“I hold that it is the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically the scriptures of the world. If we are to respect others’ religions as we would have them to respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
For many devout believers, religion plays an integral role in influencing every aspect of daily life. Different religions can be found all around the world, though the world’s largest religions generally fall in one of two major subgroups. These are Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Baha’i, etc.) and Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, etc.). With over 2 billion followers, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is considered holy by three of the world’s largest religions (Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike).
10. Cao Dai (6.7 million followers)
Cao Dai was a belief system that originated in Vietnam in 1926, and is regarded as a distinctly nationalist Vietnamese religion. The faith was founded by Ngo Van Chieu, a former administrator who believed that he had received a message from the deity revered as the “Supreme Being” during an extraordinary experience he had at a seance. Cao Dai draws elements from other major world religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Taoism. The religion’s full name translates to “The Great Faith for the Third Universal Redemption”. Devotees believe in the existence of one Supreme Being, regardless of whatever label or name (ie. God or Allah) other religions have chosen to impose on this central deity . Practitioners of Cao Dai place a great deal of stress on universal concepts, such as justice, love, peace, and tolerance.
9. Muism/Sinism/Shingyo (10 million followers)
Muism (which is also known as Sinism, Shingyo, or Korean shamanism) is a religion closely tied to traditional Korean culture and history. The faith can trace its roots all the way back to prehistory. In recent years, Muism has experienced a resurgence within South Korea. Even within the totalitarian regime of North Korea, it has been estimated that some 16 % of the population continue to subscribe to the Muism belief system. Among the key components of the religion include the existence of ghosts, spirits, and gods, and these are believed to inhabit the spirit world. The spiritual leaders in Muism, known as “Mudangs”, are typically females whose function is to serve as intermediaries between the gods and human beings.
8. Judaism (13.9 million followers)
Judaism has a long and storied history, and one which can trace its beginnings all the way back to around the Eighth Century BC. This monotheistic religion originated in the Middle, East and is made up of three main branches. Namely, these are Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism (ranked from most to least conservatively traditional). Although each of these are rooted in a common belief system, they differ on elements related to scriptural interpretation and specific practices. The synagogues, each presided over by a rabbi, serve as the centers for Jewish worship and religious services. These are also used as a form of community centers. Therein, followers have the opportunities to gather together on a regular basis in order to socialize, celebrate, study the Torah, and learn about the Mitzvot (commandments of the faith).
7. Sikhism (28 million followers)
In terms of world religions, Sikhism is a relatively new faith. It began in India, and is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and his Ten Successors. Historically, Sikhs have played major roles in regional politics, and and were a significant influence during the Partition of India in 1947. Central to the Sikh faith are the core tenets of sewa and simran, which relate to community service and the remembrance of God, respectively. Although the majority of Sikh believers continue to reside in northern India, over the years a great many followers have moved to a number of diverse foreign countries of the world, including Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia, and the United Kingdom, among others
6. Daoism (93 million followers)
Daoism originated in China about two thousand years ago. Also referred to as Taoism, this religion is associated with a belief in the occult and the metaphysical. The majority of Daoist followers live in such Asian countries as China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. A man named Laozi is considered to have been the first philosopher of the religion, and it is he who was thought to have written the Daodejing, a text central to the faith. In terms of political issues, Daoists are generally regarded as being somewhat libertarians, with a preference for governments which shy away from political interference and the imposition of regulations and economic restrictions. Diet plays an important role in Daoist philosophy, especially as in regards to one’s all around physical and psychological well being. In keeping with this belief system, practices such as fasting and Veganism (abstaining from animal products) are encouraged.
5. Shintoism (104 million followers)
Shintoism is based in Japan. and its beginnings are thought to date back to the Eighth Century. Followers of the faith believe in the existence of many gods, and the word Shinto itself translates into the “way of the gods.” It’s been estimated that 80% of Japanese citizens subscribe to Shintoism, with that country alone serving as a home to over 80 thousand Shinto shrines. One unique feature of the faith is that believers are not required to publicly declare their allegiance to the religion. The concepts of impurity and purification play major roles in Shintoism and its rites, which are known as Harae. These are performed on a regular basis with an aim to purify believers of sin, guilt, disease, and even bad luck.
4. Buddhism (488 million followers)
Buddhism was founded in India about 2,500 years ago, and is based on the teachings of Buddha, alternatively known as Gautama Buddha or Siddhārtha Gautama. The religion includes two main branches. Namely, these are Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. In the country of Tibet, followers subscribe to a form of Buddhism known as Vajrayana, while Zen Buddhism is more commonly practiced in Japan. The main tenets of the Buddhist belief system include nonviolence, as well as moral purity and ethical behavior. Meditation, karma, and nonviolence all play major roles in Buddhists’ daily lives. Without a doubt, the most recognized figure in the Buddhist world is Tenzin Gyatso, who is best known as the 14th, and current, Dalai Lama. This former monk is not only Tibet’s current (and exiled) spiritual leader, but also an outspoken peace activist.
3. Hinduism (1.05 billion followers)
The majority of Hindus reside in such Southern Asian countries as India, Nepal, and Indonesia. In the nation of India alone, an estimated 80% of the population identify themselves as being Hindus. Although not a lot is known about the founding of Hinduism, the faith is widely thought to have developed over a span of some 4,000 years. Due to its status as an ancient belief system, Hinduism is deeply entrenched within Indian society. In recent years, many of the practices of Hinduism have become increasingly popular in the West as well. Examples of this include the participation in yoga, as well as interests in information pertaining to the body’s chakra system (energy points located throughout the human body which can be used for healing and improving health, both spiritually and physically).
2. Islam (1.605 billion followers)
Islam began in Mecca in the Seventh Century. Followers of religion believe there is only god (Allah) whose words were written down and took form in the holy book of the Quar’an, which still serves as the central spiritual text in the faith. One of the historical figures central to understanding the Muslim tradition is the Prophet Muhammad, who lived from 570 to 632 CE. Followers of Islam believe that this man was God’s ultimate prophet. Islamic religious law not only lays out the Five Pillars of Islam, but also imposes rules and regulations on almost every aspect of a follower’s life. There are two major factions of Muslims, namely Sunni (the largest globally including ~80% of all Muslims) and Shia (~15% of all Muslims), among with Ibadi, Ahmadi, and many other, much smaller, denominations. Currently, Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet in absolute terms of followers worldwide.
1. Christianity (2.22 billion followers)
Christianity began over two thousand years ago, and is a faith based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. From its humble beginnings as a tiny sub-group evolved from Judaism, Christianity has grown to become the most popular religion in the world, with followers to be found all across the globe. Christians believe in the existence of one God who sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to save humanity from their iniquity and Hell. Followers believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Crucifixion), his death, and his resurrection were all carried out in service towards granting eternal life and forgiveness to all of those who accept Christ as their personal savior. Even in our modern society, Christianity plays an important and powerful role, not only in terms of religious rituals, but also on a much wider scale. In some degree, it even does so in terms of shaping social and political policies of Christian-dominant nations.
Reference materials taken in part from the following sources: World Atlas