*** great religious traditions countries

Country Religious Trends

German religion
Figure 1.--These German children in the 1950s seem involved in a school play, perhaps Hansel and Gretel. They may be praying for help which is a wll knon scene in the play..

Religions vary greatly around the world, but there are five major world religion:s Buddhism, Chrtistianity, Islamn, Hinduism, and Judism. The narrow confines ov their origins is stuning as is the equakky limiited cvhronological origins--the Axial Age. Interestingly three of the greart relgions orighinated in the narrow coinfines of the Middle East--aptly named the Holy Land. The votyherv two energed in India. There has been since the European religious wars of the 16th century a general trend toward relgious diversity around the world. The Spanish and Portuguese carried Christianity beyond Europe, but the primsry success was limited to Latin America. In Europe as in America there proved to be after the Reformation so many different sects that no one group could dominate. Since World War II there has been a notable migration of Muslims into the Christiam West. The primary exception to the general trend to diversity has been in the Muslim world where minority religions have come under increasing pressure in recent years. The Soviets persued a campasign of atheism which was particulsr brutal under Stalin. There has been a revival of religion in Russia since the fall of Communism. Comminist regimes especually China continue to restrict religious freedom. We have developed several separate pages on religious trends in seceral different countries.


Until the arrival of first the Arabs (8th century) and then the Europeanns (15th century) in Sub-Saharan Africa, frfica practied animisdtic religion with a range of beliefs vayring from tribe to tribe, but ih mny commomn aspects, mny of which are still present in modern Africa such as ancestor sacrifices, protective sacred objects, malevolent curses or spell, reincarnation, ancestral spirits, use of traditional healers, and nuch else. Only a small minority of Africans iderntify practing traditional African brliefs as their religion, but these beliefs are common among peole who identify as Muslims and Christians. These two religions have about equal numbers of adherents if you count North Africa and cthe Sahel. If you only condider Sub-Saharan Africa, Chistianity dominates. Today in modern Africa, Muslims have become increasingly agressive and intolerant. This is happening in West Africa wih more attacks by norhern Muslims on souhthrn Chgristins by groups like Boko Haram. This has become a major problem in Nigeria. North Africa has lost in once flourishing Jewish communminity and is increasinly losing its Christian populaion. In Sub-Saharan Africa Christian communities in contrast are generlly tolernt of Muslims. Christian churches are gnrally conservstive and in some cases have resisted th increasinglyb liberal approch to religuon in Europe and North Americsz. The denomoinmtions genrally reflect the demonminations of the colonial powers.


Religion has played a major role in Ethiopia and continues to do so today. The Ethiopian Orthodox church is very strong in Ethiopia. It is one of the oldest Christian countries. The Coptic Church is also active. Christianity was introduced in Ethiopia during the 1st century, and expanded all over the country in the 4th century. Ethiopian Christianity in the 6th century it became monophysitistic. Ethiopis remained Christian in a region that became strongly Islamicized. There were, however, large numbers of converts to Islam. Islamic and Catholic Jesuites tries to conquer Islam in the 17th century but failed. There are a few Catholics and a growing number of Protestants as well as Muslims in Ethiopia today. There are significant regional patterns in religion.


Traditional beliefs were very strongly held in Madagascar. Despite Arab control of the Indian Ocean for centuries, unlike East Africa, Islam seems to have few inroads on Madagascar. Nor did Hinduism reach Madagascar from India. Christianity reached Madagascar first with the Portuguese. There was, however, little effort to convert the Malagasy until the French colonial era (19th century). This mean primarily Catholics, but Protestant missonary activitiws began in the late-19th centuries. We note a Protestant missionary family in Ambatomanga during 1901. While many Malagasy people covered to Christimity, many did so without completely abandoning their traditional beliefs. No precise statistics exist, but a reasonable estimate is that about 55 percent of the population continue to mauintain traditional beliefs. This proportion would be even higher in the countryside. About 40 percent are Christian, about evenly divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants--surprising because the country was a French colony. You would think the Catholic share would be higher. Many villages in the central highlands have two competing churches, one Protestant and one Roman Catholic. Commonly they face each other, situated at at opposite ends of the village. We have limited information on Madagascar, but there is a First Communion page. The remaining 5 percent are mostly Muslim, both Sunni and Shia. Most Muslims are Comorans or Indo-Pakistanis, only a small number are native Malagasy. Most Muslims live in live in Mahajanga Province.


Mali is a strongly Muslim country and Islam plays a major role in society and daily life. The amcient pre-Islamic religion was animist. These communities prayed to the Spirit of the Land asking them to increase the growth and harvest of the crops. This is an ancient traditional belief, which is still followed by many Mali people. Trade with the Arab north through caravan trails across the Sahara brough Islam (13th century). The area of modern Mali was ruled by Muslim emperors. Gradually the common people accepted the new faith, although they never entirely gave up their traditional animist faith. Slowly and gradually, Islam became the dominant religion of the country. Important Islamic universities were establisged in Mali. Islam is now dominant religion of the country. Some other religions also exist in Mali, especially the western region. Something like 95 percent of the populastion is Muslim. The others practice Chrtistianity or traditional animist cults. This strong Islamic faith has a major impact on the country's culture.

