can be seen especially in superstitions and regional practices (such as the Alemannic carnival , the Swedish Lucia celebration or Mother Earth -Ritualen in Orthodox Christian folk beliefs of the Slavs). The later Christianization took place, the more ethno-religious traces can be found - for example the consultation of the " Táltos " (a kind of shaman) in Hungary or the belief in the "Babas" (healers and seers) from Bulgaria.
The spread of Buddhism in Central and Southeast Asia was far more peaceful - especially since (with a few exceptions) it was not associated with any political expansion. Mixed systems arose here in many places: the local religions recognized the Buddhist philosophy as the “roof” and the Buddhist clergy for their part skillfully integrated the ethnic gods and ceremonies as a “basement” into their thought structures (this can be seen particularly well in the Tibetan Bon religion , for example ).
Hinduism is sometimes referred to as the largest ethnic religion in the world, as it emerged from a slow amalgamation, writing and systematization of the various local religions of the subcontinent - without a break from a founder person - and only affects Indians (exception: Hinduism in Bali , was introduced by Settlers from South India). However, some religions of the Adivasi (traditional, independent ethnic groups of India) can still be called local religions, despite their clearly Hindu influence.
In China's sphere of influence, the spread of the two founder religions Daoism and Confucianism as well as Buddhism imported from India - which are collectively referred to as the " Three Teachings " - resulted in a peaceful coexistence of the old and new religions from the start established enormous religious pluralism of the Chinese folk religion.
A similar development took place in Japan with the arrival of Buddhism, which still exists today - without any significant mutual influence - alongside the old ethnic Shinto religion.
Very little can be said about the development of religion in other parts of the world during this time due to the lack of records.
Development in the course of European expansion
The time of the discovery of the world by the Europeans heralded the beginning of colonialism , in the course of which traditional world views were massively influenced in a variety of ways. The first to appear in Latin America were the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, who officially legitimized their violent takeover as a “divine commission”. They were followed by Catholic missionaries across America in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Africa and Oceania the local religions came under pressure especially from the 18th century; most recently the Australian Aborigines from the middle of the 19th century. The colonial rulers complemented each other - through settlement plans and military actions - as well as the missionaries of different Christian denominations. Later, western technology and scientific knowledge shattered traditional worldviews. Despite all this, many local religions have been able to assert themselves to this day - thanks to their enormous ability to change and adapt, often in a new "guise".
After the Second World War, criticism of the spread of modern culture and Western Christianity, as well as general materialism, increased significantly. The disregard for the natural cycles, the elementary human needs and the immaterial has today endangered the whole world. A return to traditional values, growing self-confidence, increasing independence and a change in government policy led to the revival of old cults in some indigenous groups. Tribal peoples gather again around their cults, recall repressed teachings, renew old forms and hope for a new beginning.
The Image of Ethnic Religions in the West
The first reports on the religious practice of foreign peoples reached the Christian West in the age of discovery. Despite the rapid European expansion , only fragments of the foreign religions became known in the first few centuries, as the invaders were of little interest in this regard. In addition, in most cases there was a considerable distortion of the real conditions, as the reporters assessed their subjective impressions in comparison with the Christian-European tradition - which they considered to be the only civilized point of view. For this reason, particularly strange phenomena (ritual cannibalism , human sacrifice, pictorial representations of gods, etc.) were often emphasized beyond measure. God-fearing missionaries pitied the piety of others as "fear of spirits". Their spiritual actions were called “magic”, “animism” or “fetishism” - and not religion . When the religious character could no longer be denied after the first research results, the term "natural religion" was created, which contrasted the ethnic religions with the other - so-called - "cultural religions".
Until then, however, thousands of explorers, adventurers, merchants and missionaries came to the colonies. They had no idea of modern scholarly work, and so continued to spread distorted ethnographic records . Either the beliefs had already been falsified through contact with Christianity, without the ethnographer noticing this; or the indigenous terms and ideas were misunderstood and translated against the background of the Christian faith. In some cases, certain expectations also led to this: for example the thought of having found the lost tribes of Israel or alleged confirmations of the creation story and the like.
