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Folk religion

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Title: Folk religion  
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Subject: Religion in the Philippines, Buda (folklore), List of founders of religious traditions, Burkhanism, Kuman Thong
Collection: Anthropology of Religion, Folk Religion, Magical Thinking, Paganism
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Folk religion

Folk religion, sometimes also termed popular belief, consists of ethnic or regional religious customs under the umbrella of a religion, but outside of official doctrine and practices.[1] Folk religion has been defined as "the totality of all those views and practices of religion that exist among the people apart from and alongside the strictly theological and liturgical forms of the official religion."[2]

The term "folk religion" is generally held to encompass two related but separate subjects. The first is the religious dimension of folk culture, or the folk-cultural dimensions of religion. The second refers to the study of syncretisms between two cultures with different stages of formal expression, such as the melange of African folk beliefs and Roman Catholicism that led to the development of Vodun and Santería, and similar mixtures of formal religions with folk cultures.[3]

Chinese folk religion, Folk Christianity, Folk Hinduism, and Folk Islam are examples of folk religion associated with major religions. The term is also used, especially by the clergy of the faiths involved, to describe the desire of people who otherwise infrequently attend religious worship, do not belong to a church or similar religious society, and who have not made a formal profession of faith in a particular creed, to have religious weddings or funerals, or (among Christians) to have their children baptised.[1]

Aspects of many, but not all, folk religions include:


  • Chinese folk religion 1
  • Folk Christianity 2
  • Folk Islam 3
  • Folk Hinduism 4
  • In sociology 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Chinese folk religion

Chinese folk religion or Shenism[4][5][6] are labels used to describe the collection of ethnic religious traditions which have historically comprised the predominant belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups up to the present day. Shenism describes Chinese mythology and includes the worship of shen (spirit, god, awareness, consciousness) which can be nature deities, Taizu or clan deities, city gods, national deities, culture heroes and demigods, dragons and ancestors. "Shenism" as a term was first published by AJA Elliot in 1955.[7]

Chinese folk religion is sometimes categorized with Taoism, since over the centuries institutional Taoism has been attempting to assimilate or administrate local religions. More accurately, Taoism can be defined as a branch of Shenism, since it sprang out of folk religion and Chinese philosophy. Chinese folk religion is sometimes seen as a constituent part of Chinese traditional religion, but more often, the two are regarded as synonymous. With around 454 million adherents, or about 6.6% of the world population,[8] Chinese folk religion is one of the major religious traditions in the world. In China more than 30% of the population adheres to Shenism or Taoism.[9]

Despite being heavily suppressed during the last two centuries, from the Taiping Rebellion to the Cultural Revolution, it is currently experiencing a modern revival in both Mainland China and Taiwan.[10][11] Various forms have received support by the Government of the People's Republic of China, such as Mazuism in Southern China (officially about 160 million Chinese are Mazuists),[12] Huangdi worship,[13][14] Black Dragon worship in Shaanxi,[15][16][17] and Cai Shen worship.[18]

Folk Christianity

Botánicas such as this one in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA, sell religious goods such as statues of saints and candles decorated with prayers alongside folk medicine and amulets.

Folk Christianity is defined differently by various scholars. Definitions include "the Christianity practiced by a conquered people",[19] Christianity as most people live it – a term used to "overcome the division of beliefs into Orthodox and unorthodox",[20] Christianity as impacted by superstition as practiced by certain geographical Christian groups,[21] and Christianity defined "in cultural terms without reference to the theologies and histories."[22]

Folk Islam

Folk Islam is an umbrella term used to collectively describe forms of Islam that incorporate native folk beliefs and practices.[23] Folk Islam has been described as the Islam of the "urban poor, country people, and tribes",[24] in contrast to orthodox or "High" Islam (Gellner, 1992)[25] Sufism and Sufi concepts are often integrated into Folk Islam.

Various practices and beliefs have been identified with the concept of "folk Islam". They include the following:

Folk Hinduism

The Hindu epics and puranas have contributed to the foundation of Folk Hinduism.[32] Folk Hinduism also includes the Native Dravidian religion, Sanamahism, Bathouism, etc. But today, folk Hinduism ("Indian folk religion" or "popular Hinduism") may still be distinguished from "high" forms of Hindu philosophy, or mystical or ascetic forms.

