Comparative Religions H 1

MINORITY RELIGIONS OF IRAQ                            NOVEMBER 2014


            As an original religion, they get overtaken by another one. Eg. Jews and Christians overtaken by Islam If it has been in a minority for a very long time, it is unlikely to take over.

            With the introduction of a religion through immigration, there are still fewer adherents   Eg Islam, Eastern religions in the West.

Traditional religions are present in most non industrial and developing societies. These include ‘voodoo’ in sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti.

Islam is the main religion of Iraq, but is one of the few countries where the Shia’s are in the majority and now in Government. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni. So Sunni’s could be said to be a Minority religion but Islam in general will be approached later this session.

Until recent times, there were two minority religions which had been there a very long time, and were not the result of colonialisation. These are Judaism and Christianity. In the past six months, two other religions have emerged, the Yezidis and the Mandeans emerged. There is little information on the few remaining Bhai or Armenians. Both cultural religious groups survived Islam, the Mongol invasion and the Ottoman Empire. They contributed on an intellectual, political, business and social level. Jews managed to live parallel lives with the Arabs with little conflict. Each respected the other’s way of life.


Most Christians came from the north in what was Assyria and Mosul claims to be the ancient centre because St Thomas stayed there on his way to India. It is difficult to categorise Christians in Iraq. Roughly speaking they are Chaldeans. Assyrians and Orthodox but some adhere to Rome and some do not. Unlike the Jews, the Christians suffered many massacres including genocide from their neighbours from 1843 to 1945. The Ottoman massacre in 1915 included Middle Eastern Christians and Armenians. In the last century, the Diaspora began and many fled in 1975 and after the Gulf War. Christians kept a low profile under Saddam and, since the Bath’ists were only notionally religious, they were left alone.

Prior to 2004, 3% of the total population of Iraq was Christian. At least half fled to Jordon or Syria or returned to the Kurdish north. Christianity is seen to be associated with the West and the Occupation despite the fact that the Iraq Christians do not identify with the post Saddam Evangelist‘invasion’ Today, the future looks bleak and is an insoluble tragedy.

Although we are concentrating on Iraq it is relevant to note the huge range of Christian sects in the Middle East which have survived for over 2,000 years but in less than a decade are almost obliterated.


CHALDEANRoman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox – Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Georgian, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Slovakia

Eastern Churches united with Roman Catholic – Chaldean, Syrian Catholic, Maronite, Greek Catholic, Coptic Catholic, and Armenian Catholic.

ORIENTAL ORTHODOXCoptic, Syrian Orthodox (has several other names), Ethiopian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox.

CHURCH OF THE EAST (other names for)      Nestorian church, Persian Church, East Syrian Church, Diophysites,Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East.

It is not easy to decipher all the ancient Christian religions. In addition, there is the Vicar of Baghdad – Rev Andrew White who’s only Anglican Church, St Georges continues to be a key person in reconciliation and conflict mediation. There are (were) several Presbyterian churches probably left over from British Mandate. The Christian and Missionary Alliance seem to have folded up.


Jews came to exile in Babylon from Jerusalem 2,500 years ago in 597 BC after the destruction of the temple. Some returned to Jerusalem after being released from bondage but most remained. When Islam arrived in 636, Jews had protected status on payment of jizya tax. When Baghdad was founded in 762 AD it became the cultural and learning centre of the Middle East, working with Muslim scholars. They were probably the wealthiest and most integrated Jews in the Middle East. During the Ottoman Empire, they had freedom to worship, conduct business and own property. Prestige continued well into the British Mandate from 1918 to 1932 until Jewish agitation for a separate state in Israel became apparent. Iraq saw itself as leader in the Middle East and relationships between Jews and Moslems began to deteriorate. Then the Germans established an influential embassy and in 1941 a farhud occurred resulting in a pogrom and destruction of Jewish property and killings in all the main cities. Many left for India or Persia. Then began massive immigration to Israel in the 1950’s, after 1956 and 1967. Between 1949 and 1951, 95% of the 120,000 Jews left. A Denaturalisation Bill was passed in 1950 giving a right to legal immigration for one year. After this, Jews were barred from leaving, and their life was severely restricted. Most left illegally. By 2003, perhaps 30 remained, untouched by Saddam, since they posed no threat. Immediately after the fall of Saddam, several were air-lifted to Israel but the few remaining are too old to move. There may be fewer than 10 Jews now.

