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Contents: Major Religions | Sects-Location-Leaders | Growth/Decline | Other Spiritual Philosophies | Why is Religion Important

See also Detailed statistics, World Religions and Maps for more.

Major Religions (See sects below.)
Note: Statistics vary all over the place because churches use different methods for counting members. We've tried to pick numbers from reliable sources that fall in the middle.
Religion Adherants Percent of pop. Founder Diety Founded Sacred Writings Place of Worship Local Leader
Wrld US
Christianity Christians 33% 78.5% Jesus Christ God (The Trinity)1 35 AD Bible Church, Cathedral, Temple, Mission Pastor, Priest, Minister, Elder
Middle Eastern religions
Islam Muslims 20% 0.6%2 Muhammad Allah1 570 AD Koran (Qur'an) & Hadith Mosque Imam
Judaism Jews 0.2% 1.7% Abraham Yahweh (God)1 2,100 BCE Hebrew Scripture or Tanach8 (Torah, Prophets) and Talmud Synagogue Rabbi
Bahá'í Bahá'ís 0.1% .07% Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad 1850 many
India's religions
Hinduism Hindus 13% 0.4%   Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti, Krishna,5 1,800 BCE Vedas (Rig Veda), Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita Mandir, Mandira, Temple, and other Priest
Sikhism Sikhs 0.3% 0.2% Nanak Dev Sat nam 1,500 Guru Granth Sahibs Gurdwaras Granthi
Jainism Jains .06% .05% Vardhamana (Mahavira) 550 BCE Kalpa Sūtra
Agama
...
Eastern Asia religions
Chinese religion is composed of four main traditions: Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The religious outlook of most Chinese people consists of some combination of beliefs and practices from these four traditions. It is rare for only one to be practiced to the exclusion of the others.
Buddhism Buddhists 6%3 0.7% Gautama Buddah4 none4 563 BCE Pali Canon (Tipitaka) & Sutras Pagoda, Stupa, Temple Monk
Chinese Folk6   6%     > 1,000 BCE liu ching7    
Taoism6   <0.1% Lao-tzu   604 BCE Tao-te-ching
I-ching
   
Confucianism6   <0.1%   Confucius   551 BCE Analects
(Lun Lu),
Book of Mencius
Hsiao Ching
Temple, Shrine, Seowon  
Shintoism Shintos .06% 660 BCE
Cao Dai Cao Đàist .06% 1921
Other religions
Religion Adherants Percent of pop. Founder Diety Founded Sacred Writings Place of Worship Local Leader
Wrld US
Indigenous/
tribal
6%             Shaman
Neopaganism .02%            
Unitarian .01% 0.1%         Minister
Scientology <.01%         Minister
New Religions 1.7%  
Other 0.9% 1.5%
Athiest 2.5% %
No Religion or agnostic 13.5% 16.6% Religion is on the decline in developed countries. See World Religious demgraphics.
Other:
In addition to the table above they include (number worldwide; e.g. 800K = 800,000): Unitarian (800K), New religions such as The Unification Church ('Moonies') (5K), Scientology (500K) and Eckankar, Movements like Humanist, New Age, Spiritism (15M).
Others such as Baha'i Faith (7M), Jainism (4.2M), Shinto (4M), Zoroastrianism (2.6M), Wicca all with less than 1%.
Sources: Adherents.com, ReligiousTolerance.org, Global religion statistics at bible.ca, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2010

  1. Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in one God (monotheism) and the founders are all descendants of Abraham. But, they call God by different names, Yahweh (YHWH*) (Modern Hebrew), Jehovah (anglicized version of YHWH), Allah (Al-Lah) (Arabic) and God to name a few.
    The New Testament of the Christian Bible is a continuation of the Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, so they have the same God, although Christians view God as three persons (the trinity), Father, Son (Christ) & Holy Spirit; See Deity of Christ.

    Christian fundamentalists will point to some different concepts of God in the Bible and Quran to show that the Muslim God is different.

    However, According to "A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam" (1993) by Karen Armstrong, "Muhammad thought that al_Lah was identical to the Jews and Christians God." and "They have developed remarkable similar ideas of God."
    See God on the Islam page

    See the name of God for more information.

  2. Estimates of the number of Muslims in North America range from a little over one million adults (0.6%) to seven million adults and children (4%). We used the number from Church Statistics and Religious Affiliations - U.S. Religious Landscape Study - Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2010. See also: How many Muslims are there?.
    and Global Muslim population hits 1.47 billion at MuslimBridges.org
    Many Muslims (and some non-Muslim) observers claim that there are more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians in the world. Adherents.com has no reason to dispute this. It seems likely, but we would point out that there are different opinions on the matter, and a Muslim may define "practicing" differently than a Christian.
  3. There is no consensus on the number of Buddhists in the world. See Buddhism at ReligiousTolerance.org
  4. Siddhārtha Gautama (Siddhattha Gotama or Gautama Buddah) was a spiritual teacher in the north eastern region of the Indian subcontinent who founded Buddhism.

