How Many Religion Is In The World?

Religion has been an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years. Even in our modern world, religion continues to be an important force that shapes cultures, beliefs, and worldviews. But with so many different faiths, denominations, and belief systems around the globe, it can be difficult to quantify exactly how many religions there are worldwide.

Defining Religion

Before looking at the number of religions, it is important to understand what constitutes a religion. Religion can be defined as:

  • A system of faith or worship
  • Belief in and worship of a supernatural controlling power
  • A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion

Religion is also characterized by certain elements, such as:

  • Belief in supernatural beings, forces or powers
  • Sacred texts and writings
  • Prophetic or enlightened figures
  • Ritual acts of worship, sacrifice, and prayer
  • Moral and ethical guidelines for living
  • A community or followers that are united by shared beliefs

So in counting the number of religions, the focus is on organized belief systems that are practiced by groups of people who share traditions, rituals, philosophies, and dogma.

The Major World Religions

There are a handful of major religious traditions that have achieved widespread global popularity and adherence over centuries. According to a 2015 Pew Research study, these are the world’s largest religions, in order by number of adherents:

Christianity – 2.3 billion adherents

With about 2.3 billion followers, Christianity is currently the world’s largest religion. It originated in the 1st century AD as a sect of Judaism, and its sacred text is the Bible. Key figures include Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles. Christianity is divided into three main branches:

  • Roman Catholicism – The original and largest branch, led by the Pope in Rome
  • Protestantism – Formed during the Reformation, includes thousands of denominations
  • Eastern Orthodoxy – Split from Roman Catholicism in 1054 AD, dominant in Eastern Europe

Today, Christianity remains concentrated in Europe and the Americas, although it is declining in developed countries. Major Christian groups beyond the big three branches include Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons, and others.

Islam – 1.8 billion adherents

Islam is the world’s second largest religion, with over 1.8 billion followers or 24% of the global population. It was founded in the 7th century by the Prophet Muhammad, and its sacred text is the Quran. Most Muslims belong to either the Sunni or Shiite branches. Islam is the predominant religion across North Africa, the Middle East, and major parts of Asia.

Hinduism – 1.1 billion adherents

Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion, originating in the Indus River Valley about 4000 years ago. With roughly 1.1 billion followers, it is the third largest world religion. Key concepts include dharma, karma, and reincarnation. Hinduism has no single founder or prophet. Major scriptures include the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavad Gita. Hinduism is the dominant faith in India and Nepal.

Buddhism – 506 million adherents

Buddhism originated in India in the 5th century BC based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. There are two main branches: Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism. With 506 million followers, Buddhism is the fourth largest religion globally. It is concentrated primarily across Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and South Korea.

Folk Religions – 430 million adherents

Folk religions are traditional belief systems that have developed organically in particular regions and lack formal organization and doctrine. They are sometimes syncretic, combining elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, shamanism, and ancestor worship. Examples include African and Chinese traditional religions. Overall, folk religions have roughly 430 million followers globally.

Other Religions

Beyond these largest faith groups, there are many other well-known religions that hold significance for millions of people worldwide:

  • Judaism – 14 million followers, monotheistic religion of the Jewish people
  • Sikhism – 25 million followers, monotheistic Indian religion founded in the 15th century
  • Shintoism – 4 million followers, native religion of Japan focused on ritual practices and worship at shrines
  • Jainism – 4 million followers, ancient Indian religion that promotes non-violence and asceticism
  • Baha’i – 7 million followers, monotheistic religion founded in 19th century Persia promoting world unity
  • Zoroastrianism – 200,000 followers, ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran

So while not always included among the major world religions, these faiths have shaped culture and history in many parts of the world.

