- Plural of religion
The world's principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups or world religions. According to the 2005 survey of Encyclopædia Britannica, the vast majority of religious and spiritual adherents follow Christianity (33.06% of world population), Islam (20.28%), Hinduism (13.33%), Chinese folk religion (6.27%) or Buddhism (5.87%). The irreligious and atheists are 14.27% and 3.97% follow indigenous tribal religions.
These spiritual traditions may be either combined into larger super-groups, or separated into smaller sub-denominations. Christianity, Islam and Judaism (and sometimes the Bahá'í Faith) are summarized as Abrahamic religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism are classified as Indian religions (or Dharmic religions). Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Taoism and Shintō are classified as East Asian religions (or Far Eastern, Chinese, or Taoic religions).
Conversely, the major spiritual traditions may be parsed into denominations:
- Christianity into Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Nestorianism (see Christian denominations)
- Islam into Sunnism, Shi'ism, Sufism, and Kharijites (see divisions of Islam)
- Hinduism into Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Smartism, and others (see Hindu denominations)
- Buddhism into Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (see Schools of Buddhism)
- Judaism into Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform (see Jewish denominations)
For a more comprehensive list of religions and an outline of some of their basic relationships, please see the article list of religions.
Historical notionsThe concept of "world religion" is historically based on a subjective perception of temporal or theological importance, usually from a Western, "Christian" (or at least "Abrahamic") perspective.
Early Christian scholars, the earliest known classifiers of major religions, recognized two "proper" religions, Christianity and Judaism, besides heretical deviations from Christianity, and idolatrous relapse or paganism. Islamic theology recognizes Christians and Jews as "People of the Book" rather than idolaters, although Christians are criticized for worshiping Christ as a god rather than following Christ as a prophet and messenger. The Christian view long classified Islam as one heresy among others.
Views evolved during the Enlightenment however, and by the 19th century Western scholars considered the five "world religions" to be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. These remain the classic "world religions."
Modern classificationsModern classifications typically list major religious groups by number of adherents, not by historical or theological notability. Most dramatically, this affects Judaism, which holds the position of "world religion" as the foundational tradition of the "Abrahamic" group, but which in terms of adherents ranks below 0.25% of world population, behind Sikhism.
The remaining four classic world religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, are the largest contemporary religions by far. They each have more than 300 million adherents, more than ten times the number of the next largest organized religion (Sikhism, ca. 19 million per the Christian Science Monitor source cited below).
An example of a modern listing of "world religions" is that of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, listing twelve "long established, major world religions, each with over three million followers", alphabetically:
The Adherents.com list of "twelve classical world religions" is nearly identical, but replaces Vodou with Zoroastrianism.
The "World's Major Religions" list published in the New York Public Library Student's Desk Reference omits Vodou and Zoroastrianism, as well as Jainism and Sikhism, but lists the Eastern Orthodox Church, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism as separate religions.
The Christian Science Monitor, in a 1998 article "Top 10 Organized Religions in the World," provides a listing of the largest "organized religions" http://www.adherents.com/misc/rel_by_adh_CSM.html:
In comparison with the Ontario Consultants list above, the Christian Science Monitor omits Taoism and Vodou as "non-organized."
Other "major religions" listed by Adherents.com (2007), not found on the above lists, are:
- tribal religions (Shamanism, Animism): roughly 300 million
- African traditional and diasporic (including Vodou): roughly 100 million
- Chinese traditional (including Taoism and Confucianism): 394 million
- Juche (North Korean state ideology): 19 million
- Cao Dai: 4 million
- Tenrikyo: 2 million
- Neopaganism: 1 million
- Unitarian-Universalism: 800,000
- Rastafarianism: 600,000
ClassificationReligious 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 India and Far Eastern religions in East Asia. Another group with supra-regional influence is African diasporic religions, which have their origins in Central and West Africa.
- Abrahamic religions are by far the largest group, and these consist primarily of Christianity, Islam and Judaism (sometimes Bahá'í Faith is also included). They are named for their common patriarch Abraham, and are unified by their strict monotheism. Today, around 3.4 billion people are followers of Abrahamic religions and are spread widely around the world apart from the regions around southeast Asia and China.
- Indian religions originated in Greater India and tend to share a number of key concepts, such as dharma and karma. They are of the most influence across the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, South East Asia, as well as isolated parts of Russia. The main Indian religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Indian religions mutually influenced each other.
- Far Eastern religions consist of several East Asian religions which make use of the concept of Tao (in Chinese) or Do (in Japanese or Korean). They include Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Chondogyo, Caodaism and Yiguandao, as well as Far Eastern Buddhism (in which the group overlaps with the "Indian" group).
- Indigenous tribal religions, formerly found on every continent, now marginalized by the major organized faiths, but persisting as undercurrents of folk religion. Includes African traditional religions, Asian Shamanism, Native American religions, Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal traditions and arguably Chinese folk religion (overlaps with Far Eastern religions).
