The Secret History contains a good deal of religious ceremonies and references, but there is little information available about religion itself. However, the Secret History clearly illustrates that Chinggis Khan firmly believed that Eternal Blue Heaven “…guid[ed] Chinggis Khan…and all of his successes are attributed to him to Heavens will.”(47) The Eternal Blue Heaven was the religious belief that he relied on heavily to justify his rule and dictate to him what actions to take. Chinggis Khan regularly placed the will of heaven above the will of himself. Chinggis Khan allowed Eternal Blue Heaven to dictate actions above himself. For example, Chinggis Khan still allowed the harming of the sons of Toghtoga Beki despite his hesitation because he believed “[i]f your ability and powers are strengthened by Eternal Blue Heaven, if your power is great enough to lay hands on the sons of Toghtoga Beki. It would serve no purpose to bring them back to [him]. Just kill them.”(48) They firmly believe their strength came from the Eternal Blue Heaven. In addition, they felt that just as it gave you power it the same right to take the power away.
Chinggis Khan thought this could happen when Eternal Blue Heaven no longer loved you, which occurred when there are internal family squabbles and the spreading of slander and lies.(49) Therefore, it became vital for leaders to stay away from actions that would place them in unfavorable conditions if he were interested in military conquest. Chinggis Khan and the immediate generations understood they must not have internal family fighting if they expected to maintain the strength and military actions of the Mongol empire. Ogode Khan received a message that explained that the Mongols had success in the Russian city of Kiev because heaven gave them the strength and received a good fortune from his uncle. Thus, the first several rulers of the Mongol Empire found it necessary to stay in the good graces of the family to remain loved by Eternal Blue Heaven if they desired these results to continue. As a result, the power granted will continue to increase by heaven and earth.(50) The cultures around the world had strong ties to their regional religions, but the conversion was always voluntary.
The world religions – Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam – did not accept forced conversion to their beliefs. Therefore, in order to obtain converts, the states needed to force people to convert indirectly. In order to do so, they used economic and political policies to encourage people to convert to the state religion. Over time, numerous regions of the Mongol empire enforced a state religion such as Islam in Persia. Although, subjects were able to retain their traditional religion, adherents to the state religion benefited from access to better economic benefits and political positions. Individuals who choose not to adhere to the state religion faced economic hardships.
The individuals who chose not to accept the state religion lived under economic hardships. The most common economic hardship was a poll tax levied upon non-adherents. However, the acceptance of the state religion resulted in the exception from the tax. But this tax was not a substantial burden. Consequently, numerous Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, and others decided to pay the tax to keep their inherited family religions. The possibility of avoiding the tax must have been an active incentive those who were not firmly committed to their faith.(51) Religion can be the greatest resource that a ruling party could have because of its legitimization factor.
The state religion was vital to establishing the legitimization of the ruling group. Thus, it became common for the state to adopt and allow the spreading of the religion. Therefore, the state sponsorship of religion resulted in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam to become the famous worldwide religions because of the political, social, and economic pressures from the state. These changes culturally affected the region’s population significantly. The cultural changes led to the ruling elites discovering the political uses in world religions. The ruling elites recognized that the world religions not only provided a source of legitimization, but it also helped produce the cultural unification of the region’s peoples.(52) Once a state religion is deeply ingrained in the culture, it laid the foundation to rule the area, which made it logistically easier for the extraction of the desired resources. Through the cultural exchange, the adoption of the regional faith became merchant’s greatest asset.
It became common practice for foreign merchants to adopt the state religion. This is a practical occurrence because practicing a state religion while in that region had its economic and political benefits. It helped keep them from having to deal with economic policies that could harm their business. In addition, it created a common ground for the merchant and the customers in the region to build a working relationship. However, the immediate renouncement of the state religion became common once a merchant left the area. In short, the adoption of the state religion was simply a tool to gain access to the best business possible. Furthermore, it was about nothing more then obtaining money or other valuable resources through the Silk Roads.
47 Anonymous, Secret History, xx.
48 Ibid., 109.
49 Ibid., 144.
50 Ibid., 170, 128.
51 Bentley, Old World Encounters, 92.
52 Ibid., 83.