An ethnoreligious group (or ethno-religious group) is an ethnic group whose members are also unified by a common religious background. Ethnoreligious communities define their ethnic identity neither by ancestral heritage nor simply by religious affiliation but often through a combination of both. An ethnoreligious group has a shared history and a cultural tradition 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. Some ethnoreligious groups' identities are reinforced by the experience of living within a larger community as a distinct minority.
Examples of ethnoreligious groups include:
- Closed group: non-proselytizing religions with inherited membership, such as the Druze, the Mandaeans, the Zoroastrians, the Yazidis
- Religious groups whose primarily share a single ethnicity, such as the Sikh, the Saint Thomas Christians, the Shabaks, the Alawites, the Kaka'i, the Mennonites, the Hutterites and the Amish people
- Ethnic groups whose primarily share a single religion, such as Armenians, Assyrian people, the Copts, Greeks, Serer, Sinhalese people and the Zazas
In a closed ethnoreligious group with inherited membership, particular 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. This adherence to religious endogamy can also, in some instances, be tied to ethnic nationalism if the ethnoreligious group possesses a historical base in a specific region.
As a legal concept
In Australian law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) defines "race" to include "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". The reference to "ethno-religious" was added by the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (NSW). John Hannaford, the NSW Attorney-General at the time, explained that "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."
The definition of "race" in Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) likewise includes "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". However, unlike the NSW Act, it also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of "religious belief or affiliation" or "religious activity".
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 group. Both Jews and Sikhs 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:
- a long shared history, of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it from other groups, and the memory of which it keeps alive;
- 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:
- either a common geographical origin, or descent from a small number of common ancestors;
- a common language, not necessarily peculiar to the group;
- a common literature peculiar to the group;
- a common religion different from that of neighbouring groups or from the general community surrounding it;
- 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 this case was that groups like Sikhs and Jews could now be protected under the Race Relations Act 1976.
The term "ethnoreligious" has been applied by at least one author to each of the following groups:
Non-proselytizing religions with inherited membership
Ethnic groups who primarily but not-exclusively share a single religion
Religious groups who primarily but not-exclusively share a single ethnicity
- 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)."
- 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""
- Ethno-Religious Communities Identity markers: "The Yazidism is a unique phenomenon, one of the most illustrative examples of ethno-religious identity, which is based on a religion exclusively specific for the Yazidis and called Sharfadin by them." - Victoria Arakelova (Yerevan State University)
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[...] the three ethnoreligious groups that have played the roles of the protagonists in the bloody tragedy that has unfolded in the former Yugoslavia: the Christian Orthodox Serbs, the Roman Catholic Croats, and the Muslim Slavs of Bosnia.
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Media related to Ethnoreligious groups at Wikimedia Commons