“An Empire of Tolerance”

 

The Pax Mongolica (Latin for “Mongol Peace“) is a historiographical term modeled after the original phrase Pax Romana which describes the stabilizing effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire on the social, cultural and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory that the Mongols conquered in the 13th and 14th centuries. During this time, trade and transcultural connections phosphered across the Eurasia continent. Using the secure and vast trading networks, different cultures, ethnicities, communities, and religion diffused across the empire. Religion can be noted as one of the most important aspects upon evaluating the Mongol influence on the Eurasian trans-continental connections, as religions represent communal beliefs, values, practices, and cultures. Various religions came under the rule of the Mongol empire. To gain a better understanding of the trans-continental connections during this period of time, this subsection will look in depth on the Mongol influence on the trans-continental religions

 

 

MONGOL RELIGIOUS POLICIES AND TOLERANCES

 
  

[2]Morgan, D. The Mongols by David Morgan. Wiley-Blackwell, 2019, 1316

[3] Brock, Jonathan. “Religious Tolerance and Inter-Religious Encounters in the Mongol Empire | CGA.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Nov. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PQMUWhTfmw.

[4] Jackson, Peter. “PAX MONGOLICA AND A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAFFIC.” The Mongols and the Islamic World, Yale University Press. 210

[5] Brock, Jonathan. “Religious Tolerance and Inter-Religious Encounters in the Mongol Empire | CGA.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Nov. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PQMUWhTfmw.

 

What exactly constitutes as the Mongol “Tolerance” and “Intolerance”? First and foremost, this religious pluralism that the Mongol practiced can be considered as the “Natural extension of the Mongols’ religious-immanentist logic”[2] . Immanentist traditions, unlike transcendentalist traditions (eg. Christianity. Judaism), do not “sanction violence on theological grounds” [3]. Hence, it is in the Mongols’ natural belief to not cast any prominent influence on other religions. They do not regard other religions as threatening representations of competing the truth claims that need to be rejected, refuted, or eradicated. Instead, the Mongols judge religions according to grades of “ritual power and efficacy” [4]. Accordingly, they decide whether to procure or eliminate their specific power holders. During the reign of the Mongol empire, there are episodes of religious “intolerance”, why was that so? According to Jonathan Brock, the Mongols deemed exclusionary practices that is offensive and disrespectful. The Mongols will tend to practice two type of intolerance if one religion is deemed like so: Positive Intolerance and Negative Intolerance. Positive intolerance refers to the “Active persecution of the religious other”, Negative intolerance is the “refusal to perform intolerable actions demanded by others” [5].

 

 

During the period of Pax Mongolia, Empirical religiosity and inter-faith debate is also practiced. The tendency towards the practical and the empirical infused all levels of Mongol ritual activity from the economy of “ritual efficacy of their domestic cultic practices”[6] . Peter Jackson argues that the Mongol religious policies were determined not by indifferences, but by their perceived efficacy. Under the Mongol rule, different religious clergies were exempted from taxation in return to their specialized prayer services. The Mongols want these religious leaders to use their religious skills to pray for the Khan’s health and the longevity of his reign, so these policies are driven by selfish Mongolian incentives as well. Within the empire, only the Clergy were legally recognized with religious statuses [7]. The Mongol empirical religiosity manifested in particular in their cultivation and promotion of inter-religious debates and contests, these events stretched from Martial tournaments, public contests, to court sponsored debates. Through these debates, the Mongols use trials and court debates to evaluate grades of effectivity and power between the religions.

As the Mongols expanded their impressive empire so more peoples and more religions came under their control. Missionaries, too, came from China, Tibet, Persia, and Europe to peddle their faiths in the world’s largest empire. Given the contexts of the religious policies described above, religions are mostly allowed to flow freely across the empire. Nestorian Christianity, Western Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism), Taoism, and Confucianism were all practiced in Mongol-controlled territories [8].

[6] Jackson, Peter. “PAX MONGOLICA AND A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAFFIC.” The Mongols and the Islamic World, Yale University Press.

[7] Atwood, Christopher Pratt. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. Facts on File, 2004.

