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Exaltist Ethan

Bridging the Gap Between Believers and Skeptics
I was doing a bit of studying of the religion Asatru, a neo-pagan Norse Icelandic ethnic religion. It vaguely reminded me of Japan's ethnic religion, Shinto. It seems like those who are religious tend to be in the universal religions camp, belonging to a religion that it meant for anybody and everyone at the same time. Ethnic religions seem to be shamanistic or pagan in nature, as they worship the land they occupy.

But my question for the reader is, are ethnic religions designated only for those who live in that area? As someone who lives in America, could I be part of Shinto or Asatru, despite not being Japanese or Icelandic? If someone converts to these ethnic religions, is it a given that they move to the country of origin for that religion? By becoming part of that religion, are you also ethnically tied to that religion too? Is everyone who is in Shinto designated to be Japanese, and is everyone who is in Asatru designated to be Icelandic as well? Can ethnic religions be practiced by those who don't share the ethnicity of those who are in the religion?

I'm curious as to what people know and think of when they talk about ethnic religions. I know being Jewish is an ethnicity, whereas it seems that Judaism is more of the religion of the Jews. It honestly confuses me sometimes because some ethnicities and religions seem to be so intertwined with each other that it's hard to tell where the ethnicity ends and the religion begins.

I'm not looking to convert to any specific religion, let alone, an ethnic religion, but I wonder how restrictive ethnic religions are versus universally-applied religions like Christianity and Islam. If you know anything about ethnic religions, let me know more about them below. I'm curious about them and would like to know more about place-specific religions like Asatru or Shinto.

So, let me know what you think about this topic below. :)
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
Where did you encounter the idea that Asatru is an ethnic religion? This idea is, at best, controversial within the community (to my knowledge).
 

Exaltist Ethan

Bridging the Gap Between Believers and Skeptics
Where did you encounter the idea that Asatru is an ethnic religion? This idea is, at best, controversial within the community (to my knowledge).

Upon reading the Wikipedia article while not being overtly declaring that it is ethnic, it sounds like those in the Asatru religion worship their land in Iceland. As well, most religious affairs in that religion are done in that language and their official website is https://asatru. is/ rather than https://asatru.com/ and is completely in their language rather than English. I had just assumed that Asatru was an ethnic religion given the fact that all of its affairs are done in Iceland.
 

Saint Frankenstein

Wanderer From Afar
Premium Member
Where did you encounter the idea that Asatru is an ethnic religion? This idea is, at best, controversial within the community (to my knowledge).
Um, it is an ethnic religion. It's a revival of the religious practices of the Germanic tribes, their indigenous religion. Many or most get into it because they want to honor their heritage, among other reasons. What is controversial is whether they should welcome people who don't have Germanic heritage (folkish vs. universalist Heathenry).
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
Upon reading the Wikipedia article while not being overtly declaring that it is ethnic, it sounds like those in the Asatru religion worship their land in Iceland. As well, most religious affairs in that religion are done in that language and their official website is https://asatru. is/ rather than https://asatru.com/ and is completely in their language rather than English. I had just assumed that Asatru was an ethnic religion given the fact that all of its affairs are done in Iceland.

Fair enough. The language we use to describe religions is fought with challenges, and you've touched upon a major one with this topic, perhaps unknowingly.

I would draw a distinction between talking about "ethnic religion" versus "place-based religion" with the understanding that historically there would have been far less difference between the two than there is today. Paganisms being placed-based is not at all controversial and sort of par for the course, though the extent to which this is true varies by tradition. This does not mean they are ethnic, however - closed off to anyone who isn't the "right" bloodline. Paganisms being place-based is mostly a reflection of how Pagan gods are nature and found in specific locations rather than being omnipresent. My own tradition operates this way, but I'd cringe hard at it being called "ethic" as a consequence.

I'm going to sidestep the controversies regarding ethnic religion for the moment and just make the observation that Pagan traditions are based on practice and direct experience. Couple this with experiences being very place-based, and gods being very place-based. Then, brainstorm some of the challenges and problems that come with trying to practice a place-based tradition far from the places where those gods or spirits reside. If it helps, think about it as if you were having an intimate relationship with another human and how that would (or wouldn't) go over long distances where you weren't in physical contact. It's broadly the same situation in terms of the challenges it brings to the table. Not insurmountable, and it changes the work required and the nature of the relationship in ways that may be more or less desirable depending on what one is looking for.
 

Brian2

Veteran Member
I was doing a bit of studying of the religion Asatru, a neo-pagan Norse Icelandic ethnic religion. It vaguely reminded me of Japan's ethnic religion, Shinto. It seems like those who are religious tend to be in the universal religions camp, belonging to a religion that it meant for anybody and everyone at the same time. Ethnic religions seem to be shamanistic or pagan in nature, as they worship the land they occupy.

But my question for the reader is, are ethnic religions designated only for those who live in that area? As someone who lives in America, could I be part of Shinto or Asatru, despite not being Japanese or Icelandic? If someone converts to these ethnic religions, is it a given that they move to the country of origin for that religion? By becoming part of that religion, are you also ethnically tied to that religion too? Is everyone who is in Shinto designated to be Japanese, and is everyone who is in Asatru designated to be Icelandic as well? Can ethnic religions be practiced by those who don't share the ethnicity of those who are in the religion?

