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Central Asia: Trial Objectives Religious

Instructions: The following primary and secondary sources are designed to provide your legal firm with the information needed to formulate arguments that will show that the societies you represent have met and exceeded the challenges posed by the following three questions. Use your time wisely and provide responses with proof that your culture has shown the best answers to these questions on earth for this time period. Be aware that other trial teams have access to this information as well and will be looking for weaknesses in your arguments. Be prepared to defend your assertions.

1. How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

2. What influence does religion/philosophy play on the organization and behavior of society?

3. Is religion/philosophy or spiritual development in this culture a positive influence on art, literature, architecture, and culture in this society?

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

1. How have the Mongols integrated their view of God into a philosophy that accepts their war like nature?
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“We sat down before Baghdad in the 655th year (of the Hejra,) and took it by the sword of the most high God: and we brought the master of it before us, and demanded two things of him; to which he, not answering, brought deserved punishment upon himself. As it is written in your Koran, "God doth not change the condition of a people, till their own minds are changed." He took care of his wealth, and fate brought him to what he is come to. He chose to exchange precious lives for pieces of money made of vile metal; which is plainly the same that God says They found [the reward of] what they had done present with them. For we have attained by the power of God, what we desired; and by the help of the most high God we shall increase. Nor is there any doubt of our being the army of God upon his earth. He created us, and gave us power over every one upon whom his anger rests… If you will obey our command, and come to our terms, your interest and ours shall be the same; but if you be refractory and persist in your error, blame not us, but yourselves. God is against you, ye wicked wretches: look out for something to screen you under your miseries, and find somebody to bear you company in your affliction. We have given you fair warning, and fair warning is fair play. You have eaten things forbidden, you have been perfidious in your treaties. You have introduced new heresies, and thought it a gallant thing to commit sodomy. Prepare yourselves therefore for scorn and contempt. Now you will find what you have done; for they that have done amiss, will now find their state changed. You take it for granted, that we are infidels. We take it for granted, that you are villains; and He by whose hand all things are disposed and determined, hath given us the dominion over you. The greatest man you have is despicable among us; and what you call rich, is a beggar. We govern the world from east to west, and whosoever is worth any thing is our prey; and we take every ship by force. Weigh therefore what is fit to be done, and return us a speedy answer, before infidelity shall have kindled its fire, and scattered its sparks among you, and destroy you all from off the face of the earth. We have awakened you by sending to you: make haste with an answer, lest punishment come upon you unawares.




  • (Primary Source) The Mongol Ilkhan Hugelu, a letter to Al Malek Annsar, Sultan of Aleppo, 1259 CE

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

2. What is the Mongol view of the after-life? Does this view explain their seeming lack of fear of death during life?

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“And when the Great Khan dies, men sit him in a chair in the middle of his tent.  And men set up a clean table before him, covered with a cloth, and upon it meat and diverse foods and a cup full of mare’s milk.  And men put a mare beside him with her foal, and a horse saddled and bridled.  And they lay upon the horse gold and silver in great quantity.  And they put around him plentiful straw.  And then men make a great and large pit, and with the tent and all these other things they put him in earth.  And they do this so that when he arrives in the other world, he shall not be without a house, nor without horse, nor without gold and silver; and the mare shall give him milk, and bring him forth more horses until he has wealth in the other world.  For they believe that after people die, they shall eat and drink in that other world, and take solace in their wives, as they did here.”


  • Sir John Mandeville, English traveler and knight from his Travels throughout Asia, describing the Mongol burial rites for a Great Khan, mid 13th century CE

Objective: Is religion/philosophy or spiritual development in this culture a positive influence on art, literature, architecture, and culture in this society?

3. As pastoralist and nomads how would the Central Asians serve as transmitters of religion and religious artistic expressions? Are the images of Buddha below evidence of this fact?


Kushan (Greco-Bactrian) Guptan Dynasty Kamakura Shogunate

Central Asia Northern India Japan

1st Century CE 5th Century CE 12th century CE

Images of Siddharta Gautama (“The Buddha”)
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Objective: What influence does religion/philosophy play on the organization and behavior of society?

4. Would these older biblical accounts of the nomads from Central Asia help to understand why the Mongols saw themselves as agents of God once they interacted with Jews and later Christians and Muslims?

