With less than a hundred and fifty thousand members of Zoroastrianism left in the world today (Writer 245), it seems that soon this religion may cease to exist. The Zoroastrians of today are adopting new beliefs, and some have even drifted outside the traditional form of Zoroastrianism. Today, members of Zoroastrianism are in conflict and disagreement with each other because their beliefs and values have shifted. Since the major principles of the beliefs and practices of Zoroastrianism have not been preserved due to the interruption of the modern world, one of the oldest religions in the world is losing its members. The purpose of this research paper is to explore why such a previously influential religion is losing its influence and its members.
Who is a Zoroastrian? What do they do? Who have the right to be called Zoroastrians and who gives them that right? Zoroastrians around the world are facing difficult questions such as these, and there is no general agreement on the answers. Since the nature of Zoroastrianism is so dispersed and scattered, the answers to these questions vary around the world. “[C]ommunity boundaries, preservation of traditions, and the demographic problem” (Hinnells 137) are the three main issues that are hindering the preservation of Zoroastrianism. Resolving these issues is the only to prevent the membership of this faith from dwindling into nothing.
Since many members of this faith are “twice or thrice” migrants, it is relevant to say that Zoroastrians are very scattered. Since Zoroastrians no longer share a physical boundary it becomes difficult to define the boundaries of the Zoroastrian community. Zoroastrian priests around the world are making inconsistent decisions about the faith based on gender and community and/or economic status. Zoroastrian men who marry someone outside the faith are more often allowed to continue practicing their faith, while Zoroastrian women who the same and even the children they give birth to are no longer considered Zoroastrians. The boundaries of Zoroastrianism continue to be overstepped in similar ways, and privileges are being unequally bestowed.
Emigrant Zoroastrians around the world have had to face the challenge of the culture of the country they migrated to. As a result their own authority forced to make adjustments to Zoroastrianism. For instance, in countries where there are no dakhmas, Zoroastrians are forced to accept other forms of disposing their dead, such as burial or cremation, which is not according to Zoroastrian traditions. Priesthood is a major Zoroastrian tradition that also been affected because of the dispersion and secularization of the members of this faith. Ever since the 1800s, the numbered of Zoroastrian priests has declined significantly (Boyce 202). In Zoroastrianism, priesthood is hereditary. However, Zoroastrian men who inherited priesthood began started refusing to enter priesthood because of the “meager income” (Boyce 202).
The Zoroastrian religion is also under stress in terms of demography because the members of this faith have become so scattered around the world. For quite a long time, Zoroastrians that are dispersed around the world have been trying to create a bond their fellow members of Zoroastrianism. They are longing for a world that will connect them together for assistance and support. However, globalization is not all that bad. Indeed, Zoroastrian communities have become scattered, but these communities can still stay in touch, and exchange concepts and ideas using technology. Websites such as “www.Zoroastrianism.com” have made many things easier for Zoroastrians, such as finding a Zoroastrian spouse. However, the Zoroastrians of today are not very concerned about preserving their faith, and prefer to marry for love.
Another reason that Zoroastrianism is practically facing extinction is because even though many people from around the world wish to convert to Zoroastrianism, these people much opposition from orthodox members of this faith. Orthodox Zoroastrians put forth the argument that their tradition does not allow outsiders to convert to Zoroastrianism, and only those born into the Zoroastrian community with Persian blood can be Zoroastrians. Recent findings have revealed that communities in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other smaller parts of Russia actually have Persian blood and based on tradition, can become Zoroastrians. If these communities were to be allowed to become a part of Zoroastrianism, it would quickly increase the number of members of this faith to the “millions.” However, it is unfortunate that the orthodox Zoroastrian community refuses to accept them (Dadrawala).
The fact of the matter is that “modernization creates problems for religion” (Bruce 2). Although Zoroastrianism has been losing followers for many decades, however, the most astonishing loss of members occurred in the past 67 years as a result of globalization, especially due the influence of the Western culture. Secularism is the only reason that Zoroastrians are left with to blame for the diminishing of the influence of their religion, and its dwindling followers. Over the years, Zoroastrianism has lost its authoritative standpoint within the Zoroastrian community as well because of modernization (Bruce 231). Moreover, with such religious pluralism in the West, Zoroastrianism cannot be regarded as a “strong” faith, and cannot compete against other religions. To strengthen a religion, its followers must not only be committed, but must also be willing to sacrifice (Bruce 238).