Due to the evolutionist models of human development in the 19th century and the reservations against the so-called pagan religions, they were placed on the lowest level of the ladder of development as primitive worldviews . As already described, this prejudice-laden view emerged primarily from incorrect interpretations. For example, visionary experiences, dreams or states of trance among the North American natives were too strongly emphasized by the commentators due to their exotic nature. In fact, "normal waking experiences" have been just as important almost everywhere in North American religions. It was only in the course of the 20th century that religious studies and ethnology finally abandoned the negative and judgmental image of ethnic religions.
The falsified records yielded far-reaching generalized conclusions against the evolutionist background, which, according to today's knowledge, are outdated in this chronological order: It was assumed that "primitive" man first believed in the animism of all natural phenomena ( animism ), around world events to explain. Later the worship of different gods ( polytheism ) arose from it, until finally the belief in a single god ( monotheism ) among the "civilized peoples" emerged from it.
Various religious phenomena such as “animism” or “ totemism ” were then declared to be universal worldviews , homologously derived from an ancient religion. In this context, there are also some religious-spiritual shamanism concepts: From the diverse forms of necromancers in the most varied of cultures, based on some similar practices, a worldwide common, uniform spiritual phenomenon was inferred - although these are actually independent, analog developments, each with its own Context acts. While ethnology and religious studies have moved away from such universal models since the 1990s, the idea of a global "ethnic shamanism" had a lasting influence on the esoteric scene and led to the emergence of neo-shamanism , whose distorted basic assumptions persist and multiply in popular writings .
In fact, local religions are no more and no less coherent, plausible and complex than the book religions. They simply require other presuppositions for their conclusions, such as the all-soulness of nature. In complete contrast to the prejudices mentioned, it must be assumed that people who have to prove themselves every day with the simplest technology in a “ruthless environment”, sensible thinking and acting play a vital role. There is also no such thing as a “more primitive mentality” or “magical pre-religious premonitions”, but only different perceptions of reality . In addition, these cultures also look back on a long history and are still developing, so that in view of the oral tradition, it is highly speculative to want to reconstruct the beginnings of religion from this, as has been tried many times. Ethnic religions are not “remnants of intellectual history from the early days of human development.” On the contrary, they have been able to assert themselves particularly successfully against their “competitors”.
Even if all of the aforementioned “wrong turns” are avoided when interpreting an ethnic religion, due to the enormous cultural differences to the western world, it is not certain “that it will actually be understood”, as the ethnologist Christian Feest in his book “Beseelte Worlds ” using the example of the extensively described world views of the Pueblo peoples and Navajos .
Ultimately, romanticizing ideas of the “noble savage” also lead to distorted ideas. The historian Christine Lockwood said about the religion of the Australian Aborigines of the 19th century:
“Letting the Aborigines believe, for example, means accepting that spirits are responsible for sickness and death. When someone dies, it is the result of sorcery. And immediately - with the help of rituals - a guilty party is identified. If the alleged perpetrator lives in the neighboring village, the men go out and kill him. It goes without saying that this murder in turn provokes retaliation from the neighboring tribe. [...]. The Aborigines lived in constant terror of the world of spirits. Christianity takes away fear and frees you from superstition. Today we tend to romanticize the religion of the indigenous people - and in doing so overlook the fear and violence that went with it. "
Despite the obviously existing problem, Lockwoods again draws a one-sided Christian perspective, which is also understood differently from different sides. For example, the religious scholar Thomas Schweer writes on the contrary: “Despite their effectiveness, the spirits do not awaken the feeling of helplessness and being at the mercy, fear of demons is not a characteristic of natural religions. There are various means and methods to ward off evil spirits. "
Ethnic Religions in the 21st Century
The great ability of ethnic religions to change and adapt has meant that their present-day forms differ significantly from prehistoric forms. Therefore they are classified by the sciences as “younger” than the book religions. Apart from the few isolated peoples in the inaccessible rainforests of South America, Southeast Asia and New Guinea and a handful of ethnic groups who want to strictly preserve their culture despite their contact with the modern world, all so-called scriptless religions are now subject to accelerated change. Mixed with more or less elements of world religions, they can still be found in remote areas of northern Canada, eastern Greenland, Siberia and Australia, in large parts of Black Africa, India and in the mountainous countries of Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
While all people of one ethnic group used to share a common belief, religious pluralism now often prevails : some people have completely converted to a new religion, others attribute syncretistic forms; others remain true to traditional beliefs. Overall, there are still thousands of ethnic religions in 141 countries around the world. This makes them the most widespread belief systems. However, their official following makes up only around four percent of the world's population. Unofficially, it will be far more, because a large number of unreported cases can be assumed: Due to the centuries-old experience with oppression and forced missioning, because in many countries only so-called " high religions " are recognized and people who think differently still have to fear reprisals in many places, many people profess themselves outwardly to another religion and practice their true faith in secret. According to the ongoing surveys by the evangelical-fundamentalist conversion network Joshua Project , 3.75 percent of humanity officially acknowledged local, ethnic religions in 2016. If all ethnicities for which such religions no longer exist, the rate is 16.1 percent (based on a good 1.5 billion people).