South Africa

South Africa has a wide diversity of religions. South African culture is widely based on Christian traditions, but many other religious traditions. South Africans follow many different religions and customs. The Governmrent has promoted Ch\risdtiamity. About 80 percent of the country idebntifies as being Christian. Most South African Christians are Protestants. There are a number of denominations and an estimatedf 85 percent are members of a church. The original Dutch settlers were members of the Durch Reformed Church. French Hugenoughts and Jews expanded thee religious makeup. The British brought the Anglican Church and many other denominations. The religion in South Africa followed by the Khoisan peoples are complicated. Traditionally the Khoisan people fear one supreme god who they believe controlls the whole world. They developed rituals and made small sacrifices. They also feared an evil deity who they blamed for pain and misery. Their religious beliefs over time were influenced by the European settlers. The people of the remote areas of neigboring Botswana and Namibia still follow some of the Khoisan religious practices. Missioraries reached South Africa at an early time (late-15th century). The London Missionary Society sent Missionaries to the Cape colony (1799). They were followed by the Glasgow Missionary Society and Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. Missionaries from United States, France, Scandavia and Germany arrived during the 29th cntury. Indian workers brought the Hindu and Muslim faith. At this point we only have some limited informstion on Sunday schools.


Religion is another activity in which children participate. Tanzanians mostly identify as either Christian or Muslim, although many continue to practice animist folk beliefs as well. This includes many who identify as Christian and Muslim. The Government has been largely respectful of religious liberty. About half of the country identifies as Christian, split between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic Christians slightly outnumber the Protestants. About a third of the population identify as Muslim. There are small numbers of minority relgious groups including traditional Africanist, Buddhist, and Hindus. Islam was the first major religion to reach Tanzania and East Africa in general (8th century AD). It was spread by merchants and slave traders. Christinity arrived with the Europeans, although did not make a major impact until colonization (late-19th centuty). We note missionaries who played an important role beginning in the mid-19th centuty.

America, Latin

Amer-Indian people in what became the Spanish Empire (Meso-America and the Andes) generated some of the most brutal and surreal religions of all the great civilizations. A major goal of the Spanish Conquest was to Christianize the Amer-Indians peoples. This was essentially the same goal as the effort to destroy the Reformation in Europe, especially the Dutch Protestants. The Conquistadores may have been primarily interested in gold and silver, but the Spanish Monarchy had friars accompany them. The process began in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) with primitive people with animistic religious beliefs. The Aztec Empire in Mexico and the Inca Empire in Peru were different. They were great empires with sophisticated religions. These empires along with their religions were destroyed in extraordinary military campaigns. The same occurred in Guatemala with the less centralized Maya, As a result the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in the Americas policed by the Inquisition became staunchly Catholic. The Spanish turned the Amer-Indian into a landless peasantry and left uneducated they had only a minimal understanding of the faith. The Portuguese were unable to use Amer-Indian and instead imported captive Africans for slave labor, taking little interest in their religiosity. Only a few small colonies founded by the Dutch and English in the Caribbean area had a Protestant foundation. With the Latin American Wars of Liberation (early-19th century) almost of the Spanish colonies became independent republics. The political environment varied from country to country. Many were ruled by caudillos. Liberals vied with conservatives which attempted to protect the the role of the Catholic Church which was a bulwark for the established order. Ecuador was dedicated to the Sacred Her of Jesus. Some countries like Guatemala expelled Protestants. This conflict sometimes took violent turns, the final such conflict was the Chrstianos Movement in Mexico (1920s). While legal constraints disappeared, few Protestants appeared in the region. Latin America's failure to develop prosperous economies and societies based on the rule of law by the 20th century resulted on considerable self examination. Many in the region began looking socialism as the way of modernizing society, usually with a secular, anti-religious orientation. Church thinking divided. Some Catholic leaders continued to support existing society. We see increasing numbers of Catholics taking increasing interest in human rights. The assassination of Archbishop Gerardi Conedera in Guatemala was a critical turning point in the region (1998). Some clerics tuned to socialism. Liberation Theology--often ignoring actual worship. Many Catholics were actually Catholic in name only. We see empty churches attended by children and elderly women. Catholic becomes more of a cultural than a religious term. With no training in economics, many churchmen like the future Pope Francis in Argentina immersed themselves in non-religious matters. Liberation Theology failed largely because socialism does not work which ewe se in Cuba and Venezuela. In addition the greatest violation of human rights occurred in socialist states. There are no successful countries with socialist economies--examples Cuba and Venezuela. In this environment, Protestantism has emerged as as increasingly important force. While even as recently as World War I, there were few Protestants in the religion. This changed with the rise of Evangelical Christianity. And they began sending missionaries to Latin America. As a result we now have sizeable Protestant minorities in many countries in the region. This varied from country to country. A reader writes, "Many protestant churches, especially the evangelical churches, are centered almost entirely on worship and have little interest in social issues."


Spanish Conquistadores brought Christianity to Buenos Aires which became the modern country of Argentina. Much of the Native American population was wiped out through mistreatment and disease. Thus most Argentines trace their ancestry to Europeans. Spanish and Church authorities prohibited Protestants and Jews from setting in the new colony. Roman Catholicism was the only permitted relgion. The Inquisition was active in Argentina and other Spanish colonies. The early colonists were Spanish, but oyher colonists from southern Europe subsequentky arrived, mostly Catholic southern Europe. In addition to the original Spanish settlers, large numbers of Catholic Italians emigrated to Italy in the late-19th and early-20th century. Argentine as a result is a largely Catholic country. First Communion has traditionally been an important event in the lives of Argetine children. As in much of Latin America, religion has declined in importance in Argentina in recent years. The Inquisition kept Protestants out of its American empire. This ended with independence (1811). As a result, there is now a small Protestant minority. There is also a small Jewish minority. Although prohbited by the Royal officials and the Church, a few Jews managed to avoid the Inquisition and settle in Europe. A small number of European Jews emograted in the 19th and 20th century. Since World War II some Muslims have emograted to Argentina, many from Lebanon.