Counting the Number of Religions

With an understanding of the major religious traditions, we can now look at various estimates for the total number of distinct religions worldwide. Here are some key statistics:

  • 4,300 religions – According to Adherents, an organization tracking religious data, there are 4,300 religions active in the world today. Their research draws on major data sources like the CIA World Factbook, academic census reports, and records from religious bodies to compile these statistics.
  • 10,000 distinct religions – The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates there are approximately 10,000 distinct religions worldwide. They define religions broadly to include denominations, sects, and tribal belief systems.
  • Over 1,000 Christian denominations – Within Christianity alone, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity counts approximately 45,000 Christian denominations and organizations. Of those, they estimate about 1,000 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, and other denominations with significant followings.
  • 12 classical world religions – Many scholars focus on the 12 most influential global belief systems throughout history, which are: Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism.

So credible estimates for the total number of religions in the world range from 4,000 on the low end to over 10,000 distinct faiths worldwide. Even narrowing it to organized mainstream religions, there are at least a dozen major belief systems.

Challenges in Counting Religions

There are several challenges that make it difficult to precisely quantify the number of religions globally:

  • Varying definitions of religion – There is no consensus on what constitutes an official, distinct religion as opposed to a variant, cult, or branch of an existing tradition. This affects counts.
  • Blurred lines between religions – Many religions have overlapping beliefs, shared roots, or splinter groups that make them difficult to count.
  • Rapid change – New religious movements and merges between faith groups emerge frequently around the world. Counts can become outdated quickly.
  • Unverifiable claims – Many faith groups inflate membership numbers, so religious census data often relies on estimates.
  • Secretive nature – Some cults, sects, and tribal faiths actively keep membership numbers hidden. They are left out of counts.
  • Syncretism – Blending of folk beliefs, animism, and mainstream faith makes it hard to delineate clear boundaries.

Despite these challenges in religious counting, demographic data gives us a decent picture of both the major world religions and the amazing diversity of belief systems present across the global population today.

The Geography of World Religions

While there are thousands of religions across the globe, they are not evenly distributed. Asia and Africa are home to the most religious diversity, while the dominant faiths in Europe and the Americas are Christianity and its denominations. Here is an overview of the geographic distribution:

Asia

  • South Asia is dominated by Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.
  • Mainland Southeast Asia has Theravada Buddhism as the majority religion.
  • The Middle East is almost entirely Muslim, divided between Sunnis and Shias.
  • East Asia has strong Mahayana Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist traditions.

Africa

  • North Africa is heavily Muslim, while Sub-Saharan Africa practices a fusion of Christianity and folk religions.
  • Christianity dominates in Ethiopia, while Islam is strong in West Africa and parts of the East coast.

Europe

  • Christianity remains dominant across Europe, although secularism has grown.
  • There are Muslim communities across the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
  • Judaism remains influential.

Americas

  • Christianity is the largest religion across North and South America.
  • Caribbean islands have voodoo and Santería faiths.
  • Native American tribes retain ancestral folk religions.

Oceania

  • Australia and New Zealand are Christian majority with native influences.
  • Pacific island nations practice forms of animism.
  • Indonesia has largest Muslim population worldwide.

This geographic overview shows that even at a regional level, religious diversity abounds across the continents.

The Rise of Non-Religious Populations

One emerging trend to note is the growing percentage of non-religious individuals around the globe, ranging from atheists to agnostics to people who simply do not identify with an organized religion. According to Pew Research in 2012:

  • Approximately 16% of the global population identifies as non-religious
  • The unaffiliated represent the 3rd largest group behind Christians and Muslims.
  • China, Japan, Czech Republic, France, South Korea have highest shares of non-religious people.
  • The number of “nones” is increasing in North America and Europe.

So while the major world religions continue to have billions of followers, secularism is growing, especially in developed nations. This contributes to the fluid nature of quantifying faith demographics worldwide.