This is the end of a thriving culture which lasted 2,500 years. The Iraqi Jewish Diaspora has spread to the U.S.A., Great Britain and Israel. Culturally, the Arabic influence predominates in language, food, music and until recent times, dress.   Obviously there are identifying differences, like Jewish Arabic has a distinctive dialect. More Christians, Yezidis and Mandeans have left.


Beliefs are drawn from Paganism, Zoastrianism, Christianity and Islam. The chief divine figure is Malak Taus, a peacock angel.who rules the universe with 6 other angels. The devil is involved and they have certain taboos. They may not wear blue, eat lettuce or olives and New Year is April and Wednesday the Holy day. They are confined to the SInjar Mountains.


Originally confined to the two rivers because it is essential tobe near running water and its connections with John the Baptist, Combination of Babylonian and Christianity. The only remaining practioners of gnostism. They believe the world was created by two forces coming into contact.

Anthropology illustrates how groups of people adapt and evolve. Many will hold on to past values and cherished practices. They will make social adaptations and retain some cultural practices – ethnic food is usually the last to go, but, with inevitable fragmentation, these specific cultures will die out and only vestiges of a lost culture will remain. hopefully, bits will be retained and attached to other cultures and new ones will evolve. This is how we survive.

Comparative Religions H 2

ISLAM                                                                       Handout                      January 2015

Islam is the second largest religion in the world with 23%. Christianity has 321%.

So here is a brief description of Islam.

Al-Lah / Allah – the Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists

Key beliefs

Tawhid mrans Muslims must accept that there is a single Divine Entity

Akhirah is belief of life after death and since life on earth is a test, judgement follows death with either Heaven or Hell with the greater reward for what we do on earth.

Risalah Prophets or messengers are sent to tell the people how to do God’s will and Mohammed is the greatest prophet. Muslims believe in one God, revealed through Allah to the prophet Mohammed. Muslims believe God sent many prophets and acknowledge Jesus, Abraham although Mohammed is the ultimate prophet. It is therefore monotheistic

The Muslim holy book is the Qur’an which is an account revealed through the prophet Muhammed from God.The actual creed is ‘La ilaha ilallah wa Muhammadur rasul al-lah’ or ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of God’

Muslims try to keep God’s will in all aspects of life which includes ritual purity for prayers, eating halal and rejecting haram (forbidden) which is not just about food.

Muslims are required to carry out five religious duties or ‘pillars’

Shahadah – to bear witness to their belief through faith, words and good living.

Salah – to say a special prayer five times a day (facing Mecca)

Sawm – fasting through the daylight hours of Ramadan

Zakah – to give one fortieth of savings to the mosque

Hajj – to make at least one pilgrimage to Mekka in their life.

Place of Worship is a mosque or masjid where worshippers kneel and place their forehead on the ground. It does not have to be a specially built place There should be a water supply nearby for ritual washing.

Prayers are said in the Mosque five times a day and usually timetables are given. The times fall within sunrise and sunset. It is not compulsory to attend the mosque. However,’ midday’ prayers on Friday are compulsory for men There is a call to prayer each time from the mosque over loudspeaker by the muezzin. The mosque can be a focal point for social life and functions. The imam is the recognised leader of religious matters.

The architecture and decoration of the mosque varies greatly. It depends on which country, age and availability of resources including cash

The mosque must be large enough to serve the community with the Prayer Hall and courtyard. with its washing facilities, Is of prime importance The mihrab or niche indicating the direction of Mecca called qibla and the mihrab is set in the qibla wall.The minaret is where the muezzin makes his call to prayer and these also form a viiisual reminder.