[8] Morgan, D. The Mongols by David Morgan. Wiley-Blackwell, 2019. 1309-1334

 

 

MONGOL INFLUENCE ON VARIOUS RELIGIONS

 

One of the most prominent religions being influenced was Buddhism. Buddhists entered the service of the Mongol Empire in the early 13th century, Buddhist monasteries established in the Karakorum were granted tax-exempt statuses and many Mongol royals favored the religion of Buddhism. Mongol prince Kötön became the first known Buddhist prince of the Mongol Empire after he was “impressed by Sakya Pandita’s teachings and knowledge” around 1240 [9]. Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, also favored Buddhism. In the early 1240s, he made contacts with a Buddhist monk Haiyun, who became his Buddhist advisor. Within the Yuan Dynasty, Tibetan Lamas were the most influential Buddhist clergy, who were backup by the Mongol officials, Tibetan Buddhism was made the official religion of the Yuan Dynasty too. The religion of Buddhism flourished under the aid of the Mongol rule and casted a significant influence of the religious life of all inhabitants within the empire.

Another religion worth noting was Christianity. Christianity did not flourish within the Mongol Empire like how Buddhism did. Despite that, many Christian missionaries still travelled and spread their beliefs across the empire. Due to the vast coverage of the Mongol Empire, transcontinental, cultural, and ethnical connections were promoted. Many Mongol royals and lesser leaders were raised by Christian mothers and educated by Christian tutors. Sorghaghtani Beki, daughter in law of Genghis Khan, and mother of the Great Khans Möngke, Kublai, Hulagu and Ariq Boke. These were all significant Christian figures within the Mongol empire, however, the influence of Christianity were still minimal in the Mongol empire. Missionaries travelled amongst the silk road and passed along Christian arts and literature to the people in the empire [10] . The most famous example of this being the experience of the Polo family [11] . When the Polos returned from the court of Khublai Khan in 1269, they brought a message from the Great Khan for the Pope. Khublai requested that one hundred educated men be sent to teach him about Christianity. While the Polos may have thought that Khublai Khan held interest in Christianity and spreading the Catholic rite through his domains, Khublai had ulterior motives. In truth, the request that the Polos carried was actually an effort to recruit more learned individuals for the Khan to serve in his empire as Marco Polo eventually did [12]. In conclusion, the Catholic missionaries failed to gain any appreciable influence over the Mongols. The narrow view and self-conceived superiority of the westerners had the most deleterious effect on their conversion attempts. Also in general, most of the Mongol Khans did not see any advantage in joining the Church of Christianity, hence they did not actively promote it [13].

Three of the Mongol empire’s principal khanates (The Ilkhanate, Golden Horde, and the Chagatai Khanate) – embraced the religion of Islam. Since these three khanates mostly covered the Islamic populace, the Mongol high-command favored this religion as the dominant religion. Mongol converts to Islam were popular and the Muslims became a favored class of officials within the empire. Ghazan was the first Muslim khan to adopt Islam as the national religion of Ilkhanate, followed by Uzbek of the Golden Horde who urged his subjects to accept the religion as well [14]. Ghazan continued the policy of religious tolerance within his borders and allowed all types of religions to be practiced by his people, he even allowed his subjects to return to Tibet if they want to pursue their faith as a Buddhist. In the 1350s, the Chagatai Khanate flourished with Buddhism and Shamanism, but the western part was quick to adapt to Islam. Apart from the other three, the Yuan Dynasty never converted to Islam, and Islam is never promoted. There had been many Muslim residing in Yuan dynasty territory since Kublai Khan and his successors were tolerant of other religions. Nevertheless, Buddhism was the most influential religion within its territory. Yuan officials practiced intolerance on the Islamic practices like Halal butchering and circumcision, even Ghingis Khan himself stated: “from now on, Muscleman [Muslim] Huihui and Zhuhai [Jewish] Huihui, no matter who kills [the animal] will eat [it] and must cease slaughtering sheep themselves, and cease the rite of circumcision” [15].

^ Pax Mongolia Silk roads

^ Map of the four Khanates

^ Buddhist artifacts made in Yuan dynasty

^ Khublai Khan of the Yuan Dynasty

 

[9] Foltz, Richard (2010). Religions of the Silk Road (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. 254

[10] Jackson, Peter. “PAX MONGOLICA AND A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAFFIC.” The Mongols and the Islamic World, Yale University Press. 210

[11]Muldoon, Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels, 63.

[12]Morris Rossabi, “The reign of Khubilai Khan”, pp. 414–489 in Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, eds., The Cambridge History of China, vol. 6, Alien Regimes and border states (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 463–465.

