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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 (33.00% 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).

For a more comprehensive list of religions and an outline of some of their basic relationships, please see the article list of religions.


World religions Edit

Historical notions Edit

The 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 classifications Edit

Modern 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 all 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:

Bahá'í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Vodou.

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[1] 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"

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:

Bahá'í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Vodou.

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[1] 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" [1]:

# Religion Number of Adherents 
1 Christianity 2.2 billion
2 Islam 1.1 billion
3 Hinduism 860 million
4 Buddhism 396 million
5 Sikhism 19 million
6 Judaism 14 million
7 Bahá'í Faith 6.1 million
8 Confucianism 5.3 million
9 Jainism 4.9 million
10 Shinto 2.8 million

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:

ClassificationEdit

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 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.

Demographic distribution of the major super-groupings mentioned is shown in the table below:

Name of Group Name of Religion Number of followers[a] Date of Origin Main regions covered
Abrahamic religions
3.4 billion
Christianity 2.1 billion[3] 1st c. Worldwide except Northwest Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Central, East, and Southeast Asia.
Islam 1.5 billion[4] 7th c. Middle East, Northern Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Western Africa, Indian subcontinent, Balkan Peninsula, Malay Archipelago with large population centers existing in Eastern Africa, Russia, China, and Europe.
Judaism 14 million [5] Iron Age Israel and among Jewish diaspora (live mostly in USA and Europe).
Bahá'í Faith 7 million 19th c. Dispersed worldwide with no major population centers
Indian religions
1.4 billion
Hinduism 900 million Ancient Times Indian subcontinent, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius , parts of Indonesia and Sri Lanka
Buddhism 376 million Iron Age East Asia, Southeast Asia, parts of Russia, South Asia.
Sikhism 23 million 16th c. India with large population centers existing in Pakistan, Africa, Canada, USA, United Kingdom
Jainism 6 - 12 million[6] Iron Age India
East Asian religions
500 million
Taoism unknown Spring and Autumn Period China, Taiwan and the Chinese diaspora
Confucianism unknown Spring and Autumn Period China, South Korea and the Chinese and Korean diasporas
Shinto 4 million no founder Japan
Caodaism 4 million 1925 Vietnam
Chinese folk religion
394 million
Chinese folk religion 394 million no founder China
Ethnic/tribal
400 million
Primal indigenous 300 million no founder Asia
African traditional and diasporic 100 million no founder Africa, Americas

Religious demographicsEdit

Template:Splitsection

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]"[7]
  • Whether to count only those who actively "practice" a particular religion[8]
  • Whether to count based on a concept of "adherence"[9]
  • Whether to count only those who expressly self-identify with a particular denomination[10]
  • Whether to count only adults, or to include children as well.
  • Whether to rely only on official government-provided statistics [11]
  • Whether to use multiple sources and ranges or single "best source(s)"

Largest religions or belief systems by number of adherents Edit

According to [2]Edit

This listing[a] 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.

  1. Christianity: 2.1 billion, with major branches as follows:
  2. Islam: 1.5 billion, with major branches as follows:[d]
  3. Secular/irreligious/agnostic/atheist/antitheistic/antireligious: 1.1 billion
    • 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. [c]
  4. Hinduism: 900 million, with major branches as follows:
  5. Chinese folk religion: 394 million
    • Not a single organized religion, includes elements of Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and traditional nonscriptural religious observance (also called "Chinese traditional religion").
  6. Buddhism: 376 million, with major branches as follows:
  7. Primal indigenous (tribal religions): 300 million
    • Not a single organized religion, includes a wide range of traditional or tribal religions, including animism, shamanism and paganism. Since African traditional and diasporic religions are counted separately in this list, most of the people counted in this group are in Asia.
  8. African traditional and diasporic: 100 million
    • 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.
  9. Sikhism: 23 million
  10. Juche (North Korean Communism) 19 million
  11. Spiritism: 15 million
    • Not a single organized religion, includes a variety of beliefs including some forms of Umbanda.
  12. Judaism: 14 million, with major branches as follows:
  13. Bahá'í Faith: 7 million
  14. Jainism: 4.2 million, with two significant branches:
  15. Shinto: 4 million
    • 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).
  16. Cao Dai: 4 million
  17. Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million with major communities as follows:
    • In India (the Parsis): est. 65,000 (2001 India Census: 69,601); Estimate of Zoroastrians of Indian origin: 100,000-110,000.
    • In Iran: est. 20,000 (1974 Iran Census: 21,400)
  18. Tenrikyo: 2 million
  19. Neopaganism: 1 million
  20. Unitarian Universalism: 800,000
  21. Rastafari: 600,000
  22. Scientology: 500,000


