Ethnoreligious group

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Yazidi girls in traditional dress Yazidi Girl tradicional clothes.jpg
Yazidi girls in traditional dress

An ethnoreligious group (or ethno-religious group) is an ethnic group whose members are also unified by a common religious background.

Ethnic group Socially defined category of people who identify with each other

An ethnic group, a people group, a people, or an ethnicity, is a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry or on similarities such as common language, history, society, culture or nation. Ethnicity is often used synonymously with the term nation, particularly in cases of ethnic nationalism, and is separate from but related to the concept of races.

Religion is a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.


Defining an ethnoreligious group

In general, ethnoreligious communities define their ethnic identity not only by ancestral heritage nor simply by religious affiliation but normally through a combination of both. An ethnoreligious group has a shared history and a cultural tradition – which can be defined as religious – of its own. In many cases ethnoreligious groups are ethno-cultural groups with a traditional ethnic religion; in other cases ethnoreligious groups begin as communities united by a common faith which through endogamy developed cultural and ancestral ties. [1] [2] The legal assignment what is an ethnoreligious group can differ from the above given definition.

An ancestor is a parent or (recursively) the parent of an antecedent. Ancestor is "any person from whom one is descended. In law the person from whom an estate has been inherited."

Ethnic religion religion defined by the ethnicity of its adherents

In religious studies, an ethnic religion is a religion associated with a particular ethnic group. Ethnic religions are often distinguished from universal religions which claim to not be limited in ethnic or national scope, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Jainism. Ethnic religions are not only independent religions. Some localised denominations of global religions are practised solely by certain ethnic groups. For example, the Assyrians have a unique denominational structure of Christianity known as the Assyrian Church of the East.

Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific social group, caste or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships.

Some ethnoreligious groups' identities are reinforced by the experience of living within a larger community as a distinct minority. Ethnoreligious groups can be tied to ethnic nationalism if the ethnoreligious group possesses a historical base in a specific region. [3] In many ethnoreligious groups emphasis is placed upon religious endogamy, and the concurrent discouragement of interfaith marriages or intercourse, as a means of preserving the stability and historical longevity of the community and culture.

In sociology, a minority group refers to a category of people who experience relative disadvantage as compared to members of a dominant social group. Minority group membership is typically based on differences in observable characteristics or practices, such as: ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity. Utilizing the framework of intersectionality, it is important to recognize that an individual may simultaneously hold membership in multiple minority groups. Likewise, individuals may also be part of a minority group in regard to some characteristics, but part of a dominant group in regard to others.

Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethno-nationalism, is a form of nationalism wherein the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity.


Ethnic fusionEthnic religionReligious ethnicity

The Jewish case

Prior to the Babylonian exile the Israelites had already emerged as an ethnoreligious group, probably before the time of Hosea. [34]

Israelites people

The Israelites were a confederation of Iron Age Semitic-speaking tribes of the ancient Near East, who inhabited a part of Canaan during the tribal and monarchic periods. According to the religious narrative of the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites' origin is traced back to the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham and his wife Sarah, through their son Isaac and his wife Rebecca, and their son Jacob who was later called Israel, whence they derive their name, with his wives Leah and Rachel and the handmaids Zilpa and Bilhah.

Hosea biblical character

In the Hebrew Bible, Hosea, son of Beeri, was an 8th-century BC prophet in Israel who authored the book of prophecies bearing his name. He is one of the Twelve Prophets of the Jewish Hebrew Bible, also known as the Minor Prophets of the Christian Old Testament. Hosea is often seen as a "prophet of doom", but underneath his message of destruction is a promise of restoration. The Talmud claims that he was the greatest prophet of his generation. The period of Hosea's ministry extended to some sixty years and he was the only prophet of Israel of his time who left any written prophecy.