- New religious movements, a heterogeneous group of religious faiths emerging since the 19th century, often syncretizing, re-interpreting or reviving aspects of older traditions (Bahá'í, Hindu reform movements (Hindu revivalism), Ayyavazhi, Pentecostalism, polytheistic reconstructionism), some inspired by science-fiction (UFO religions, Scientology). See List of new religious movements, list of groups referred to as cults.
Demographic distribution of the major super-groupings mentioned is shown in the table below:
Religious demographicssplitsection Religious demographics see 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 USA 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]"
- Whether to count only those who actively "practice" a particular religion
- Whether to count based on a concept of "adherence"
- Whether to count only those who expressly self-identify with a particular denomination
- Whether to count only adults, or to include children as well.
- Whether to rely only on official government-provided statistics
- Whether to use multiple sources and ranges or single "best source(s)"
Largest religions or belief systems by number of adherents
This listing includes both organized religions, which have unified belief codes and religious hierarchies, and informal religions, such as Chinese folk religions. For completeness, it also contains a category for the non-religious, although their views would not ordinarily be considered a religion.
2.1 billion, with major branches as follows:
- See also the List of Christian denominations by number of members and List of Christian denominations pages (Non-denominational statistics are not shown.)
- Roman Catholic Church: 1.05 billion
- Eastern Orthodox Church: 240 million
- African Initiated Church: 110 million
- Pentecostalism: 105 million
- Reformed/Presbyterian/Congregational/United: 75 million
- Anglicanism/Episcopal Church: 73 million
- Baptist: 70 million
- Methodism: 70 million
- Lutheran: 64 million
- Jehovah's Witnesses: 14.8 million
- Latter-day Saints: 12.5 million
- Seventh-day Adventist Church: 12 million
- Apostolic/New Apostolic: 10 million
- Restoration Movement: 5.4 million
- New Thought (Unity, Christian Science, etc.): 1.5 million
- Brethren (incl. Plymouth): 1.5 million
- Mennonite: 1.25 million
- Friends/Quakers: 300,000
- Islam: 1.5 billion, with major branches as follows:
- Category includes a wide range of beliefs, without specifically adhering to a religion or sometimes specifically against dogmatic religions. The category includes humanism, deism, pantheism, rationalism, freethought, agnosticism and atheism. Broadly labeled humanism, this group of non religious people are third largest in the world. For more information, see the Adherents.com discussion of this category and the note below.
- Hinduism: 900 million, with major branches as follows:
- Chinese folk religion: 394 million
- Buddhism: 376 million, with major branches as follows:
- Primal indigenous (tribal religions): 300 million
African traditional and diasporic:
- Not a single organized religion, this includes several traditional African beliefs and philosophies such as those of the Yoruba, Ewe (Vodou) and the Bakongo. These three religious traditions (especially that of the Yoruba) have been very influential to the diasporic beliefs of the Americas such as Condomble, Santeria and voodoo. The religious capital of the Yoruba religion is at Ile Ife.
- Sikhism: 23 million
- Juche (North Korean Communism) 19 million
- Spiritism: 15
- Not a single organized religion, includes a variety of beliefs including some forms of Umbanda.
- Judaism: 14 million, with major branches as follows:
- Bahá'í Faith: 7 million
- Jainism: 4.2 million, with two significant branches:
- This number states the number of actual self-identifying practising primary followers of Shinto. If everyone were included who is considered Shinto by some people due to ethnic or historical categorizations, the number would be considerably higher — as high as 100 million (according to the adherents.com source used for the statistics in this section).
- Cao Dai: 4 million
- Zoroastrianism: between 150,000-250,000, substantiated by the following lists at adherents.com: 12, but elsewhere accidentally inserting one zero too many. The breakdown by major communities is as follows:
- Tenrikyo: 2 million
- Neopaganism: 1 million
- Unitarian Universalism: 800,000
- Rastafari: 600,000
- Scientology: 500,000
- c) Unlike the source site adherents.com, this list classifies Juche under the secular/non-religious category, since it does not fit most definitions of religion and is considered secular by its followers.
- e) The main list at adherents.com estimates 2.6 million Zoroastrianism, but its detailed section refers to "less than 200,000."
Trends in adherenceSince the late 19th century the demographics of religion have changed a great deal. Some countries with a historically large Christian population have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of professed active Christians. 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. At the same time, 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, particularly in the forms of Neopaganism and Far Eastern religions.
Within the world's four largest religions, Christianity currently has the greatest growth by numbers and Islam has the fastest growth by percentage. Hinduism is undergoing a revival and a globalization, and many temples are being built, both in India and in other countries. Analyzing percentage growth is a difficult matter - see this article for a discussion. However, the World Christian Encyclopedia and World Christian Trends reported these numbers from growth from 1990-2000:
- 2.65% - Zoroastrianism
- 2.28% - Bahá'í Faith
- 2.13% - Islam
- 1.87% - Sikhism
- 1.69% - Hinduism
- 1.36% - Christianity
- 1.09% - Buddhism
A 2002 Pew Research Center study found that, generally, poorer nations had a larger proportion of citizens who found religion to be very important than richer nations, with the exception of the United States.
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