Most mosques have at least one dome called qubba. It is decorated with calligraphy, flowers and geometric design all intricately designed patterns Islam forbids any representation of animal or human and avoids idolatry or images. Lamps play a large feature in decoration and many mosques have large colourful carpets which help to keep the floor clean.

The Madrassah is a school at the mosque for teaching Arabic and the meaning of the Qu’ran .Arabic is the language of Islam it is not the spoken language of the majority of Muslims.


Id or eid is an Arabic word for ‘returning at regular intervals’. They occur in a regular cycle which changes annually although Islam uses a lunar not a solar calendar.

Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam and is a month of abstinence during daylight. .There is no eating, drinking, smoking or sexual intercourse between dawn and dusk.

Hajj the fifth pillar and is a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which lasts five days from the 8th to the 12th of the last month. This year it starts on the 22nd September. There are 4 requirements. First to enter into the state of ihram and wear ihram or pilgrims garments, to perform the circling of the Kab’ah (tawaf), to make the stand at Arafat (wuquf) and circle the Kab’ah again after returning from Arafat. After these four things he is a hajjii.(hajjah).

On the first official day of the pilgrimage, the millions of pilgrims that have now gathered travel from Makkah to Mina, a small village east of the city. Pilgrims enter the haram which is an area three miles wide and 14 miles long which surrounds the holy places. There they spend the day and night in enormous tent cities, praying, reading the Qur’an, and resting for the next day.

On the second day of the pilgrimage, the pilgrims leave Mina just after dawn to travel to the Plain of Arafat for the culminating experience of the Hajj. On what is known as the "Day of Arafat,” the pilgrims spend the entire day standing (or sitting) near the Mount of Mercy, asking Allah for forgiveness and making supplications. It is a reminder of the Day of Judgement. The heat of the plain is intense. Muslims around the world who are not at the pilgrimage join them in spirit by fasting for the day.

After sunset on the Day of Arafat, the pilgrims leave and travel to a nearby open plain called Muzdalifah, roughly halfway between Arafat and Mina. There they spend the night praying, and collecting 49 to 70 small stone pebbles to be used the following day.

Third day, the pilgrims move before sunrise back to Mina. Here they throw 7 stone pebbles at the three pillars that represent the temptations of Satan.

After casting the pebbles, most pilgrims slaughter an animal or slaughtered by proxy and give away the meat to the poor.(Jamaraat) This is a symbolic act that shows their willingness to part with something that is precious to them, just as the Prophet Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son at God’s command.

Pilgrims then return to Makkah and perform seven tawaf, around the Ka’aba, the house of worship built by Prophet Abraham and his son. Before performing this, they discard their Ihram, bathe and dress in clean ihram. Men shave their heads and women cut a lock of hair. But before the tawaf, 7 more pebbles must be thrown at the three pillars. A total of 21 pebbles must be thrown each day before tawaf. Since so many people have to perform tawaf, not everybody is accommodated at the same time.

Tawaf involves circulating the holy stone Ka’bah 7 times reciting special prayers. The Ka’bah is the most sacred stone inside the most sacred mosque. It is a cuboid building about 50’ high set in the middle of a vast courtyard, with the corners roughly set at points of the compass. Inside is a fragment of black stone hajar al hasjad set in the wall in a silver frame. Significantly its origins are before Islam and has connections with Abraham and Ishmael.

In other rites, the pilgrims pray near a place called “The Station of Abraham,” which is reportedly where Abraham stood while constructing the Ka’aba. The pilgrims also walk seven times between two small near the Ka’aba (and enclosed in the Grand Mosque’s complex). This is done in remembrance of the plight of Abraham’s wife Hajar, who desperately searched in the area for water for herself and her son, before a spring welled up in the desert for her. The pilgrims also drink from this ancient spring, known as Zamzam, which continues to flow today.


This is usually seen to mean military action in order to force non Muslims to convert. It is often translated as ‘holy war’ but in fact Jihad means struggling or striving


The Sharia regulates all human actions and puts them into five categories: obligatory, recommended, permitted, disliked or forbidden. It covers all aspects of life.


