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WORLD
RELIGION
1
World Religion
Index
1. What is a Religion? .........................................................................................3
2. Main Types of Religion ...................................................................................5
3. Religion Population .........................................................................................7
2
World Religion
What is a religion?
Many say the etymology of religion lies with the
Latin wordreligare, which means “to tie, to bind.”
This seems to be favored on the assumption that it
helps explain the power religion has. The Oxford
English Dictionary points out, though, that the
etymology of the word is doubtful. Earlier writers
like Cicero connected the term with relegere,
which means “to read over again” (perhaps to
emphasize the ritualistic nature of religions?).
Some argue that religion doesn’t really exist —
there is only culture. Jonathan Z. Smith writes
in Imagining Religion:
“...while there is a staggering amount of data,
phenomena, of human experiences and
expressions that might be characterized in one
culture or another, by one criterion or another,
as religion — there is no data for religion.
Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s
study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic
purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison
and generalization. Religion has no existence
apart from the academy.”
It is true that many societies do not draw a clear
line between their culture and what scholars would
call “religion.” This does not mean that religion
doesn’t exist, but it is worth keeping in mind that
even when we think we have a handle on what
religion is, we might be fooling ourselves.
Definitions of religion tend to suffer from one of
two problems: they are either too narrow and
exclude many belief systems which most agree are
religious, or they are too vague and ambiguous,
suggesting that just about any and everything is a
religion.
have no religious belief system. A good example
of a vague definition is the tendency to define
religion as “worldview” — but how can every
worldview qualify as a religion?
Some have argued that religion isn’t hard to define
and the plethora of conflicting definitions is
evidence of how easy it really is. The problem lies
in finding a definition that is empirically useful
and empirically testable. So far, the best definition
of religion I have seen is in The Encyclopedia of
Philosophy. It lists traits of religions rather than
declaring religion to be one thing or another,
arguing that the more markers present in a belief
system, the more”religious like” it is:
 Belief in supernatural beings (gods).
 A distinction between sacred and profane
objects.
 Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
 A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the
gods.
 Characteristically
religious feelings (awe,
sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration),
which tend to be aroused in the presence of
sacred objects and during the practice of ritual,
and which are connected in idea with the gods.
 Prayer and other forms of communication with
gods.
 A world view, or a general picture of the
world as a whole and the place of the
individual therein. This picture contains some
specification of an over-all purpose or point of
the world and an indication of how the
individual fits into it.
 A more or less total organization of one’s life
A good example of a narrow definition is the
common attempt to define “religion” as “belief in
God,” effectively excluding polytheistic religions
and atheistic religions while including theists who
based on the world view.
 A social group bound together by the above.
This definition captures much of what religion is
across diverse cultures. It includes sociological,
3
World Religion
psychological, and historical factors and
allows for broader gray areas in the concept of
religion. It’s not without flaws, though. The
first marker, for example, is about
“supernatural beings” and gives “gods” as an
example, but thereafter only gods are
mentioned. Even the concept of “supernatural
beings” is a bit too specific; MirceaEliade
defined religion in reference to a focus on “the
sacred” and that is a good replacement for
“supernatural beings” because not every
religion revolves around the supernatural.
A better definition is:
 Belief in something sacred (for example, gods
or other supernatural beings).
 A distinction between sacred and profane
objects.
 Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
 A moral code believed to have a sacred or
supernatural basis.
 Characteristically
religious feelings (awe,
sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration),
which tend to be aroused in the presence of
sacred objects and during the practice of ritual.
 Prayer and other forms of communication with
the supernatural.
 A world view, or a general picture of the
world as a whole and the place of the
individual therein. This picture contains some
specification of an over-all purpose or point of
the world and an indication of how the
individual fits into it.
 A more or less total organization of one’s life
based on the world view.
 A social group bound together by the above.
This is the definition of religion used here. It
describes religious systems but not nonreligious systems. It encompasses the features
common in belief systems generally
acknowledged as religions without focusing
on specific characteristics unique to just a few.
4
World Religion
Main Types of Religion
Religion adds meaning and purpose
and Far Eastern religions like Buddhism and
to the lives of followers, granting them an
Sikhism, Iranic religions like Zoroastrianism
appreciation of the past, an understanding of
and Bahai, and African indigenous-based
the present, and hope for the future. By
religions like Santeria. Other belief systems,
definition, a religion is a belief system
including Atheism and the Mormon Church,
concerning
and
have also developed with time. While
incorporating rituals, ceremonies, ethical
religion dictates peace and good will, many
guidelines, and life philosophies. Since the
battles and divisions have taken place
early times of Paganism, religion has
because of religion. Religious belief plays
diversified and grown to include major
an important role in the history of the world.
monotheistic
Judaism,
The people of the world could benefit from
Christianity, and Islam, as well as Indian
learning about the different types of religion.
one
or
more
religions
deities
like
Christianity
Islam
Hinduism
Judaism
5
World Religion
Christianity
With well over two billion followers throughout the world, Christianity is an Abrahamic
religion centered on God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. One of the big issues surrounding
Christianity is that some people question the existence of the Trinity. Other points of debate
are the Christian beliefs in Immaculate Conception, the original sin, the existence of the Devil,
and the coming of the apocalypse. Learn more about Christianity and find out how it became
the World's largest religion with holidays that are known worldwide.
