Religions appear to have begun as the vision of people’s imaginations of answers to their everyday life issues and the nature. People gave credits for the gods about the creation and control on everything in the world.
Begining with the classical period religions were more influential in societies and a greater part of their political structures. As classical civilizations progressed into the post-classical era, religions and political powers mutually influenced each other in different civilizations.Rulers used religions to rule their societies as religions appealed and became more popular across broader swaths of territories that came under new political rule of expanding empires.. In this essay, I compare how rulers used Buddhism, Islam and Christianity the different religions to rule their societies. I compare the uses of these religions and their popularity among broader swaths of people to earlier religious interpretations in the Epic of Gigamesh and Popol Vuh.
I begin by examining the relationship of those three religions and rulers such as Ashoka Maurya, Abu Bakr, Constantine in Early India, Arab Peninsula and Europe, and conclude by comparing them with Mesopotamian and Mayan religions. The spread of religions made rulers able to set up new political structures and to control their populations more effectively in the classical and post-classical eras. Buddhism inspired Ashoka to create policies within his empire that ensured peaceful relationships among different ethnic groups in the empire.The Early Buddhism was found by Siddhartha Guatama, who had been enlightened after forty-nine days of meditation under bo tree. Dharma, the core doctrine became important reference of Buddhism.
Buddhism was supported by the Mauryan dynasty. Ashoka Maurya, who led to the high point of Mauryan dynasty, governed his kingdom with the practice of Buddhism. He strongly believed that the practice of Buddhism can unify his culturally diverse and far-flung realm. Ashoka abandoned armed conquest after conquering the Kalinga country and adapted to the “conquest by dharma”.Because of his understanding of the virtues of compassion, mercifulness, benevolence, nonviolence, he adopted respectful policy towards the Kalinga people and ensured their full freedom to live according to their own wills.
Not only he practiced Buddhist ideas in diplomacy, he also introduced several political practices within his kingdom. He delegated “dharma ministers” to foster dharma work by the common folks, relieve sufferings and look to the special needs wherever found in the kingdom. He also suppressed schisms and prescribed scriptural studies for Buddhist followers.With his avocation and devotion to spread Buddhism within the kingdom and expanded realm, Buddhism helped to unite the whole kingdom with peace. As Islam spread throughout the Middle East and Northern India, it helped to reinforce legal norms and encouraged the use of religious texts as the basis for governing the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties. Islam emerged in Mecca in the seventh century CE, found by Muhammad.
Muhammad introduced monotheism to “Allah” and the Quran as the holy book of Islam. Muhammad, acted as religious leader and also political leader within his followers, returned from Medina and conquered Mecca.After the death of Muhammad, his caliphs and later rulers of Islamic empire expanded Islamic power over other regions. Because of the concept of Jihad, they dedicated to spread the word of Islam and seek conversions to the faith by expanding their realm.
The first caliph, Abu Bakr, took military action against the renouncement of Islam in clans and towns after Muhammad’s death and united and expanded Islamic realm to Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia. Following with Abu Bakr, the Umayyad dynasty and the Abbasid dynasty continued expanding the empire with administrative policies based on the Quran and the sharia.Ulama and qadis, who were officials that focused their study on the Quran and the Sharia, set moral standards and laws to maintain peace and discipline in local communities. By having the ulama and qadis maintain sharia law, the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties were able to govern and conquer the Middle East and North Africa for centuries and Islam was widely spread out to Africa, Europe and Asia. Christianity was useful for rulers in supporting their larger social and political structures as it formed the ruling class and united people in the society.
Christianity emerged in the first century CE, began with Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew born in the Roman Empire. While he began a ministry of teaching, healing and miracle working, his spoke of “the kingdom of god is at hand” was believed to be a threat of Roman rule. It led to a crucifixion of Jesus and persecution of Christianity. However, this went through a major turning point in the late Roman Empire. Roman emperor, Constantine, converted to Christianity because he believed that Christ helped him to win the battle with Maxentius.He then recognized Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Roman Empire.
He initiated Caesaropapism, whereby the emperor not only politically ruled but also ecclesiastically ruled. The growth of a Christian ruling class under Constantine ensured Christianity's increasing and enduring prominence through the Roman, and later Byzantine Empire. In the two province of Christendom in the Medieval Europe, Christianity was the principal source of religious, moral and cultural authority. Popes and Patriarchs had large ecclesiastics authority and had an organizational structure within the society.Christianity not only involved in politics, but also in everyday lives such as epic poetry. New translation of Beowulf was argued to involved Christian concepts in the Old English Heroic epic poem.
In contrast, earlier interpretations of religion by rulers and peoples differ from that of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity The earlier versions did not offer salvation for their followers or a close connection with god, rather it was just a form of worship and honor to gods. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods created and sent Enkidu to Gilgamesh because of his brutishness and proudness.The gods brought the great flood to the world because they wanted to punish human by their disturbance to their sleep. After Enkidu died, he warned Gilgamesh that all death must enter the “house of dust”. Different from other religions, there is no concept of good relationship between the divine and the human and no promise of eternal bliss. While Epic of Gilgamesh differs from the later religions, we can see similarity between Mayan religion and the above three religions.
In Popol Vuh, human were framed and shaped by gods with yellow ears and white ears of maize.Because gods were the creators of mankind, people had to honor and nourish the gods. Also, the gods required honor and sacrifices in exchange to maintain agricultural cycle. In the story of the Hero Twins, Hanahpu and Xbalanque defeated the underground lord in a ball game and revival their father Hun Hanahpu and their uncle.
The hero twin became the sun and the moon, and their father became the maize god who gave life to people. It is similar to later religions which the god(s) had interaction and communication with human, and they contributed for men.The Mayan religion, contradicted to the pessimistic Epic of Gilgamesh, was more optimistic. As this essay showed, various religions were interpreted differently in distinct civilizations and they were used by rulers to obtain power and maintain the societies. We can see earlier versions of religion as creation of theory of the world and the power of gods as well as religions in the classical and post-classical era as human salvations and relationship between human and the divine.
Religions helped rulers to govern and control their population by reinforcing moral and legal standards and strengthen the ruling power.