-A Muslimlegalexpertwho is empoweredto give rulingson religious matters.


a legal decision of a mufti pertaining to a specific issue.Only well educated scholars.


Boys are sometimes circumcised shortly after birth. As with Jews,it was God’s command revealed by Abraham (Genesis 17 9 – 12)

Many cultures leave it until the boy is 7 to 10,especially in Turkey when it is a big celebration for the family.


It is a social contract which brings rights and obligations and has to be successfully worked at. Physical attraction is not considered, and wives are seen as potential mothers who must be cherished. Family is of supreme importance and father is the head. Muslims see marriage as a contract and consider divorce as a last resort. Marriages in Islam are often arranged (by the two families of the bride and groom) but these can only take place with the consent of both parties. Forced marriages are not approved of.

A Muslim marriage usually takes place in the home or mosque and the couple give their consent before a minimum of two witnesses. The Aqd Nikah(marriage contract) is read.


Because family is important, a respectful atmosphere should be enabled with family surrounding. On death, the eyes are closed a prayer is said. Although Muslims believe that the soul departs immediately and the body is a shell, it is still treated with respect. Family wash the body. Shrouding is important. Men are wrapped in 3 sheets and women in 5. Incense is rubbed into the body before shrouding.

Cremation is not approved of and burial is the norm. In UK many cemeteries have a part put aside for Muslim burials. Burial should be within 3 days. Bodies are lowered feet first then turned on the side to face Mecca and secured so they do not roll. Muslims do not usually use coffins although in UK this is mandatory. A prayer is said whilst soil is sprinkled “We created you from it and return you to it, and from it we will raise you a second time”


Halal is lawful and Haram is forbidden.

Pork must never be eaten – typical of Middle East. Also shellfish and birds of prey. Alcohol is forbidden. Animals must be slaughtered according to Islamic Law. That is the carotid artery, jugular vein and windpipe must be severed with a sharp knife in one go. All the blood must be drained from the carcass. The slaughter is carried out as a ritual by a Muslim Jews and Muslims are exempt from stunning first. There is much controversy with animal rights. (a

Women’s clothing

There is much controversy over women’s clothing. To cover or not? Huge controversy and lots in the media. Hijab is the overall name for dress code where modesty and general behaviour are considered

HijabThis is the most common type of headscarf worn by Muslim women here in the UK. It is a headscarf that covers the head and neck, but leaves the face clear.

NiqabThe niqab is a combination of a head covering and scarf that covers all of a woman's face except for her eyes. It usually flows down to the mid-back to cover a woman's hair, and may flow down to the mid-chest in the front. It is most often worn in Arab countries, but an increasing number of Muslim women in the west are choosing to wear it.

Burqaburqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground. It is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face, including the eyes (with a mesh cloth to see through) and the body.

Chador is a body-length outer garment, usually black in colour, worn mainly by women in Iran. It is not secured at the front by buttons or clasps, so the woman holds it closed

Jilbab/Abaya are long, loosely fitted garments worn by Muslim women to cover the shape of their bodies. They are often worn in combination with the hijab or niqab.

Probably the most puzzling aspect is the animosity between Sunni and Shi’a. But then to outsiders, why the dissent between catholic and protestant?

Muslims are split into two main branches, the Sunnis and Shias. This originates in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad over who should lead the Muslim community.

Most of the Prophet’s followers wanted it kept within the family, but Muhammad had no sons. So they chose Ali who married Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. These are Shia and still the minority.

Sunnis felt that the person who was elite in the community would best lead them .The Sunni’s won and chose a leader to be first caliph. The differences lie in the fields of doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation.

The great majority of Muslims are Sunnis - estimates suggest the figure is somewhere between 85% and 90%. Muslims. They are the majority in Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Africa Pakistan and Bagladesh.

