World Christian Database

People groups and Ethnicity

The database's Ethnicity table is based on the work of Dr. David B. Barrett, published in the first edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (1981) as "PART 4, CULTURE, Peoples of the world: an ethnolinguistic classification" where it is fully described in a succinct four pages of text and two pages of photos.

Introductory remarks (p.107) show the intent: The inclusion of this analysis by races, peoples, tribes, and cultures is an affirmation of the centrality of indigenous cultures to local expressions of Christianity, of the right to exist of minority tribes and peoples, of their autonomy in their own areas, of their importance from the Christian standpoint vis-a-vis the world’s dominant peoples and cultures, and of the need to reduce the imperialistic influence of these latter (especially Western culture) in non-Western local churches and lands. It is also an affirmation of the necessity to view people, not primarily as nationals of a given country, but primarily as members of the natural homogeneous units they belong to, through which they may the most effectively be described.

Barrett then cautioned (in 1981) that "the concept of different races is regarded by many scientists as outdated" (and indeed Encyclopedia Britannica's article on Geographic Race, referenced by Barrett, has since been abandoned by Britannica), but asserted "that for our purposes this classification is still valuable". As the ethnic component of the world's ethno-linguistic peoples classification, this assertion remains true.

In the absence then of any newer or better classification, Barrett's identified ethnicities have all been retained without any attempt to re-classify groups that in a new system may well be merged or separated or renamed (and some archaic terms thus remain in the notes which may help explain particular divisions). Importantly for the many organisations employing the code in their own systems, this also allows the unique underlying code itself to be retained, except that it is now displayed without the original first and third characters. A handful of cover terms have also been altered to reflect these changes.

Ethnicity (formerly labelled in the database as 'Culture') is given for each ethno-linguistic people group and together with the newly formatted ethnic code, provides a quick tool for scanning and sorting peoples of similar ethnicity without necessarily needing to refer to the code's meaning.

The first letter of the code can be used to summarize the world's 13,800 ethno-linguistic peoples into just 13 "Ethnic regions". The following digit then identifies 72 ethnic types or ethno-cultural families, and then the lower-case letter completes the identity of the original 392 Ethnicities.

See the full Ethnicity table or a summary table by ethnic region.