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What Religions Spread on the Indian Ocean Trade Routes: Essay

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In Ancient Ages, civilizations used trade routes as a means to trade goods but actually, they traded more than goods. They also traded ideas, beliefs, and technology. One of the most essential trade routes through which these exchanges happened was Indian Ocean Trade. In the Indian Ocean Trade route, they traded goods such as Indian spices, Arabian aromatics, Chinese silk, and all other goods from different regions. They also exchanged nautical knowledge which led to the development of ships that were adapted to the Monsoon Climate. In addition, they learned ideas and beliefs about different cultures and beliefs. All of these impacted humankind on different levels but from my point of view, the main contribution to Humankind was cultural and religious exchanges. Firstly, we cannot state that it was possible to spread all the religions in the world. “Jonathan Z.Smith conceptualizes these differences by diving religions into those are practiced “here”(the domestic sphere), “there”(the civic and national sphere), and anywhere”. (“Networks and Social Cohesion in Ancient Indian Ocean Trade: Geography, Ethnicity, Religion.', pg 385) .

All the religions that spread in this route belonged to anywhere groups which were Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam that can be existed in each part of the world. The importance of the spread of religion relies on the identification of people. In those times, people’s connection to their geographical region wasn’t strong, thus when they traded with other regions, their religion would represent their identity. This was essential because merchants spread their identities and created religious communities in foreign regions that can give them a sense of identity and belonging. These communities would facilitate the process of trading and adaption with regions that people did not know because people would have co-religionists in those religions whom they could trust and live.

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These communities also lead the way to migrations which ease the development of cosmopolitan communities across the Indian Ocean. If the Indian Ocean Trade route existed for a long-time and if there was constant migration, these communities played a key role in these activities as they made these events happen easier and for a longer time because this community made it possible for minorities to exist in foreign regions. Secondly, religion didn’t only have an effect on creating communities but also religion affected local cultures.

Each religion presented a different culture which affected local populations. With the exchange of religion, people also exchanged their cultures. This led to the existence of heterogenous societies with different cultures. In those times, new-coming cultures didn’t destroy the existing cultures. They facilitated the creation of new mixed cultures. For example, in the Indian Sub-Continent, the north side had Islamic Influencers over Indian Culture and the south side where Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced was under the influence of Southeast Asia and Malay World Cultures. These two are examples of mixed cultures which didn’t eliminate the existing ones. These different cultural influences over different regions were essential because these influences helped regions in different ways. They helped them to develop and grow in areas such as Politics, Social, Commercial, and Languages. In that region, Islamic regions had their own legal and trading systems and languages. As other non-Islamic regions started to interact with them, they adopted them and began to use Islamic legal systems and languages while adapting them to their own cultures. This led to the development of those regions around the area as the Islamic system was one of the most developed systems of the time.

To conclude, religious exchanges contributed to Humankind in areas such as the development of local regions and the existence of cosmopolitan communities around the Indian Ocean.


  1. Anderson, Thomas. “Teaching the Indian Ocean as World History.” World History Connected | Vol. 11 No. 1 | Thomas Anderson: Teaching the Indian Ocean as World History,
  2. McPherson, KENNETH. Cultural Exchange in the Indian Ocean Region. Westerly, No: 4, DECEMBER, 1964
  3. Seland, Eivind Heldaas. 'Networks and Social Cohesion in Ancient Indian Ocean Trade: Geography, Ethnicity, Religion.' Journal of Global History 8.3 (2013): 373-90. ProQuest. 31 Mar. 2019.
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