Shia Muslims are in the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and, according to some estimates, Yemen. There are large Shia communities in Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

These are general rules and procedures for the religion on Islam. There is little cultural variation in Christianity , the difference is in interpretation, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist etc. However, in Islam, variation shows itself culturally. For instance, some areas like Tunisia are very moderate and others, like parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the whole of Iran have their own strict interpretation of the Qu’ran. Dress, especially women’s is also very different.

The purpose of this presentation is like all the others – to give an objective explanation and allow you to interpret it in your way or explore further. Or simply feel satisfied that many things you did not understand about Islam have been explained.Political issues are for another day.

Reading – Available Guildford Library/

Ruthven,Malise1 (1988/2006)Islam in the World,Granta Books

Maqsood,I.W.(2010)Islam, An Introduction Teach Yourself

e survive.

Comparative Religions H 3

MINORITY RELIGIONS OF INDIA AND SRI LANKA              December 2014                                                      

Christianity came to India, allegedly, with St Thomas, but reinforced through the Portuguese and has flourished for 2,000 years, whilst Christianity came to Sri Lanka with the colonising powers, particularly the Portuguese. Jewish settlement came to India through trade and much later, but although there is evidence of considerable Jewish presence in Sri Lanka over 1,000 years, documentation is sparse and there is no cultural heritage whatsoever.


John Keay (1973:67) states that “Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus all of the most orthodox persuasion live cheek by jowl in a unique harmony.” There have been various political incidents, but as a whole, this still applies. According to the CIA Factbook 2001 there are 80.5% Hindus,13.4% Muslims,2.3% Christian,1.9% Sikhs.5,000 Jews are


Most Christians are Catholic and live in South India, particularly Goa and Kerala. Syrian Catholics are allied to those in the Middle East and Latin Catholics are linked to Rome. The Portuguese arrived in 1498 and were set on capturing the spice trade and converting’ the heathens’ but were a bit put out when they discovered many Christians who looked to Babylonian roots. There was considerable disagreement resulting in the Syrian Orthodox church of India (separate from Syrian Catholics). Christianity is not immune from the caste system and this is especially evident in the manner of fishing. There are also separate entrances for Dalit. Consequently there is little solidarity amongst Christians. In addition, there are non-conformist and Anglican Christians, but in 1947, all united to become the Church of South India.


Probably, the first influx, as traders, in 8thC BC and continued in waves for many centuries until the pogroms of Iraq in 1941. Under Colonial rule, Jews were valued for their interventionist skills, like translation.

There are three groups: Bene Israel Cochinis and Baghdaddi. In Anthropology Today (December 2010) is a study report on the emergence of Bene Ephraim in Andhra Pradesh who claim to possibly be one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Ben Israel claim to be a Lost Tribe, ‘discovered’ by Cochin Jews in 17th. Who confirmed authenticity of religious practices (no pork, shellfish etc) but well integrated into Indian culture.

Cochinis are of uncertain origin, possibly Sephardim originating from Spain. Originally from Malabar, they arrived in Cochin where they flourished under the Dutch and were central to the lucrative Spice Trade. Synagogue in Cochin celebrated 400 years in 1968. Discrimination between ‘White’ Jews or merchants and ‘Black Jews or servants.

Baghdaddi from Baghdad and Syria are most recent arrivals mostly settled in Bombay and Calcutta. Some moved on to China, Singapore and Rangoon. David Sassoon arrived from Baghdad in 1832 and established the Bombay community which became wealthy from trade. They kept their Arab culture and affirmed alliance with the British in India. Most have resettled in Israel or America but emigration has been voluntary and there has never been persecution in India.

Bene Ephraim – (see above).This group presents an interesting anthropological situation. There is on-going genetic research because there is still some doubt whether they are authentic Jews. This is very important because some hope to emigrate to Israel.

Jews as a whole have been socially assimilated and have been tolerated, peaceful and prosperous. but still remain wholly Jewish, with local adaptation They have never been persecuted in India and most have left  voluntarily

                                                            SRI LANKA

There are 4 religions in Sri Lanka –Buddhism 70%, Hinduism 15%, Islam and Christianity each 7%  

CHRISTIANITY.The three main Colonisers brought their religions. When the Portuguese came in 1505, many Buddhists converted. There is still a large Catholic population, especially north of Colombo known as ‘little Rome’ and among the Hill Country Tamils. There is the Dutch Reformed Church, Anglican and non-conformist. Christians held high status under the British but are now seen as remnants of Colonialism with reduced status.

