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List of founders of religious traditions

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Title: List of founders of religious traditions  
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Subject: History of religions, History of religion, Prehistoric religion, Sociology of religion, Jesus
Collection: Founders of Religions, History of Religion, Lists of People by Belief, Lists of Religious Leaders, Religion-Related Lists
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List of founders of religious traditions

This article lists historical figures credited with founding religions or religious philosophies or people who first codified older known religious traditions. It also lists those who have founded a specific major denomination within a larger religion.

In many cases, one can regard a religion as a continuous tradition extending to prehistoric times without a specific founder (Hinduism, which is a synthesis of the Vedic religion, the shramanic movement, and Indian folk religion; animism), or with legendary founding-figures whose historicity has been widely questioned (such Rishabha). This notwithstanding, many historical expressions of such religions will still have founders. Religion often develops by means of schism and reform (motivated by theological speculation), and it becomes a matter of judgement at what point such a schism or reform should be considered the "foundation" of a new religious tradition. For example, Martin Luther and John Wesley worked for reforms but their efforts failed to influence the whole Church and the end result was a new tradition within Christianity.

Chronologically, foundations of religious traditions may sub-divide into:

  1. the Axial Age, with foundations to Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism and with the earliest known major founding figures such as Zoroaster, Confucius, and Buddha.
  2. Hellenism to Late Antiquity, with foundations of classical religious traditions and schools such as various sects of Early Christianity, Stoicism, Gnosticism.
  3. the medieval to early modern period, with the rise of Islam, the Bhakti movement, Zen Buddhism, and the Protestant Reformation.
  4. new religious movements, since c. 1800.


  • Ancient (before AD 500) 1
  • Medieval to Early Modern (500–1800 AD) 2
  • New religious movements (post-1800) 3
  • Notes 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7

Ancient (before AD 500)

See culture hero for legendary founders of doubtful historicity.
Name Religious tradition founded Ethnicity Life of founder
Naram-Sin of Akkad first known ruler to impose an imperial cult Akkadian 22nd century BC (short chronology)
Ur-Nammu built the Ziggurat of Ur to Nanna Sumerian 21st century BC (short chronology)
Akhenaten Atenism Egyptian 14th century BC (conventional Egyptian chronology)
Parshva The penultimate (23rd) Tirthankara in Jainism Indian 877–777 BC[1][2][3][4]
Zoroaster composed the gathas foundational to Zoroastrianism Central Iranian/Airya c. 10th to 6th century BC[5][n 1]
Numa Pompilius Roman religion Italic of the Sabellian Sabine tribe 717 BC – 673 BC
Laozi Taoism Chinese 6th century BC
Nebuchadnezzar II built the Etemenanki, established Marduk as the patron deity of Babylon Babylonian
(southern dialect of Akkadian)
6th century BC
Mahavira The final Tirthankara in Jainism Indian 599–527 BC[6]
Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha Buddhism Indian/Nepali c. 5th century BC
Confucius Confucianism Chinese 551 BC – 479 BC
Pythagoras Pythagoreanism Greek, born on Samos fl. 520 BC
Mozi Mohism Chinese 470 BC – 390 BC
Ezra HaSofer established Second Temple Judaism[7] Judean, Levite tribal
through Aaronic line
fl. 459 BC[n 2]
Epicurus Epicureanism Greek, born on Samos fl. 307 BC
Zeno of Citium Stoicism possibly Phoenician,[8]
albeit a Greek national
333 BC – 264 BC
Pharnavaz I of Iberia Armazi Georgian 326 BC - 234 BC
Patanjali Raja Yoga (part of Hinduism) Indian 2nd century BC
Jesus Christianity Judean, Davidic line c. 5-4 BC - c. 33 AD
Paul the Apostle Pauline Christianity Judean, albeit a Roman citizen 1st century AD
James the Just Jewish Christianity Judean 1st century AD
Judah haNasi Talmudic Rabbinical Judaism Judean, Davidic line 2nd century AD
Marcion of Sinope Marcionism Pontic Greek 110–160
Nagarjuna Madhyamaka Telugu Dravidian 150–250
Plotinus Neoplatonism may have been of Roman,[9]
Greek,[10] or Hellenized Egyptian[11]
ancestry; Roman citizen
Mani Manichaeism Persian Western Iranian/Airya 216–276
Arius[n 3] Arianism[n 4] possibly Berber,
born in Libya; hellenophone
Pelagius[n 3] Pelagianism[n 5] British,[12] possibly Irish;[13] fluent in Greek and Latin 354–430
Nestorius[n 3] Nestorianism[n 6] Romaniote (Byzantine hellenophone) 386–451
Eutyches Monophysitism[n 7] born in Constantinople 380–456

