Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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An ancient religion founded in pre-Islamic Persia (now Iran) in the early part of the first millennium B.C.E. When Moslem Arabs conquered Persia, many Zoroastrians fled to India.

Founded by Zarathustra (or Zoroaster), the faith's primary innovation was monotheism, combined with a radical dualism of good and evil. The Judeo-Christian idea of the Devil was borrowed from Zoroastrianism at the time of the Babylonian exile. Also, a strong emphasis on individual responsibility for moral choices was an early defining characteristic of Zoroastrianism, whose key symbol is fire. European philosophers, from Voltaire to Nietzsche, have drawn on the work of Zarathustra. There are an estimated 6,000 adherents in North America, almost entirely of Iranian, Indian, or Pakistani descent. These groups have some doctrinal differences, and each has some doctrinal conflict with the orthodox centers in Bombay, India, and Iran. As of the mid-1990s, Zoroastrian associations ("churches") are located in cities around the globe, with perhaps two dozen in North America. Zoroastrianism is also sometimes called Mazdaism, after their god's name, Mazda. Particularly in India, Zoroastrians are also known as Parsis or Parsees, from their Persian origin.

Keith A. Roberts


M. Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism (Leiden: Brill, 1975)

M. Boyce, Zoroastrians (London: Routledge, 1979)

Center for Zoroastrian Research, 3270 E. Robinson Road, Bloomington, Ind. 47401-9301


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