Catholicism. At Anne’s Thalawila there is a huge annual pilgrimage, and four year there was a retreat to try and return Sri Lankans to a more spiritual way of life.

There has been on-going conflict with the Church hierarchy and parish priests. There are so many Sri Lankans (and catholic Indians) working in Italy that a cricket league has been formed.

The Anglican Church was founded in 1796, and it is extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is part of the church of South India, although as the Church of Sri Lanka it embraces non-conformist. There were three women priests ordained in 2006.Americanmissioneries came in 1812.

There is a huge Anglican cathedral in Colombo but elsewhere, remnants of churches remain, left over from colonial days especially in the Tea Hills.

Burghers are descended from the Portuguese and Dutch who married into the local community. Initially they were not allowed European citizenship from their fathers or local from their mothers so became citizens of their town. They remain autonomous although most of the Dutch group emigrated to Australia after independence and the remaining ·02% are English speaking.

In common with Asian countries, Christmas is a jolly, family extravaganza in Sri Lanka. Hotels, shopping malls and public places heave under the strain of complex decorations and everywhere there is ‘Christmas’ music and ‘only ten shopping days to Christmas’ over loud-speakers. Education in Sri Lanka is so important that former church schools, run on UK lines are much sought. after.

JEWS. There are few records of the presence of Jews in Sri Lanka. As in India, they were traders, mediators ,translators and financiers, usually tolerated by colonisers. Their presence ends with the start of WW2 so a 1,000 year occupation ends without a trace or memory of historical or cultural implications apart from a few graves. And, they went voluntarily.


Minor religions have considerable impact on a region but, through maintaining religious observation and rules, each minority can retain its autonomy. Despite this, some of the local culture seeps in, thus distinguishing them from the same religion in other countries. ADAPTATION is an important word in Anthropology and this applies to dress, food, lifestyle and language yet keeping this nugget of independence. However, with continual Diaspora and

subsequent intermarriage, many cultural facets will be slowly lost for ever. Finally. persecution continues to add to the fragmentation of religious cultures.

Comparative Religions H 4

SHAMANISM                                                                     HANDOUT FEBRUARY 2015

Shaman is a Tungus word from the Evenki people of Eastern Siberia, meaning ‘he who knows. The term is applied to a complex of religious and ethnomedical beliefs and practices. Throughout Siberia and Central Asia it is pre-eminently a religious phenomenon and the shaman is the central figure of the religious life. However, shamans can be found in many different cultures including the newly developing shamanic centres in Western cities. It no doubt arose through the human desire or social need to communicate with other worlds. It embraces ancestor worship and probably the root of Shamanism and could have emerged as an evolutionary mechanism enabling our ancestors to cope with stress and crisis.

According to Lewis (1971) in Ecstatic Religion, a Shaman is ‘a person of either sex who has mastered spirits and can at will introduce them into his own body’. Shamans are designated negotiators and they occupy a powerful position within their communities. Their expertise is manifest in a trance where their soul gains entry to both worlds of spirits. The main purpose is medical although there are other calls upon him.

There are similarities between a shaman in Siberia and one in the Amazon forest, but there is no similarity of culture whatsoever. However, it is believed that the indigenous Americans originally crossed the Bering Straits from Asia when it was still possible about 25,00 years ago, making their way eventually to the tip of South America. New research with DNA evidence shows that the people of the state of Altai in Siberia, which in Palaeolithic times had a community of about 35,000, certainly share markers with Native American now. The trance, invariably drug induced sometimes known as a soul journey is common to all. The experiences are obtained through different kinds of altered states of consciousness Murphy (1964) lists three aspects of cultural healing in Alaska

He works within shared beliefs of the group therefore reinforcing them.

