Specifically I am looking at a situation where:

Religion A is:

  • Monotheistic
  • Hierarchical (single leader atop the organization)
  • At least slightly expansionist though not necessarily by force of arms

Religion B is:

  • Polytheistic
  • Tribal in nature so each tribe has its own religious leader
  • Internally focused

The two religions must:

  • Have coexisted for a significant time frame with no organized oppression of each other. Meaning no Jihad's, Crusades, Force Conversions. Isolated, non-sanctioned violence/conflict is fine

    • Time frame should be 100+ years of getting along.
  • Existed both religiously and politically and interacted on a regular basis. This doesn't mean government interaction just people (basically are they geographically near each other allowing trade and such).


  • Please provide examples from 1700 AD and earlier. Basically nothing after the Renaissance, I don't want industrial and modern era.

  • If such a situation does not come to mind please post the next best scenario/example.

  • Do not limit yourself to western examples, I am perfectly happy to look at any examples globally.

  • 3
    I won't provide an answer (since the question is IMHO offtopic), but presumably, pagan religions in Siberia and Russian Orthodox Church might fit the bill during Russian Empire's Eastern expansion. Another example would be Mongols and any Christian territory ruled by them - such as Russia. While there was, of course, conflict, it was NOT in any way, shape or form of a religious nature, but pure geopolitics.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 19:32
  • 2
    Another example would be Armenia (which existed as a Christian nation since 301AD and was predominantely Zoroastrian - which is pretty monotheistic for my taste - for a while before then); and any of the numerous pagans both in and around Armenia.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 19:35
  • Or the cohabitation of animism with Islam and Christianity in many places in Africa. Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 21:04
  • 1
    Islam peacefully co-existed with the native and polytheistic Taoism in many provinces of China Proper for centuries during the Middle Ages. Apart from the "tribal in nature" criteria, this is an exact fit for your requirements.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 5:01
  • 1
    Basically all of northern Europe until the reformation. You went to church on Sundays and the priest mumbled something in Latin (that very few understood). Then you went home and continued to worship as you used to do.
    – liftarn
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 7:50

5 Answers 5


An exact example which adheres to your definition might be hard to find, but I got one which is quite close.

In Japan, both Buddhism and Shintoism were practiced in parallel.

Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century. Buddhism focuses on the worship of a single entity, but calling it monotheistic might be kind of a stretch considering that Buddha never claimed divinity (at least not in the sense God does according to the Abrahamic religions). It is not centralized under one leader atop an organized hierarchy (like, for example, Catholicism), but encourages practitioners to follow masters they choose for themselves. It is definitely not a violent religion, but still slightly expansionist because practitioners are encouraged to teach others. This is all grossly oversimplified. For more information, I recommend Buddhism Stackexchange.

The roots of Shinto can be traced back to various nature cults which existed far before written history and is as polytheistic as a religion can be. Shinto worships a countless number of Kami, which could be translated as "gods" or "spirits". The majority of kami are only worshiped regionally and there are many independent Shinto shrines with individual traditions and rites dedicated to one or more Kami. So it could be called "tribal" if you want to use that word.

With the exception of a brief episode in the 19th century (the Meiji restoration) both religions coexisted peacefully for centuries and still do until the present day. In current day Japan, nearly 80% of the Japanese people regularly practice Shintoism and around 34% self-identify as Buddhists. Yes, you calculated correctly, that's more than 100%. Many Japanese practice both religions simultaneously.

The two religions can coexist quite well because their believes and value systems do not contradict each other too much, neither claims to be infallible and neither encourages violence against non-believers.

  • Does Buddhism fit "expansionist" and "Hierarchical (single leader atop the organization)"?
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 19:18
  • @DVK Most schools not much - I expanded on that aspect.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 20:13
  • 2
    Actually, for that matter, unless I mis-interpreted answers to this question on Bud.SE, you can't even really call Buddhism "polytheistic", never mind monotheistic, as a belief in a deity is absent from core tenets.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:11
  • The way I understand it, Buddhism is a practice to achieve a good state of mind, ("enlightenment"), but a person could follow both Buddhism and another religion simultaneously, assuming the other religion isn't overly violent. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 15:09
  • Maybe we should mention that part reason of the peaceful coexistence is that most Japanese cannot even distinguish the religions beyond the very basics, and their institutions are rather interconnected. Many temples and shrines share the same physical /architectural space.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:01

My general impression is that in most great empires of the past, where the population was mixed, most of the times religions coexisted peacefully, like in Persian empire, for example. Some other examples are:

  1. In Khazar khaghanate, Judaism, Islam and Christianity apparently peacefully coexisted with paganism and with each other.

  2. In the Roman republic (and later Roman empire) all religions peacefully coexisted except Christianity in some periods when Christians and sometimes Jews were persecuted.

  3. In Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów) several religions coexisted in relative peace (Catholic, Orthodox, various protestants, Muslims and Jews) until the 17 century wars between the Orthodox and the rest. Before the Commonwealth, Christian Orthodox peacefully coexisted with the pagans in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. (This Great Duchy was the last state in Europe ruled by pagan princes).

