History of religions: Wikis


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Religious history
founding figures

Comparative religion
Neurotheology/God gene


Ancient Near East
 · Ancient Egypt
 · Semitic
 · Vedic Hinduism
 · Greco-Roman
 · Celtic  · Germanic
Axial Age
 · Vedanta  · Shramana
 · Dharma  · Tao
 · Hellenism
 · Monism  · Dualism
 · Monotheism
Renaissance · Reformation
Age of Reason
New religious movements
 · Great Awakening
 · Fundamentalism
 · New Age

 · Judaism
 · Christianity
 · Islam
 · Bahá'í Faith
 · Hinduism
 · Buddhism
 · Jainism
 · Sikhism
 · Ayyavazhi
 · Taoism
 · Wicca

The history of religion refers to the written record of human religious experiences and ideas. This period of religious history typically begins with the invention of writing about 5,000 years ago (3,000 BCE) in the Near East. The prehistory of religion relates to the study of religious beliefs that existed prior to the advent of written records. The timeline of religion is a comparative chronology of religion.

The word "religion" as it is used today does not have an obvious pre-colonial translation into non-European languages. Daniel Dubuisson writes that "what the West and the history of religions in its wake have objectified under the name 'religion' is ... something quite unique, which could be appropriate only to itself and its own history."[1] The history of other cultures' interaction with the religious category is therefore their interaction with an idea that first developed in Europe under the influence of Christianity.[2]


History of study

Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, school of religious history was a 19th century German school of thought which was the first to systematically study religion as a socio-cultural phenomenon. It depicted religion as evolving with human culture, from primitive polytheism to ethical monotheism.

Religiongeschichteschule appeared at a time when scholarly study of the Bible and church history was flourishing in Germany and elsewhere (see Higher criticism, Historical-critical method).


The nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in knowledge about other cultures and religions, and also the establishment of economic and social histories of progress. The "history of religions" school sought to account for this religious diversity by connecting it with the social and economic situation of a particular group.

Typically religions were divided into stages of progression from simple to complex societies, especially from polytheistic to monotheistic and from extempore to organized. But there are now claims that the claim "that religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism has now been discredited" (p. 1763, Man, Myth & Magic, 1995)


The earliest evidence of religious ideas dates back several hundred thousand years to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods. Archeologists refer to apparent intentional burials of early homo sapiens from as early as 300,000 years ago as evidence of religious ideas. Other evidence of religious ideas include symbolic artifacts from Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. However, the interpretation of early paleolithic artifacts, with regards to how they relate to religious ideas, remains controversial. Archeological evidence from more recent periods is less controversial. A number of artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-13,000) are generally interpreted by scientists as representing religious ideas. Examples of Upper Paleolithic remains associated with religious beliefs include the lion man, the Venus figurines, cave paintings from Chauvet Cave and the elaborate ritual burial from Sungir.

In the 19th century, various theories were proposed regarding the origin of religion, supplanting the earlier claims of Christianity of urreligion. Early theorists Edward Burnett Tylor and Herbert Spencer proposed the concept of animism, while biologist John Lubbock used the term fetishism. Meanwhile, early religious scholar Max Müller theorized that religion began in hedonism. Finally, folklorist Wilhelm Mannhardt suggested that religion began in "naturalism", by which he meant mythological explanation of natural events.[3] All of these theories have since been widely criticized; there is no broad consensus regarding the origin of religion.

Organized religion

Through the bulk of human evolution, humans lived in small nomadic bands practicing a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The emergence of complex and organized religions can be traced to the period when humans abandoned their nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyles in order to begin farming during the Neolithic period.

Humans began domesticating crops and animals around 10,000 BCE chiefly in the Near East but independently in a number of locations around the world. The invention of agriculture during the Neolithic revolution was a major event in human history. The increased productivity provided by farming and the relative security of food surpluses allowed these communities to expand. Crop production led to the emergence of the first villages, chiefdoms, states, nations and empires. The societies born out of the neolithic revolution were characterized by high population densities, complex labor diversification, trading economies, centralized administrations and political structures, hiearchical ideologies and depersonalized systems of knowledge.

The transition from foraging bands to states and empires resulted in more specialized and developed forms of religion that were reflections of the new social and political environments. While bands and small tribes possess supernatural beliefs, these beliefs are adapted to smaller populations. Organized religion emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability to large populations through the following ways:

  • Organized religion served to Justify the central authority, which in turn possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services to the state. The empires of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, were theocracies with chiefs, kings and emperors playing dual roles of political and spiritual leaders.[4] Virtually all state societies and chiefdoms around the world have similar political structures where political authority is justified by divine sanction.
  • Organized religion emerged as means of maintaining peace between unrelated individuals. Bands and tribes consist of small number of related individuals. However states and nations are composed of thousands or millions of unrelated individuals. Jared Diamond argues that organized religion served to provide a bond between unrelated individuals who would otherwise be more prone to enmity. He argues that the leading cause of death among hunter gatherer societies is murder. [5]

