Levels of participation vary within all groups. These numbers tend toward the high end of reasonable worldwide estimates. Valid arguments can be made for different figures, but if the same criteria are used for all groups, the relative order should be the same.
Further details and sources are available below and in the Adherents. A major source for these estimates is the detailed country-by-country analysis done by David B. Barrett’s religious statistics organization, whose data are published in the Encyclopedia Britannica including annual updates and yearbooks and also in the World Christian Encyclopedia the latest edition of which – published in – has been consulted.
Hundreds of additional sources providing more thorough and detailed research about individual religious groups have also been consulted. This listing is not a comprehensive list of all religions, only the “major” ones as defined below. There are distinct religions other than the ones listed above. This world religions listing is derived from the statistics data in the Adherents.
The list was created by the same people who collected and organized this database, in consultation with university professors of comparative religions and scholars from different religions.
We invite additional input. This is not an absolutely exhaustive compilation of all such data, but it is by far the largest compilation available on the Internet.
Various academic researchers and religious representatives regularly share documented adherent statistics with Adherents.
Statistics and geography citations for religions not on this list, as well as subgroups within these religions such as Catholics, Protestants, Karaites, Wiccans, Shiites, etc. This document is divided into the following sections: What is a religion? How is size determined? Christian Science Monitor Read the site’s introduction from: This is the list of religions described most often in surveys of the subject, and studied in World Religion classes some of them more for historical rather than contemporary reasons: Prentice Hall, ; pg.
Originally, three religions were recognized: Christians, Jews and pagans i. After many centuries, with the increased Western awareness of Eastern history and philosophy, and the development of Islam, other religions were added to the list. Many Far Eastern ways of thought, in fact, were given the status of “world religion” while equally advanced religious cultures in technologically less developed or pre-literate societies such as in Australia, Africa, South America, and Polynesia were grouped together as pagans or “animists,” regardless of their actual theology.
It’s true that by the standards applied at the time, the Far Eastern religions Westerners encountered were often in a different category altogether than the religions they classified as pagan. One can not directly compare, for example, the local beliefs of the Polynesian islands of Kiribati during the s to the organizational, political, literary and philosophical sophistication of Chinese Taoism during the same period.
But one could certainly question whether Japanese Shintoism, as an official “world religion”, was theologically or spiritually more “advanced” than African Yoruba religion, which was classified simply as animism or paganism. During the s comparative religion scholars increasingly recognized Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism as the most significant “world religions.
Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, Shinto and Zoroastrianism. Beginning around comparative religion writers in England began to take note of the Sikhs which had begun to immigrate there from India part of the British Empire at the time. Sikhs, if mentioned at all, had been classified as a sect of Hinduism during the first three hundred years of their history.
But after the influential British writers began to classify Sikhism as a distinct, major world religion, the rest of the world soon followed their example.
Baha’is are the most recent entrant to the “Classical” list. The religion is only about years old. On their official website, Baha’is claim 5 million adherents worldwide, established in countries and territories throughout the world. While most comparative religion textbooks produced during this century either ignore them or group them as a Muslim sect, the most recent books give them separate status and often their own chapter. Baha’is have achieved this status partially through their worldwide geographical spread and increasing numbers, and partially by constantly insisting that they are indeed the “newest world religion.
This fact is briefly addressed below. We agree with the prominent comparative religion scholar Irving Hexham an Evangelical Christian, and a professor at the University of Calgary who wrote: In other words academics are happy to study other academics regardless of what is actually happening in everyday life.
I believe that the founder of [the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], Joseph Smith, is a far more influential figure and deserves as much attention as the father of modern theology, Freidrich Schleiermacher, yet current textbooks and course offerings invariably mention Schleiermacher but rarely pay any attention to Joseph Smith.
By recognizing the importance of living religions, popular piety and sociological studies I hope more balance will enter Religious Studies.
Irving Hexham, Concise Dictionary of Religion , There are many distinct religions or religious movements which have more adherents than some of the classical world religions, but which are not part of the classical list for various reasons. What constitutes a “religion”? How is “size” determined?
With a working definition of “a religion” and a method for measuring size, criteria for what constitutes a “major” religion must be determined, otherwise this list could be impractically inclusive and long. Large – at least , adherents Widespread – appreciable numbers of members live and worship in more than just one country or limited region Independent – the religion is clearly independent and distinct from a broader religion What is a “religion” for the purposes of this list?
