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Traditional Folk Religions

About Traditional Folk Religions


  • Over 400 million people around the world practice traditional folk religions.
  • These religions are sometimes called traditional religions, folk religions, or indigenous religions.
  • Traditional, folk, or indigenous religions are closely linked to the culture and community where they are practiced.
  • Beliefs are shared orally from one generation to the next.
  • Folk religions have no founder or sacred texts.
  • Folk religions often combine with major religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • There are many, many folk religions around the world. Some notable traditional religions include Chinese Folk Religion, Traditional African Religions, Aboriginal Australian Beliefs, and Native American Beliefs.

Folk Religions Around the World

regional distribution of folk religions map

Pew Research,

Chinese Folk Religion

A man gives offerings to Guan Yu, an important general in Chinese history, at a temple in Macau. Photo by David Boté Estrada via Flickr.

Offerings at a temple in Macau, including incense, joss paper which will be folded into boxes, and other offerings. Photo: David Boté Estrada via Flickr.

Altar to the Stone Generals, protective deities, at the Kantai Tianhou Temple in Anping, Tainan, Taiwan. Photo by Pbdragonwang via Wikimedia Commons.

Shenist shop in Gongbei District (Zhuhai) selling all the religious paraphernalia needed for the many religions coexisting in the region. Photo by David Boté Estrada via Flickr.

Xuanyuan Temple (轩辕庙) in Huangling, Yan'an, Shaanxi. Photo by Xue Siyang via Wikimedia Commons.

Altar to the Five Officials worshipped inside the Temple of the Five Lords in Haikou, Hainan. Photo by Rolfmueller via Wikimedia Commons.

The Temple of the Town God of Wenao, Magong, Taiwan. Photo by Boboman via Wikimedia Commons.

Chinese Folk Religion Facts


  • More than 294 million people, or 21 percent of China’s population, practice folk religions.
  • Chinese folk religions include the worship of ancestors, spirits, and local deities or gods.
  • Chinese folk religion is also deeply intertwined with Buddhism and Daoism.
  • Chinese religion draws from a vast heritage of sacred books.
  • Important concepts include:
    • Tian (天), heaven, the transcendent source of moral meaning
    • Qi (氣), the breath or energy that animates the universe
    • Jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors
    • Yin and yang (陰陽), the polarity that describes the order of the universe


Religion in China by Eleanor Albert via the Council on Foreign Relations,

The myth of Aboriginal stories being myths

Native American Religion

Traditional African Religions

Yoruba Abessan temple, or temple of the nine-headed monster in Porto Novo, capital city of Benin. Photo: Linda De Volder via Flickr.

Zangbeto temple in Porto Novo, capital city of Benin.The Zangbeto Temple is the largest Voodoo temple in Benin. It is dedicated to Zangbeto the night watchman, one of the most popular and powerful Voodoo gods. Photo: Linda De Volder via Flickr.

Voodoo mass in Cotonou, Benin, West Africa at Le temple de Mami Dan, Tchêtoula. Photo: Linda De Volder via Flickr.

Mamavena Shrine, an important centre of the African Religion in Ghana. Photo: Luciano Ghersi via Flickr.

Baba Mangalaan performing a divination by interpretting the thrown bones in Shoshanguve, Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: Mycelium101 via Wikimedia Commons.

An Igbo naming ceremony for a child of Igbuzo heritage (from southern Nigeria) in Washington, D.C. Parents of the child confer with the Diokpa (eldest member of the family) on the names of the child. Photo: Conianwah via Wikimedia Commons.

An artist's display of masks at Soumboudienne Market in Dakar, Senegal. Photo: Rebekah Tsadik via Wikimedia Commons.

Inyanga, or traditional South African healer, in her ndumba, a sacred hut used for healing. Behind her are her mutis, medicine stored in containers. Photo: Mycelium101 via Wikimedia Commons.

15 Facts On African Religions


  1. African traditional religion refers to the indigenous religions of the African people
  2. Traditional African religions are dynamic and constantly evolving to various shifting influences such as old age, modernity, and technological advances.
  3. Traditional African religions are less of faith traditions and more of lived traditions. They are less concerned with doctrines and much more so with rituals, ceremonies, and lived practices.
  4. When addressing religion in Africa, scholars often speak of a “triple heritage,” that is the triple legacy of indigenous religion, Islam, and Christianity that are often found side by side in many African societies.
  5. While those who identify as practitioners of traditional African religions are often in the minority, many who identify as Muslims or Christians are involved in traditional religions to one degree or another.
  6. Though many Africans have converted to Islam and Christianity, these religions still inform the social, economic, and political life in African societies.
  7. Traditional African religions have gone global! The Trans-Atlantic slave trade led to the growth of African-inspired traditions in the Americas such as Candomblé in Brazil, Santería in Cuba, or Vodun in Haïti. 
  8.  There are quite a number of revival groups and movements whose main aim is to ensure that the tenants and practice of African indigenous religion that are threatened survive. 
  9. The concerns for health, wealth, and family are very central to the core of African religions.
  10. Indigenous African religions are not based on conversion like Islam and Christianity.
  11. Today as a minority tradition, it has suffered immensely from human rights abuses. This is based on misconceptions that these religions are antithetical to modernity.
  12. Women play a key role in the practice of these traditions, and the internal gender relations and dynamics are very profound. There are many female goddesses along with their male counterparts. There are female priestesses, diviners, and other figures, and many feminist scholars have drawn from these traditions to advocate for women’s rights and the place of the feminine in African societies. The traditional approach of indigenous African religions to gender is one of complementarity in which a confluence of male and female forces must operate in harmony.
  13. Indigenous African religions contain a great deal of wisdom and insight on how human beings can best live within and interact with the environment.
  14. African indigenous religions provide strong linkages between the life of humans and the world of the ancestors
  15. Unlike other world religions that have written scriptures, oral sources form the core of indigenous African religions. 

adapted from an OUP Blog post by Jacob K. Olupona,