The Mongol Empire was an unprecedented achievement, both for its size and the diversity of culture and religion that could be found within its borders. The Mongol warriors conquered much of the old world, ruling with tolerance toward different religions while continuing to practice their own unique religion, known as Tengerism.
Tengerism was the religion practiced at the time of Genghis Khan and it is still practiced by many Mongolians today. Tengerism is described as a form of Shamanism, whereby priests or shamans are believed to be able to communicate with the spirits of the natural world. Tengerism holds that everything in the world, from the earth, rocks, trees, animals and people, has a soul.
The Tenets of Tengerism
According to Tengerism.org, Tengerists believe that there are spirits in everything and that people are made up of more than one soul. Most Tengerists believe that people have at least three souls, while some groups believe people have four or five souls. The “suld” soul remains in nature after death, whereas the “ami body soul” and the “suns soul” both are reincarnated after death. Tengerism also holds that people are responsible for their own actions, and that actions have consequences. This concept is called “Buyan” in Mongolian and is similar to the Buddhist idea of “Karma.” They believe that balance in society and nature is important and that shamans can restore balance through religious ceremonies if it is lost.
Religion in the Mongol Empire
Under Genghis Khan and his successors, the Mongols conquered much of the known world. Their empire stretched across Eurasia, consisting of China, Russia and parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. There was great religious diversity within the Mongol Empire. Aside from Tengerism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Nestorian Christianity all coexisted. At the height of the Empire, the capital city Kharakhorum had a Buddhist lamasery, two mosques, one Christian church and 12 temples of other religions.
According to the writings of Marco Polo, the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan was tolerant and respectful of his subjects’ religious diversity. Kublai Khan was quoted as saying: "There are prophets who are worshiped and to whom everybody does reverence. The Christians say their God was Jesus Christ; the Saracens, Mohammed; the Jews, Moses; and the idolaters, Sakamuni Borhan [that is, Sakiamuni Buddha, who was the first god to the idolaters]; and I do honor and reverence to all four, that is to him who is the greatest in heaven and more true, and him I pray to help me.” Religious tolerance allowed the Mongols to successfully rule the world’s largest empire and a multitude of subjects from numerous religious backgrounds.
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