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Sounds like: man-ih-KEE-un (IPA: /mænəkiən)


Immage illustrating etymology of "Manichaean"

Etymology of “Manichaean”

  • Thumbnail image of Mani


    “Manichaen” originates with “Mani”, the name of a 3rd century Persian prophet. Mani was famous for founding his own religion, which the Romans called “Manichaeism”.

  • Manichaeism was a fusion of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism—though claiming to go beyond all of these. A distinguishing feature of the religion was its strongly dualistic vision of the world.
  • Specifically, Mani taught that there is an ongoing battle between the forces of light (the spiritual realm: good) and the forces of darkness (the material world: bad). The light has gotten trapped in the dark world of matter (our world), and we need the leadership of chaste vegetarians—like Mani’s male and female monks—to free it.
  • Mani’s creed was, for a while, a big hit. In fact, it was one of the most popular religions in the ancient world, with adherents in Persia, throughout the Roman empire—even as far away as China.
  • Unfortunately for the Manichaens, the leaders of the older religions eventually got upset with the competition: Mani’s religion was too popular. A long period of religious persecution began, and by 900 A.D. Manichaeism had been maligned and persecuted out of existence.
  • Thumbnail image, dark/light contrast


    Today, Mani and his religion are mostly forgotten; but literary types still use “Manichaean” in a generalized sense, to refer to any kind of strongly dualistic (black-vs.-white, us-vs.-them) vision.


Because it technically refers to the name of a religion, most stylesheets will tell you to capitalize “Manichaean” (as for “Catholic” or “Muslim”).


  • “Oxford Dictionary of English.”, Second Edition, Revised, Soanes, Catherine and Angus Stevenson eds.
  • “Oxford English Dictionary.”, Oxford University Press
  • “Encyclopedia of Global Religion”, M. Juergensmeyer & Wade Clark Roof eds., SAGE Press

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