The Catholic Church has also been an important influence on Brazil. As with the Spnish, the Portuguese made the creation of Catholic colonies a goal of the conquest. Colonial Brazil was thoroughly Catholic. The Inquisition operated there and Protestants were not permitted. The many Africans imported as slaves brought with them their own religions. The slaves were prohobited from practicing their religions, but many maintained their beliefs and tradictions. The Africans not only affected Brazilian Ctholocism, but eventually founded actual religions. Slaves from Nigeraia founded Candomble. Slave masters and the Church forbid slaves from practicing Candomble. The slaves got around the prohibitions by coupling their deities with Jesus important Catholic saints. This apeased both the slave masters and the Church. The slaves while outwardly celebrating Catholic saints were actually worshiping their own traditonal dieties. The slaves identified Oxala, the god of procreation and harvest with Jesus. The masters and Church believesd that the old African traditions would eventually die out, but they have not. The overthrow of the monarchy brought a new republic (1889). This brought a new constitution which guaranteed religious freedom. As a result, Catholocism is no longer the only religion in Brazil. This meant it was possible for Protestants to operate in Brazil. Other churches, including Pentecostal, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist, exist in Brazil, but are relatively small. There are over a million and a half Spiritists or Kardescists who follow the doctrines of Allan Kardec. These Spiritists believe in reincarnation. There are followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There are also small numbers of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists. More numerous are followers of Candomble and Umbanda. Umbanda is Kardescism and related to Candomble, but with an admixture of Christianity and Spiritist (animistic) beliefs. The great proprtion of the population, however, has remained Catholic and continue to be so today. The population is culturally Catholic, but actual church attendance is relatively low. As in other Catholic countries, a child's First Communion was an important event in their childhood. Families that could aford to do so commonly bought the child a new suit or special costume.


The Guatemalan Highlands were the birthplace of the Mayan civilization. The Mayans had a highly developed religion which played a major role in the society. The Popal Moo (Mayan creation epic) centers on the Maize God, the deity at the center of the Mayan cosmos. He is killed by the Lords of Death, but rescued by his children, the Hero Twins. The Spanish conquest was launched shortly after the conquest of Mexico (1519-21). Pedro de Alvarado moved south into Guatemala 1524, commanding a mixed force of Spanish conquistadors and native allies (mostly from Tlaxcala and Cholula). He dis not find the gold and silver he had hoped to seize, but a major goal was to wipe out all traces of Mayan religion and Christianize the population. Unlike the Aztecs, however, there was no quick victory. The Maya were quickly defeated in the Highlands, but it took more than a century to completely defeat them (1697). Mayan documents which were mostly religious in nature were destroyed. The Amer-Indian population was forced to ostensibly convert to Roman Catholic Christianity. The Inquisition was active and only Catholic immigrants, mostly Spanish, were allowed into the colony. The Amer-Indians as was the Spanish practice were converted into landless peasants working on large estates owned by colonial land owners. This meant that the Amer-Indian peasantry was poorly educated, largely illiterate and had only a minimal understanding of Catholicism. Overt practice of Mayan religion was suppressed, but folk practices persisted. Guatemala remained entirely Catholic throughout the colonial period. The Church was a major part of the conservative colonial structure. Revolution against colonial rule began early in he 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars, but did not reach Guatemala for some time (1823). The new Latin American republics, including Guatemala adopted freedom of religion, but the population remained almost entirely Catholic until after World War II (1939-45), at least overtly. Christianity continues to be the principal religion in modern Guatemala, but there has been a major shift. Many priests became increasingly liberal and willing to reach out to Amer-Indian population, in many cases moving way from their religious foundation. The assassination of Archbishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera was a critical event in Guatemalan politics and religious life (1998). Like Pope Francis there was shift toward socialism in Latin American Catholic churches and a failure to understand the powerful wealth generating force of capitalism. Ironically, in sharp contrast to Chinese Communists of ali people, they seem unaware of the failure of socialism to generate prosperous economies.


Paraguay is ovewealmingly Catholic. The Native American population was Christianized early in the colonial period. The Pope created the Bishopric of Asunción (1547). The first bishop arrived in Asuncion (1556). Three Jesuits came to pacify and convert the Guarani who were resisting Spanish control as they had earlier resisted the Inca (1588). The Jesuits soon realized the Spanish and Portuguese settkers were enslaving the Guarani in violstion to royal decrees. They thus set out both to convert and protect the Guarani. They proceeded to settle the Native Americans in reducciones (townships) under Jesuit control. At the peak of this approach, an estimsted 0.1 million Native Americans were libing in these reducciones. After 150 years the Jesuits were expelled and the Native Americans lost their protectors (1767). Some of the reducción Native Americans were over time absorbed into mestizo society, Others returned to indigenous communities. Eventually additional Jesuits and Franciscans arrived, working primarily n the southeastern area of modern Paraguay and along the shores of the Río Paraná in what is now Argentina and Brazil. Church state relations have varied. The country in the 19th century was caught up in the liberal movement to develop a more secular nation. Religion has been a unifying force. The Church was virtually the only institution that is not caught up in traditional kinship patterns. As in the rest of Latin Anerica, the Church has largely influenced fiestas and other celebrations. In rural indigenous areas, Catholic religious dogma has not penetrated deeply. Catholic saints are often basically revered figures devoid of religious content. While the country is overwealmingly Catholic, there is also a small Protestant minority as a result of the work of missionaries and a small Mennoite community.

