Spread of the World Religions
Islam, Christianity, Buddhism

  1. Commonalities of the world religions

    1. Despite differences, share a number of important traits

      1. Universal - anyone can join

      2. Evangelical - actively seek converts

      3. Egalitarian - all people considered equal (in a spiritual sense)

    2. These traits are not necessarily apparent a the founding of these religions, but they fully develops over time

    3. Other religions have shared these traits but have not been as successful - thus they do not alone explain success of these religions

  2. War and Conquest

    1. Play a central part in the spread of religion

    2. Initial spread of Islam largely produced by conquest

      1. though Islamicization of conquered peoples was often a slow process

      2. some Arabs thought of Islam as a an Arab-only religion - this idea faded after the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750 CE)

    3. Not a factor in the initial spread of Christianity

      1. Christianity does not gain control of a state until it is some three centuries old

      2. After the fall of Rome, some Germanic kings, notably Charlemagne (747-814 CE), were explicit in linking Christianity with conquest

    4. Less is known about Buddhism

      1. Ashoka (304-232 BCE) of the Maurayan Empire (322-185 BCE) promoted Buddhism in his conquests

      2. War and conquest may have played a role in bringing Buddhism to Southeast Asia

  3. Politics

    1. Gaining allegiance of kings was vital for successful spread

      1. Constantine and Christianity

        1. issues Edict if Milan, legalizing Christianity in 313 CE

        2. sponsored building projects and institutions

        3. sponsored the power of the bishops to impose an orthodoxy

      2. Missionaries frequently target kings and local chieftains

        1. Missionaries in post Roman Europe primarily targeted local rulers, expecting them to convert their subjects after their own conversion

        2. Buddhist  missionaries do the same in the East and in China

    2. Allegiance to kings a two-way street

      1. rulers may demand uniformity

        1. Constantine holds the Council of Nicae (325 CE), a conference of bishops, to settle the Arian controversy and establish an orthodoxy

        2. King Trisong Detsen of Tibet promotes Thedevera over Mahayana Buddhism in 792 CE

      2. In turn, religious leaders recruit kings to stamp out teaching they regard as heretical

    3. Rulers will often support multiple religions if it suits their political needs

      1. Constantine continued to support some elements of pagan Roman religion after 313

      2. Traditional link between Shinto and Japanese elites insured its survival even after Japanese leaders began promoting Buddhism

    4. Trickle down effect important

      1. Even after conversion, rulers do not necessarily impose their new beliefs, or may not have the means to do so

      2. However, the prestige of association with the king often causes a gradual spread, regardless of government action

  4. Trade and Diplomacy

    1. Safe trade routes allow of dispersal of religions, movement of missionaries

      1. Silk Road allows for dispersal of Buddhism and Islam

      2. Roman roads system allows for travel by Christian missionaries, notably Paul

    2. Islamic merchants

      1. tend to form links with local kings and chieftains

      2. leads to slow Islamicization, from court to city to rural areas

    3. Diplomatic conversions

      1. Rome and Constantinople (post 476) compete for influence through conversions

      2. This competition aided by local leaders seeking alliances

      3. Expansion of Arabic empire results in strategic conversions as well

  5. Impact of religious traits and institutions on spread

    1. Monasteries

      1. Critical to survival and expansion of Christianity in post-Roman Europe

      2. Also central to the spread of Buddhism

    2. Flexibility

      1. Adoption of local gods and holy figures as saints

        1. may be source of some of the older, poorly documented Christian saints

        2. evident in the spread of Buddhism

      2. Maintaining ancient holy sites

        1. Many Islamic, Christian, and Buddhist temples built on or near older temples

        2. The Kaaba, holiest site in Islam, predates the founding of Islam

      3. Maintaining older holidays and traditions

        1. many of the rituals performed at the Kaaba pre-date Islam, though their meaning has changed

        2. many Christian holy days, and the accompanying rituals, are repackaged Roman holidays

        3. the most important form of Buddhism in Japan, Zen, is successful in part because it shares many common themes with traditional Shintoism.