I'm curious as to what people know and think of when they talk about ethnic religions. I know being Jewish is an ethnicity, whereas it seems that Judaism is more of the religion of the Jews. It honestly confuses me sometimes because some ethnicities and religions seem to be so intertwined with each other that it's hard to tell where the ethnicity ends and the religion begins.

I'm not looking to convert to any specific religion, let alone, an ethnic religion, but I wonder how restrictive ethnic religions are versus universally-applied religions like Christianity and Islam. If you know anything about ethnic religions, let me know more about them below. I'm curious about them and would like to know more about place-specific religions like Asatru or Shinto.

So, let me know what you think about this topic below. :)

It used to be in ancient Biblical times that gods were gods of a certain area or nation. Then YHWH showed that He was the God of everywhere and everyone and over all time.
 

Ella S.

*temp banned*
Fair enough. The language we use to describe religions is fought with challenges, and you've touched upon a major one with this topic, perhaps unknowingly.

I would draw a distinction between talking about "ethnic religion" versus "place-based religion" with the understanding that historically there would have been far less difference between the two than there is today. Paganisms being placed-based is not at all controversial and sort of par for the course, though the extent to which this is true varies by tradition. This does not mean they are ethnic, however - closed off to anyone who isn't the "right" bloodline. Paganisms being place-based is mostly a reflection of how Pagan gods are nature and found in specific locations rather than being omnipresent. My own tradition operates this way, but I'd cringe hard at it being called "ethic" as a consequence.

I'm going to sidestep the controversies regarding ethnic religion for the moment and just make the observation that Pagan traditions are based on practice and direct experience. Couple this with experiences being very place-based, and gods being very place-based. Then, brainstorm some of the challenges and problems that come with trying to practice a place-based tradition far from the places where those gods or spirits reside. If it helps, think about it as if you were having an intimate relationship with another human and how that would (or wouldn't) go over long distances where you weren't in physical contact. It's broadly the same situation in terms of the challenges it brings to the table. Not insurmountable, and it changes the work required and the nature of the relationship in ways that may be more or less desirable depending on what one is looking for.

I think the issue might be that your are conflating ethnicity (i.e. the culture of a particular place and peoples) with race (i.e. social categories of various physical and genetic characteristics)

Shinto is an ethnic religion, but many people who live in Japan and observe Shinto rituals are not racially Japanese.
 

Ella S.

*temp banned*
Ethnic religions used to be the predominant form of religion. They still exist in the form of surviving Native American cultures and African traditions but the two largest ethnic religions are Judaism and Hinduism.

There are indeed Shinto shrines and practitioners in America. There are household shrines in Shinto that can be built essentially anywhere. You would be allowed to participate in them and they are worth researching.

Asatru also has a significant presence in America, and there are many Asatru communities that are open to anyone.
 

SomeRandom

Still learning to be wise
Staff member
Premium Member
I was doing a bit of studying of the religion Asatru, a neo-pagan Norse Icelandic ethnic religion. It vaguely reminded me of Japan's ethnic religion, Shinto. It seems like those who are religious tend to be in the universal religions camp, belonging to a religion that it meant for anybody and everyone at the same time. Ethnic religions seem to be shamanistic or pagan in nature, as they worship the land they occupy.

But my question for the reader is, are ethnic religions designated only for those who live in that area? As someone who lives in America, could I be part of Shinto or Asatru, despite not being Japanese or Icelandic? If someone converts to these ethnic religions, is it a given that they move to the country of origin for that religion? By becoming part of that religion, are you also ethnically tied to that religion too? Is everyone who is in Shinto designated to be Japanese, and is everyone who is in Asatru designated to be Icelandic as well? Can ethnic religions be practiced by those who don't share the ethnicity of those who are in the religion?

I'm curious as to what people know and think of when they talk about ethnic religions. I know being Jewish is an ethnicity, whereas it seems that Judaism is more of the religion of the Jews. It honestly confuses me sometimes because some ethnicities and religions seem to be so intertwined with each other that it's hard to tell where the ethnicity ends and the religion begins.

I'm not looking to convert to any specific religion, let alone, an ethnic religion, but I wonder how restrictive ethnic religions are versus universally-applied religions like Christianity and Islam. If you know anything about ethnic religions, let me know more about them below. I'm curious about them and would like to know more about place-specific religions like Asatru or Shinto.

So, let me know what you think about this topic below. :)
I can only comment on what I think. So take it with a grain of salt

Religion of course evolved alongside we humans and each adapted accordingly.
As such each have “quirks” unique to regions and certain populations.
So they can perhaps become a bit “protective” over them. But from what I’ve seen, many “ethnic” religious don’t often contain a rule against people not belonging to said population participating in them. Iow there doesn’t seem an offical gatekeeping rule. One may be enforced by some populations though. :shrug:
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
I think the issue might be that your are conflating ethnicity (i.e. the culture of a particular place and peoples) with race (i.e. social categories of various physical and genetic characteristics).