    According to Pali Buddhism, the Buddha rejected being deified, in some streams of Mahayana Buddhism Gautama Buddha is worshipped as 'an omnipotent divinity endowed with numerous supernatural attributes and qualities'.
    The Theravada school, which claims to have guarded the unaltered message of its founder, teaches that there is neither a personal god, nor a spiritual or material substance that exists by itself as Ultimate Reality.
    See Buddhism

  5. There are 330 million gods of the Hindu tradition.
    Krishna is simultaneously himself and an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, the creator god and lord of the universe.
  6. Chinese Folk is a conglomerate of religious beliefs and practices with no central organization and vary by local custom. It may include elements of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. San-chiao ["three ways"] refers to this combination. People who consider themselves strict Confucianists or Taoists are less than 1%.
    Confucianism is not officially considered a world religion because it is not organized as such. It is often grouped with religions, however, because it is a spiritual philosophy a social ethic, a political ideology, and a scholarly tradition.
  7. In his educational program Confucius (500 BCE) is supposed to have used six texts kown as the Liu shu, or "six disciplines," later known as the liu ching or "six classics", incuding: I ching (Book of Changes), Shih ching (Book of Odes), Shu ching (Book of History), Li chi (Book of Rites), Ch'un-ch'iu (Spring and Autumn Annals) and Lueh ching (Book of Music). Taoist philosopher Chuangtzu referred to these texts as the Six Classics.
  8. The Tanakh or Hebrew Scripture refers the Torah (Law) and Prophets, which also make up the Old Testament of the Bible. The Talmud is the "oral tradition", written down by the Palestinian rabbis after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, with their commentaries (The "Mishnah"). It is a central text of mainstream Judaism, in the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history.
    See Also Talmud at JewFAQ.org

According to some 25-40% of the people in the world have not been exposed to Christianity.

In computing numbers, Adherents.com uses children as well as adults, rather than "full communicants". So 33% Christian is 2.1 Billion and 20% Islam is 1.3 Billion based on a world population of 6.5 Billion in 2005.
71.7% of the population is over 14 years old which would result in 1.5 Billion Christian adults and 934 Million Muslim adults.

There is also the issue of active members vs. those who just identify themselves as a member of a religion in a poll. According to one source 43% of U.S.Christians only attend church a few times a year or never.
See: Religious attendance statistics in dispute a ThinkingAnglicans.org.uk

See Detailed statistics and World Religions for more.
  The glossary for short definitions.
  Growth Rates.

According to the According to the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones. 34,000 separate Christian groups have been identified in the world. "Over half of them are independent churches that are not interested in linking with the big denominations."



Sects - Locations - Leaders

Religion/
Sect
World Pop. Leader Primary Areas See Regional breakdown at World Religions
Christians 33.1%   Europe (76%), The Americas (80%), Africa (48%)
Catholic 17.5% Pope Latin America (71%), Europe (37%), Philippines (81%)
Protestant 12.0%   U.S. (54%), Oceania (50%)
Orthodox 3.6%   Europe(23%)
See Christian Denominations
Islam1 الإسلام‎ 19.6%   Middle East, N. & W. Africa; See country distribution
Sunni Islam أهل السنة 16.6%   Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq
See Muslim countries in world religions.
Shī'ah Islam شيعة
(Shi'ite, Shia)
2.8% Ayatollahs Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq
Nation of Islam
(Black Muslim Movement) BMM
2
< 0.1% Malcom X
Louis Farrakhan
N. America
Hindu 13.4%    
Vaishnavite 9.1%   India, Nepal
Shaivites 3.6%   India, Nepal, Sri Lanka
Hare Krishna3 <0.1%   U.S.
Sikhism 0.3% Gurus & Bhagats Punjab in India & Pakistan
Buddhists 5.9%   Far East
Mahayana 3.3%   N. India, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam
  Tibetan
  (Lamaism, Vajrayāna or Tantric)
0.4% Dalai Lama
Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia
Theravada 2.3%   Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam, China, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia
Judiasm 0.2%   Approximately 5 million of the world's 13 million Jews live in the United States and another 5 million live in Israel.
Orthodox   10% of American Jews. 15-20% of Israelis describe themselves as haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or dati (Orthodox). The rest describe themselves as masorti (traditionally observant, but not as dogmatic as the Orthodox)
Conservative 26% of American Jews
Reformed or Liberal   35% of American Jews
Not Practicing   29% of American Jews do not belong to a Synagogue. More than half of all Israelis describe themselves as hiloni (secular).
No Religion, agnostic, or Athiest 16%   Scandinavia (45-80%), Czech Republic (60%), Viet Nam (80%), Japan (65%)
Others at: ReligiousTolerance.org, Global religion statistics at bible.ca, New Religions
See the glossary for short definitions.