The so-called “tribal religions” are still stigmatized as “primitive and underdeveloped” in many third world countries, especially since the ruling classes in these countries were usually trained according to Christian, Islamic or communist models. The situation is even more unfavorable in the emerging countries , as traditionally living groups are mostly seen as inhibiting development: either they are aggressively suppressed or the establishment of modern technical and social infrastructure automatically destroys the old worldview - and with it religion.
Tourism also plays an ambivalent and not insignificant role today: While the marketing of internal rituals as show attractions can lead to their deeper meaning being lost and they degenerate into mere folklore , the interest of the world public makes ethnic religions both an economic factor and an economic factor a cultural asset worth protecting.
While most of the traditional ethnic groups around the world mix their old ideas with beliefs and cults of the dominant world religion (syncretism) or react to the "pressure of the modern age" with a diverse religious coexistence (pluralism), there are some movements that are cautiously referred to as → "neo -ethnic religions ” .
As before, fundamentalist organizations in the name of God or Allah endeavor to convert the last “ pagans ” or “ kāfir ” - even if it is forbidden (as in Brazil). For example, the evangelical Joshua Project has built an Internet-based network to a. to evangelize in all possible languages with the help of a Jesus film. The “successes” of thousands of supporters worldwide are published in a database and assessed with a visual “conversion traffic light” in order to motivate further efforts. Accepting a foreign religion mentally separates people from their accustomed way of life and thus undermines traditional values and norms . The previous function of religion as an "identity-creating link" between people, their specific economic methods and the natural environment is being lost.
State development policy and measures by private organizations often do not take into account the religious needs and values of those affected (for example by consulting religious ethnologists), but are based exclusively on (well-meaning) economic and social considerations. In doing so, it is overlooked - mostly out of ignorance - what negative social effects, for example, violating ancient taboos or disregarding holy places can have. People, in whose worldview material things, causal relationships or strictly rational considerations only play a subordinate role, judge many things completely differently than members of the "global culture": For example, compensation payments for the destruction of holy places or resettlement in a more fertile area do not result automatically to a subsequent acceptance of the outrage - and it also does not necessarily lead to better living conditions if, for example, the ancestors live in the original, barren residential area and can only communicate with them there.
Numerous voices from current indigenous people on all continents not only report negative material developments such as increasing poverty or destruction of the environment, but almost everywhere also reference is made to a progressive religious uprooting, which is no less serious.
Also the great adaptability of the ethnic religions will hardly prevent their rapid decline and the change of many to “fragmentary folklore religions without complex networking with the reality of life” through the increasing assimilation into the way of life of the modern “ biosphere man ”.
Some new religious movements and revitalization efforts do not meet the narrow definition of an ethnic religion due to various characteristics (partly reference to several ethnic groups, partly written form, interrupted development, etc.) , although many other characteristics (→ section: “Further possible characteristics for delimitation” and Chapter : “Far-reaching similarities” ) - despite foreign influences - clearly apply and the relatives expressly refer to traditional traditions. Above all, however, they are closely related to the formation and consolidation of new ethnic identities , which are re-established, among other things, by common religious ideas. They are referred to by some authors as "neo-ethnic religions" (or similar).