He involves the group too so the patient is surrounded by familiar faces.

Since he becomes ‘possessed’ it illustrates his power over the spirits.

Further explanations make the shaman a visionary who in his healing shares the changes brought about by illness and helps to cure them. He is often able to locate resources like fish and game and experiences death and rebirth. The shaman can enter invisible worlds. There are similarities with Witchcraft and Sorcery but Shamans have control of the spirits. They also have social control in their community.

Shamanism is part of traditional’ religions’ which are transmitted orally as opposed to those founded on books such as Christianity. Environment and ecology becomes part of the culture which is the essence of Traditional Societies. If we are to believe that the South American indigenous Indians originated in northern Asia, then this is a good example of adapting to the environment. There is archaeological and pictorial evidence of related shamanism in Europe

Shamans must practice celibacy when preparing for mediation which has connections with the ancient theory of being contaminated by women’s evil. As with all rituals, clothing, regalia and accessories are of prime importance and there are many illustrations in books, museums and the internet. However, much interpretation of ancient practice is conjecture.

I will be giving many examples of existing shamanic rituals from Siberia through the Americas. In addition there are elements of Shamanism in the Pacific Islands, Australian Aborigines, in Malaysia and Indonesia as well as allied practices in Africa. The scope for research is huge. It died out in China and merged into Taoism. I found details of an exhibition of shamanic scrolls and artefacts from China and Vietnam at a US University.

Modern Shamanism is well advertised through Google. One site states; ‘It is through understanding and experiencing different realities that the shaman is able to move between worlds bringing the gift of healing for self and his community.’ An exploration of the inner self it seems.

Conclusions 6000 indigenous tribes with 6000 different cultures. Most will have shamans and that is a lot of variation to summarize.

It is mostly agreed that Shamanism started in Siberia and spread south. It crossed the Bering Straits and took many centuries to reach the tip of South America. It went south into Asia too and eventually reached what is now Europe. Vestiges appear in many of today’s faiths.

The main difference between Shamanism and formal organised religion is that the shaman relies on his powers and personal abilities and is a mediator between different worlds whereas a priest/leader has his powers invested in him by the Church or religious organisation of which he is a part

Few religious traditions have generated such diversity and stirred imaginations as shamanism. In their engagements with other worlds, shamans have conversed with animals and ancestors and have been empowered with the knowledge to heal patients, advise hunters, and curse enemies. Still other shamans, aided by rhythmic music or powerful plant helpers, undertake journeys into different realities where their actions negotiate harmony between human and other than human communities.

What they have in common is that they have ‘out of this world’ experiences. How they get there and how they handle it and the paraphernalia to achieve it varies considerably. But even at the dawn of religious belief the shaman achieved social control and this carries on to this day in many traditional societies and probably prevents anarchy.


Many books on Shamanism from Anthropology tomes to The Times Religion. I am willing to lend some.

Eliade,M 1964)Shamanism;Archaic techniques of ecstasy Penguin

Stern,David(2012)Shamanist Revival National Geographic(available on line)

YouTube OU Religion as Social Control – 4 x I minute cartoons.

Comparative Religions H 5

THE AMISH                                                            handout April 2015

This belief system could not be more different than last month’s Shamanism. I don’t intend to do an exercise in comparison but perhaps it can come into the last session. Both are distinguished by what they wear, one extrovert, the other quite the opposite.

Amish dress is an outward symbol of membership in the group, but through its plainness and simplicity rather than through any eccentricities. Their lack of technology is for the same reason. The Amish religion is a good example of ‘Religion as a Way of Life’. supporting my approach to Comparative Religion. Theyreject Church organisation, military service and public office.

They base their daily life and religious practice on a literal interpretation of the Biblical instruction "be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2). Their separateness may also have been a reaction to their former persecution.

The Amish way of life grows out of the belief that salvation comes from the redeeming strength of living a loving life in a pure community of believers who live in separation from the world.

