The Zoroastrian faith is one with a rich history that dates back at least 30 centuries, its origins date back further than either Islam or Christianity. At one point in history, during the reign of the Persian Empire the monotheistic Zoroastrian faith included up to 50 million members globally. In the 21st century that number has dwindled drastically to the point of potential extinction, surveys reveal they now have as little as 124,000 active members with that number dropping yearly. Dina McIntyre, an Indian-American lawyer in Chesapeake, Va., and a practicing Zoroastrian said “Survival has become a community obsession.”
Some practices that have aided in the downfall of this once vast religion include things such as intermarrying within the community and complete assimilation of the members causing total immersion to the point of disappearing within their adopted faith. There is also a very high frequency of Zoroastrian women who are working professionals and this reduces the number of children these women have that would otherwise be raised Zoroastrian. The rate of Zoroastrian birth rate vs. death rate paints a troubling picture; the Zoroastrian magazine “Parsiana” publishes charts each month showing births, deaths and marriages. Mumbai reports the most troubling numbers with an average of 6 deaths to every 1 birth.
Very recently in South Africa the final Zoroastrian priest passed away and now the community is faced with the harsh reality that there is no one left to run the ceremonies. Leaders in Chicago have commented on the situation saying “We have to be working together if we are going to survive.” A few years back an organized attempt of spreading the faith fell drastically short after some priests accused the organizers of embracing “fake converts” and diluting traditions.
There is no single reason why the Zoroastrian faith is diminishing so how does one go about protecting his own religion from potential extinction? The explicit religion of the Zoroastrian faith would most likely be a starting point for finding out why the numbers of practitioners has gone down so dramatically, but I feel to find the reasons behind the downfall one would have to change their point of view to one of subjectivity and examine the implicit belief system of the Zoroastrians. It could also be very helpful for one studying the religion to apply the 5 dimensions of religiousness as presented by Stark and Bainbridge to each aspect of the Zoroastrian religion and compare the findings to similar religions that have not had the same decline in numbers.
It’s immensely troubling to see a religion that was once so globally powerful and influential reduced to such a menial existence in which the members are worried about their faith existing even another 100 years. The rise and fall of this religion raises the obvious question of whether or not Christianity, Judaism or any of the other major denominations of religion are within harms grasp.
Sadly the fall of this once powerful nation can be summed up by the ancient proverb that, “everything is temporary.”