  4. Mongol empire is also a good example. I think it is generally accepted that Mongols were very tolerant to all religions. Some of them quickly converted to Christianity others to Islam and other religions, others remained pagan, but no problems related to religions seem to be recorded in Mongol empire.

EDIT (after reading the comments). It seems that religious prosecution mostly happened when the rulers were of monotheistic proselyting religions (like Islam and Christianity). Herodotus describes all the world known to him, and I don't remember him ever mentioning any religious persecution. However I am not sufficiently familiar with history of India and China to insist on this generalization.

  • Roman republic didn't have monotheism (and as you said, Christians WERE persecuted). Polish didn't tolerate pagans, or even have any at that point for that matter. Lithuania is an intriguing example, however.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 15:54
  • @DVK no, but Christianity and Judaism were monotheistic, as were several other religions that coexisted with the Roman Pantheon. And Christianity wasn't always persecuted in the Roman Empire, that only started when they (through their attitude and actions) became a political threat).
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:30
  • @jwenting Christianity was persecuted since its formation by the Roman Empire until the edict of Milan in 313 CE. Even if the first emperor to attack Christians was Nero starting in 64 CE, the governors of each province were allowed to deal with Christians as they saw fit. Most of the time they would use Pliny the Younger's reasoning and charge them with the crime of being Christians, and ask them to repent link and the main reason they started persecuting Christians was because they saw them to just be different types of Jews.
    – Alexandre
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 0:18
  • @Alexandre: I disagree. A careful reading of the history of Roman empire shows that Christian were NOT persecuted most of the time in most places.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 9:14
  • Mongols and any Christian territory ruled by them - such as Russia. While there was, of course, conflict (it was, after all, a war of conquest), it was NOT in any way, shape or form of a religious nature, but pure geopolitics. Mongols were explicitly, by design, very religiously tolerant and enforced that.

  • Another example would be Armenia (which existed as a Christian nation since 301AD till Sassanid conquest; and was predominantly Zoroastrian - which is also pretty monotheistic for my taste - for a while before then); and any of the numerous pagans both in and around Armenia.

However, examples before 1700 are definitely NOT numerous, for a variety of reasons:

  1. There were not many strictly monotheistic faiths in general before 1700 which lasted (3 main Abrahamic ones, Zoroastrians, Sikhism (possibly, not too familiar)).

    Worship of Aten in Egypt only lasted for ~20 years so doesn't count. Ba'hai are post 1700. Sabians can probably be considered monotheistic, but as far as I know never held any territorial soveregnity to be in a position to engage (ore refrain from) conflict with polytheistic religions.

  2. Of the 3 Abrahamic ones, Judaism cannot be counted as fitting the question, by definition, because it is NOT expansionist in religious terms (Judaism prohibits both prozelatyzing and forced conversion).

  3. Islam is explicitly hostile to polytheism.

    So is state-merged, post-Nicean post-Constantine Christianity.

  • Additionally, Sikhist adherents (monotheism) and Hindu. On some level you might throw British Empire in there, as AFAIK any conflicts against British were nationalism based and not religious, but I'm not certain of the latter.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:24
  • the entire Hindu revivalist movement was a reaction to the Christian Missionary program, and the projection of native/ colonial subject religions as inferior to Christianity. This happened post 1850, when the missionaries started to come in and have influence. However, you are right that it had very little to do with British Administration- directly. But in an indirect way it did- revivalist Hindu nationalism was a large component of the nationalist movement.
    – Rajib
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 5:28
  • Additionally, Sikhism is monotheistic to the extent Hinduism is. The concept that there is only one God is very well understood in most of practiced/experienced Hinduism. Many deities, but one God. Sorry but this cannot be elaborated any further here.
    – Rajib
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 5:32
  • Judaism is believed to have been expansionist at times in the past. Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 13:50
  • @PieterGeerkens - nope. The prohibition on prozelytizing was always there. The only "expansionism" was national, not religious (e.g. "make the kingdom bigger", not "increase # of adherents by conquering them")
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 14:13

Many people have good examples of the Mongols, Japan, and other Asian countries, but in the western world other examples come to mind. West Africa is a good example. In Western Africa, many rulers and most merchants converted to Islam (e.g. the Dioula or Dyula), but the general population was still polytheistic. And everyone should note that The Islamic world was always tolerant of other religions, not attacking, allowing them to live peacefully though they did tax them more heavily. Until about the crusades, when they became less... happy with Christians; even then Judaism, Christianity, and many polytheistic religions still had freedom until in most Islamic empires until about the rise of religious revivalism in the 20th century.

  • 3
    Sources would improve this answer
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 23:04

Another example in China are Confucianism (formally treated as religion), Taoism and Buddhism, and in particular, with regard to your question, the two last ones.

  • Confucianism has never been considered a religion by anyone, except some early Abrahamic adventurer scholars and the people who read their stories. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 19:14
  • Honestly, it is true that it is hardly a religion. I would not consider Taoism or even Buddhism a religion. However, if think of the Bible, for instance, it is in major part a set of principles for people to follow; Confucianism is exactly like that. Further more, there were Cunfucianist temples built, and a cult of spirits a part of Confucianists life, hence probably it is thought as a religion. My private opinion is very different from the common one on the religions.
    – forsberg
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 6:56

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