Folk religion

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Gather 'round the campfire
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Urban legends

Folk religion is a term used to describe a set of beliefs, superstitions, and cultural practices transmitted from generation to generation, in contrast with 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. Tension can exist at different levels of severity between the practice of folk religion and the formally taught doctrines and teachings of a faith. On the other hand, formal religions are known to incorporate folk religion rituals for a variety of motives. For "folk religion" to be a meaningful category, there must be an institutional religion with teachings or professional clergy to contrast it against or several spheres of influence of religious institutions. In cultures that lack such institutions, it is difficult to speak of folk religion as a meaningful category. However, in other cases where the institutionalization of religions is highly decentralised and varied and/or when a region is under the sphere of several religions, folk religion does not as clearly "contrast" with a specific institutionalised religion rather than be an amalgam of some institutionalised beliefs and rituals along with idiosyncratic ones. The latter is commonly found parts of Eastern Asia and Central Africa.

It has been claimed that folk religion answers human needs for reassurance in times of trouble. Some folk-religion rituals are aimed at mundane goals like overcoming ailments or averting misfortune. Many elements of folk religion stem from animistic or fetishistic practices. Some activities include some form of divination to foresee the future. Some folk religion practices border on the world of "magic".

In some cases, a practitioner of a folk religion is unacquainted with distinctions between their folk practices and their official religion. In these cases, they do not consciously practice a folk religion or call their own religious practices a folk religion. Tension between folk religion and the formal creed of an institutional religion where the folk religion successfully resists that tension may lead in the future to an institutionalization of their folk religion.

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 a 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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