Puerto Rico

Religious freedom in Puerto Rico as an American Commomwealth is guarateed by the U.S. Constitution. It is also guaranteed by the Commonwealth Constitution. Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony for 400 years. Spain was ardently Catholic and not only promoted the Roman Catholic church but used the Spanish Inquisition to keep other religions out of its colonies, including Protestants and Jews. This was a major objective of the Inquisition. Throughout the Spanish colonial era that was a strong connction between the Spanish coloniak Government and the Church. These restrictive edicts were relaxed in the 19th century, but only small numbers of indiciduals openly ahered to other religions. As a result the vast majority of Puerto Ricans are Roman Catholic. This is, however, more of a cultural than a religious matter. Church attendance is not high and we commonly see ,ost women, especially older women, and children in the churches. This is similar to the pattern both elsewhere in Latin America and in Europe with a few exceptions, namly Poland. Puerto Ricans do not follow Roman Catholic dogma and rituals as strictly as do the churches in Spain and Italy. The Roman Catholic Church until after World War II was a conservative institution, especially the Spanish Church which contolled church affairs in the country's colonies. The Church supported spnish colonial rule and slavery. The clergy in Puerto Rico was all Spanish. Puero Ricans were denined accdcess to the priesthood. Spain was one of the last countries to outlaw the slave trade and abolish slavery. Thus the Church supported slavery. This created resentment among the slaves and exslaves after abolition which affected attitudes toward the Church. Puerto Ricans did not achieve control of the Church until liberation by the Americans in Spanish-American War (1898). The new Purto Rican church leaders followed most Roman Catholic guidelines, but modified or ignored others. From the beginning of the Spanish conquest, there were Catholic missionaries aide vby side with the Conquistadores. As part of the conversion process, the priests often incorporated native beliefs and practices to make Catholcim more amenable to the people.


While Suriname is the smallest country in South America in both area and population, there is a considerable diversity in religion. This is due to the diverse nature of the population. The population before the arrival of the Europeans was Amer-Indian people with animistic religious beliefs. As a result of colonization and contact with the Europeans, the Amer-Indian population was decimated and this their religious beliefs largely disappeared. And the religious beliefs of the country are today those of the people who colonized the country and the people the colonizers brought into what after a seines of colonial wars became a Dutch colony. The Dutch were largely Protestant Christians, although they seem less fixed on evangelizing than the Spanish and Portuguese who dominated most if the rest of the continent. The sugar planters largely Christianized the African captives imported as slaves, although this process did not begin to any extent until the 19th century. The Christian nature of Suriname is, however, different from that of the Netherlands itself. The indentured laborers brought in from (northern India and Java) to replace the emancipated African slaves largely retained their religious beliefs. Suriname is the most multi-cultural nation in South America and also has the most diverse religious make-up. We have only dated relatively dated census data with religious information (2012). Christianity is the dominant religion, about half the population, but this is the smallest share in South America. Hinduism (20 percent) and Islam (15 percent) are the second and third largest religions, as a result of the Indian and Javanese indentured workers. The remainder is a number of small religious communities including the beliefs of the surviving Amer-Indian people and African religions which survived among the Maroon populations in the interior, both of which have been reduced by Christian missionaries. This also includes people who express no religious identity.

America, North

Before the arrival of the Europeans there was a florishing Native American population. There were no great cvivilizations as in Meso-America and the Andes, but many tribes were practcing various levels of agriculture along with hunting and gathering. The croos were those de velooped by the Meso-Ameruican civilkizations to the south. They practiced animistic religions with infliencve of Meso-America civilizations, especially in the southwest. North America becane contested betweeen two Catholic (France and Spain) and one Protestant (England/Britin power. The Great Awakening was a religious revival that swept through the English colonies during the (1730s and 1740s). The issue of European control was finally settled by the French and Indian War (1763). English control with its estblisdhed church did not last blong. The whole process was settled by the American Revolution which would largely eject the Euuoeans from the North American Continent. The United States had a primarily Protestsant foundation, but the Constitution guarabteed religius liberty, the first country to take such a step. Despite its Protestrnt foundation, Castholics and Jews were awarded full citenzenship and rights, at the time an extrodinary step. The Catholic and Jewish population was small until after the Civil War when huge numbrs of Europeans flooded into the United States, includung Catholilcs and Jews. America dis an nimpressdive if imperfect job of assimilating the various Europen immigrant groups. Almosd overnight, the United States became one of the two major centers of Judasism. Immigration was freduced (1920s), but libralized (1960s) operning immogration to Asia, Africa,a nd the Middle East manig mny different peoolend their religions. Also illegl immigration began in large numbers aloing the southn border, sighnificantly increasing the Catholic popultion. Almopst nnoticed is the rise of Protestantism in Latimn merica anbd the fact that Protesants are among the illgsl immigration. America has been affected Religious groups have fced rising seculsaizastion. This was part of the reason for the explosion of Evangelical Chrtistianity resisdting this trend, one reason that the process is mnuch less pronunced than in Europe. The vUnited Stsates as it spread west came to dominate North Amerrica. Many ofd the trends affecting Anericam religuin also have affected Candaa. The mjor difference ia Catholic French Qyebec. Here Catholicism has been a devisive factir in the country's history, something that was not the case in the United States. .