1. Sufis are another large group of Muslims. Sufism is not a sect like Sunni or Shi'ite, but rather it's Islamic mysticism. Sufi orders largely follow one of the four madhhabs (jurisprudent schools of thought) of Sunni Islam

2. The Black Muslim Movement or Nation of Islam was founded in 1930 in Detroit and led by Elijah Muhammad, Malclom X and Louis Farrakhan.

3. The Hare Krishna movement based on the Vaishnavite Hindu philosophy was established in America in 1965.

Growth rates:

Estimates very all over the place. Some say Islam is growing much faster than Christianity, however there is no reliable information on this. Christianity is on the decline in western Europe but is growing in developing areas. The best estimates I could find are that worldwide Islam is growing at 2.1-2.9% and Christianity is growing at 1.3-2.3%. Hinduism and Buddhism are stable. World population is growing at about 0.8% per year.
People identifying themselves as having no religious belief is increasing in Europe and North America but this seems to be offset by religious growth in developing regions. At bible.ca they estimate the 2050 makeup:
Christian Muslim Hindu Buddhists other no
religion
Catholic Protestant Independent Other Total
2000 17.5% 5.6% 6.4% 3.5% 33% 20% 13% 5.9% 13% 15%
2050 17.6% 6.4% 8.5% 1.5% 34% 25% 13% 4.8% 11% 12%
See Growth Rates in World Religions
and Religion Stats for the U.S.
Other Spiritual Philosophies:
Other spiritual philosophies which are usually not considered religions, but may be by some.
See Spiritual Philosophies for more.

Why is Religion Important

In his course "God and Mankind: Comparative Religions", Robert Oden 1, poses several questions:
  1. What is Religion?
    He says most definitions are either too precise (e.g. "faith in God") or imprecise (e.g. 1950s existentialist view - "ultimate concern.").
    Oden proposes H.H. Penner's definition "Religion is a communication system that is constituted by supernatural beings and is related to specific patterns of behavior", as a better one.
    See also: Philosophy of Religion/What is religion? at WikiBooks.
  2. Why Study Religion?
    I. A significant number of people (more that half the worlds population) are involved in religious activities and 84% describe themselves as adherents to a particular religion. The decline of theism in Europe (71.5% in 1981 to 69% in 1999) is offset by an increase in Asia and Africa.
    II. Religion is inextricably bound up with other areas of human action and conduct.
    In Michael Hart's "The 100: A ranking of the Most Influential Persons In History", religious founders/leaders take up 4 of the top 5 rankings.

    Some examples from me, not Oden.

    • The Good:
    • Religious organizations provided Millions (Catholic Charities $7M, United Jewish Communities $4.3M, Lutherans $5M, ...) in aid for Katrina victims. Over 100,000 volunteers helped rebuild (e.g. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance provided more than 41,000 volunteers and 1 million hours).
    • Missionary efforts both domestically and in third world countries have built and funded schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions to save the lives and educate many millions. The moderately sized church (1,200 members) I belong to gives over $475,000 annually for mission projects, 80% to third world countries.
    • Religion has saved countless numbers from addictions like substance abuse, including one president of the United States.
    • The Bad:
    • Over $74 million total was spent on campaigns both for and against California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative in 2008, which banned same-sex marriage and was passed 52% to 48%.
      I don't want to take sides on this issue, but there certainly would have been better ways to use that money; Especially since the proposition was overturned by a Federal Judge in 2010.
      This of course was nothing compared to historical effort put into other religious endeavors with no direct social benefit; e.g. The pyramids in Egypt so the pharos could get into the after life or the crusades.
    • The Ugly:
    • Religious wars have cost countless lives from the Crusades to Iraq-Iran (Sunni vs Shiites) to N. Ireland (Catholic vs Protestant) to the Arab Israeli Conflict. Not to mention 9/11.
      See the Wars Page.
    • Abortion clinic doctors were murdered in 1993, 1994, 1998 and 2009. Most by Christian fundamentalists.
      See Violence at the criticism page.
    • You Decide:
    • Karl Rove (George W. Bush advisor) claimed support by the Christian Right won the 2004 election for G. W. Bush. 1
  3. How to study it.
    Oden concludes religion is too complex and "we don't know the key to unlocking the understanding of religion." He gives several approaches to the third question; Comparative approach, historical, ....