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“Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from afar . .and they shall eat up your harvest, and your bread. They shall eat up your flocks and your herds. They shall eat up your vines and your fig trees. They shall impoverish your walled cities, wherein you seek safety, with sword. .. Behold a people shall come from the north (the steppes) and a great nation, and many kings shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth (Black Sea). They shall hold the bow and the lance; they are cruel, and will not show mercy. Their voice shall roar like the sea, and they shall ride upon horses.”


  • The Prophet Jeremiah, Book of Jeremiah, Hebrew Tanaka, 5: 15-17, 50: 41-42

describing an account of the Scythians, Indo-European nomads from the steppe

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

5. In what ways did people modify their religions to suit their cultural needs as they passed across Central Asia? Does there seem to be religious tolerance in these regions?

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“Living among the peoples of Asia though of alien race are Nestorian (Christians) and Saracens (Muslims) all the way to Cathay (China). In fifteen cities of Cathay there are Nestorians, and they have a bishop in a city called Segin (Ch’ang-an, the old Tang capital). . . The priests of the idols (Buddhists) all wear wide saffron-colored cowls. There are among them, as I gathered some hermits who live in forests and mountains, and who are wonderful by their lives and austerity. The Nestorians know nothing. They say their masses and prayers and have sacred books in Syriac, but they do not know the language so they chant like monks among us who do not know grammar, and they are absolutely depraved. They are usurers (loan money for profit) and drunkards; some even have several wives. When they enter church, they wash their lower parts like Saracens. They administer no sacrament without receiving remuneration.”


  • Friar William of Rubruck, Agent of King (St.) Louis IX of France to the Mongols, from his journal record of the expedition, c 1254 C.E.

Objective: Is religion/philosophy or spiritual development in this culture a positive influence on art, literature, architecture, and culture in this society?

6. What role did pilgrimages play in the spread of religion and culture across Central Asia?

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Spread Religions:

Islam to Central, Western Asia, China

Buddhism to China, Korea, Japan

Christianity to Russia, China, India



Islamic Pilgrimages:

Pilgrimage was more formally structured into Islam. By the tenets of the faith, all Muslims were expected to go on pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. By the eighth century, that city was receiving thousands of pilgrims from all over West Asia during the month of pilgrimage each year. By the tenth century, still more arrived and from much farther afield: India, West and North Africa, and Spain. Mecca became the largest pilgrimage town site in the world. Muslim pilgrims also visited the tombs of prophets in Palestine and the tombs of saints elsewhere, but in smaller numbers.



Buddhist Pilgrimages:

Buddhists, on the other hand, took part in long-distance pilgrimages. By the first century C.E., Buddhist pilgrims from Central and Southeast Asia, as well as from all over India, regularly visited places in northern India where the Buddha had lived. By the seventh century, the Buddhist pilgrimage network had been expanded to include China, Japan, and much of Southeast Asia. Pilgrims traveled not only to India but also to temples holding relics of the Buddha in such places as Sri Lanka and Burma.



  • (Secondary Source) Mr. Jensen’s Lecture Notes

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

7. Describe the view of the Rus Vikings afterlife? What cultural values does it reflect? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“…they led the girl (the sacrifice) to an object which they had constructed, and which looked like the framework of a door. She then placed her feet on the extended hands on the men, was raised up above the framework, and uttered something in her language, whereupon they let her down. Then again they raised her, and she did as at first. Once more they let her down, and then lifted her a third time, while she did as at the previous times. They then handed her a hen, whose head she cut off and threw away; but the hen itself they cast into the ship. In inquired of the interpreter what it was that she had done. He replied: “The first time she said, ‘Lo, I see here my father and mother’; the second time, ‘Lo, now I see all my deceased relatives sitting’; the third time, ‘Lo, there is my master, who is sitting in Paradise. Paradise is so beautiful, so green, Whith him are his men and boys. He calls me, so bring me to him.’” Then they led her away to the ship.”



  • (Primary Source) Ibn Fadlan, The Viking Rus, 921 C.E.

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

8. What is the ultimate goal in a Vikings life? How would this influence the deeds of members of this culture? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Cattle die,

And kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

One thing now

That never dies,

The fame of a dead man’s deeds.”