Medieval to Early Modern (500–1800 AD)

Name Religious tradition founded Life of founder
Mazdak Mazdakism 520s
Bodhidharma (Tamil Nadu, in South India) Zen Buddhism 6th century
Muhammad Islam early 7th century
Songtsän Gampo Tibetan Buddhism 7th century
En no Ozuno Shugendō late 7th century
Huineng Zen Buddhism in China and East Asia 638–713
Padmasambhava Nyingma 8th century
Han Yu Neo-Confucianism 8th or 9th century
Saichō Tendai Buddhism (descended from Tiantai) 767?–822
Kūkai Shingon Buddhism 774–835
Adi Shankara Advaita Vedanta 9th century
Ramanujacharya Vishishtadvaita Vedanta 1017-1137
Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad Druze 11th century
Basava Lingayatism 12th century
Hōnen Jōdo Buddhism (descended from Pure Land Buddhism) 1131–1212
Eisai Rinzai Zen Buddhism (descended from Linji) 1141–1215
Shinran Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism (descended from Jōdo) 1173–1263
Dōgen Sōtō Zen Buddhism (descended from Caodong) 1200–1253
Haji Bektash Veli Bektashi Sufi) 1209–1271
Nichiren Nichiren Buddhism 1222–1282
Madhvacharya Dvaita 1238–1317
Sant Mat (group of saints) Bhakti movement (of Hinduism) 13th to 15th centuries
John Wyclif Lollardy 1320s–1384
Jan Hus Hussitism 1372–1415
Ramananda Sant Mat Vaishnavism 15th century
Srimanta Sankardeva Mahapuruxiya Dharma 1449–1568
Guru Nanak Dev Sikhism 1469–1539
Baba Sri Chand Udasi 1494–1629
Vallabha Acharya Shuddhadvaita 1479–1531
Martin Luther Lutheranism and Protestantism in general 1483–1546
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Achintya Bheda Abheda 1486–1534
Menno Simons Mennonitism 1496–1561
Conrad Grebel Swiss Brethren, Anabaptism 1498–1526
Jacob Hutter Hutterites 1500–1536
John Calvin[14] Calvinism 1509–1564
Michael Servetus[15] Unitarianism 1511?–1553
John Knox[16] Presbyterianism 1510–1572
Akbar the Great Din-i-Ilahi 1542–1605
Jacob Arminius Arminianism 1560–1609
John Smyth[17] Baptists 1570–1612
Avvakum Russian Orthodox Old Believers 1620–1682
[18] Religious Society of Friends 1624–1691
Philipp Jakob Spener[19] Pietism 1635–1705
Jakob Ammann Amish 1656–1730
Emanuel Swedenborg The New Church 1688-1772
Baal Shem Tov[20] Hasidic Judaism 1698–1760
John Wesley[21] Methodism 1703–1791
Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab Wahhabism 1703–1792
Ann Lee[22] Shakers 1736–1784

New religious movements (post-1800)

