What is religion? What is tolerance?
What is love? Recent theoretical discussions (should) add insight on question regarding what “religion” or “religious tolerance” in the Mongol empire.
This article is a preliminary re-examination on the various meanings of “religion” and “religious tolerance,” especially by focusing on what these concepts mean in the context of the Mongols empire. Since Edward Gibbon praised the Mongols as an example of “perfect toleration” in the late 18th century, there have been numerous discussions on what religion, and religious tolerance means but the whole debate deserves a closer re-examination.
First, I examine the recent discussion on what “religious tolerance” means, starting from the so-called whiggish interpretation, following on to the more recent discussion regarding religious tolerance in Europe and early American history, and concluding with what historians have said about religious tolerance in the Ottoman empire. Based on these discussions, I argue that the idea of Mongols being an example of “religious tolerance” is problematic as it applies the perspective of the 18th-century scholars, not the idea of the Mongols themselves.
Accordingly, I emphasize why it is essential to think about “religions” in the eyes of the Mongols themselves. Specifically, we can see that there were three different types of “religions” in the Mongol empire. First is what is usually considered as a “shamans,” native Mongol individuals who could communicate with heaven. Second are the different religions that cooperated with the Mongols, most famously the Buddhists, Daoists, Christians, and Muslims. Third are the religions that did not cooperate with the Mongols and thus considered as more of an “ethnicity” than a “religion,” the prime example being the Jews in the Mongol rule of China. Although this approach might not be the most conventional way of defining religion, it enables us to think about different factors in determining what a religions is in the case of the Mongols, the perspective of the rulers, and provides insight to understanding various religions in the Mongol empire.