[13]J. D. Ryan, “Christian Wives of Mongol Khans: Tartar Queens and Missionary Expectations in Asia,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd Series, 8 (1998), 417.

[14] Yule, Henry. Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian. John Murray, Albermarle Street., 1903.

[15] Donald Daniel Leslie (1998). “The Integration of Religious Minorities in China: The Case of Chinese Muslims” (PDF). The Fifty-ninth George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology. p. 12. Retrieved December 22, 2020

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

Within the period known to be the “Pax Mongolia”, Mongol officials practiced great religious tolerance to “all the religion on the book”[16] . Even though most Mongols and Chingiz Khan are all Shamanists, a great deal of religious freedom was granted to all the religions the under the Mongol rule. The Mongol empire of the 13th and 14th century has been widely acknowledged for their acceptive attitude towards the religious practices and beliefs of its subjects. Around the middle of the 14th century, the Persian muslim Historian Ata-Malik Juvayni phrases Mongol overloads stating that “They oppose not faith or religion, how can one speak of opposition rather they encouraged them.” Respecting the prophets and pontiffs and even the most hostile, Chingiz Khan embraced a principle of religious relativism that remarkably anticipated the lessons of philosophy. In the fast few decades, historians of the Mongol Empire have shifted away from that impression of Chingiz Khan suggesting that the Mongols religious policies were rooted not in some high-minded principle of religious freedom, but rather in pragmatism and religious indifference as the David Morgan noted. Most recently scholars have began to formulate a more nuanced approach that appreciates the contingent historical development of the Empire’s religious policies and the flexible patterns of pluralism that are employed to rule subjects of diverse religious affiliation. The Mongols therefore dissented themselves from the espousal of any totalistic religious attitudes towards their conquered subjects.

Answering back to the question “How did the Mongols influence the transcontinental connection in Eurasia?”, on a religious scale, the Mongol casted a-lot of positive influences on the diffusion of Eurasia religions. Given the contexts of the Mongol religious policies and attitudes above, almost every religion under the Mongol rule were heavily influenced during the 13th to 14th century. The Mongol Empire covered most of the Eurasia continent, and most of the religions used the vast and safe trade routes of the Mongol empire to spread their religious beliefs further. Even though Christianity had failed to achieve a great deal of influence of the Eurasia continent, the religions of Islam and Buddhism were officially promoted and it spread through out the Eurasia continent. The eased communications and commerces under the unified administration helped to create and the period of relative peace (Pax Mongolica), hence the diffusion of religions on a trans-continental basis were common. Unlike other colonial empires, the Mongols’ tolerant attitudes towards most of the religions promoted the trans-continental diffusions even more.

[16] Polo, Marco, and Paul Pelliot. The Description of the World. Translated by Sharon Kinoshita, Hackett Publishing Company, 2016. Kindle Edition, 492

 

 

BIBIOGRAPHY

  • Primary sources

  • The Description of the World, Polo, by Marco Polo and Paul Pelliot. Translated by Sharon Kinoshita, Hackett Publishing Company, 2016. Kindle Edition, 492

  • Book of Ser Marco Polo, by Marco Polo, trans. by Yule Henry, Albermarle Street: the Venetian, 1903.

  • Secondary sources

    • Journal articles

      • J. D. Ryan, “Christian Wives of Mongol Khans: Tartar Queens and Missionary Expectations in Asia,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd Series, 8 (1998), 417.

      • Donald Daniel Leslie (1998). “The Integration of Religious Minorities in China: The Case of Chinese Muslims” (PDF). The Fifty-ninth George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology. p. 12. Retrieved December 22, 2020

      • Morris Rossabi, “The reign of Khubilai Khan”, pp. 414–489 in Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, eds., The Cambridge History of China, vol. 6, Alien Regimes and border states (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 463–465.

      • Jackson, Peter. “PAX MONGOLICA AND A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAFFIC.” The Mongols and the Islamic World, Yale University Press. 210

      • Muldoon, Popes, Lawyers, and Infidels, 63.

    • Books

      • Foltz, Richard (2010). Religions of the Silk Road (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-62125-1. 254

      • Morgan, D. The Mongols by David Morgan. Wiley-Blackwell, 2019. Kindle Edition, 1309-1334, 1316

  • Videos/websites

    • Brock, Jonathan. “Religious Tolerance and Inter-Religious Encounters in the Mongol Empire | CGA.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Nov. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PQMUWhTfmw.