First Communion was a particularly important event in the lives of many immigrant American families, especially Irish and Italian communities. New suits were often purchased for the occasion. Sometimes but not always the suits were white symbolizing the purity of the children. It was much more common to buy white dresses for the girls than white suits for the boys. Irish and Italian mothers were more likely to insist on white suits. The suits through the 1940s were often short pants suits, but since the 1940s they are more likely to be white. The purchase of a new suit, especially a white suit, just for first communion has gradually passed out of fashion, cost being the primary factor especially as a white suit has few other uses. Now boys in many places simply wear white shirts. Girls still often are outfitted in dresses purchased just for the occassion. A Maerican reader has des described his experiences as an altar boy. We note a candle compamy in 1915 that put altar boys on their promptional calandars.


Canada has a varied religious heritage, both Catholic and Protestant. The country was founded by Catholic France. It was then conquered by the English with their Anglican religion. The Scoots with their own Prtotestant religious tradition played an important part in the early history of British Canada, both in Montreal and Nova Scotia. The Catholic Church became more diverse in the 19th century with the arrival of Irish Catholics beginning in the 1840s as a result of the Potato Famine. We are just begining our assessment of religion in Canada, but have some information on Canadian First Communions.



India has played a major role in the development of Canbodian religion. Both Hindism and Buddhism originated in India. Hinduism is the traditional abcient religion of India. Buddhism originated in what is now northern India and Nepal (6th century BC). China is closer to Cambodia than India, bu it was sea routes that carried trade and ideas like religion. The first organized relgion to reach Cambodia was Buddhism. Until then the population was primitive animists. The early Buddhist influence was missionaries sent by Indian King Ashoka. Hinduism was, however, promoted by the Funan Kings (100 BC and 500 AD). Buddhism declined during the Chenla era (500-700 AD). Then a change occurred with Buddhism eventually becoming the dominant religion. Cambodia's transition from worshiping the The Hindu god-king to Mahayana bodhisattva-king appears to have been very gradual, probably inperceptable at the time. Both religions were tolerant, unlike the violent Christian Islamic divide in the West. There was a competuion, but not a viloent one. But the once dominant Vaishnavite and Shaivite traditions shifted to the worship of the Gautama Buddha and the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. The Buddhist Sailendra kingdom gained contol of Cambodia as a vassal state (late-8th century AD). King Jayavarman II , the first real Khmer king of the Angkor Empire, proclaimed himself a god-king and identified himself with Shiva (9th century). Despite this Hindu orientation, he became recptive to Mahayana Buddhist influences. And as a result Buddhism was beginning to replace Hunduism as Cambodia's principal religion. Ankor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world, was built as a Hindu shrine (12th century). It was converted into Buddhist temples (13th century). Since that time, Theravada Buddhism has not only been the dominant religion, but Cambodia’s state religion--except during the Kymer Rouge period. The principal religion in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism. Buddhist thought is often complicated. The idea of lighting involves many consequences. Theravada Buddhism is more attentive to the good of the others and thus more tolerant. This tolerant, non-prescriptive religion coexits with other religions like Hinduism and Shintoism. A core precepts require that each individual must take responsibility for his personal actions and failures. Theravada accepts as canonical the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. The French introduced Christianity (9th century), but Buddhism is the dominant religion--about 85 pervent of Cambodiams are Buddhists. Theravada is one of the three great schools or vehicles/paths of Buddhism. It is applied to the Śrāvakayāna, the Buddhist path followed by a śrāvaka (a hearer or disciple as used in both Buddhism and Jainism) who desires to reach arhat status -- a perfected person who has attained nirvana. The term began to be used early after the foundation of Buddhism in Southeast Asia (about the first or second century AD). For nearly two mellennia it played an important role in Cambodian life. Theravada is often contrasted with Mahāyāna, which means the 'Great Vehicle'. The Kymer Rouge like all Communists were hostile to religion. They attempted to stamp out Buddhism. All monks that they could identified were disrobed and murdered. most religious scholars were also murdered, the only survivors were those ho mnaged to flle into exile. Any attempt at religious worship could get you killed by the Kymer Rouge. There is an ethnic character to religion in Cambodia. Virtually all ethnic Kymers (90 percen of the popiulation) and many non-Kymers adhere to Theravada Buddhism. There are two small ethnic-based Muslim communities, the Cham and the Malay, perhaps 3 percent of the population. Anout the same proprtio of the populations are Christians. And Christian missionaries are active. In the northeast of Cambodia, many of the tribal non-Kymer people practice animist religions.


Man in pre history generally developed animistic beliefs. And there were many similarities in the religions of the great rivel valley civilizations as well as the subsequent ancient civilizations had many similarities. A factor here was that many were in contact such as Mesopotamia and Egypt and to a lesser extent the Indus Valley civikization. China was an exceotion. China was isolated from the other early river valey civilizations even though it developed after these civilizatins were well established. There are as a result more diffrences between China than the other rivervvalley civilizations. One of the most significant differences is religion, so much so that many observers contend that the Chinese throughout their long history have not been as concerned with religion as the other great river valley civikizations and subsequent civilizations. That is probably not entirely correct. What does seem to be a fair statement is that the Chinese have not shown the same interest in metaphysical speculation and supernatural beings. And the Chinese seem to be the first important civilization to develop a healthy intellectual scepticism toward gods. Several religions have taken root in China and folk religion is also important. And attempts to influence the forces which control both the human and natural worlds have been an important element in Chinese religious practives. We can see this in the intricate web of religious, superstitious and magical beliefs and practices some of which date back to prinitive pre-historic animism. China imported Bufhism from India long the Silk Road. It mixedcwith Chinese cultural constructs like Confuscim and Taoism without the antagnoism and violence associated with religious traditions in the West. The Communists after seizing power (1949) adopted an official policy of athesism and launched a effort to desroy ancient religious traditions and organized religion. Foreign missionaries were expelled. The Chinese effort while widespread and executed with the full force of the state unrestrained by Western concepts of civil liberties were less successful than once assumed. The Communists did reduce the importance of the clan and lineage, it dis not break the importance of the family which remained the central focus of production. And the rural reforms which followed the Cultural Revolution have pnly reinforced this. The ruling Communist Party devoted considerable energy to destroying the the family cult associated with Confucianism and popular religion they continue to flourishes, especially in the countryside. They continue to be called 'superstitious practices'. The Party's sensativity toward religion can be seen in the massive cmpaign launched againt Falung-Gang. Curiously the Party seems passive toward the growth of Christianity in recent years. Once deried as a tool of foreign deveils, Christianity has become the most dynamic religion in the China that implement free market caputalist reformd that in only two short decades has propelled China into the forefront of tecworld economy. Itvi probably no accident that it is Protesrant Chridtisnity that has attracted a major following in China.


