There are some 4,300 religions of the world. This is according to Adherents, an independent, non-religiously affiliated organisation that monitors the number and size of the world’s religions.
Side-stepping the issue of what constitutes a religion, Adherents divides religions into churches, denominations, congregations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, and movements. All are of varying size and influence.
Nearly 75 per cent of the world’s population practices one of the five most influential religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
Christianity and Islam are the two religions most widely spread across the world. These two religions together cover the religious affiliation of more than half of the world’s population. If all non-religious people formed a single religion, it would be the world’s third largest.
One of the most widely-held myths among those in English-speaking countries is that Islamic believers are Arabs. In fact, most Islamic people do not live in the Arabic nations of the Middle East.
The world’s 20 largest religions and their number of believers are
Chinese traditional religion
Buddhism 376 million
African traditional and Diasporic
The world’s principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups, although this is by no means a uniform practice. This theory began in the 18th century with the goal of recognizing the relative levels of civility in societies.
In world cultures, there have traditionally been many different groupings of religious belief. In Indian culture, different religious philosophies were traditionally respected as academic differences in pursuit of the same truth. In Islam, the Quran mentions three different categories: Muslims, the People of the Book, and idol worshipers. Initially, Christians had a simple dichotomy of world beliefs: Christian civility versus foreign heresy or barbarity. In the 18th century, “heresy” was clarified to mean Judaism and Islam along with paganism, this created a fourfold classification which spawned such works as John Toland’s Nazarenus, or Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity, which represented the three Abrahamic religions as different “nations” or sects within religion itself, the “true monotheism.”
Daniel Defoe described the original definition as follows: “Religion is properly the Worship given to God, but ‘this also applied to the Worship of Idols and false Deities At the turn of the 19th century, in between 1780 and 1810, the language dramatically changed: instead of “religion” being synonymous with spirituality, authors began using the plural, “religions,” to refer to both Christianity and other forms of worship. Therefore, Hannah Adams’s early encyclopedia, for example, had its name changed from An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects… to A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations.
In 1838, the four-way division of Christianity, Judaism, Mahommedanism (archaic terminology for Islam) and Paganism was multiplied considerably by Josiah Conder’s Analytical and Comparative View of All Religions Now Extant among Mankind. Conder’s work still adhered to the four-way classification, but in his eye for detail he puts together much historical work to create something resembling our modern Western image: he includes Druze, Yezidis, Mandeans, and Elamites under a list of possibly monotheistic groups, and under the final category, of “polytheism and pantheism,” he listed Zoroastrianism, “Vedas, Puranas, Tantras, Reformed sects” of India as well as “Brahminical idolatry,” Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Lamaism, “religion of China and Japan,” and “illiterate superstitions” as others.
The modern meaning of the phrase “world religion,” putting non-Christians at the same level as Christians, began with the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. The Parliament spurred the creation of a dozen privately funded lectures with the intent of informing people of the diversity of religious experience: these lectures funded researchers such as William James, D. T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts, who greatly influenced the public conception of world religions.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the category of “world religion” fell into serious question, especially for drawing parallels between vastly different cultures, and thereby creating an arbitrary separation between the religious and the secular.Even history professors have now taken note of these complications and advise against teaching “world religions” in schools. Others see the shaping of religions in the context of the nation-state as the “invention of traditions.”
Religious traditions fall into super-groups in comparative religion, arranged by historical origin and mutual influence. Abrahamic religions originate in West Asia, Indian religions in the Indian subcontinent (South Asia) and East Asian religions in East Asia. Another group with supra-regional influence are Afro-American religion, which have their origins in Central and West Africa.
Middle Eastern religions
Abrahamic religions are the largest group, and these consist mainly of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá’í Faith. They are named for the patriarch Abraham, and are unified by the practice of monotheism. Today, at least 3.8 billion people are followers of Abrahamic religions and are spread widely around the world apart from the regions around East and Southeast Asia. Several Abrahamic organizations are vigorous proselytizers.
Iranian religions, partly of Indo-European origins, include Zoroastrianism, Yazdânism, Din, Ahl-e Haqq and historical traditions of Gnosticism..
Indian religions, originated in Greater India and partly of Indo-European origins, they tend to share a number of key concepts, such as dharma, karma, reincarnation among others. They are of the most influence across the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Southeast Asia, as well as isolated parts of Russia. The main Indian religions are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
East Asian religions consist of several East Asian religions which make use of the concept of Tao (in Chinese) or Dō (in Japanese or Korean). They include many Chinese folk religions, Taoism and Confucianism, as well as Korean and Japanese religion influenced by Chinese thought.
The religions of the tribal peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa, but excluding ancient Egyptian religion, which is considered to belong to the ancient Middle East
African diasporic religions practiced in the Americas, imported as a result of the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 18th centuries, building on traditional religions of Central and West Africa.
Indigenous ethnic religions, found on every continent, now marginalized by the major organized faiths in many parts of the world or persisting as undercurrents (folk religions) of major religions. Includes traditional African religions, Asian shamanism, Native American religions, Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal traditions, Chinese folk religions, and postwar Shinto. Under more traditional listings, this has been referred to as “paganism” along with historical polytheism.
New religious movement is the term applied to any religious faith which has emerged since the 19th century, often syncretizing, re-interpreting or reviving aspects of older traditions such as Ayyavazhi, Mormonism, Ahmadiyya, Pentecostalism, polytheistic reconstructionism, and so forth.
Largely used religions
Some listing of religions
Christianity 2.2 billion 31.50%
Islam 1.6 billion 22.32%
Secular[a]/Nonreligious[b]/Agnostic/Atheist ≤1.1 billion 15.35%
Hinduism 1 billion 13.95%
Chinese traditional religion[c] 394 million 5.50%
Buddhism 376 million 5.25%
Ethnic religions excluding some in separate categories 300 million 4.19%
African traditional religions 100 million 1.40%
Sikhism 30 million 0.32%
Spiritism 15 million 0.21%
Judaism 14 million 0.20%
Bahá’í 7.0 million 0.10%
Jainism 4.2 million 0.06%
Shinto 4.0 million 0.06%
Cao Dai 4.0 million 0.06%
Zoroastrianism 2.6 million 0.04%
Tenrikyo 2.0 million 0.02%
Neo-Paganism 1.0 million 0.01%
Unitarian Universalism 0.8 million 0.01%