Even though Zoroastrian beliefs and practices are no longer as authoritative in the lifestyles of its followers as they once were, Zoroastrians are still struggling to keep their faith alive. A religion can still remain socially significant if even it is left with no other work to do but “relating the individual to the supernatural” (Bruce 30). The Zoroastrian community is constantly debating who can be a Zoroastrian and who cannot be allowed to enter this faith because their faith actually ethnically defines them. Zoroastrians, no matter where in the world they may be, consider themselves as descendants of Persian blood, and this is a major consideration that determines their identity. Thus, Zoroastrianism is not merely a religion, but is a culture and ethnicity as well.
At some point in time, there certainly was unity among Zoroastrians, but today, they have become dispersed and scattered. Till today, the debates and proposals as to who is rightfully a Zoroastrian and who is not continue. These debates have a global scope, and are prevalent among Zoroastrians, in conferences, in newsletters, and especially on the Internet. Throughout this research paper, the reasons behind the declining number of Zoroastrians were examined. The present issues that Zoroastrians claim are the reasons they have become so scattered were emphasized in this paper. However, if these issues are not addressed and resolved, there might come a time when Zoroastrianism might no longer exist.
1). Writer, Rashna. Contemporary Zoroastrians: An Unstructured Nation. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1993. Print.
Review: In Contemporary Zoroastrians, Rashna Writer points out how unstructured Zoroastrians are as a community and as a nation. According to Writer, the reason behind this is that there is no central authority in Zoroastrianism unlike other religions. She has also highlighted the number of Zoroastrians left in the world today, drawing attention to the declining number of the members of this faith.
2). Hinnells, John R. The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration – The Ratanbai Katrak Lectures, the Oriental Faculty, Oxford 1985. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Review: In his book, Hinnells presents a brief historical overview of Zoroastrianism. However, a major part of the book emphasizes on building on a survey of various Zoroastrian dispora communities around the world that was conducted in the mid-1980s. Hinnells primarily focuses on the Zoroastrians currently residing in India. He points out the issues that are causing the Zoroastrian population around the world to dwindle.
3). Boyce, Mary. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices). 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.
Review: Like Hinnells’s book, Mary Boyce has also traced the continuous history of Zoroastrianism in her book as well. She describes how Zoroastrianism became the religion of Iranian empires. She also describes how the secular power of Zoroastrianism has declined over the years. However, though she agrees that Zoroastrianism is an antiquated religion, she also states that the faith is still living.
4). Dadrawala, Noshir H.. “The Yezidis Of Kurdistan – Are They Really Zoroastrians ???.”World of Traditional Zoroastrianism. World of Traditional Zoroastrianism. Web. 18 Mar 2013.
Review: The World of Traditional Zoroastrianism website is one of the leading web portal for Zoroastrians, and anyone else who wants to know more about this faith. This particular article from the website by Noshir H. Dadrawala presents a detailed overview of the tenets of Zoroastrianism. Moreover, as the title of the article suggests, it answers whether the Yezidis of Kurdhistan are really Zoroastrians or not.
5). Bruce, Steve. God is Dead: Secularization in the West. 1st ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. Print.
Review: In the very first chapter of his book, Steve Bruce explains the “secularization paradigm.” He describes how other religions around the world, like Zoroastrianism, have been losing their power and popularity. In the second chapter of his book, he briefly writes about Zoroastrians and how their numbers have been declining. Overall, he discusses various religions and their declining influence over the years.
Boyce, Mary. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices). 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.
Bruce, Steve. God is Dead: Secularization in the West. 1st ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. Print.
Dadrawala, Noshir H.. “The Yezidis Of Kurdistan – Are They Really Zoroastrians ???.”World of Traditional Zoroastrianism. World of Traditional Zoroastrianism. Web. 18 Mar 2013.
Hinnells, John R. The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration – The Ratanbai Katrak Lectures, the Oriental Faculty, Oxford 1985. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Writer, Rashna. Contemporary Zoroastrians: An Unstructured Nation. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1993. Print.