  • (Primary Source) The Poetic Edda, from the Icelandic 13th Century C.E.

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

9. How was Christianity interpreted by steppe cultures and what aspects held the most importance to these peoples? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

10. In what ways did the Christian culture appeal to the steppe nomads? What kind of simple factors went into their rejection of Buddhism and Islam? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“The kereyid, and the Naiman to the west, represented not just larger political units but more developed cultures tied, ever so tentatively, into the commercial and religious networks of central Asia via their conversion to Christianity several centuries earlier by missionaries of the Assyrian Church of the East. Without churches or monasteries among the nomads, the tribal branch of Christianity claimed descent from the Apostle Thomas and relied on wandering monks. They practiced their religion in sanctuaries located in gers, and de-emphasized theology and rigidity of belief in favor of a varied reading of the Scriptures combined with general medical care. Jesus exercised a strong fascination for the nomads because he healed the sick and survived death. As the only human to triumph over death, Jesus was considered an important and powerful shaman, and the cross was sacred as the symbol of the four directions of the world. As a pastoral people, the steppe tribes felt very comfortable with the pastoral customs and beliefs of the ancient Hebrew tribes as illustrated in the Bible. Perhaps above all, the Christians ate meat, unlike the vegetarian Buddhist; and in contrast to the abstemious Muslims, the Christians no only enjoyed drinking alcohol, they even prescribed it as a mandatory part of their worship service.”


  • (Secondary Source) Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford, 2004 CE

Objective: How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

11. The ancient Mongol religion is connected to land around them? Why would these connections be so important to the Mongol people? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

12. How separate did Temujin (Ghengis Khan) feel from the natural world around him? What did the natural world provide to him? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Unlike the other steppe tribes that had embraced the scriptural and priestly traditions of Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity, the Mongols remained animists, praying to the spirits around them. They worshiped the Eternal Blue Sky, the Golden Light of the Sun, and the myriad spiritual forces of nature. The Mongols divided the natural world into two parts, the earth and the sky. Just as the human soul was contained not in the stationary parts of the body but in the moving essences of blood, breath, and aroma, so, too, the soul of the earth was contained in its moving water. The rivers flowed through the earth like the blood through the body, and three of those rivers began here on this mountain. As the tallest mountain, Burkhan Khaldun, literally “God Mountain”, was the khan of the area and it was the earthly place closest to the Eternal Blue Sky. And as the source of three rivers, Burkhan Khaldun was also the sacred heart of the Mongol world.

The Secret History relates that Temujin, grateful for having escaped death at the hands of the Merkid, first offered a prayer of thanks to the mountain that protected him and to the sun that rode across the sky…

For the steppe tribes, political, worldly power was inseparable from supernatural power since both sprang from the same source, the Eternal Blue Sky. In order to find success and to triumph over others, one must first be granted supernatural power from the spirit world. For his Spirit Banner to lead to victory and power, it had to first be infused with supernatural power. Temujin’s three days of prayer while hiding on Burkhan Khaldun marked the beginning of a long and intimate spiritual relationship he would maintain with this mountain and the special protection he believed it provided. This mountain would be the source of his strength.”


  • (Secondary Source) Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford, 2004 CE

Name: ________________________________ Block: _____________________________________

Trial preparation: Now that you have explored the basic outlines of the Central Asian religious systems it is time for your law firm to construct a series of answers that will be used in the trials. For each question you must construct an opening statement that you will present to the court. Include aspects of all of the societies you represent and then list specific examples you will use in your rebuttals during the trials. Divide the topics between your legal team. Each of you will use the research from today to construct opening arguments. These opening arguments are required by the beginning of the next class day. Teams that do not submit opening arguments will not be qualified to move on to the next research topic and will be given the essay topics.

1. How does this culture meet the spiritual needs of its members?

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Evidence: Cite the source and summarize the evidence

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Name: _____________________________________ Block: ____________________________

2. What influence does religion/philosophy play on the organization and behavior of society?

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Evidence: Cite the source and summarize the evidence

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Name: ________________________________________ Block:__________________________

3. Is religion/philosophy or spiritual development in this culture a positive influence on art, literature, architecture, and culture in this society?

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Evidence: Cite the source and summarize the evidence

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