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Folk religion

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Gather 'round the campfire
Icon folklore.svg
Urban legends

Folk religion is a term used to describe a set of beliefs, superstitions and cultural practices transmitted from generation to generation, in addition to the formally stated creeds and beliefs of a codified major religion.

The term is also applied to the blending of folk practices with those of major religions. Folk practices among people in Christian countries are called "Folk Christianity", in Islamic countries "Folk Islam", and so on. Folk religion also can be thought of the practice of religion by lay people, outside of the control of clergy or the supervision of theologians. There is occasionally tension between the practice of folk religion and the formally taught doctrines and teachings of a faith. For "folk religion" to be a meaningful category, there must be an institutional religion with a traditional teaching or professional clergy to contrast it against. In cultures that lack these things, it is difficult to speak of folk religion as a meaningful category.

Folk religion answers human needs for reassurance in times of trouble. Many of its rituals are aimed at mundane goals like seeking healing or averting misfortune. Many elements of folk religion stem from animistic or fetishistic practices. This is almost inevitable given its mundane goals and ritualistic nature. Folk religion also often aims at divination to foresee the future. The line is often blurry between the practice of folk religion and the practice of magic.

In general, believers in these folk versions of a religion are usually not aware of any distinction between their folk practices and their official religion. No one consciously practices a folk religion or calls their own religious practices a folk religion. When awareness of the tension between folk religion and the formal creed of an institutional religion rises to conscious levels, and the folk religion successfully resists that tension, it is well on its way to becoming an institutional religion in its own right, and develops a body of doctrine of its own to justify its continued practice against the institutional opposition.

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.

The folk religion with the most adherents is the Chinese folk religion. This is system of rites and festivals that commemorate ancestors as the most amenable members of an elaborate hierarchy of spirits and deities. Taoism is a part of it, and Confucianism endorses its rituals without necessarily approving its supernatural elements. Shinto also contains strong elements of folk religion.


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