Neolithic religions

The religions of the Neolithic peoples provide evidence of some of the earliest known forms of organized religions. The Neolithic settlement of Catalhoyuk, in what is now Turkey, was home to about 8,000 people and remains the largest known settlement from the Neolithic period. James Mellaart, who excavated the site, believed that Catalhoyuk was the spiritual center of central Anatolia.[6] A striking feature of Çatalhöyük are its female figurines. Mellaart, the original excavator, argued that these well-formed, carefully made figurines, carved and molded from marble, blue and brown limestone, schist, calcite, basalt, alabaster, and clay, represented a female deity of the Great Goddess type. Although a male deity existed as well, “…statues of a female deity far outnumber those of the male deity, who moreover, does not appear to be represented at all after Level VI”.[7] To date, eighteen levels have been identified. These careful figurines were found primarily in areas Mellaart believed to be shrines. One, however – a stately goddess seated on a throne flanked by two female lions – was found in a grain bin, which Mellaart suggests might have been a means of ensuring the harvest or protecting the food supply.[8]

Invention of writing

Following the neolithic revolution, the pace of technological development intensified. As human society became more complex, more sophisticated accounting systems became necessary. Writing was invented in either Sumeria or Ancient Egypt by 3000 BCE as a means of recording accounting transactions. The first religious texts mark the beginning of religious history. The Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt are one of the oldest known religious texts in the world dating to between 2400-2300 BCE.[9][10] Writing played a major role in sustaining organized religion by standardizing religious ideas regardless of time or location.

Middle Ages

Newer present-day world religions established themselves throughout Eurasia during the Middle Ages by: Christianization of the Western world; Buddhist missions to East Asia; the decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent; and the spread of Islam throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe and India.

During the Middle Ages, Muslims were in conflict with Zoroastrians during the Islamic conquest of Persia; Christians were in conflict with Muslims during the Byzantine-Arab Wars, Crusades, Reconquista and Ottoman wars in Europe; Christians were in conflict with Jews during the Crusades, Reconquista and Inquisition; Shamans were in conflict with Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians during the Mongol invasions; and Muslims were in conflict with Hindus and Sikhs during Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent.

Many medieval religious movements emphasized mysticism, such as the Cathars and related movements in the West, the Bhakti movement in India and Sufism in Islam. Monotheism reached definite forms in Christian Christology and in Islamic Tawhid. Hindu monotheist notions of Brahman likewise reached their classical form with the teaching of Adi Shankara.

Modern period

European colonisation during the 15th to 19th centuries resulted in the spread of Christianity to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Australia and the Philippines. The 18th century saw the beginning of secularisation in Europe, rising to notability in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the 20th century, the regimes of Communist Eastern Europe and Communist China were explicitly anti-religious. A great variety of new religious movements originated in the 20th century, many proposing syncretism of elements of established religions. Adherence to such new movements is limited, however, remaining below 2% worldwide in the 2000s. Adherents of the classical world religions account for more than 75% of the world's population, while adherence to indigenous tribal religions has fallen to 4%. As of 2005, an estimated 14% of the world's population identifies as nonreligious.

Development of new religions

New Religious Movement (NRM) is a term used to refer to a religious faith or an ethical, spiritual, or philosophical movement of recent origin that is not part of an established denomination, church, or religious body.

See also

Shamanism and ancestor worship



See also Monotheism, Abrahamic religions.



New religious movements


  1. ^ Daniel Dubuisson. The Western Construction of Religion. 1998. William Sayers (trans.) Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. p. 90.
  2. ^ Timothy Fitzgerald. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity. Oxford University Press, 2007. pp.45-46.
  3. ^ "Religion". Encyclopedia Universal Ilustrada Europeo-Americana, 70 vols. Madrid. 1907-1930.
  4. ^ Shermer, Michael. The Science of Good and Evil. ISBN 0805075208. 
  5. ^ Diamond, Jared. "chapter 14, From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy, The evolution of government and religion". Guns Germs and Steel. ISBN 0393038912. 
  6. ^ Balter, Michael (2005). "The Dorak Affair". The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhöyük: An Archaeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization. ISBN 0743243609. http://books.google.com/books?id=l2QiRkJXX60C&pg=PA40&dq=catalhoyuk+in+its+day&lr=&ei=v_PySN_3Gob-swPohPXmDQ&sig=ACfU3U0bzu3JlxbycU2oKLrMXoRircsVfw. 
  7. ^ Mellaart, James (1967). Catal Huyuk: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia. McGraw-Hill. pp. 181. 
  8. ^ Mellaart (1967), 180.
  9. ^ Budge, Wallis. An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Literature. pp. 9. ISBN 0486295028. http://books.google.com/books?id=SieAmOiyGQMC&pg=PA9&lpg=PA9&dq=the+pyramid+texts+oldest+religious&source=web&ots=Yu7-qo4G-y&sig=tejE7aU3B864GPWexUzsxYNVhgI. 
  10. ^ Allen, James. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. ISBN 1589831829. http://books.google.com/books?id=6VBJeCoDdTUC&pg=PA1&dq=2353+-+2323+%22pyramid+texts%22&ei=FW-BSL-rCpTyiwGJrcG8DQ&sig=ACfU3U1-mbNrZ44kBagmG86DWq7eAKXu1g. 

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