Since the 19th century Reform Judaism has adopted theology that differs from traditional Judaism, although in recent years the reform movement has readopted some traditional practices. By the end of the 20th century the reform movement had become dominant in the United States.[ citation needed ] In the United States rising mixed marriage rates has led to attempts to facilitate conversion of the spouse. Despite conversion in order to facilitate marriage being strongly discouraged by traditional Jewish law. [35] If the spouse does not convert the reform movement will recognize paternal descent. Traditional Jews only recognizes descent along the maternal line. Many children of mixed marriages do not identify as Jews and the reform movement only recognizes children of mixed marriages as Jewish if they "established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people." [36]

Reform Judaism Denomination of Judaism

Reform Judaism is a major Jewish denomination that emphasizes the evolving nature of the faith, the superiority of its ethical aspects to the ceremonial ones, and a belief in a continuous revelation, closely intertwined with human reason and intellect, and not centered on the theophany at Mount Sinai. A liberal strand of Judaism, it is characterized by a lesser stress on ritual and personal observance, regarding Jewish Law as non-binding and the individual Jew as autonomous, and openness to external influences and progressive values. The origins of Reform Judaism lie in 19th-century Germany, where its early principles were formulated by Rabbi Abraham Geiger and his associates; since the 1970s, the movement adopted a policy of inclusiveness and acceptance, inviting as many as possible to partake in its communities, rather than strict theoretical clarity. It is strongly identified with progressive political and social agendas, mainly under the traditional Jewish rubric Tikkun Olam, or "Repairing of the World". Tikkun Olam is a central motto of Reform Judaism, and action for its sake is one of the main channels for adherents to express their affiliation. The movement's greatest center today is in North America.

Since the mid 1960s Israeli national identity has become inexorably linked with Jewish identity. [37] [38] In recent years some anti-Zionists have adopted a variety of theories intent on proving that contemporary Jews are descendants of convert, which in their view would render Zionism a form of modern irrational racism, while at the same time severing Jewish ties to the Land of Israel. [39] In Israel Jewish religious courts have authority over personal status matters which has led to friction with secular Jews who sometimes find they must leave the country in order to marry or divorce. Particularly relating to the inherited status of mamzer, the marriage of males from the priestly line, persons not recognized as Jewish by the rabbinate and agunot. The Israeli rabbinate only recognizes certain approved Orthodox rabbis as legitimate which has led to friction with Diaspora Jews who for centuries never had an overarching authority.

Zionism Movement that supports the creation of a Jewish homeland

Zionism is the nationalist movement of the Jewish people that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel. Modern Zionism emerged in the late 19th century in Central and Eastern Europe as a national revival movement, both in reaction to newer waves of antisemitism and as an imitative response to other nationalist movements. Soon after this, most leaders of the movement associated the main goal with creating the desired state in Palestine, then an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

In the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious law, a mamzer is a person born from certain forbidden relationships or from incest, or the descendant of such a person. Mamzer status is not synonymous with illegitimacy, since it does not include children whose mothers were unmarried.

Agunah is a halakhic term for a Jewish woman who is "chained" to her marriage. The classic case of this is a man who has left on a journey and has not returned, or has gone into battle and is MIA. It is used as a borrowed term to refer to a woman whose husband refuses, or is unable, to grant her a divorce document in Jewish religious law, known as a get.

The Anabaptist case

Other classical examples for ethnoreligious groups are traditional Anabaptist groups like the Old Order Amish, the Hutterites, the Old Order Mennonites and traditional groups of German speaking Mennonites from Russia, like the Old Colony Mennonites. All these groups have a shared German background, a shared German dialect as their every day language (Pennsylvania German, Hutterisch, Plautdietsch) and a shared version of their Anabaptist faith, a shared history of several hundred years and they have accepted very few outsiders into their communities in the last 250 years. Modern proselytizing Mennonite groups, like e.g. the Evangelical Mennonite Conference whose members have lost their shared ancestry, their common ethnic language Plautdietsch, their traditional dress and other typical ethnic traditions, are not seen as ethnoreligious groups anymore. [40] [41]