There are countless definitions of religion. But only one can be used in making a ranked list. We are using the groupings most described used in contemporary comparative religion literature listed above. Each of these “world religions” is actually a classification of multiple distinct movements , sects, divisions, denominations, etc.
None of these world religions is a single, unified, monolithic organization. The diversity within these groupings varies. Hinduism is often described as a collection very different traditions, bound by a geographical and national identity. So broad is this religious “umbrella” that it includes clearly polytheistic, tritheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, nontheistic, and atheistic traditions. It is almost entirely contained within one very organized, hierarchical denomination, the Bahai Faith, based in Haifa, Israel.
But there are small schismatic groups, such as the Arizona-based “Orthodox” Baha’is, Azali Babis probably defunct , and four or five others. All adherents of a single religion usually share at least some commonalities, such as a common historical heritage and some shared doctrines or practices. But these rules can’t be pushed too far before being overburdened by exceptions. Major Branches of Major World Religions.
Obviously these classifications include both majority manifestations of these religions, as well as subgroups which larger branches sometimes label “heterodox. There are adjectives with both positive and negative connotations which describe both ends of this spectrum. From an academic, comparative religions viewpoint, there is no basis for “prescribing” whether it is better for a religion to be highly unified, cohesive, monolithic, and lacking in internal religious diversity, or whether it is better to be fragmented, schismatic, diverse, multifaceted and abounding in variations on the same theme.
In a practical sense, most people actually practice only one form of whatever religion they belong to. Buddhism, for example, if viewed as a whole, can be understood to have a large amount of internal variation, including the Theravada and Mahayana branches, all of their sub-schools, various revivalist sects, as well as Tibetan and modern Western forms.
But most actual Buddhists are not actually involved in all of these; rather they practice one, internally cohesive, fairly unified form, such as the Geluk order of Tibetan Buddhism, or Japanese Amida-Buddha worship. How is classification done for official government figures? It is important to note that data for the size of various religions within a given country often come from government census figures or official estimates.
Such governmental endeavors are interested primarily in physical population demographics, such as how many people live in a household and how many telephones there are per person. These studies are not theological treatises. They merely classify Hindus as all people who call themselves Hindu, Muslims as all people who call themselves Muslim, Christians as all people who call themselves Christian.
From a sociological and historical perspective, most religions have arisen from within existing religious frameworks: For the purposes of defining a religion we need to have some cutoff point. Should Sikhism be listed as a Hindu sect as in many older textbooks , or a world religion in its own right?
To manage this question we have chosen once again to use the most commonly-recognized divisions in comparative religion texts. These definitions are primarily sociological and historical, NOT doctrinal or theological in nature.
We recognize that within many religious traditions there are deeply felt arguments for excluding certain groups from their description of their religion. For example, councils of Muslim leaders have voted to no longer accept Ahmadis as valid Muslims, although Ahmadis consider themselves orthodox Muslims. Many Evangelical Protestants churches exclude all non-Evangelical or non-Protestant groups from their definitions of Christianity.
On the other hand, some Hindu writers are so inclusive that they claim as Hindus adherents of any religion that arose in a Hindu environment, including Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. These definitions are theological in nature and of little use in this statistical context. Groups such as Rastafarians, Mandeans, Tenrikyo, and the Church of Scientology are too small, too new or too unimportant in world history to be included in most surveys of “major world religions.
Where classification is unclear, we’ve used two criteria: Does the faith group consider itself to be part of or the definitive version of a larger religion? Does the larger religion consider the faith group to be part of its tradition? If the answer to both of these questions is no , then the faith group is probably a distinct religion. If the answer to both questions is yes , the faith group is a division within the larger religion and thus not a world religion, but a division of a world religion.
If the answer to only one of the questions is yes, there is a judgment call to be made, but of course we give more weight to a group’s self-concept. For example, Tenrikyo arose in the s in Japan in a Shinto context.
The founder explained that her new revelations came from various Shinto kami gods. Thus, Tenrikyo was classified by the Japanese ministry of religion as a Shinto sect for about one hundred years. Then the leaders of Tenrikyo asked that the faith no longer be classified as a Shinto faith. Outsiders would agree that Tenrikyo has emerged as something identifiably distinct from traditional Shinto religion, although many world religion writers include Tenrikyo in chapters on Shinto or Japanese religion for simplicity’s sake.
These books can only have a limited number of chapters. Based on these facts and because we have no limit on the number of religions we can include on this list , we include Tenrikyo as a distinct religion. Even fairly contemporary and progressive writers have a “youth cut-off” requirement for their listings of major world religions.