India has a fascinating religious history. Two of the world's great religions rose in India. The principal religion of India is Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion almost uniquely associated with India and neigboring Nepal as well as the East Indies (especially Java) where it was carried by Indian traders. For a range of historical reasons it has not spread to other countries. There are Hindus in other countries, but almost always restricted to Indian emmigrants. A more recent religion rising out of India is Budhism, but it was so effectively destroyed by Hindus, even before the Islamic invasions. that its origins were almost unkown even in the early 19th century. Islam entered India with the Mongol warriors in the 16th century. As in so many counties it was introduced by conquest. There are large numbers of Muslims in India, even after the partition that createrd Pakistan. While Muslims are a minority, India is in fact the world's most populace Muslim nation. The primitive people of India were animists, but much of this was incorporated into Hinduism and survives as a range of local traditions. There are small numbers of other religions. Europeans introduced Christianity to India.


Religion is not as important in Japan as it is in many other countries. Most Japanese people are not deeply committed to religion. Normally religious observation occurs only for occassional ceremonies such as (birth, weddings, and funerals). Japanese families may visit a shrine or temple on New Year and participates at local festivals (matsuri), most of which have religious origins. Shinto and Buddhism are the two major religions. These two religions have co-existing in Japan for centuries. Unlike religions in other countries, these two religions seem to have complemented each other. Most Japanese people will identify themselves as Buddhist or Shintoist. Some will say they are both. Japan's over its history has been influenced by several religions. Shinto is the one religion that has been a part of Japanese culture since recorded history. Buddhism came later and arrived in the 6th century AD. Buddhism seems to have had an impact on Shinto practices as Shinto has influenced Buddhist beliefs. This interaction can be seen, for example, in honji suijaku, in which shinto kami came to be seen as the incarnations of Buddhist deities. Japan has also been influenced by Confucianism and Taosim. Although not conquered by The Chinese, Japan was significantly influenced by Chinese culture. Confucianism in particular affected ethical and political philosophy. The influence of Taoism can be seen in the use of the Chinese calendar and fortune-tellers. Christianity spread with the arrival of European traders in the 16th century. It was supressed, but appeared again with the 19th century opening to the west. Assessing the impact of religion is very complicated. One easily obserable imapct is aesthetics, especially the graceful Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.


Buddhism is the primary religion of Tibet. It is, however, not the only religion. The Bon religion, the primitive religion of the ancient Tibetans, was flourish before the introduction of Buddhism. Non priests were powerful exerting both both military and economic control even over the country's nobility. The traditional religion of Bön survives to a limited extent, but has become basically the same as Buddhism. Songtsan Gambo (?-650) unified the Tibetan Plateau and established the Tubo Kingdom. To cement control of his new kingsom, he defied the Bon priests by introducing Buddhism. He married Princess Bhributi from Nepal, who brought a life-sized statue of Sakyamuni at the age of 8 years. He then married Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), who brought a life-sized statue of Sakyamuni at the age of 12 yeras, as well as 360 volumes of Buddhist sutras as her dowry. This began a najor cultural shit. Chinese culture from the Central Plains began to flow into Tibet. Songtsan Gambo contributed to development of Lamaism when he constructed the Jokhang and Ramqe monasteries in Lhasa, his capital. As a result, the primary religion of Tibet became Lamaism (a form of Buddhism). Mahayana Buddism arrived from India (7th century AD). This evolved into Lamaism (8th century AD). There are also Muslim and Christian minorities, but are primarily practiced by non-Tibetian ethnic groups that have moved into Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism is a major influence on the the country's culture, including art, music, and festivals of the region. Tibetan architecture reflects Chinese and Indian influences. The Chinese Communist Government has attempted to discourage religion as was particularly brutal after the initial invasion and during the Cultural Revolution.