Islam
More than one billion people in the World follow Islam, worship Allah (the Arabic word for
'God'), believe in angels, and consider Muhammad as the most recent prophet. These are only
a few of the beliefs set by the religion that is disciplined and strict in its rules and customs.
The Five Pillars guide Muslim life, as do the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the fatwas which
contribute to the Sharia. Discover more about the customs & beliefs of the second largest
religion in the world. Find the answer to this question and more.
Hinduism
Who is Buddha? What exactly is Buddhism? Learn about the quest for Enlightenment that
intrigued people throughout history and learn about the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
Meditation played a significant role in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, who left his princely
lifestyle to find the meaning of true nature. Buddhism has continued to change the lives of
people today who follow the path towards enlightenment. What is so special about the Bodhi
tree? Discover more about the peaceful religion that worships no God and believes in a
spiritual journey based on karma.
Judaism
Over twelve million people in the world follow Judaism and regard the Torah as the most
important holy book of Judaism. Jews believe they are the chosen people of God and consider
Moses as the founder. The laws of God guide Jews throughout their lives and followers of this
religion spend a lot of their time praying. Delve into the religion of Judaism to learn about
their customs and beliefs. Learn about what Jews eat as part of their diet and the number of
pilgrimages in which they participate.
6
World Religion
Religion Population
(Sizes shown are approximate estimates, and are here mainly for the purpose of ordering the
groups, not providing a definitive number. This list is sociological/statistical in perspective.)
1. Christianity: 2.1 billion
2. Islam: 1.5 billion
3. Hinduism: 900 million
4. Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
5. Buddhism: 376 million
7
World Religion
Introduction
The adherent counts presented in the list
accounts for the religions of over 98% of the
above are current estimates of the number of
world's population. Below are listed some
people who have at least a minimal level of
religions which are not in this listing
self-identification
(Mandeans,
as
adherents
of
the
PL
Kyodan,
Ch'ondogyo,
religion. Levels of participation vary within
Vodoun, New Age, Seicho-No-Ie, Falun
all groups. These numbers tend toward the
Dafa/Falun Gong, Taoism, Roma), along
high
worldwide
with explanations for why they do not
estimates. Valid arguments can be made for
qualify as "major world religions" on this
different figures, but if the same criteria are
list.
used for all groups, the relative order should
This world religions listing is derived from
be the same. Further details and sources are
the statistics data in the Adherents.com
available below and in the Adherents.com
database. The list was created by the same
main database.
people who collected and organized this
A major source for these estimates is the
database, in consultation with university
detailed country-by-country analysis done
professors of comparative religions and
by David B. Barrett's religious statistics
scholars from different religions. We invite
organization, whose data are published in
additional
the Encyclopedia Britannica (including
collection of religious adherent statistics
annual updates and yearbooks) and also in
now has over 43,000 adherent statistic
the World Christian Encyclopedia (the latest
citations, for over 4,300 different faith
edition of which - published in 2001 - has
groups, covering all countries of the world.
been consulted). Hundreds of additional
This is not an absolutely exhaustive
sources
providing more thorough and
compilation of all such data, but it is by far
detailed research about individual religious
the largest compilation available on the
groups have also been consulted.
Internet. Various academic researchers and
This listing is not a comprehensive list of all
religious representatives regularly share
religions, only the "major" ones (as defined
documented
below). There are distinct religions other
Adherents.com so that their information can
than the ones listed above. But this list
be available in a centralized database.
end
of
reasonable
input.
The
adherent
Adherents.com
statistics
with
8
World Religion
Statistics
and
geography
citations
for
Catholics, Protestants, Karaites, Wiccans,
religions not on this list, as well as
Shiites, etc.) can be found in the main
subgroups within these religions (such as
Adherents.com database. Back
Christianity:
world, or 33% of the total population.
Regardless of the degree of accuracy of this
David
B.
Barrett's
World
Christian
figure, Christianity, if taken as a whole, is
Encyclopedia (1994 update) gives an oft-
unarguably the largest world religion - the
cited figure of 1.9 billion Christians (or
largest religion in the world. (Keep in mind
about 33% of the world population), and
that although Christianity is the world's
projected that by the year 2000 there will be
largest religion, it is an umbrella term that
2.1 billion Christians in the world. The 2001
comprises many different branches and
edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia
denominations.) Back
stated there were 2.1 billion Christians in the
Islam:
Contemporary figures for Islam are usually
Christians in the world. Adherents.com has
between 1 billion and 1.8 billion, with 1
no reason to dispute this. It seems likely, but
billion being a figure frequently given in
we would point out that there are different
many comparative religion texts, probably
opinions on the matter, and a Muslim may
because it's such a nice, round number. That
define
figure appears to be dated, however.
