'Religion' in Late Antique Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism: Developing a Term in Counterpoint

Keywords: generic concept of religion, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, Sasanian period, early Islamic period, daēnā/dēn


This article evaluates the development of a generic term for ‘religion’ in late antique Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. It examines linguistic indications of the use of dēn/δēn as a generic term in the Manichaean Middle Iranian corpora, i.e. Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian, as well as in the corpus of Zoroastrian Middle Persian. The paper considers declination in the plural, the attribution of universal quantifiers or demonstrative adjectives, comparison, and selection, as they occur in the above corpora, to be indicators of generic concepts. Acknowledging that third-century Manichaeism shaped the term for ‘religion’ in the Persian Empire, the paper scrutinizes the reflections of this formative process in Sasanian and also early Islamic Zoroastrianism. The resulting analysis of the linguistic evidence indicates that the newly coined Manichaean concept of ‘religion’ did not find considerable echoes in late antique Zoroastrianism. Furthermore, an investigation of the term daēnā- in the Avestan sources provides earlier evidence for the formation of the term ‘religion’ in pre-Sasanian Zoroastrianism. Finally, the paper highlights the significance of religious contact for the formation of a generic concept of religion.

How to Cite
Rezania, K. (2020). ’Religion’ in Late Antique Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism: Developing a Term in Counterpoint. Entangled Religions, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.13154/er.11.2020.8556