While one could say the two terms are frequently "conflated" that's a bit unfair given the two terms are routinely used interchangeably or as synonyms in common parlance. It brings up some interesting complications, and honestly? We look at the more nuanced anthropological and biological understandings of terms, they are a complicated mess which limits their utility, especially in understanding the even more complicated mess that is religious/cultural diversity.
Part of why I'm always reluctant to poke this topic is because of these problems and complications, so then I instead turn to the practical question "why would this
matter?" or perhaps "what does this tell us about how this human understands culture and religion?"

It's up to each to answer that for themselves. I know where my boundaries are, and why I put them where I put them, and those need not be what the OP's boundaries are. In the information age, humans have access to an unprecedented rate of cultural information, facilitating exchange at a pace that just didn't exist for the vast majority of human history. Capitalize on that... or do not, yeah?
 

Ella S.

*temp banned*
While one could say the two terms are frequently "conflated" that's a bit unfair given the two terms are routinely used interchangeably or as synonyms in common parlance. It brings up some interesting complications, and honestly? We look at the more nuanced anthropological and biological understandings of terms, they are a complicated mess which limits their utility, especially in understanding the even more complicated mess that is religious/cultural diversity. Part of why I'm always reluctant to poke this topic is because of these problems and complications, so then I instead turn to the practical question "why would this matter?" or perhaps "what does this tell us about how this human understands culture and religion?"

It's up to each to answer that for themselves. I know where my boundaries are, and why I put them where I put them, and those need not be what the OP's boundaries are. In the information age, humans have access to an unprecedented rate of cultural information, facilitating exchange at a pace that just didn't exist for the vast majority of human history. Capitalize on that... or do not, yeah?

The term "ethnic religion" was coined by anthropologists and it has a precise meaning within anthropology to refer to a religion that is primarily based around a shared culture, which distinguishes it from universal religions which are seen as applicable to all people.

Some important differences arise from this. For instance, ethnic religions tend to be insular and even outright closed communities which forbid accepting outside converts, whereas universal religions by their nature tend to promote seeking out conversion. Ethnic religions also tend to have more diverse folk beliefs and are more tolerant of disagreements about interpretation, at least on paper, whereas universal religions tend to enforce a stricter set of beliefs. These are, of course, generalizations.

There's also a major difference in how these religions originate. Ethnic religions came about organically through the shared cultural ties of specific communities. Universal religions are normally started by a single person or a small group of people.

It's understandable that you misunderstood the term. I've seen some people replace the term "ethnic religion" with "folk religion" or sometimes "nature religion" because of this, although this is controversial.
 

Jayhawker Soule

-- untitled --
Premium Member
It used to be in ancient Biblical times that gods were gods of a certain area or nation. Then YHWH showed that He was the God of everywhere and everyone and over all time.
To some ... eventually.

But what struck me as being both deeply sad and preposterously myopic was ...

It used to be in ancient Biblical times that ...

It manages to casually dismiss huge swaths of humanity's expanse and history.
 

Jayhawker Soule

-- untitled --
Premium Member
I'm curious as to what people know and think of when they talk about ethnic religions. I know being Jewish is an ethnicity, whereas it seems that Judaism is more of the religion of the Jews. It honestly confuses me sometimes because some ethnicities and religions seem to be so intertwined with each other that it's hard to tell where the ethnicity ends and the religion begins.
I suspect that early religion was heavily etiological and much about placedness, and the search for placedness has always been intertwined with the quest of the refugee.
 

IndigoChild5559

Loving God and my neighbor as myself.
I was doing a bit of studying of the religion Asatru, a neo-pagan Norse Icelandic ethnic religion. It vaguely reminded me of Japan's ethnic religion, Shinto. It seems like those who are religious tend to be in the universal religions camp, belonging to a religion that it meant for anybody and everyone at the same time. Ethnic religions seem to be shamanistic or pagan in nature, as they worship the land they occupy.

But my question for the reader is, are ethnic religions designated only for those who live in that area? As someone who lives in America, could I be part of Shinto or Asatru, despite not being Japanese or Icelandic? If someone converts to these ethnic religions, is it a given that they move to the country of origin for that religion? By becoming part of that religion, are you also ethnically tied to that religion too? Is everyone who is in Shinto designated to be Japanese, and is everyone who is in Asatru designated to be Icelandic as well? Can ethnic religions be practiced by those who don't share the ethnicity of those who are in the religion?

I'm curious as to what people know and think of when they talk about ethnic religions. I know being Jewish is an ethnicity, whereas it seems that Judaism is more of the religion of the Jews. It honestly confuses me sometimes because some ethnicities and religions seem to be so intertwined with each other that it's hard to tell where the ethnicity ends and the religion begins.

I'm not looking to convert to any specific religion, let alone, an ethnic religion, but I wonder how restrictive ethnic religions are versus universally-applied religions like Christianity and Islam. If you know anything about ethnic religions, let me know more about them below. I'm curious about them and would like to know more about place-specific religions like Asatru or Shinto.

So, let me know what you think about this topic below. :)
Judaism is an example of a religion that is for Jews.
 
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