    In his second lecture Oden looks at religious cosmologies as a way of comparing religions.


    The Bible alone has had an immeasurable influence on Western Culture. See the Bible page.
    Max Müler in Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873), borrows from Goethe on Languages, saying that "he who knows only one religion, knows none".

    See:
    Ancient Writings and Laws
    common characteristics of religions.
    Buddhism and Christianity

___________________
1. Subsequent exit poll analysis showed the the Christian Right did not have as large an impact on the 2004 outcome as claimed.


This web site is only a superficial look at some religions. It is not a substitute for a more in depth comparison in books or other web sites on the subject. I am most interested in:
  • Why does religion play such an important role in some people/societies and not in others. I think it is more complex than God blessed some with faith and not others?
    There seem to be more books published each year on subjects from the existence of God, God and politics, to the Creation - Evolution - Intelligent Design debate.
  • How is the role of religion different between religions?
  • Do biblical prophesies fulfilled, Christ's claim to divinity and his miracles give Christianity (the world's largest religion) more credibility?
  • Why do some otherwise "normal" intelligent people who are also religious fundamentalists take seemingly irrational views regarding political and scientific issues, outside the realm of religion. See Faith vs Reason.
  • Religious Tolerance
I have not spend a significant amount of time studying these questions, and simply point to some interesting resources (books, web sites, ..) I've come across.

The bottom line for me is best stated by Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and scientist who studied religion after a religious experience. His notes were published, posthumously, in Pensées. His conclusion is similar to Oden's; "There is no simple answer or proof". In it he states:

"All men seek happiness. ... We are incapable of attaining the good by our own efforts."
"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."
[Pensees #148] (The section number varies by translation)
A similar quote: "We have a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts." has been attributed to Pascal and C.S. Lewis, but it doesn't exist in either's writings that I could find.
See also: Pascal's wager
World Religions
Religion and the human psyche or brain or neuroscience.
Christianity
   Why Christianity?
  Holy Bible
  Reformation
  History of Presbyterianism
Web Portal Indexes Religion and Spirituality at Google & Yahoo

Detailed statistics

Miscellaneous
Glossary
Collection of statistics about religious groups at www.adherents.com
Religions of the World at Minnesota State U.
Buddhism and the Definition of Religion: One More Time buy William Herbrechtsmeier
Globalization and religion in Asia: is religion an equal competitor?
Religion at Carl Johnson's web site
Comparative Religions - U.S. Religious Landscape Study - Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Religious Giving
Religious Stories and Parables
Religious Books
Politics and Religion
Faith and Reason
Christian Fundamentalism and Fundamentalists
Creation - Evolution - Intelligent Design
Church and State
Psychology of Religion by Michael Nielsen, Ph.D.
The Holy Bible
  Bible Dates ,   Biblical Genealogies.
  Did Moses write Genesis and the other books of the Torah?
Congress of World Religions - Dynamics of Religions in the World Christianity Today
The Da Vinci Code, a best-selling novel by Dan Brown.
God and Mankind: Comparative Religions, 2008, By Robert Oden, Carleton College
Comparitive Religions, 2008, (Audio lectures) Charles Kimball, Th.D.
Mircea Eliade (1907 - 1986) was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day.
Charts of World Religions, Zondervan
The Encyclopedia of Religion
The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
David A. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001 data at: Global religion statistics at bible.ca
World Religions and 101 Cults
Major Branches of Religions (www.adherhttp://www.adherents.com/adh_branches.html)

Bibl:
1. Robert Oden - Oden has an impressive academic background, speaks nine languages and has spent over 25 years studying, writing and lecturing on religion, including serving as chair of the religion department at Dartmouth College.
He was also headmaster of the Hotchkiss School and as of 2003 he was the president of Carleton College.

His course, "God and Mankind: Comparative Religions" is available on Audio CD or for downloading and consists of 8 lectures on a variety of subjects from ancient religions to divine justice.

Books:
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Karen Armstrong

Links:
BBC - Religions
The Big Religion Comparison Chart: Compare World Religions - ReligionFacts
My blow - some personal thoughts
End time Predictions
The Golden Rule
Religious and Spiritual Organizations - Davis Wiki
American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS)
Conservative Christians and Republicans
List of religions and spiritual traditions - Wikipedia

last updated 21 July 2014