Name Religious tradition founded Life of founder
Ram Mohan Roy Brahmo Samaj 1772–1833
Swaminarayan Swaminarayan Sampraday 1781–1830
Auguste Comte Religion of Humanity 1798–1857
Nakayama Miki Tenrikyo 1798–1887
Ignaz von Döllinger Old Catholics[n 8] 1799–1890
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby New Thought 1802–1866
Allan Kardec Spiritism 1804–1869
Joseph Smith Mormonism, also known as the Latter Day Saint movement 1805–1844
John Thomas Christadelphians 1805–1871
Jamgon Kongtrul Rime movement 1813–1899
Hong Xiuquan Taiping Christianity 1814–1864
Bahá'u'lláh[23] Bahá'í Faith 1817–1892
Báb Bábism, predecessor of Bahá'í Faith 1819–1850
Subh-i-Azal Azali Bábism 1831–1912
James Springer White Seventh-day Adventist Church 1821–1881
Wang Jueyi I-Kuan Tao 1821–1884
Mary Baker Eddy[24] Christian Science 1821–1910
Rabbi Alfred G. Moses Jewish Science
Vallalar Samarasa Sutha Sanmarga Sangam 1823–1874
Swami Dayananda Saraswati Arya Samaj 1824–1883
Ellen G. White[25] Seventh-day Adventist Church 1827–1915
Madame Blavatsky Theosophy 1831–1891
Ayya Vaikundar Ayyavazhi 1833–1851
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Ahmadiyya 1835–1908
Guido von List Armanism (Germanic mysticism) 1848–1919
Charles Taze Russell[26] Bible Student Movement 1852–1916
Wovoka Ghost Dance 1856–1932
Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophy 1861–1925
Swami Vivekananda Ramakrishna Mission 1863–1902
William Irvine[27] Two by Twos and Cooneyites 1863–1947
Sri Aurobindo Integral yoga 1872–1950
Mason Remey Orthodox Baha'i Faith 1874–1974
Aleister Crowley Thelema 1875–1947
Charles Fox Parham Pentecostalism 1873–1929
"Father Divine" International Peace Mission movement c. 1876–1965
Ngô Văn Chiêu Cao Dai 1878–1926
Guy Ballard I AM 1878–1939
Frank Buchman Oxford Group/Moral Re-Armament 1878–1961
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan Reconstructionist Judaism 1881–1983
Gerald Gardner Wicca 1884–1964
Felix Y. Manalo Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) 1886–1963
Frank Bruce Robinson Psychiana 1886–1948
Noble Drew Ali Moorish Science Temple 1886–1929
Marcus Garvey Rastafari movement 1887–1940
Ernest Holmes Religious Science 1887–1960
Sadguru Sadafaldeo Ji Maharaj Vihangam Yoga 1888–1902
Aimee Semple McPherson[28] Foursquare Church 1890–1944
Zélio Fernandino de Moraes[29] Umbanda 1891–1975
Ida B. Robinson Mount Sinai Holy Church of America 1891–1946
Wallace Fard Muhammad Nation of Islam 1891 – (disappeared 1934)
Paramahansa Yogananda Self-Realization Fellowship 1893–1952
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada International Society for Krishna Consciousness 1896–1977
Ruth Norman Unarius 1900–1993
Swami Muktananda Siddha Yoga 1908–1982
Ikuro Teshima Makuya 1910–1973
L. Ron Hubbard Church of Scientology 1911–1986
Kim Il-sung Juche[30] 1912–1994
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Transcendental Meditation 1917–2008
Samael Aun Weor Universal Christian Gnostic Movement 1917–1977
Mark L. Prophet The Summit Lighthouse 1918–1973
Ben Klassen Creativity 1918–1993
Ahnsahnghong World Mission Society Church of God 1918-1985
Huynh Phu So Hoa Hao Buddhism 1919–1947
Yong (Sun) Myung Moon[31] Unification Church 1920–2012
Huỳnh Phú Sổ Hòa Hảo 1920–1947
Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar Ananda Marga 1921–1990
Clarence 13X The Nation of Gods and Earths 1922–1969
Mestre Gabriel União do Vegetal 1922–1971
Nirmala Srivastava Sahaja Yoga 1923–2011
Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson Ásatrú 1924–1993
Sathya Sai Baba Sathya Sai Organization 1926–2011
Anton Szandor LaVey Church of Satan 1930–1997
Rajneesh Chandra Mohan[32] Osho movement 1931–1990
Mark Prophet; Elizabeth Clare (Wolf) Prophet[33] Church Universal and Triumphant 1918-1973 1939–2009
Franklin Jones Adidam 1939–2008
Claude Vorilhon Raëlism 1946–
Marshall Vian Summers The New Message from God 1949–
Li Hongzhi Falun Gong 1951–
Ravi Shankar[34] Art of Living Foundation 1956–
Ryuho Okawa Happy Science 1956-
Vissarion Church of the Last Testament 1961–
Tamara Siuda Kemetic Orthodoxy 1969–
Isak Gerson Kopimism 1993-
Paul Twitchell Eckankar 1965–
Olumba Olumba Obu Brotherhood of the Cross and Star 1918–


  1. ^ "Controversy over Zaraθuštra's date has been an embarrassment of long standing to Zoroastrian studies. If anything approaching a consensus exists, it is that he lived ca. 1000 BCE give or take a century or so, though reputable scholars have proposed dates as widely apart as ca. 1750 BCE and '258 years before Alexander.'" (Encyclopædia Iranica)
  2. ^ historicity disputed but widely considered plausible. Gosta W. Ahlstrom argues the inconsistencies of the biblical tradition are insufficient to say that Ezra, with his central position as the 'father of Judaism' in the Jewish tradition, has been a later literary invention. (The History of Ancient Palestine, Fortress Press, p.888)
  3. ^ a b c The teaching of the traditional "founding father" of a "heresy" is may well have differed greatly from the contents of the heresy as generally understood. For references see following notes.
  4. ^ Acc. to Rowan Williams, 'Arianism' was essentially a polemical creation of Athanasius in an attempt to show that the different alternatives to the Nicene Creed collapsed back into some form of Arius' teaching. (Arius, SCM (2001) p.247)
  5. ^ Pelagius' thought was one sided and an inadequate interpretation of Christianity, but his disciples, Celestius and, to a greater extent, Julian of Eclanum pushed his ideas to extremes.(Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines A & C. Black (1965) p.361) Pelagius himself was declared orthodox by the synod of Diospolis in 415, after repudiating some of Celestius' opinions. (Frend, W.H.C. Saints and Sinners in the Early Church DLT (1985) p.133)
  6. ^ Nestorius specifically endorsed the repudiation of "Nestorianism" reached at Chalcedon in 451 (Prestige, G.L. Fathers and Heretics SPCK (1963) p.130)
  7. ^ Monophysitism represents an advanced type of Alexandrian Theology; it emerged in a distinctive form in 433 as a result of the agreement between John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. The exaggerated form held by Eutyches was condemned in 451 by the Council of Chalcedon. In its moderate forms the divergence from orthodoxy may be simply terminological. Alexandrian Theology stressed both divine transcendence and a marked dualism between the material and the spiritual and so tended to nullify the humanity of Christ.(Cross & Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. Monophysitism, Alexandrian Theology)
  8. ^ The Old Catholic Churches are a grouping of national churches which have broken from Rome at different times: The Church of Utrecht in 1724; German Austrian and Swiss Christians who refused to accept the dogma of papal infallibility as defined in 1870 and received the apostolic succession from Utrecht; these two groups were later some small groups of Slav origin living in the USA (Cross & Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. Old Catholics; Holland, Christianity in)

See also


  1. ^ p. 115
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Melton 2003, p. 191.
  6. ^ "Mahavira." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2006. 28 Nov. 2009.
  7. ^ Brueggemann 2002, pp. 75, 144.
  8. ^ Edwyn Bevan, Stoics and Sceptics
  9. ^ "Plotinus." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press, 2003.
  10. ^ "Plotinus." The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press, 1993, 2003.
  11. ^ Bilolo, M.: La notion de « l’Un » dans les Ennéades de Plotin et dans les Hymnes thébains. Contribution à l’étude des sources égyptiennes du néo-platonisme. In: D. Kessler, R. Schulz (Eds.), "Gedenkschrift für Winfried Barta ḥtp dj n ḥzj" (Münchner Ägyptologische Untersuchungen, Bd. 4), Frankfurt; Berlin; Bern; New York; Paris; Wien: Peter Lang, 1995, pp. 67–91.
  12. ^ , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  13. ^ Daibhi O Croinin, Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200 (2013), p. 206.
  14. ^ Melton 2003, p. 67.
  15. ^ Melton 2003, p. 128.
  16. ^ Melton 2003, p. 69.
  17. ^ Melton 2003, p. 102.
  18. ^ Melton 2003, p. 95.
  19. ^ Melton 2003, p. 73.
  20. ^ Melton 2003, p. 183.
  21. ^ Melton 2003, p. 75.
  22. ^ Melton 2003, p. 724.
  23. ^ Melton 2003, p. 992.
  24. ^ Melton 2003, p. 741.
  25. ^ Melton 2003, p. 621.
  26. ^ Melton 2003, p. 637.
  27. ^ Chryssides 2001, p. 330.
  28. ^ Melton 2003, p. 451.
  29. ^ Smith and Prokopy 2003, p. 279-280.
  30. ^ See:
    • ;
    • ;
    • .
  31. ^ Beit-Hallahmi 1998, p. 365.
  32. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1051.
  33. ^ Beit-Hallahmi 1998, p. 97.
  34. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1004.


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