Since the time of Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776-78, repr. New York 1977, vol. iii: 625-6), many authors have been stressing the Mongols’ traditional religious toleration.  In the present paper, the author discusses this theory, that is qualified as a “political theology” implemented in the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century.  His argument is based on official correspondences sent by the Mongols to the Latin West, as well as on a variety of decrees preserved in different languages, including Chinese.  The study tends to relativise the idea of a religious toleration among the Mongols:  Trying to avoid anachronism, the author finds more appropriate to speak of “religious pragmatism”, or still of “religious indifference”.  He observes, in particular, that in the Mongol Empire the chiefs (or representatives) of four religions only were exempted from the payment of taxes: Christian priests, Muslim religious scholars, Buddhist monks and Taoist authorities.  One finds practically no allusion to any kind of protection given to the shaman (bö’e), viz. the representative of Shamanism, the Mongols’ ‘native’ religion.  No document gives the shamans — although the latter were quite numerous at the Great Khan’s court as well as in that of Tabriz—a position equivalent to that provided to authoritative figures of other religious communities.  The shamans were considered relatively to the “services” they used to give, i.e.: healing, prediction, etc.  The shaman’s position used otherwise to depend on the intervention obtained from the spirits.  He was permitted no intervention in the affairs of the state, whilst the authorities of other confessions were officially considered intermediaries between the Mongol authorities and the different communities of the empire.

Denise Aigle, EPHE, Paris
CER: I-3.1.B-165