In Australian law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 of New South Wales defines "race" to include "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". [42] The reference to "ethno-religious" was added by the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (NSW). [43] John Hannaford, the NSW Attorney-General at the time, explained, "The effect of the latter amendment is to clarify that ethno-religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, have access to the racial vilification and discrimination provisions of the Act.... extensions of the Anti-Discrimination Act to ethno-religious groups will not extend to discrimination on the ground of religion". [7] [8]

The definition of "race" in Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) likewise includes "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". [44] However, unlike the NSW Act, it also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of "religious belief or affiliation" or "religious activity". [45]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the landmark legal case Mandla v Dowell-Lee placed a legal definition on ethnic groups with religious ties, which, in turn, has paved the way for the definition of an ethnoreligious [46] group. Both Jews [11] [12] [13] and Sikhs [47] [48] [49] were determined to be considered ethnoreligious groups under the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (see above).

The Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 made reference to Mandla v Dowell-Lee, which defined ethnic groups as:

  1. a long shared history, of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it from other groups, and the memory of which it keeps alive;
  2. a cultural tradition of its own, including family and social customs and manners, often but not necessarily associated with religious observance. In addition to those two essential characteristics the following characteristics are, in my opinion, relevant:
  3. either a common geographical origin, or descent from a small number of common ancestors;
  4. a common language, not necessarily peculiar to the group;
  5. a common literature peculiar to the group;
  6. a common religion different from that of neighbouring groups or from the general community surrounding it;
  7. being a minority or being an oppressed or dominant group within a larger community. For example, a conquered people (say, the inhabitants of England shortly after the Norman conquest) and their conquerors might both be ethnic groups.

The significance of the case was that groups like Sikhs and Jews could now be protected under the Race Relations Act 1976. [48]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Jewish religious movements, sometimes called "denominations" or "branches", include different groups which have developed among Jews from ancient times. Today, the main division is between the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform movements, with several smaller movements alongside them. This denominational structure is mainly present in the United States, while in Israel, the fault lines are between the Orthodox and the non-religious.

Humanistic Judaism is a Jewish movement that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people. It encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and lifecycle events with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature. Its philosophical foundation includes the following ideas:

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"Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question explores ideas about Jewish personhood, which have cultural, ethnic, religious, political, genealogical, and personal dimensions. Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism follow Jewish law (Halakha), deeming a person to be Jewish if their mother is Jewish or they underwent a halakhic conversion. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism accept both matrilineal and patrilineal descent. Karaite Judaism predominantly follows patrilineal descent.

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An ethnocracy is a type of political structure in which the state apparatus is controlled by a dominant ethnic group to further its interests, power and resources. Ethnocratic regimes typically display a combination of 'thin' democratic facade covering a more profound ethnic structure, in which ethnicity – and not citizenship – is the key to securing power and resources. An ethnocratic society facilitates the ethnicization of the state by the dominant group, through the expansion of control, often through conflict with minorities and neighboring states.

Religion in Israel religion in Israel

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Jews ancient nation and ethnoreligious group from the Levant

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Secularism in Israel shows how matters of religion and how matters of state are related within Israel. Secularism is defined as an indifference to, rejection or exclusion of religion and religious consideration. In Israel, this applies to the entirely secular community that identifies with no religion and the secular community within the Jewish community which identifies with no particular division of the religion. When Israel was established as a new state in 1948, a new and different Jewish identity formed for the newly created Israeli population. This population was defined by the Israeli culture and Hebrew language, their experience with the Holocaust, and the need to band together against conflict with hostile neighbors in the Middle East. This is not an identity with which Jews outside of Israel can easily identify.

