Ten Different Religions

According to the New York Times Almanac, four religions claim 75% of the world’s population: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Approximately 15% of the world’s population is atheist or non-religious. And the remaining 10% or so belong to an assortment of other religions. The following is a listing of ten religions with a very brief definition of each. (Much of the information is attributed to the 2008 New York Times Almanac.) A good book is Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Beliefs: Ideas, Theologies, Mysteries, and Movements. A great web-site which gives information on various religions is http://www.religionfacts.com/ . Have fun browsing!

  1. This is the largest and most wide-spread religion in the world: 2.1 billion adherents in 238 countries. There are over 33,000 different branches of Christianity, called denominations, the largest being the Roman Catholic Church with over a billion members. Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, read the Bible (at least 66 different writings, depending on the denomination), and gather in churches.
  2. This is the second largest religion: 1.34 billion followers in 184 countries. There are 24 countries in which Islam is the state religion. The largest Muslim country is Indonesia. The two major branches of Islam are Sunni and Shi’ite. Muslims follow the teachings of Muhammad, read the Quran, and practice the five pillars of Islam: professing faith in one God (Allah), prayer five times a day, charity to the poor, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during a lifetime.
  3. There are almost a billion Hindus in the world, mostly located in India and Nepal. Since Hinduism does not have an aggressive missionary approach to the rest of the world, it is not as wide-spread as Christianity or Islam. Hinduism is the oldest of the great religions, going back as far as 3000 B.C. It is a collection of varied traditions and practices and beliefs: reincarnation, karma, dharma, yoga, social castes, and respect for all living things. Some common texts are the Upanishads.
  4. Approximately 400 million people in 92 countries follow Buddhist beliefs and practices. China has the most (100 million) and it is especially concentrated in Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Bhutan. “Buddha” means the “enlightened one.” The religion was established by Siddhartha Gautama around 500 B.C. Buddhists read the Tipitaka (Three Baskets) which tell of Buddha’s life and teachings. Buddhists are known for their monastic orders (in which people withdraw from everyday life to meditate and pray) and their temples where individuals can meditate.
  5. Although this religion is relatively small (13 million), it is perhaps the most influential religion in world history: providing the foundation for both Christianity and Islam. About 40% of Judaism’s followers (Jews) live in the U.S., about 40% live in Israel, and most of the rest live in Europe. The beginning of Judaism goes back to Moses and his ancestors—and his liberating journey from Egypt to present day Israel. Jews read the Hebrew Bible, 24 writings which are found in the Christian Old Testament. Jewish adherents gather in synagogues and put a significant emphasis on their ritual traditions and ethical teachings.
  6. There are about 13 million Sikhs, most live in India. The religion was started by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) in order to reconcile Islam and Hinduism. He could see the value of both religions, and sought a religion which would reflect both. “Sikhism” means “discipleship.
  7. This refers to both the philosophy of Lao Tzu and the Tao religion from ancient China. Leo Tzu wrote down 81 aphorisms which make up the Tao Te Ching. The religion went through three phases. Up until around 200 B.C., it consisted of practices of abstinence in order to escape the evil of the world. For the next 400 years, it entered a magical phase, seeing the development of alchemy, fortune-telling, and exorcism. The last phase consisted of a religion developed around the magic (second phase.) In recent years, Taoism as a philosophy has also experienced revival. Taoism has had significant impact in North America through its philosophy, acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, and martial arts. There are between 20 and 40 million Taoists in the world, most in China.
  8. The founder of Confucianism was Kong Fuzi (Confucius), 551- 479 B.C. He taught that the way out of social chaos was found in practicing wisdom—particularly wisdom which had accumulated through the ages. Confucian philosophy has been influential in China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Confucianism teaches humanism mixed with openness to supernatural realities. There are about 5-6 practicing Confucians in the world today.
  9. The ancient Japanese saw this religion evolve around 500 B.C. It means “the way of the gods.” Many Japanese follow both Shintoism and Buddhism. The primary command of Shintoism is to be loyal to one’s ancestors. It has no scriptures and a very loosely organized priesthood. It does have a collection of stories about creation and the lives of the Kami (nature gods.) There are about 3-4 million adherents to Shintoism.
  10. About 200,000 people still practice this ancient religion originating in Iran. This religion was the state religion of several ancient empires, and as such has been influential on the development of religions such as Christianity and Islam. Zoroastrians have a strong belief in dualism: that there is a clear battle between good and evil, no in-between, no gray areas. Hell is a temporary place of suffering, but in the end, good will triumph.