Europe had many religious traditions. The Celts, Germans, and many others all had primitive aimistic religions. The best known was the classical traditions og Greece and Rome. As the Toman Empire expanded in encompassed many new people and their religions. The Empire was fexible concernuing these religions abnd cults and many grew within the Empire. The Jew were one of the few groups supressed by Rome as well as the Jesus Movement as it transitioned into Christianity. As part of this process, the Apostle Paul helped create a Church which merged Jusdaism with Helanism and the classical tradition of Rome. The Empire attempted to supress Christianity, but even before Constantine became a vehicle for the spread of Christinity. The Church at first coexisted with Judaism, but gradually became more hostile. With the rise of Islam, the third Abrhamic religion, in the Middle East, large Christian areas in the Middle East and North Africa were Islamicized. Muslim armies invaded Europe from the west, but were stopped by the French. Later the Ottomans in the East, but were stopped by the Austrians and Poles. Thus Christendom became Europe with a few small Muslim enclaves in the Balkans and aewish minority which was gradually driven east. The Church was the center of edcation and learning. In the late-medieval just as the Muslim world turned against science and secular learning, Reuropeans began to question the Church's hold on learning, especially the Roman Church which created the Inquistion. TheSpanish Inquisition was even more severe. Major change bgan with the Renaissance (Italy) and continued with the Reformation (Germany) and Enligtenment (France). The Reformation resulted in many new denominations. One of the most importantwas Anglicism (Enghland), a kind of middle way between Catholocism and Protestantism. These three movements nevered occured within Islam. The Church at first opposed modern economic mechanisms like interest. And the Church structure was hardly democrtic. The Church, however, came to play a major role in the development of democracy. Here the value placed on individual human life and the preservation of Roman law through cannon law were factors. Christianity, especially Protestant churches in the countries of northern Europe, also plyed an important role in the development of free market capitalism. This varied greatly from country to country. Christendom divided on a regional basis. Catholcism was dominant in the southern countries, Protestntism in the northern countries, and Orxthodoxy in the eastern countries. These differences weretransferred by colonial regimes to the America. In the 20th century the hold of Christianity on Europe has weakened. Socialist thought was hostile to religion. Some authors describe the de-Christianization of Europe. Even so, the Catholic Church in Poland played an importnt role in the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Middle East and North Africa


Egypt over milenia developed one of the most significant and enduring religious systems in history. It did not, however, spread outside the Nile valley. Egyptian religion continues to fascinate historians more than any other religious system. Egypt was conquered by many foreign sarmies, but the traditional religion enfured into the modern era. It did not begin to disappear until after the Roman conquest when Christianity became the religion of the Empire. Christian religious concepts began widely accepted in Egypt as the Coptic Church formed. The Copts were at odds with Byzantine orthodixy. Byzantine religious anbd civil authorities attempted to stamp out what was seen as heresy. This is one reason why Arab armies were able to defeat the Byzantines in Egypt (640-42 AD). At the time, the Coptic Church was very widespread. Over time Egypt became Islamicized. Over 90 percent of the Egyptian population is Muslim. There is a Christian minority of about 5 percent of the population. There was also a small Jewish population, but since the Isreael-Palestine wars, the Egyptians expelled the Jewish population, first stripping them of their property and valuables. The dominant strain of Islam is Sunni.


Syria and Damascus in particular have been described as being a hub of cultural flows since time immemorial Syria like Palestine sits at the epicenter of three continents and the cultural flows between them: Africa, Europe, and Asia. Syria was part of many of the great empires of history, the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Islamic Caliphate, Mongol, and finally Ottoman. Trade flowed through Syria as well as ideas, including religious ideas. Many of the great religion of history were active in Syria, including all three Abrahamic religions. Judaism was the first to arrive, but has always been a minority religion. During the Roman era, Christianity arrived and became the majority religion (4th century). During the Byzantine era, the state began enforcing orthodox doctrine, fanning sectarian resistance. The Arab conquest brought Islam with grater acceptance of religious diversity (7th centenary). Through all of this the Silk Road operated and Damascus and Aleppo were major trading and intellectual centers. Indian math began being called Arabic numbers because it passed through Syria. This all came crashing down when Portuguese navigators rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1498) and maritime trade routes were established with Asia. The overland Silk Road recede receding into insignificance and the Arab World became a backwater. And as time passed the Arab world became increase less tolerant and the Christian world mire tolerant. Today in the Middle East we hear the term genocide being shouted by Islamists claiming that there is a war on Muslims. Yet the only genocide going on is the successful Arab onslaught against Jews and Christians outside of Israel including Syria. And the progressive destruction of Christian communities in Syria and other Arab communities. While in Israel Muslim (Palestinian) and Christian communities worship freely and prosper. The country is predominately Muslim. Sunnis dominate, making up about 75 percent of the population. There are also Shi'ia pockets and a substantial Alawite minority along the Mediterranean coast. The Sunnis generally look down on the Alawites as backward and even heretical. 【Ajami, p. A17.】 Under the Assads the Alawite minority, associated with Shi'ia Islam have political power and while a minority are the dominant group. There is also a Christian minority divided into several different denominations. There was once a small Jewish community dating back to ancient times. The Assads have brought the Alawites to power. There is an ethnic/geographic fault line between the Alawite mountains and the Sunni planes. The ethnic, political and religious difference broke out into a brutal civil war (2011). And the most important divide appears to be not so much religious or ethnic as it is ideological divide between Muslims. Fundamentalists want to pursue a political agenda and create a theocratic caliphate. Secularists want a more limited religious role in government. The highly nationalistic Kurds and the Sunni Islamists pose fundamental threats to the Syrian state. Both but especially the Islamists are attracting huge support from the Sunni oil states. Russian President Putin has been aiding the Assad regime. President Obama and the Europeans have been much more reluctant to get involved and support moderate secular groups which have only limited followings. One author ends his essay on religion in Syria with this all too biting comment, "The main point for this current age is to reflect on the brotherhood between people of all faiths when Syria was at its zenith as recorded by travelers such as Ibn Jubayr. This goodwill in society was possible because people were attuned to their spirituality, whatever their faith or sect. Syria needs to reflect on this now, when people of the same faith are at war with each other and innocent women and children are losing their lives." And notice that it is not Jews and Christians doing the killing.




