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.


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.

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.


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. [32]

Since the 19th century, Reform Judaism has adopted theology that differs from traditional Judaism; however, 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, the increasing rate of mixed marriages has led to attempts to facilitate conversion of the spouse, although conversion to facilitate marriage is strongly discouraged by traditional Jewish law. [33] If the spouse does not convert, the reform movement will recognize paternal descent. Traditional Jewish law 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." [34]

Since the mid 1960s Israeli national identity has become inexorably linked with Jewish identity. [35] [36] In recent years some anti-Zionists have adopted a variety of theories intent on proving that contemporary Jews are descendants of converts, 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. [37] 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 in relation to the inherited status of mamzer, the marriage of males from the priestly line, persons not recognized as Jewish by the rabbinate, and in cases of 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.

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 everyday 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. [38] [39]


In Australian law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 of New South Wales defines "race" to include "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". [40] The reference to "ethno-religious" was added by the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (NSW). [41] 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". [8] [9]

The definition of "race" in Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) likewise includes "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". [42] However, unlike the NSW Act, it also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of "religious belief or affiliation" or "religious activity". [43]

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 [44] group. Both Jews [12] [13] [14] and Sikhs [45] [46] [47] 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. [46]

See also

Related Research Articles

Judaism is an ethnic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

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.

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:

"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 if they underwent a halakhic conversion. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism accept both matrilineal and patrilineal descent as well as conversion. Karaite Judaism predominantly follows patrilineal descent as well as conversion.

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Arab Jews is a term referring to Jews living in or originating from the Arab world. The largest Jewish communities in the Arab world are in Morocco and Tunisia. Smaller Jewish populations of 100 people or less exist in Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Some Arab countries, such as Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan, are no longer home to any Jewish communities. As of 2018, Morocco had a Jewish population of 2,200, while Tunisia had a Jewish population of 1,100.

Religion in Israel religion in Israel

Religion in Israel is a central feature of the country and plays a major role in shaping Israeli culture and lifestyle.

Religion in South Africa religion in South Africa

South Africa is a secular state with a diverse religious population. Its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Many religions are represented in the ethnic and regional diversity of the population. Christianity, especially in its Protestant forms, predominates.

In world politics, Jewish state is a characterization of the nation state of Israel as a sovereign homeland of Jewish people.

Christianity in Israel Christianity in Israel

Christianity is one of the main religions in Israel, third by size, and is practiced by 177,000 people living in Israel as of 2020. 77% of these followers are Arab-Christians, who are mostly adherents of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. 42% of all Israeli Christians are affiliated with the Melkite Greek Church, and 30%-32% with the Orthodox Church; smaller numbers are split between Latin Rite Catholics with 13% of Christians, about 25,000 Russian Orthodox Christians, about 15,000 Arameans who adhere to the Maronite and Syriac Churches, 3,000 to 10,000 adherents of Armenian Churches, 1,000 Assyrians affiliated with the Assyrian Churches, a community of around 1,000 Copts, being registered as "Arab Christians", though their Arab identity is disputed, and small branches of Protestants.

Amish Group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships

The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to, but a distinct branch off from, Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, Christian pacifism, and are slower to adopt many conveniences of modern technology, with a view to not interrupting family time, nor replacing face-to-face conversations whenever possible.

Jews Ancient nation and ethnoreligious group from the Levant

Jews or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and a nation, originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, while its observance varies from strict observance to complete nonobservance.

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.

Racism in Israel encompasses all forms and manifestations of racism experienced in Israel, irrespective of the colour or creed of the perpetrator and victim, or their citizenship, residency, or visitor status.

The term Ethnic Mennonite refers to Mennonites of Central European ancestry and culture who are considered to be members of a Mennonite ethnic or ethno-religious group. The term is also used for aspects of their culture, such as ethnic Mennonite food like Pfeffernüsse, Borscht and Tweebak.

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Freedom of religion in Serbia refers to the extent to which people in Serbia are freely able to practice their religious beliefs, taking into account both government policies and societal attitudes toward religious groups.

Shenandoah Germans ethnic group

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.

Anabaptists and Jews have had interactions for several centuries, since the origins of Anabaptism in the Radical Reformation in early modern Europe. Due to the insularity of many Anabaptist and Jewish communities, Anabaptist–Jewish relations have historically been limited but there are notable examples of interactions between Anabaptists and Jews. Due to some similarities in dress, culture, and language, Amish and Mennonite communities in particular have often been compared and contrasted to Hasidic Jewish communities.


  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)."
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    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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