The young term neo-ethnicity goes beyond the reference to so-called “natural religions” and is mainly used in connection with the constitution of new ethnic-religious groups : For example, the political scientist Olivier Roy uses this term in connection with the aspirations of young Muslims (or also of the Mormons) according to a "renewed, common basis" by interpreting their religion in a new way based on their ideas.
Pan movements in America
In North and South America, a Pan-Indian development has been going on since the 19th century : traditionalists from different tribes form a second ethnic identity as “Indians”. In this way, the previously alien collective term is changing into the self-designation of a "new" culture. Above all, the Native American Church and the “ Mother Earth Philosophy ” characterize their religious cohesion. (This shows again the openness of the ethnic religions to the integration of new ideas).
Religious revitalization in Asia and Australia
Religious renewal movements within traditional ethnic groups can be found above all in Russia and Australia, since the reprisals against the indigenous peoples ceased. In Siberia, rituals of different peoples are often mixed up in the context of a fundamental renewal of traditional ideas and due to lost knowledge . This development is viewed critically by some experts, because it is not uncommon for influences from the esoteric scene to interfere , which would find their way into the belief systems through contact with western new religious groups and would significantly falsify them.
"New African" religions
A particularly strongly religiously motivated development exists among the descendants of black African slaves in Central and South America, who, due to their previous history, have not had their own “tribal affiliation” for many generations. Especially with the Afro-American religions , they can express their new, independent identity and differentiate themselves from the culture of the “whites”. The fact that the Umbanda religion also has many white followers proves that origin and skin color do not have to play a role in the formation of such “new ethnic groups” .
Neopagan traditions in Europe
The neo-pagan movements in Europe, which try to adhere closely to the (mostly few, fragmentary) records and folk religious traditions from the various pre-Christian religions and which do not allow any foreign influences (such as Siberian or Indian practices), can be classified in the category of neo -ethnic religions are sorted.
In Europe, apart from the “classical shamanism” of the Nenets of northwestern Russia - which is still preserved in syncretic form - and the remnants of the Mari religion in western Russia, there is no longer any ethnic religion that can point to an uninterrupted tradition. All religions that refer to pagan roots are in principle assigned to neo-paganism , as they are based on (mostly uncertain) reconstructions and have often syncretistically integrated elements of foreign religions. In addition, they are mostly not tied to an ethnic group and the motivation of their followers is often more associated with alternative lifestyles and criticism of civilization than with practiced religion. In some cases they are with political and national ideologies associated (such as in Ukraine, "The community of Ukrainian Saints," "The assembly of the faithful of the religion of the people of Ukraine" or the "Rodove Vognysche Ridnoyi Prvoslavnoyi Viry") which is opposed to the religious content predominate.
Nevertheless, a more differentiated view reveals a few movements on the periphery of the continent that can at least fall back on an unbroken folkloric tradition and / or written tradition, which is primarily aimed at the actual descendants of their ethnic history and who endeavor to To revive religion as authentically as possible. These beliefs are also sometimes referred to as neo-ethnic religions:
- Ásatrúarfélagið (Icelandic-New-Germanic paganism, an Asatru religion)
- Sámic shamanism of Northern Europe (fragments and possible revitalization )
- Revived Baltic Pagan Traditions:
- Hellenismos (revived polytheism of ancient Greece)
Dead ends in ethnological research on religion
Every science depends on the one hand on correct initial data and on the other hand on unbiased researchers. The western ethnology of religion still suffers from falsified data that have been recorded by Christian researchers (often missionaries ) and that have already been partly misleading. were interpreted accordingly. In addition, the inconsistent approaches adopted by early researchers limit the comparability of the data.
Most of the “dead ends”, however, are based on Eurocentric attempts at standardization, in which analog developments (similarities due to similar conditions) were equated with homologous (similarities due to common ancestry).
