Religion on the Silk Road


This is part one of a series on the religions of the Silk Road. Today, we will get a general scope of belief on the road and its inhabitants.

When the trade routes of the ancient world first coalesced into what we would call the Silk Road, it was during a golden age of religious and cultural activity. Culturally speaking, the Light of Rome burned its brightest and encapsulated old empires such as Greece and Egypt. The Parthian and Kushan Empires served as the last large nations before the wasteland and tribal lands of the Gobi Desert and Indian Subcontinent. Further east was the Eastern Han Dynasty and the isolated Yayoi peoples of ancient Japan. These were the proto-type civilizations that would emerge during the Middle Ages once Rome's light would be carried by Byzantium.

Let's examine the first mentions of the 5 Major Religions of the Silk Road: Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

  • Hinduism
    • Often called the "world's oldest practiced religion" it still is a modern fixture of the region.
    • The origins of its belief system are somewhat shrouded in mystery. It would seem at a casual glance that as long as there has been recorded history there has been Hinduism.
    • Even still, it has gone through many syntheses and periods of assimilation throughout its history.
    • The form of Hinduism we know today took shape between 1500-1200 BC (#1). This coincides with the writing of the Vedas, one of two formative documents for the Bhagavad Gita (#2).
    • Today there are roughly 1 billion adherents to the Hindu religion (#3).
  • Zoroastrianism
    • A monotheistic religion founded by Zoroaster around the same time as the writing of the Vedas in Hinduism. Zoroaster was a native of ancient Iran (#4).
    • Dualism is its main focus. The battle between the cosmic powers of Light and Darkness in the universe as well as the battle between the personal inclinations of Light and Darkness in us all.
    • Ahura Mazda (God) VS Angra Mainyu (Adversary) is the main conflict of Zoroastrianism. There is no prophecy or surety as to who will win the conflict.
    • Today there are roughly 140,000 adherents worldwide, mainly clustered in Iran and India (#5).
  • Buddhism
    • Founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who lived approx. between 570 and 470 BC. (#6).
    • Originally an offshoot of Hinduism, Buddhism has always been more philosophy than religion. Yet, its system of belief is highly moralistic and ritualized.
    • Based on the meditations of Siddhartha Guatama, the two main branches are the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist branches.
    • Known for its systems of Karma and Reincarnation, it has no main texts or scriptures. Sutras passed down from generation to generation form the bulk of sacred writings (combined in the Tripitaka) yet they're not venerated as other religious texts are (#7).
    • There are roughly 350 million Buddhists worldwide (#8).
  • Christianity
    • Founded by Jesus of Nazareth between 6 BC and 33 AD.
    • Monotheistic religion with Jewish faith as background and foundation.
    • World's most popular religion.
    • Scriptures venerated as Word of God. Ancient Jewish texts of the Torah, Ketubiim, and Nebiim as well as general histories and writings make up the Old Testament. Writings of the Apostles and associates make up the New Testament. The Holy Bible consists of both Old and New Testaments.
    • Key figure is Jesus Christ. He claimed to be God incarnate. Around 33 AD he was crucified on a Roman cross. His followers claim he rose from the dead. Christianity is a highly evangelistic religion.
    • There are roughly 2.3 billion Christians worldwide as of 2015 (#9).
  • Islam
    • Founded by Muhammad around the 7th Century AD.
    • Based on a vision given to the Prophet by the archangel Gabriel. Islam means "surrender to God" (#10).
    • Adherents believe that Islam is the primordial, or perfected, belief that has been passed down from Adam to Abraham to Jesus and finally to Muhammad.
    • "Five Pillars" are Faith, Prayer, Charity, Fasting and Pilgrimage to Mecca. There are controversial 6th and 7th Pillars but this is not widely agreed upon (#11).
    • Bedrock belief in both macro and personal "Jihad" or "Holy War" which could mean physical war or personal war against sin.
    • There are roughly 2.18 billion Muslims around the world (#12).


I hope you found the above info interesting and will look into the sources below. I won't always do research type posts like this but it was needed to establish the next few weeks. Come back next week as we dig into Hinduism and how to minister to Hindu people.

As always, may the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make his face shine upon you, and give you peace. See ya next time travelers. Ken out.






#1: Pletcher, Kenneth (2010). The History of India. Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 60. #2: Dominic Goodall (1996), Hindu Scriptures, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-20778-3, page ix-xliii #3: #4: #5: #6: #7: #8: #9: #10: #11: #12: