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Major world religions

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Major world religions

"World religions" redirects here. For other uses, see World religions (disambiguation). For a breakdown by religion List of religions and spiritual traditions
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The world's principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups, although this is by no means a uniform practice. This theory began in the 18th century with the goal of recognizing the relative levels of civility in societies.[1]

History of religious categories

In world cultures, there have traditionally been many different groupings of religious belief. In Indian culture, different religious philosophies were traditionally respected as academic differences in pursuit of the same truth. In Islam, the Quran mentions three different categories: Muslims, the People of the Book, and idol worshipers. Initially, Christians had a simple dichotomy of world beliefs: Christian civility versus foreign heresy or barbarity. In the 18th century, "heresy" was clarified to mean Judaism and Islam; along with paganism, this created a fourfold classification which spawned such works as John Toland's Nazarenus, or Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity, which represented the three Abrahamic religions as different "nations" or sects within religion itself, the "true monotheism."

Daniel Defoe described the original definition as follows: "Religion is properly the Worship given to God, but 'tis also applied to the Worship of Idols and false Deities." At the turn of the 19th century, in between 1780 and 1810, the language dramatically changed: instead of "religion" being synonymous with spirituality, authors began using the plural, "religions", to refer to both Christianity and other forms of worship. Therefore, Hannah Adams's early encyclopedia, for example, had its name changed from An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects... to A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations.[2]

In 1838, the four-way division of Christianity, Judaism, Mahommedanism (archaic terminology for Islam) and Paganism was multiplied considerably by Josiah Conder's Analytical and Comparative View of All Religions Now Extant among Mankind. Conder's work still adheres to the four-way classification, but in his eye for detail he puts together much historical work to create something resembling our modern Western image: he includes Druze, Yezidis, Mandeans, and Elamites under a list of possibly monotheistic groups, and under the final category, of "polytheism and pantheism", he lists Zoroastrianism, "Vedas, Puranas, Tantras, Reformed sects" of India as well as "Brahminical idolatry", Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Lamaism, "religion of China and Japan", and "illiterate superstitions".[3]

The modern meaning of the phrase "world religion", putting non-Christians at the same, living level as Christians, began with the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago, Illinois. The Parliament spurred the creation of a dozen privately funded lectures with the intent of informing people of the diversity of religious experience: these lectures funded researchers such as William James, D. T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts, who greatly influenced the public conception of world religions.[4]

In the latter half of the 20th century, the category of "world religion" fell into serious question, especially for drawing parallels between vastly different cultures, and thereby creating an arbitrary separation between the religious and the secular.[5] Even history professors have now taken note of these complications and advise against teaching "world religions" in schools.[6] Others see the shaping of religions in the context of the nation-state as the "invention of traditions".

Western classification

Religious traditions fall into super-groups in comparative religion, arranged by historical origin and mutual influence. Abrahamic religions originate in the Middle East, Indian religions in the Indian subcontinent and East Asian religions in East Asia. Another group with supra-regional influence are Afro-American religion, which have their origins in Central and West Africa.

Religious demographics

Further information: List of religious populations

One way to define a major religion is by the number of current adherents. The population numbers by religion are computed by a combination of census reports and population surveys (in countries where religion data is not collected in census, for example the United States or France), but results can vary widely depending on the way questions are phrased, the definitions of religion used and the bias of the agencies or organizations conducting the survey. Informal or unorganized religions are especially difficult to count.

There is no consensus among researchers as to the best methodology for determining the religiosity profile of the world's population. A number of fundamental aspects are unresolved:

  • Whether to count "historically predominant religious culture[s]"[8]
  • Whether to count only those who actively "practice" a particular religion[9]
  • Whether to count based on a concept of "adherence"[10]
  • Whether to count only those who expressly self-identify with a particular denomination[11]
  • Whether to count only adults, or to include children as well.
  • Whether to rely only on official government-provided statistics[12]
  • Whether to use multiple sources and ranges or single "best source(s)"

Largest religions

The table below lists religions classified by philosophy; however, religious philosophy is not always the determining factor in local practice. Please note that this table includes heterodox movements as adherents to their larger philosophical category, although this may be disputed by others within that category. For example, Cao Dai is listed because it claims to be a separate category from Buddhism, while Hoa Hao is not, even though they are similar new religious movements.

The population numbers below are computed by a combination of census reports, random surveys (in countries where religion data is not collected in census, for example the United States or France), and self-reported attendance numbers, but results can vary widely depending on the way questions are phrased, the definitions of religion used and the bias of the agencies or organizations conducting the survey. Informal or unorganized religions are especially difficult to count. Some organizations may wildly inflate their numbers.

Religion Number of followers
(in millions)
Cultural tradition Founded References
Christianity 2,000–2,200 Abrahamic religions Levant region [13]
Islam 1,570 Abrahamic religions Arabian Peninsula [14][15]
Hinduism 1,083–1,101 Indian religions India [16]
Buddhism 500–1,500 Indian religions India [17][18][19][20]
Folk religions Hundreds Folk religions Worldwide [nb 1]
Chinese folk religions
(including Taoism and Confucianism)
Hundreds Chinese religions China [nb 1]
Shinto 27–65 Japanese religions Japan [21]
Sikhism 24–28 Indian religions India [18][22]
Judaism 14–18 Abrahamic religions Levant region [18]

Medium-sized religions

The following are medium-sized world religions:

Religion Number of followers
(in millions)
Cultural tradition Founded References
Bahá'í Faith 7.6–7.9 Abrahamic religions Iran, 19th century [23][24][nb 2]
Jainism 5-8 Indian religions India, 4th century BC [nb 3][25]
Cao Đài 1–3 Vietnamese religions Vietnam, 20th century [26]
Cheondoism 3 Korean religions Korea, 19th century [27]
Tenrikyo 2 Japanese religions Japan, 19th century [28]
Wicca 1 Neopagan Britain, 20th century [29]
Church of World Messianity 1 Japanese religions Japan, 20th century [30]
Seicho-no-Ie 0.8 Japanese religions Japan, 20th century [28]
Rastafari movement 0.7 New religious movements, Abrahamic religions Jamaica, 20th century [31]
Unitarian Universalism 0.63 New religious movements United States, 20th century [32]
Scientology 0.5 New religious movement United States, 1953 [33][33]
Zoroastrianism 0.15 - 0.2 Iranian religions Iran, 10th - 15th century BC [34]
Eckankar 0.05 - 0.5 New religious movements United States, 1973 [35]
LaVeyan Satanism 0.03 - 0.1 New religious movement United States, 1966 [36]
Raëlism 0.08 - 0.085 UFO religion France, 1974 [37][38]
Druidry 0.050 Neopaganism Britain, 18th century [39]

By region

Further information: Religions by country

Trends in adherence

Further information: Claims to be the fastest-growing religion

Since the late 19th century, the demographics of religion have changed a great deal. On the one hand, since the 19th century, large areas of Sub-Saharan Africa have been converted to Christianity, and this area of the world has the highest population growth rate. On the other hand, some countries with a historically large Christian population have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of professed active Christians: see demographics of atheism. Symptoms of the decline in active participation in Christian religious life include declining recruitment for the priesthood and monastic life, as well as diminishing attendance at church. In the realm of Western culture, there has been an increase in the number of people who identify themselves as secular humanists. In many countries, such as the People's Republic of China, communist governments have discouraged religion, making it difficult to count the actual number of believers. However, after the collapse of communism in numerous countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, religious life has been experiencing resurgence there, both in the form of traditional Eastern Christianity and particularly in the forms of Neopaganism and East Asian religions. Studies conducted by the Pew Research Center have found that, generally, poorer nations had a larger proportion of citizens who found religion to be very important than richer nations, with the exceptions of the United States[9] and Kuwait.[40]

World Christian Encyclopedia

Following is some available data based on the work of the World Christian Encyclopedia:[41]

Trends in annual growth of adherence
1970–1985[42] 1990–2000[43][44] 2000–2005[45]
3.65%: Bahá'í Faith 2.65%: Zoroastrianism 1.84%: Islam
2.74%: Islam 2.28%: Bahá'í Faith 1.70%: Bahá'í Faith
2.34%: Hinduism 2.13%: Islam 1.62%: Sikhism
1.67%: Buddhism 1.87%: Sikhism 1.57%: Hinduism
1.64%: Christianity 1.69%: Hinduism 1.32%: Christianity
1.09%: Judaism 1.36%: Christianity
1.09%: Buddhism
The annual growth in the world
population over the same period
is 1.41%.

World Religion Database

According to World Religion Database we have the following from 1970 - 2010:

World Religion Database, 1970–2010[46]
Religion 1970 population (millions) 2010 population (millions)  % change since 1970/year (40 yrs)
unaffiliated (inc. atheists, agnostics, religious but not affiliated) 708.1 813.6 0.37%
Christians 1229 2260.4 2.10%
Muslims 577.2 1553.8 4.23%
Hindus 463.2 948.6 2.62%
Buddhists 235.1 494.9 2.76%
Chinese Folk Religionists 228.8 436.3 2.27%
Ethnoreligiounists 168.9 242.5 1.09%
New religionists 39.4 63 1.50%
Sikhs 10.7 23.9 3.08%
Jews 15.0 14.8 -0.03
Spiritists 4.7 13.7 4.79%
Daoists 1.7 8.4 9.85%
Bahá'ís 2.7 7.3 4.26%
Confucians 4.8 6.4 0.83%
Jains 2.6 5.3 2.60%
Shintoists 4.2 2.8 -0.83%
Zoroastrians 0.1 0.2 2.50%
World total 3696.2 6895.9 2.16%

Maps of self-reported adherence

See also



External links

  • Animated history of World Religions—from the "Religion & Ethics" part of the BBC website, interactive animated view of the spread of world religions (requires Flash plug-in).
  • BBC A-Z of Religions and Beliefs
  • Major World Religions
  • International Council for Inter-Religious Cooperation
  • International Imam Organization
eo:Religio#Listo de religioj laŭ grandeco
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