The Influence of Central Eurasian Religious Beliefs on the Cultures of the Periphery


The Central Eurasian Culture Complex, the set of cultural features typical of peoples in Central Eurasia well into the Middle Ages, is focused around the God of ‘Heaven, the sky’ (in Proto-Indo-European ‘Sky-Father’, or ‘Heavenly Father’); a shared ‘national’ foundation myth in which the founder-hero prince is the son of this ‘Heavenly God’; belief in the prince’s heavenly or ‘divine’ blood; a hierarchical ‘feudal’ social structure binding everyone ultimately to the God of Heaven, including the ruler; and the belief that the ruler went to Heaven after his life on earth, and that the ruler’s oathsworn comitatus warriors, his ‘friends’, went to Heaven with him. It is hypothesized that when migrating Central Eurasians introduced their culture, including their socioreligious belief system, into the homelands of peripheral peoples, they contributed to the formation or development of some of the most dominant and widespread philosophical-religious systems of Eurasia. Besides Confucianism and Zoroastrianism, which are to some extent accepted cases, the systems in question include Buddhism, Taoism, Brahmanism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traditional approaches to the origins of these belief systems rest on the assumption that they have arisen locally and independently without significant influence from elsewhere, the main exceptions being Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This forces anyone studying one system either to deny the existence of ‘influences’ proposed by the adventurous few or to argue that the systems are similar because of some universal teleology, e.g. the idea that Central Eurasian-type monotheism (a system with one overwhelmingly dominant God in Heaven) is more ‘advanced’ than other belief systems, and therefore it is natural for humans to adopt monotheism as they become more ‘advanced’. In addition, it is a normal academic approach to argue that identifiable similarities, no matter how unusual, are merely universals, but in these cases it must be asked if the impression of universality is not actually an unexamined assumption arising out of the domination of the developed world by the very same ‘world religions’. In order to look into these and other questions, it will be necessary to ‘think outside the box’ and call into question many received views. While doing so, we hope to discover unexpected things both about the ‘world religions’ and about Early Central Eurasians’ beliefs.The core socio-religious features of the Central Eurasian Culture Complex include belief in the God of ‘Heaven, the sky’; in a national foundation myth in which the founder-hero is the son of the God of Heaven; and in the ruler going to Heaven after death accompanied by his oathsworn warrior ‘friends’. It is hypothesized that migrating Central Eurasians introduced these beliefs to peripheral peoples, contributing to the formation or modification of the dominant socio-religious traditions of Eurasia. Among other issues, the papers will consider whether these traditions are local variations of a single system introduced by Central Eurasians over time; whether there was a difference of kind between this monotheism and the ancient religious systems they replaced; and whether the identifiable similarities are merely universal ideas, or the impression of universality has arisen from the domination of the modern world by the very same ‘world religions’.

Affiliated Persons


Prof. Dr. Christopher I. Beckwith


Dr. Georgios Halkias