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Indigenous religions on the whole are rooted in a spectrum of material, religious and cultural diversity. While some indigenous religions exhibit a high degree of development, some such as the Aboriginal religion still employs a strategy of basic survival. Religious groups may exist in sheltered ancestral abodes or in modern urban settings. These religions are to varying degree influenced by the religions which are dominant in their surroundings While indigenous religions may exhibit some differences, there are key common characteristics among them.
Many of the indigenous religions have a belief in the principle of the interrelation and interdependency of everything in the universe. The whole universe is perceived as an unending cycle which is in many instances represented by a circle. The cycle of human life in birth, childhood, adulthood, old age and death and the cycle of seasons is a good example of this cyclical aspect of indigenous religions. The revolution and rotation of the celestial bodies is also an illustration of this relationship. This cyclical nature calls for the maintenance of right relationships and interdependence if balance is to be maintained.
Another aspect of indigenous relationships is the observance of group rituals and ceremonies. Indigenous religions believe that humanity influences harmony in the cyclical world through the performance of rituals. Some of the rituals are performed during rites of passage such as birth, puberty, marriage and death. Some of the rituals are connected to the survival of the community such as war rituals. Most indigenous religions perform sacred pilgrimages to sacred sites usually as a community. While communal observances are the most common, personal and individual observances play an important role in indigenous religions as every person is given an opportunity to establish a personal relationship with the spiritual world.
Indigenous religions are also characterized by the belief in a supreme being or beings. The Supreme Being pervades the entire universe and plays a part in all manner of life. There are usually specialists in indigenous religions who act as a link between the Supreme Being and humanity. These specialists may either be priests/priestesses, poets, sacred clowns or dancers. These specialists attain their status through religious initiation, special gift or inheritance. The specialist role is to transmit the will of the spirit world to humanity (Harvey, 2010).
Dominant world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam have had a historical relationship with indigenous religions. All the major world religions have some aspect of indigenous religions which have been incorporated into their worship. Religions such as Islam and Hinduism incorporate religious pilgrimages as an important aspect of their religion. Some religions such as Christianity have similar historical epics with ancient religions such as the ancient religion of Mesopotamia which have the epic tale of Gilgamesh which is reminiscent of the biblical flood. All the world religions also believe in the existence of a Supreme Being and rewards and punishment which is reminiscent of indigenous beliefs of interrelatedness and interdependency. Modern day religions can therefore be said to be a refinement of the ideas of the indigenous religions (Woodhead, 2009).
There are several emergent issues which have come to be of concern in recent times between indigenous religions and modern religion. One of the issues is the increasing efforts by mainstream religions to make indigenous religions transform or conform to new cultural identities and to adopt alternative means of worship. Indigenous religions are finding themselves being branded as cults or to be against nature. The irony of the situation is that while indigenous religions are condemned in this way, they are the most committed to the natural ways of life which believe in the interdependency and interconnectedness of the universe as opposed to modern religions which adopt more liberal viewpoints.