Fiji is a multi-ethnicl, multi-cultural society. Fiji adhere to most of the world's major religions. And the Governments religious policy is to allow its citizens freedom of religious practice. The indigenous Fijian religion was animistic and polytheistic. There was an important cult of notable chiefs. Fijians believed in a life after death. Traditional religious practices have generally died out, but they continue to have an imoact. Fijians traditionally believed that thevspirits of theor departed loved ones voyaged to a land of the dead while at the same time remain close to their graves. Modern Christian Fijians still have considerable concern about the spirits of their ancestors. A little more than half of modern Fijians are Christian, including most of the native Fijians. Most of the rest are people who follow religions that come from South Asia. Most are Hindus (nearly-40 percent) and nearaly-10 percent are Muslim. There are also small numbers of Sikhs as well as those who adhere to no religious community. Christianity first reached Fiji as a result of Methodist missionaries (1830s). Other denominations became more active on the Islands after the Pacific War (1941-45). Fundamentalist and evangelical sects have had considerable success in recent years. Indian religions came to the islands with indentured laborors brought to the islands to work on plantations. Native Fijians were unwilling to work on the planatations. Indo-Fijian Hindus follow a range of religious customs that the immigrants brought to Fiji. They can be roughhly divided between reformed and orthodox scts. Muslims are also mostly outh Asian immigrants.


Religion as in most Muslim majority countries is an important part of Indonesian life. Religion influence political, cultural and economical trends in the country. The great monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism) are practiced in Indonesia, although Islam is dominant. Indonesia is a very diverse country. And along with the great religious traditions, there are also primitive cultures that practice animest believes in Kalimantan, Irian Jaya, and other locations. There are several unique religious beliefs among some communities in Java, Bali, and Sumatra. Some areas have a very mixed religious pattern: parts of Sumatra, Celebes, the Moluccas, have a Christian majority or large Christian minorities even among the non-Chinese population. Even on Java, which is predominantly Muslim, Roman Catholics may amount to up to 10 prcent in some areas. Religion among other important influenced affecting fashion. Islam, though requiring modesty, has never set rules as to the actual length of trousers, certainly not for men.

Papua New Guinea

New Guinea until the colonial period was still essentially a stone age society. There was no one dominant faith, but a wide range of highly variable animist beliefs and destinctive rituals. These wereneliefs held on New Guiea for thousands of years. These beliefs are not only colorful, but have an important compac on Papuan culture, The Europeans arrived and began to introduce Christioanity (late-19th century). Traditional tribal beliefs, however, continue to be important. Not only do these beliefs remain important, but they also increase Papuan Christianity as well. On estimate suggests that about one-third of Papuan continue to retain traditional beliefs orthise beliefs strongly color their commitment to the organized religions introduced by western missionaries. Much of the rest of the couhtry is at least nominally Christian. The largest single denomination is Catholic (25 percent). The most important Protestant denomination is Lutheran (15 percent), presumably reflecting Germany's brief colonial control until World war I. Other Protestant denominations include: Presbyterian (10 percent), Methodist/London Missionary Society (5 percent), Anglican (5 percent), Evangelical Alliance (5 percent). There are also a small number of Seventh-Day Adventist. There are a number of other Protestant denominations active (10 percent). Baha'ism also has a small following. Islam has obly a small number of adgherents, but there is mosque in Port Moresby.

Philippine Islands

The indigenous Filipinos were mostly Animists. Trade contacts brought Islsm to the southern Islands and there were some Chinese influences, both Budhism and Taoism. The Spanish first reached the Philippines under Magellan who was killed there (1521). The islands were named Spain's aggressively Catholic monsarch, Phillip II. Spanish rule was over the following century gradually spread over the Philippines and a major aspect of Spanish rule was savibng souls. Spain proceeded to colonize and Christiasnize most of the various islands. Thus both Christianity and Islam were superimposed on the animism of tribal communities. The Spanish political control and military force proved to be the deciding factor in making the Philippines a largely Catholic country. The Muslims inhabitants in the south, especially Mindanao, resisted Christianity. The Spanish faced insurgent efforts throughout the colonial period, but Christianity was widely accepted and is today the principal religion, mostlt Roman Catholics. Many Filipino children do a First Communion. The Philippines is thus the only Christian country in Asia. An estimsated 90 percent of the population are Christians. Other religions include: Muslims (5 percent), Buddhists, Daoists, animism, and other religions. Buddhists and Taoists are mostly part of the Chinese ethnic community, although even the Chinese are mostly Catholic. Although small in number, the Daoists have built a spectacular temple on the outskirts of Cebu. Muslims remain less integrated than other religious minorities into Philippine culture and society, presumably because of the Western and secular nature of the wider Philippines society. Today there is some support for independence among Muslims in the south.


Another important activity is religion. The Samoans like most Polynesians had polytheistic religion that incorporated both human and non-human gods. Ancestors might enter the pantheon. There was little outward display and formal worship ceremonies. Europeans when they first encountered the Samoans concluded that they did not have a religion. Actually the traditionalm religion paved the way for Christianity. One of the most important Samonan god, the war goddess Nafanua, prophesized that a new religion was coming that would replace the old religion and wipe out the old gods. The first Europeans to settle in Samoa were missionaries. They had a profound influence on Samoan culture. John Williams and Charles Barf (London Missionary Society) came to Samoa to introduce Christianity (1830). Most today Samoans are Christians divided among several major denominations.


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Created: 5:36 AM 2/5/2007
Last updated: 4:41 AM 4/22/2024