Friday, June 4, 2021

Tyvans Say Buddhism and Shamanism Discourage Inter-Ethnic Marriages and Thus Help Defend Their Nation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 2 – Buddhism and shamanism and the syncretic mix of the two play an important social role in Tyvan society, one that their adherents welcome. These faiths, new research show, help limit intermarriage between Tyvans and outsiders, particularly Russian Orthodox and thus help defend and promote Tyvan identity.

            In the newly released issue of Novyye issledovaniya Tuvy, a group of scholars from the Altay State University and the Tyvan Institute of Humanities and Applied Socio-Economic Research, reports on the findings of sociological studies of religion and public life in Tyva conducted just before the pandemic (

            According to the authors, the religious life of the republic is becoming more widespread and complicated, primary due to the registration of new Buddhist and shamanistic faiths and of Russian Orthodox parishes. The earlier growth in the number of Protestant groups has ebbed, although it may be that these groups simply are no longer trying to register with the authorities.

            The inter-confessional situation in Tyva is stable, the authors of the study continue, but primarily because of the overwhelming dominance of one religion, Buddhism, and one ethnos, Tyvan, there.

            Seventy percent of the 334 Tyvans queried said that it is “necessary” for an individual to be a believer. “More than half of the population of the republic makes religion an important part of their lives.” Buddhism dominates, but in addition to it, 16 percent of the sample practice a syncretic faith combining Buddhism and shamanism.

            Seventy-three percent of the sample say that they celebrate their religious duties at home and only go to datsans on major holidays. But they add that they consider this observation of Buddhism and shamanism in the home as necessary for the survival of their national identity and of the nation as such.

            At the same time, however, they overwhelmingly oppose having religious leaders get involved in politics in the narrow sense. Their task is to promote the faith and fulfill various social functions, the survey found; and one of the most important of these tasks is to discourage intermarriage with people from a different nation or religion.

            Tyvans form more than 80 percent of the population, while ethnic Russians form less than 17 percent. But it is striking that Tyvans consider blocking intermarriage so important. Their attitudes which may extend to other groups following Buddhism and shamanism are likely to be viewed with hostility in Moscow and may lead to clashes between Orthodox Russia and Buddhist and shamanist nations. 

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