What are the Eastern Religions?

Mary McMahon

The Eastern religions are a family of religions native to Asia. In addition to several major religions, the Eastern religious also include a number of cults, along with the animistic religions of native Asian peoples. Unlike Western religions such as the Abrahamic religions, Eastern religions often blend philosophy and religious practice together. Followers of the Eastern religions are quite numerous, and they can be found all over the world.

Buddhism is closely associated with both India and Southeast Asia.
Buddhism is closely associated with both India and Southeast Asia.

Among the Eastern religions, it is possible to separate out two major families: Indian religions, and Taoist religions. Within these two major families, there are a number of sects and smaller groups which practice very specific versions of major religions, much like sects of Christianity in the West. Beyond these two groupings, there are Southeast Asian adaptations of Indian religions, especially Buddhism, and animist religions which are still practiced in isolated regions of Asia.

Many of the oldest religions originated in India.
Many of the oldest religions originated in India.

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Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism are all closely associated with India. It is also possible to find Zoroastrianism, a religion which originated in the Middle East, in India. Many people feel that Zoroastrianism bridges both Eastern and Western religious concepts. The Indian religions share a number of common traits, including a heavy emphasis on personal duty and natural law, and many of these religions have a rich ascetic tradition, along with an array of prophets, teachers, and gods.

A statue of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism.
A statue of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism.

The Taoist religions include Confucianism, Shintoism, and Taoism itself. All of these religions share the concept of the Tao, and they tend to have heavy philosophical leanings. When people think of Eastern religions, they often think of Taoist religions, which have become very popular in the New Age community in the West, thanks to their philosophical focus. East Asia has also come up with its own distinct flavor of Buddhism, which is markedly different from that practiced in India and heavily influenced by Taoism.

The animistic traditions in Asia are heavily focused in Japan and Southeast Asia. Animist beliefs center on the idea that natural phenomena are caused by spirits, and they often include a complex tradition of philosophy and personal beliefs. Some people feel that animist traditions are not technically religions, because they have a more magical and philosophical bent, and people can identify both as animists and as members of various world religions.

The Eastern religions are those religions that are native to Asia.
The Eastern religions are those religions that are native to Asia.

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Discussion Comments


The Indian subcontinent has had a profound impact on many Eastern religions. There is a syncretism between beliefs from India, ancient teachings, and native animism, in nearly every East asian region. These areas have always been a rich hotbed for various beliefs and superstitions from many different places.


I don't think that the Abrahamic religions distinguish their philosophy from their religious tradition. This is largely a fabrication of past restrictions on thinking due to the reign of the Catholic church. In the modern day, the large monotheistic religions hold a worldview which make no distinction between a religious and a philosophical view of the world, especially Judaism and Islam. The unnecessary separation between religious thought and philosophy is a Western Christian concept that has come about due to our profound postmodernism and love for free speech and synthesized scientific and church-based opinions.


The Eastern Religions are so diverse that it is difficult and even foolish to try to lump them together into one category. Like the languages of Asia, there are so many diverse groups and completely different cultures, that approaching the continent like one would approach the relatively homogenous European peninsula.

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