Amish are less concerned with achieving individual salvation through a personal belief in Jesus Christ. They believe that God does not grant salvation because of inner experience. Salvation came only by actual participation in Christ, by suffering, yielding, dying to self as he did. They believe this is only possible in a community and through Ordnung. The Ordnung is a discipline where members are expected to believe the same things and follow the same code of behaviour. Amish belief system is truly a Way of Life but what exactly is the Amish religion?

There are no churches – worship takes place in people’s homes and although there is a structure of leaders, the service is people led. A 3 hour preaching service takes place alternate Sunday mornings followed by a shared meal with several families. Communion is held twice a year and there may be a young person’s evening service. For the service, singing is led by a single voice for the first bar and the hymn is sung slowly and can take 20 minutes. Then there is an introductory sermon followed by kneeling for silent prayer. The assembly then stands for a Bible reading followed by the main sermon and another Bible reading. Testimonies follow and the preacher then gives closing remarks. The final part consists of a kneeling prayer, benediction, notices, a closing hymn and the company leave in age order from the youngest. There area 3 ranks of lay ministers, bishop, preacher and deacon.

Amish were originally part of an Anabaptist movement formed by Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16thC. They are the result of a split from the Mennonite Swiss Brethren. Mennonites are members of a Protestant sect originating in Friesland in the 16thC.They reject infant baptism in favour of baptism as a believer. They first sailed to America in 1720 from Germany and Switzerland. They speak 3 languages, a German dialect called Pennsylvanian Dutch at home, High German at their worship service and English when they talk to non-Amish, who they call ‘English’

Their daily life and religious practice is based on literal translation of the Biblical instruction “be not conformed to this world” (Romans12:2)(see also Ordnumg).

Gelassanheit is an idea that a believer should surrender to God by living the way that pleases Him and farming is thought to be the prime way.

Not surprisingly, such ways as Marriage and Education are very specific to this closed society. Amish only marry other Amish, may not marry a first cousin and preferably not a second cousin. In spite of this, their gene pool is limited since they are all directly descended from 200 founders, and genetic disorders are common. The Founder Effect where small communities intermarry causes recessive genes to produce disorders such as Ellis-van Creveld syndrome which can be traced back to one couple in 1744.This feature more within the Amish Community than in all America. They also have large families – up to ten

Children are educated in their own schools to the age of 14, having won a US Supreme Court hearing to allow this. The boys are trained in farming and crafts and the girls concentrate on domestic skills. After 16 they are given much freedom to explore the ‘outside world known as rumspringa but most return .

There are around 200,000 Amish in the Eastern Seaboard and central northern States and the population doubles every 20 years.. Each district is independent and because transport is limited to horse buggies, districts are usually small.

However, the Amish do connect with the rest of the country where it benefits the community. They have shops selling food and produce, quaint wooden furniture and the famous quilts to provide much needed cash. But farm machinery is horse-drawn, they do not have radio or TV, but power is used for work purposes and telephones are available outside. To quote an elderly Amish man “television is the sewer line that connects you directly with the cesspool of Hollywood” They do not approve of Insurance since this undermines the independency of the individual. They can ride in other people’s cars and ambulances.

Clothing reflects humility and avoids individual distinctiveness. Women wear long modest dresses with full skirt, cape and apron with either a bonnet or white organza cap on the head. Colours are dark blues, greens, purples and black. Men wear straight cut coats with their dark trousers and a full brim hat. They grow beards after they marry but not moustaches since these were formerly connected with the military. The Amish do not go in the Army.

Life is not all Peace. There is invariably conflict within communities and dissenters move on to other communities. There is also the on-going conflict with modern – day living but with a policy of non-resistance where they accept the consequences. They have a very strong code of ethics , being against contraception, homosexuality, divorce, and all sins forbidden in the Bible. Although they are opening up to changes in technology, they are becoming more sectarian and rigid. But they continue to thrive.

Postscript. They practice ‘Bundling’ a now outdated European practice where a young courting couple are bound in two separate blankets and laid together on a bed for intimacy which does not include sexual contact. Some beds have a board in the middle.