Projections for the Future of World Religions

Based on demographic data and growth rates of religions, here are projections for how the distribution of faiths may shift by 2060 according to Pew Research:

  • The global Muslim population is expected to grow by 70% from 2015-2060, making Islam the largest religion at 31% share.
  • Christianity is projected to remain stable, but its share will decline due to other faiths growing faster.
  • Hinduism is projected to grow 36%, retaining a significant following.
  • The shares of folk religions, Judaism, and “other” are expected to decline slightly.
  • The non-religious population share will shrink as religious populations grow, but this segment will still represent 9% of the globe.

Overall, Pew Research anticipates continued diversification of faiths at a global level, with Islam making notable gains in followers to potentially become the largest world religion by 2060. However, all projections are estimates given the uncertainty and constant evolution within religious spheres.

Leading Religions by Country

This table summarizes the dominant religions across some of the most populated countries worldwide:

CountryPredominant ReligionShare of Population
ChinaNon-religious52.2%
IndiaHinduism79.8%
United StatesChristianity73.7%
IndonesiaIslam87.2%
BrazilChristianity88.0%
PakistanIslam96.4%
NigeriaChristianity53.5%
BangladeshIslam89.1%
RussiaChristianity71%
MexicoChristianity89%

This makes it evident that while global data on religions is interesting, there are significant differences between faiths at a national or regional level. Local culture and history shape religious identity.

Challenges for Religious Pluralism

The diversity of world religions that now exist presents significant challenges for societies in terms of fostering openness, tolerance, and pluralism:

  • Potential for misunderstandings, prejudice, discrimination, and conflict exists.
  • Peaceful co-existence requires respect between faith groups, constructive dialogue, and removing barriers.
  • Governments must balance majority religious values with protections for minority faiths.
  • Extremism, whether religious or anti-religious, needs to be countered.
  • Shared human values of compassion and morality should be emphasized across all religions and cultures.

On the positive side, there are signs of increased interfaith collaboration and efforts to find common ground between religious communities. Globalization has exposed more people to religious diversity and driven some synthesis between faith traditions. Peaceful religious pluralism remains an aspirational goal for human civilization.

Conclusion

Quantifying the number of religions in the world is a complex undertaking, though most estimates fall in the range of 4,000-10,000 distinct faiths worldwide. Major religious traditions trace their roots back centuries and have achieved global followings numbering in the millions and billions, but smaller spiritual traditions abound at local levels.

The geographic distribution of religions reflects both history and demographics, though this landscape is always evolving. While exact counts rise and fall, diversity seems destined to increase even as secularism grows.

Ultimately, peaceful religious pluralism remains an ideal that the world’s faith communities grapple with daily. Increased interfaith dialogue and humanism are positive steps toward tolerance. But fostering understanding across thousands of creeds remains an unfinished and perhaps eternal effort.

Frequently Asked Questions About World Religions

Which religion is the oldest in the world?

Hinduism is regarded as the oldest religion still being practiced today. It originated in the Indus River Valley about 4000 years ago and gradually grew more formal and widespread over time. Judaism, Zoroastrianism and other ancient faiths emerged later.

Which religion has the most followers worldwide?

Currently Christianity has the most followers globally, estimated at around 2.3 billion adherents or 31% of the world population. Islam comes in second with 1.8 billion followers or 24%. However, by 2060 Muslim populations are projected to grow faster than Christianity, potentially making Islam the largest world religion.

What are the main similarities between religions?

Most religions share concepts of faith, worship, ritual practices, moral and ethical codes, and community. They offer meaning about life and existence, have sacred histories and texts, and include supernaturally-endowed founders or prophets who provide spiritual guidance and leadership.

How many religions originated in India?

Four of the 12 principal world religions originated in India: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Additionally, the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism had early links to Hinduism, influencing religious development in India. Overall, India gave birth to four of the largest global faiths.

Which religion has the most denominations and branches?

Christianity has the most denominations, with approximately 45,000 different Christian groups identified worldwide by researchers. A main source of branches was the Protestant Reformation which saw groups splintering from the Roman Catholic Church. Numerous restorationist denominations also emerged and spawned further divisions.

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