In sociology

In sociology, folk religion is often contrasted with elite religion. Folk religion is defined as the beliefs, practices, rituals and symbols originating from sources other than the religion's leadership. Folk religion in many instances is tolerated by the religion's leadership, although they may consider it an error.[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b Bowman, Marion (2004). "Chapter 1: Phenomenology, Fieldwork, and Folk Religion". In Sutcliffe, Steven. Religion: empirical studies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 3–4.  
  2. ^ Yoder, Don (January 1974). "Toward a Definition of Folk Religion". Western Folklore 33 (1): 1–15.  
  3. ^ Don Yoder, "Toward a Definition of Folk Religion", above
  4. ^ Reinventing Chinese Syncretic Religion: Shenism. Google. 2007-02-23. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  5. ^ "How we came to ‘pai shen’". Straits times. 2009-09-07. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  6. ^ Religious Diversity in Singapore. Google. 2001-09-11. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  7. ^ High beam .
  8. ^ "Religion",  .
  9. ^ "Chinese Folk Religion Adherents by Country". Charts bin. 2009-09-16. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  10. ^ "Roundtable before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  11. ^ "The Upsurge of Religion in China" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  12. ^ "China's Leaders Harness Folk Religion For Their Aims". 2010-07-23. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  13. ^ "Over 10,000 Chinese Worship Huangdi in Henan". 2006-04-01. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  14. ^ Compatriots across the strait honor their ancestry
  15. ^ "Return to folk religions brings about renewal in rural China". 2001-09-14. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  16. ^ The Policy of Legitimation and the Revival of Popular Religion in Shaanbei, North-Central China
  17. ^ Miraculous response: doing popular religion in contemporary China. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  18. ^ "苍南金乡玄坛庙成华夏第八财神庙". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  19. ^ Brown, Peter Robert Lamont (2003). The rise of Western Christendom. Wiley-Blackwell, 2003. ISBN 0-631-22138-7, p. 341. Last accessed July 2009.
  20. ^ Rock, Stella (2007). Popular religion in Russia. Routledge ISBN 0-415-31771-1, p. 11. Last accessed July 2009.
  21. ^ Snape, Michael Francis (2003). The Church of England in industrialising society. Boydell Press, ISBN 1-84383-014-0, p. 45. Last accessed July 2009
  22. ^ Corduan, Winfried (1998). Neighboring faiths: a Christian introduction to world religions. InterVarsity Press, ISBN 0-8308-1524-4, p. 37. Last accessed July 2009.
  23. ^ Cook, Chris (2009). Spirituality and Psychiatry.  
  24. ^ Ridgeon, Lloyd (2003). Major World Religions: From Their Origins To The Present.  
  25. ^  
  26. ^ Masud, Muhammad Khalid; et al (2009). Islam and Modernity: Key Issues and Debates.  
  27. ^ Makris, JP (2006). Islam in the Middle East: A Living Tradition.  
  28. ^ Chelkowski, Peter J; et al (1988). Ideology and Power in the Middle East: Studies in Honor of George Lenczowski.  
  29. ^ Hinde, Robert (2009). Why Gods Persist: A Scientific Approach to Religion.  
  30. ^ Hefner, Robert W; et al (1997). Islam In an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia.  
  31. ^ Khan, IK (2006). Islam in Modern Asia. MD Publications. p. 281.  
  32. ^ Collier's encyclopedia - Volume 10 of Collier's Encyclopedia: With Bibliography and Index. 1957. p. 68. 
  33. ^ Leibman, Charles. "The Religion of the American Jew". The Ambivalent American Jew. Jewish Publication Society. 1975.

Further reading

  • Allen, Catherine. The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989; second edition, 2002.
  • Badone, Ellen, ed. Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Bastide, Roger. The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations. Trans. by Helen Sebba. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
  • Blackburn, Stuart H. Death and Deification: Folk Cults in Hinduism, History of Religions (1985).
  • Brintnal, Douglas. Revolt against the Dead: The Modernization of a Mayan Community in the Highlands of Guatemala. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1979.
  • Christian, William A., Jr. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Gellner, David N. Hinduism. None, one or many?, Social Anthropology (2004), 12: 367-371 Cambridge University* Johnson, Paul Christopher. Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Gorshunova, Olga V. (2008). Svjashennye derevja Khodzhi Barora…, ( Sacred Trees of Khodzhi Baror: Phytolatry and the Cult of Female Deity in Central Asia) in Etnoragraficheskoe Obozrenie, № 1, pp. 71–82. ISSN 0869-5415. (Russian).
  • Nepstad, Sharon Erickson (1996). "Popular Religion, Protest, and Revolt: The Emergence of Political Insurgency in the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Churches of the 1960s–80s". In Smith, Christian. Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social Movement Activism. New York: Routledge. pp. 105–124.  
  • Nash, June (1996). "Religious Rituals of Resistance and Class Consciousness in Bolivian Tin-Mining Communities". In Smith, Christian. Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social Movement Activism. New York: Routledge. pp. 87–104.  
  • Nutini, Hugo. Ritual Kinship: Ideological and Structural Integration of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • Nutini, Hugo. Todos Santos in Rural Tlaxcala: A Syncretic, Expressive, and Symbolic Analysis of the Cult of the Dead. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Panchenko, Aleksandr. ‘Popular Orthodoxy’ and identity in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, Soviet and Post-Soviet Identities. Ed. by Mark Bassin and Catriona Kelly. Cambridge, 2012, pp. 321-340
  • Sinha, Vineeta. Problematizing Received Categories: Revisiting ‘Folk Hinduism’ and ‘Sanskritization’, Current Sociology, Vol. 54, No. 1, 98-111 (2006)
  • Sinha, Vineeta. Persistence of ‘Folk Hinduism’ in Malaysia and Singapore, Australian Religion Studies Review Vol. 18 No. 2 (Nov 2005):211-234
  • Stuart H. Blackburn, Inside the Drama-House: Rama Stories and Shadow Puppets in South India, UCP (1996), ch. 3: " Ambivalent Accommodations: Bhakti and Folk Hinduism".
  • Taylor, Lawrence J. Occasions of Faith: An Anthropology of Irish Catholics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
  • Thomas, Keith (1971). Religion and the Decline of Magic. Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.  

External links

  • Folk Christianity in the Philippines
  • "Myths over Miami": an account of the folk religion of children living in homeless shelters in Miami, circa 1997.
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