Notes
  • a)^ The source for most of these statistics is Adherents.com, updated 2008. These statistics are reportedly based on analysis of a range of sources on religious populations, for more on the methodology, please see Adherents.com's explanation.
  • b)^ Falun Gong itself claims 100 million followers worldwide, including 70 million in China. In contrast, the New York Times reports "over 70 million." Both numbers are from 1999. [3] counts it as part of Chinese religion
  • 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.
  • d)^ Ahmadiyya consider themselves Muslim, but are not considered Muslim by the mainstream. Adherents.com includes Druze as Muslim, but they are usually considered a distinct religious community based mostly in the Middle East who are an offshoot of Islam.

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press)Edit

(Figures are from the second edition, 2001, Volume i, page 4.)

  • Christians 1,999,563,838 (33.0%)
  • Muslims 1,188,242,789 (19.6%)
  • Hindus 811,336,265 (13.4%)
  • Nonreligious 768,158,954 (12.7%)
  • Chinese folk-religionists 384,806,732 (6.4%)
  • Buddhists 359,981,757 (5.9%)
  • Ethnoreligionists 228,366,515 (3.8%) (classified as animists ans shamanists)
  • Atheists 150,089,508 (2.5%)
  • New-Religionists 102,356,297 (1.7%) (a variety of movements, mainly in Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Vietnam; most of them would call themselves Muslims or Buddhists)
  • Sikhs 23,258,412 (0.4%)
  • Jews 14,434,039 (0.2%)
  • Spiritists 12,333,735 (0.2%) (this includes Spiritualists, other than those classified as Christian, along with Voodoo etc.)
  • Baha'is 7,106,420 (0.1%)
  • Confucianists 6,298,597 (0.1%)
  • Jains 4,217,979 (0.1%)
  • Shintoists 2,761,845 (0.0%)
  • Taoists 2,654,514 (0.0%)
  • Zoroastrians 2,543,950 (0.0%)
  • Mandeans 38,977 (0.0%)
  • Other religionists 1,028,519 (0.0%)

By regionEdit


Trends in adherenceEdit

Religious importance

World map based on the results of a 2002 Pew Research Center study on the percentage of people who regard religion as "important"

Irreligion statistics by country

World map showing the percentages of people who regard religion as "non-important"


Since 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.[12] 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[12][13]:


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

(The annual growth in the world population over the same period is 1.41%.)

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.[14]

ReferencesEdit

  1. New York: Prentice Hall (1993) p. 271
  2. adherents.com separate "African Traditional & African Diasporic Religions" from "Primal-Indigenous", admitting large overlap. Only very rough estimates for the size of these groups are possible in any case.
  3. Major Religions Ranked by Size
  4. Major Religions Ranked by Size
  5. Major Religions Ranked by Size
  6. Figures for the population of Jains differ from just over six million to twelve million due to difficulties of Jain identity, with Jains in some areas counted as a Hindu sect. Many Jains do not return Jainism as their religion on census forms for various reasons such as certain Jain castes considering themselves both Hindu and Jain. Following a major advertising campaign urging Jains to register as such, the 1981 Census of India returned 3.19 million Jains. This was estimated at the time to still be half the true number. The 2001 Census of India had 8.4 million Jains. There are an estimated 25,000 Jains in Europe (mostly in England), 21,000 in Africa, 20,000 plus in North America and 5,000 in the rest of Asia.
  7. citation needed
  8. Pew Research Center (2002-12-19). "Among Wealthy Nations U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion". Pew Research Center. http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=167. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
  9. adherents.com (2005-08-28). "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents". adherents.com. http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
  10. worldvaluessurvey.com (2005-06-28). "World Values Survey". worldvaluessurvey.com. http://www.worldvaluessurvey.com/. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
  11. unstats.un.org (2007.01.06). "United Nations Statistics Division - Demographic and Social Statistics". United Nations Statistics Division. http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sconcerns/popchar/popcharMeta.aspx. Retrieved 2007.01.06. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Barrett, David A. (2001). World Christian Encyclopedia. pp. p. 4. http://www.bible.ca/global-religion-statistics-world-christian-encyclopedia.htm. 
  13. Barrett, David; Johnson, Todd (2001). "Global adherents of the World's 19 distinct major religions". William Carey Library. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/globalchristianity/gd/wct-1-2.pdf. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
  14. Pew Research Center (2002-12-19). "Among Wealthy Nations U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion". Pew Research Center. http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=167. Retrieved 2006-10-12. 
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