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In general, ethnoreligious communities define their ethnic identity not only by ancestral heritage nor simply by religious affiliation but normally through a combination of both. An ethnoreligious group has a shared history and a cultural tradition - which can be defined as religious - of its own. In many cases ethnoreligious groups are ethno-cultural groups with a traditional ethnic religion; in other cases ethnoreligious groups begin as communities united by a common faith which through endogamy developed cultural and ancestral ties. The legal assignment what is an ethnoreligious group can differ from the above given definition.
Some ethnoreligious groups' identities are reinforced by the experience of living within a larger community as a distinct minority. Ethnoreligious groups can be tied to ethnic nationalism if the ethnoreligious group possesses a historical base in a specific region. In many ethnoreligious groups emphasis is placed upon religious endogamy, and the concurrent discouragement of interfaith marriages or intercourse, as a means of preserving the stability and historical longevity of the community and culture.
Since the 19th century Reform Judaism has adopted theology that differs from traditional Judaism, although in recent years the reform movement has readopted some traditional practices. By the end of the 20th century, the reform movement had become dominant in the United States. In the United States, the increasing rate of mixed marriages has led to attempts to facilitate conversion of the spouse, although conversion to facilitate marriage is strongly discouraged by traditional Jewish law. If the spouse does not convert, the reform movement will recognize paternal descent. Traditional Jewish law only recognizes descent along the maternal line. Many children of mixed marriages do not identify as Jews and the reform movement only recognizes children of mixed marriages as Jewish if they "established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people."
Since the mid 1960s Israeli national identity has become inexorably linked with Jewish identity. In recent years some anti-Zionists have adopted a variety of theories intent on proving that contemporary Jews are descendants of converts, which in their view would render Zionism a form of modern irrational racism, while at the same time severing Jewish ties to the Land of Israel. In Israel, Jewish religious courts have authority over personal status matters, which has led to friction with secular Jews who sometimes find they must leave the country in order to marry or divorce, particularly in relation to the inherited status of mamzer, the marriage of males from the priestly line, persons not recognized as Jewish by the rabbinate, and in cases of agunot. The Israeli rabbinate only recognizes certain approved Orthodox rabbis as legitimate, which has led to friction with Diaspora Jews who for centuries never had an overarching authority.
In Australian law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 of New South Wales defines "race" to include "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". The reference to "ethno-religious" was added by the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (NSW).John Hannaford, the NSW Attorney-General at the time, explained, "The effect of the latter amendment is to clarify that ethno-religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims and Sikhs, have access to the racial vilification and discrimination provisions of the Act.... extensions of the Anti-Discrimination Act to ethno-religious groups will not extend to discrimination on the ground of religion".
The definition of "race" in Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) likewise includes "ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin". However, unlike the NSW Act, it also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of "religious belief or affiliation" or "religious activity".
In the United Kingdom the landmark legal case Mandla v Dowell-Lee placed a legal definition on ethnic groups with religious ties, which, in turn, has paved the way for the definition of an ethnoreligious group. Both Jews and Sikhs were determined to be considered ethnoreligious groups under the Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 (see above).
The Anti-Discrimination (Amendment) Act 1994 made reference to Mandla v Dowell-Lee, which defined ethnic groups as:
a long shared history, of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it from other groups, and the memory of which it keeps alive;
a cultural tradition of its own, including family and social customs and manners, often but not necessarily associated with religious observance. In addition to those two essential characteristics the following characteristics are, in my opinion, relevant:
either a common geographical origin, or descent from a small number of common ancestors;
a common language, not necessarily peculiar to the group;
a common literature peculiar to the group;
a common religion different from that of neighbouring groups or from the general community surrounding it;
being a minority or being an oppressed or dominant group within a larger community. For example, a conquered people (say, the inhabitants of England shortly after the Norman conquest) and their conquerors might both be ethnic groups.
^ abcYang and Ebaugh, p.369: "Andrew Greeley (1971) identified three types of relationships in the United States: some religious people who do not hold an ethnic identity; some people who have an ethnic identity but are not religious; and cases in which religion and ethnicity are intertwined. Phillip Hammond and Kee Warner (1993), following Harold J. Abramson (1973), further explicated the "intertwining relationships" into a typology. First is "ethnic fusion," where religion is the foundation of ethnicity, or, ethnicity equals religion, such as in the case of the Amish and Jews. The second pattern is that of "ethnic religion," where religion is one of several foundations of ethnicity. The Greek or Russian Orthodox and the Dutch Reformed are examples of this type. In this pattern, ethnic identification can be claimed without claiming the religious identification but the reverse is rare. The third form, "religious ethnicity," occurs where an ethnic group is linked to a religious tradition that is shared by other ethnic groups. The Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics are such cases. In this pattern, religious identification can be claimed without claiming ethnic identification. Hammond and Warner also suggest that the relationship of religion and ethnicity is strongest in "ethnic fusion" and least strong in "religious ethnicity." Recently, some scholars have argued that even Jews' religion and culture (ethnicity) can be distinguished from each other and are separable (Chervyakov, Gitelman, and Shapiro 1997; Gans 1994)."
^ abcdHammond and Warner, p.59: "1. Religion is the major foundation of ethnicity, examples include the Amish, Hutterites, Jews, and Mormons. Ethnicity in this pattern, so to speak, equals religion, and if the religious identity is denied, so is the ethnic identity. [Footnote: In actuality, of course, there can be exceptions, as the labels "jack Mormon," "banned Amish," or "cultural Jew" suggest.] Let us call this pattern "ethnic fusion."
2. Religion may be one of several foundations of ethnicity, the others commonly being language and territorial origin; examples are the Greek or Russian Orthodox and the Dutch Reformed. Ethnicity in this pattern extends beyond religion in the sense that ethnic identification can be claimed without claiming the religious identification, but the reverse is rare. Let us call this pattern "ethnic religion."
3. An ethnic group may be linked to a religious tradition, but other ethnic groups will be linked to it, too. Examples include Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics; Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish Lutherans. Religion in this pattern extends beyond ethnicity, reversing the previous pattern, and religious identification can be claimed without claiming the ethnic identification. Let us call this pattern "religious ethnicity""