The following theories have now been rejected in this context:
- Primeval monotheism
- Andrew Lang (1898) and Wilhelm Schmidt (1912) took the view that primitive humans must already have had an inkling of the (indubitable) existence of God. Such Christian motivated trains of thought are obsolete today.
- Dema gods
- In 1951, Adolf Ellegard Jensen projected the so-called Dema gods of some ethnic groups in New Guinea onto all soil cultivation cultures since the Neolithic. Existential crops are to be created from the remains of killed Dema. Even if there are similar ideas for some simple plant cultures from other continents, such a far-reaching standardization is dubious.
- In 1760, the French encyclopedia Charles de Brosses considered the idea of transferring spiritual powers to certain objects - as was practiced in West Africa with so-called "fetishes" - to be the hallmark of the "original religion" and coined the term fetishism for it . The important religious critic Auguste Comte and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher also adopted this idea at the beginning of the 19th century.
- Several authors of the 19th century (z. B. Robert Henry Codrington and Paul Tillich ) believed the native to Oceania (fetishism similar) idea of a divine power, people or objects especially powerful makes (→ Mana ) , the ultimate foundation of all ethnic religions. However, they, too, combined very different ideas into something that did not exist: What was decisive was the false assumption that all these forces are independent of spirits or gods.
- The popular ethnic term totemism was also popular until the 1960s , initially interpreted exclusively religiously and transferred to all cultures that felt related in any way to animals, plants or other natural phenomena. As we know today, the majority of totemic phenomena have no religious background.
- The greatest extent, the greatest popularity and the most far-reaching consequences, however, come from the diverse shamanism hypotheses that ethnologists, psychologists, religious scholars, archaeologists and the like in the second half of the 20th century. a. were designed. The term shaman from the Siberian Tungus for the religious-ritual specialist was reduced to a few features (e.g. to the ecstatic states or the calling by the spirits ) and due to similarities regardless of other (non-matching) features to various necromancers, healers, Soothsayers, sorcerers, sorcerers or priests of other ethnicities. Far-reaching and different conclusions could be drawn from this, which in extreme cases classified the shamanic phenomenon ( by definition , not per se !) As a global, "truly religious" phenomenon. Such shamanisms - which have been increasingly criticized since the 1990s - decisively shaped the new religious current of esoteric neo-shamanism , influenced some real shamanic traditions (which had been fragmented through centuries of fighting) and with a large number of popular books still falsify the state of research .
- Cultural stages
- For a long time, cultural evolution - in some theoretical variants until today - was viewed as a step-like evolutionary process from underdeveloped (primitive religions, animism , animatism ) to highly developed forms (belief in high God, monotheism).
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- This adaptation does not always take place, of course. The fact that sacred texts are written in “dead” or other languages than the respective national language (e.g. Latin in Europe, Arabic in Indonesia or Pakistan, Hebrew in Europe and the USA) makes it difficult to receive the texts and at the same time increases their formulaic use. Using the example of the modernization of the biblical language, cf. Werner Besch: History of Language. 1st subband. Berlin 1998, p. 65
- In some of these world views (such as the "Great Secret" - Wakan - of the Sioux peoples) this relationship merges with the divine, so that one can speak of pantheism . If one speaks of “relation to nature” in connection with non-European ethnic groups, however, it must always be taken into account that the term nature often has a completely different meaning here: the term “spiritual worship of nature” suggests in the Eurocentric understanding an exclusion of people and their cultural assets . The understanding of nature of foreign peoples is often completely different: with the Amazon Indians, for example, humans and the ecosystems they inhabit are part of their culture , while nature is more of the unknown world outside of their own habitat. In this case, it should therefore rather read "spiritual reference to culture and living space". Basically, caution is required here so as not to jump to conclusions!
- In the original it is also called "shamanistic cults" (Anthony FC Wallace: Religion: An Anthropological View. Random House, New York (USA) 1966. p. 97.), so that the direct translation would have to be "shamanistic". Instead, the adjective "shamanic" is used here in order to avoid the danger of an association with the various theories of shamanism .
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