The Impact of Central Eurasian Religious Traditions on European and Asian Religions

My research project focuses on the main Central Eurasian religious ideas, especially in connection to the comitatus relationship (the sociopolitical system at the core of the Central Eurasian state), and their transmission to cultures of the Eurasian periphery.

The Central Eurasians were essentially monotheistic, with only one main god, ‘Heaven’ or ‘the god of Heaven’ (as among the early Turks and Tibetans). This monotheism goes back to the earliest known Central Eurasians, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, whose only reconstructable divinity is *Diḗus-Pǝtḗr ‘Sky Father’, or ‘Heaven(ly) Father’. The Proto-Indo-Europeans glorified warriors, so it is not surprising that their only known god was a father-figure who was evidently a ruler-like deity—as the introduced Central Eurasian god of Heaven, Tian, was in China from the Zhou Dynasty on. The early Persians, who were among the latest Indo-European peoples to appear outside Central Eurasia, were evidently monotheistic even before Zoroastrianism, but the date and source or sources of Zoroastrianism, and the ethnolinguistic identity of Avestan, its holy language, are problems on which I will work further. Accounts of early Central Eurasian peoples typically characterize the ruler and his clan as a kind of ‘chosen people’ who viewed the other people in their state as their ‘slaves’, bearing in mind the very different meaning of that word then and now: e.g., comitatus members are also referred to as ‘slaves’, as are Buddhist monks in early medieval Central Asia. This seems to be connected to religious ideas, and might be of great importance in explaining early Buddhism. I plan to continue investigating the early Buddhist Saṁgha and the earliest teachings that might be attributable to the Buddha—whose epithet Śākyamuni literally means ‘Sage of the Sakas’, i.e., ‘Sage of the Scythians’.

While monotheism dominated Central Eurasia from the earliest times, it was not common elsewhere, if it can be shown to have existed anywhere before Indo-Europeans appeared there. Certainly the Near East, including the homelands of Judeo-Christian-Muslim monotheism, started out with ‘non-monotheistic’ beliefs of one kind or another; Central Eurasian ‘sky-god’ monotheism was evidently first spread there by the Old Indic-speaking chariot warriors (the Maryannu and others) who flourished in the ancient Near East. I aim to investigate the spread and growth of Central Eurasian monotheism and Buddhism mainly in the Near East and Europe from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages.

Affiliated Persons


Prof. Dr. Christopher I. Beckwith

Individual Researcher