Geographical origins of religion

Why have virtually all of the world’s great religions originated in Asia (including the Middle East)? What religions elsewhere might have caught on, if they hadn’t been overtaken by Christianity?

The world’s great religions are particularly monotheistic. The idea of monotheism originated in the India/Middle East area and spread. Prior to that there was no particular push to swap out your pantheon of gods with anyone else’s. The viking pantheon was pretty similar to the Roman which was pretty similar to the Egyptian.

Monotheism was new and interesting and tended to proselytize more.

Perhaps (and I don’t know) monotheism developed in other places and didn’t spread all that much, but the India/Middle East area had the advantage of being the middle of the world as well, sitting on the center of the silk road and having the vast Empire of Rome on one side and the vast Empire of China on the other.

India and the ME couldn’t have LESS in common theologically. India’s religions have more in common with the Far East since they majority of them tend toward polytheism.

The Middle East, OTOH, is predominantly monotheistic - all the major religions there that I can think of, and I lived and worked in Jerusalem, the hub of the theological wheel.


Buddhism isn’t entirely monotheistic, but it is much more so than Hinduism or other pantheistic religions, and is often presented as a monotheistic religion. Jainism, similarly, couldn’t necessarily be called monotheistic, but it is possibly closer to that direction.

I’d say that they had a spell of leaning monotheistic, but it past. It did however spread Buddhism into China and Japan.

I think it’s more correct to say that Hinduism has both monotheistic and polytheistic strains, and that Buddhism and Jainism are atheistic, but certain forms have taken on polytheistic or monotheistic characteristics due to cultural accretion. YMMV, of course.

I’ve never really studied Confucionism or Daoism, so I’m not sure how to characterize these.

On additional note, however, you do see a lot of similarities between Eastern and Western mythical narratives (such as the flood, walking on water, atrological signs surrounding a birth, etc.), that it seems to me there must have been a great deal of movement of ideas and stories along the Eurasian trade routes.

I think it very interesting that one of the central tenets of all of the post-Hindu religions to come out of India include abolishing the caste system (correct me if I’m wrong, please). I suspect the caste system alone is one of the major reasons why India has been such fertile ground for new faiths.

I’m not sure it’s quite this simple. Various subsets of Hinduism can be viewed as anti-caste, depending on which branch you’re looking at, although the first really widespread anti-caste Hindu movements start appearing with the various reform and independence movements (such as the Bhramo Samaj and the Arya Samaj) that cropped up towards the end of the 1800s.

Additionally, it’s not unheard of for members of non-caste religions on the subcontinent to maintain caste identifications. This makes sense if you realize that the caste system also functions as an economic class system. So, I’ve seen, for example, Sikhs who identify by caste, even though Sikhism (AFAIK) does not have a caste system in its theology.

Additionally, some of these religions are such radical departures from Hindu theology, that it’s hard to say which component of Hindu theology was the triggering factor. For example, apparently the caste system was a problem for the Buddha, but so were a number of Hindu concepts.

In short, I don’t think there’s an easy answer, but perhaps someone who has studied the non-Hindu religions in more depth can provide more information.

Possibly. Of course, within Hinduism itself, there are some radically different theologies that nonetheless incorporate casteism, so I suspect there are other factors at play here as well. I don’t think the subcontinent had a consistent marrying of state power with religion the way Europe or the Middle East did, so that may be a contributing factor.