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Shenandoah Germans

The Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia and neighboring parts of West Virginia is home to a long-established German-American community dating back to the 17th century. The earliest German settlers to Shenandoah, sometimes known as the Shenandoah Deitsch or the Valley Dutch, were Pennsylvania Dutch migrants who arrived from southeastern Pennsylvania. These German settlers travelled southward along the Great Wagon Road. The Pennsylvania Dutch are the descendants of German, Swiss, and Alsatian Protestants who began settling in Pennsylvania during the 1600s. These German refugees had fled the Rhineland-Palatinate region of southwestern Germany due to religious and political persecution during repeated invasions by French troops. From the colonial period to the early 1900s, people of Germanic heritage formed the social and economic backbone of the Shenandoah Valley. The majority of the German settlers in the valley belonged to Anabaptist denominations such as the Mennonites, the Dunkers, and others. Smaller numbers were German Catholics or German Jews. Due to both economic reasons and Anabaptist objections to slavery, the German settlers of the valley owned few slaves, and consequently the area has never had a large African-American population. The earliest European settlers of the Shenandoah Valley were the Germans, who mostly settled in the northern portions of the valley, and the Scotch-Irish who mostly settled in the southern portions of the valley. The German language was commonly spoken in Shenandoah until World War I, when anti-German sentiment resulted in many German-Americans abandoning their language and customs in order to assimilate into the cultural mainstream. The German contribution to the culture of the Shenandoah Valley has been substantial, with Germans popularizing Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine and shape note singing. While most white Southerners have been of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic stock, the German migration to Shenandoah has given the area some ethnic diversity, "a characteristic more Pennsylvanian then Virginian". While the valley is geographically Southern, this German contribution from the Mid-Atlantic has "made it appear Northern." In the 21st century, the Shenandoah Valley and Harrisonburg in particular have become known as a haven for refugees, with Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren playing a prominent role in helping resettle migrants from Latin America and elsewhere. The Mennonites and the Brethren have played an active role due to their denominational emphasis on pacifism and social justice, along with the Mennonite and Brethren history of being refugees from religious persecution in Europe.


  1. 1 2 3 Yang and Ebaugh, p.369: "Andrew Greeley (1971) identified three types of relationships in the United States: some religious people who do not hold an ethnic identity; some people who have an ethnic identity but are not religious; and cases in which religion and ethnicity are intertwined. Phillip Hammond and Kee Warner (1993), following Harold J. Abramson (1973), further explicated the “intertwining relationships” into a typology. First is “ethnic fusion,” where religion is the foundation of ethnicity, or, ethnicity equals religion, such as in the case of the Amish and Jews. The second pattern is that of “ethnic religion,” where religion is one of several foundations of ethnicity. The Greek or Russian Orthodox and the Dutch Reformed are examples of this type. In this pattern, ethnic identification can be claimed without claiming the religious identification but the reverse is rare. The third form, “religious ethnicity,” occurs where an ethnic group is linked to a religious tradition that is shared by other ethnic groups. The Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics are such cases. In this pattern, religious identification can be claimed without claiming ethnic identification. Hammond and Warner also suggest that the relationship of religion and ethnicity is strongest in “ethnic fusion” and least strong in “religious ethnicity.” Recently, some scholars have argued that even Jews’ religion and culture (ethnicity) can be distinguished from each other and are separable (Chervyakov, Gitelman, and Shapiro 1997; Gans 1994)."
  2. 1 2 3 4 Hammond and Warner, p.59: "1. Religion is the major foundation of ethnicity, examples include the Amish, Hutterites, Jews, and Mormons. Ethnicity in this pattern, so to speak, equals religion, and if the religious identity is denied, so is the ethnic identity. [Footnote: In actuality, of course, there can be exceptions, as the labels "jack Mormon," "banned Amish," or "cultural Jew" suggest.] Let us call this pattern "ethnic fusion."
    2. Religion may be one of several foundations of ethnicity, the others commonly being language and territorial origin; examples are the Greek or Russian Orthodox and the Dutch Reformed. Ethnicity in this pattern extends beyond religion in the sense that ethnic identification can be claimed without claiming the religious identification, but the reverse is rare. Let us call this pattern "ethnic religion."
    3. An ethnic group may be linked to a religious tradition, but other ethnic groups will be linked to it, too. Examples include Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics; Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish Lutherans. Religion in this pattern extends beyond ethnicity, reversing the previous pattern, and religious identification can be claimed without claiming the ethnic identification. Let us call this pattern "religious ethnicity""
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