Christian. In any case, the primary criterion
Relatively high birth rates in Muslim
for the rankings on this page is self-
countries continue to make Islam a fast-
identification, which has nothing to do with
growing religion. The largest and best
practice.
known branches of Islam are Sunni and
Smaller groups within Islam include Sufis
Shi'ite. More.
(although some Sufis regard their practice of
Many Muslims (and some non-Muslim)
Sufism as pan-denominational or non-
observers
more
denominational), Druze, the U.S.-based
practicing
Nation of Islam (previously known as
practicing
claim
that
Muslims
there
than
are
"practicing"
differently
than
a
9
World Religion
"Black Muslims"), and Ahmadiyya. As is
identification.
true with all major religions, there are
disagreements
adherents within all branches of Islam who
internal concepts of belief or practice are
consider some of or all of the other branches
normal, but are largely immaterial with
heterodox or not actually part of their
regards
religion. But these classifications are based
statistical
to
Protestations
based
historical,
on
and
exclusivistic
taxonomic
and
classification.Back
primarily on historical lineage and self-
Hinduism:
The highest figure we've seen for Hinduism
than the highest figure we've seen for Islam.
(1.4 billion, Clarke, Peter B., editor), The
But this is an aberration. World Hinduism
Religions of the World: Understanding the
adherent figures are usually between 850
Living Faiths, Marshall Editions Limited:
million and one billion. More.
USA (1993); pg. 125.) is actually higher
Back
Chinese traditional religion:
In older world religion books the estimates
word "traditional" is preferable to "folk"
of the total number of adherents of
because "folk" might imply only the local,
Confucianism range up to 350 million.
tribal customs and beliefs such as ancestor
Other books, including older versions of the
worship and nature beliefs. But "Chinese
Encyclopedia
listed
traditional religion" is meant to categorize
Chinese religionists under "Taoism," with
the common religion of the majority Chinese
adherent estimates up to about 200 million.
culture: a combination of Confucianism,
But these figures are all based on counts of
Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as the
the same segment of Chinese people
traditional non-scriptural/local practices and
throughout the world -- people practicing
beliefs. For most religious Chinese who do
what is, sociologically, more accurately
not explicitly follow a different religion such
called Chinese traditional religion, and
as Islam or Christianity, these different
often called Chinese folk religion. The
ancient Chinese philosophies and traditions
Britannica,
have
10
World Religion
form a single, seamless composite religious
practice a "pure" form of Taoist religion
culture
worldview.
(often Tao-Te-Ching-based), unconcerned
Communist laws banning most religion and
with Confucianism, Chinese folk practices,
recent rapid changes introducing increasing
ancestor
and
devotion,
etc.
Back
openness make accurate estimates difficult
to obtain. Recent figures for the number of
"Chinese religionists" include 220 and 225
million.
Barrett
(World
Christian
Encyclopedia, 2001) classified 384,806,732
"Chinese
folk-religionists,"
6,298,597
"Confucianists" and 2,654,514 "Taoists," or
about
394
million
total.
In comparative religion texts Confucianism,
Taoism
and
Chinese
Buddhism
are
sometimes addressed in three separate
chapters, and sometimes treated in one
chapter as "Chinese religion." Even today
there
are
very
valid
reasons
for
distinguishing Taoism from Confucianism,
and distinguishing both from Chinese
Buddhism and non-scriptural Chinese folk
religion.
historical
For
religious,
and
distinguishing
philosophical,
scriptural
between
these
purposes,
separate
traditions is quite manageable. There are a
number of people who identify themselves
specifically as "Taoist" (In 1990-1991 there
were 23,000 in the U.S., 1,720 in Canada,
and 324 in New Zealand, for example.)
There are a smaller number of people,
including non-Chinese, who consciously
Fifty years ago religious Taoism was one of
the largest, strongest institutions in China.
Since the Cultural Revolution and the
government's campaign to destroy nonCommunist religion, Taoism lost, for the
most part, the main mechanism through
which it remained distinct from the larger
Chinese religious environment: its large
numbers of temples and Taoist clergy.
Although Islam, Buddhism and Christianity
have bounced back and even surpassed preCommunist levels in China, Taoism has not.
Today, despite the existence of some selfidentified Taoists and pure Taoists in the
West, Taoism is difficult to isolate as a
large, independent religion from a statistical
and sociological perspective. Hence, in this
list, which is explicitly statistical and
sociological in perspective, Taoism should
be thought of as a major branch of Chinese
traditional
religion.
The situation is similar with Confucianism.
In the latest edition of the Encyclopedia
Britannica lists over 5 million Confucianists
in its summary table of world religions.
Their
note
explains
that
these
are
11
World Religion
Confucianists outside of China, mostly in
schools and institutes in Korea. But the
Korea. (The Encyclopedia lists "Chinese
Adherents.com
folk religion" separately.) It is true that
Confucianists under the "Chinese traditional
recent census data show about five million
religion" grouping, rather than separating
Koreans
them based only on what country they live
name
Confucianism
as
their
religion, and there are even some Confucian
list
leaves
these
in.Back
Buddhism:
World estimates for Buddhism vary between
230 and 500 million, with most around 350
million. More.
Back
12