A Brief Introduction to the 39 Main Religions of the World
Many individuals who practice within the main three religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) are rather ignorant of other religions - and many more religions do exist. Here is a brief glimpse into each of the main religions found throughout the world
Aladura is the Christian church of Africa, south of the Sahara Desert (mainly Western Nigeria). The main basis of the Aladura Christian religion is praying - and lots of it. Their belief is rooted in prayer, whether it's trying to attain goals or live a healthier life. In addition, fasting plays an integral role in connecting with God. Aladura followers tend to distance themselves from many of the practices of Western civilization.
Asatru is a general, broad word used to describe two slightly different religions. The most common usage refers to the, "Old Norse," religious beliefs that make up the official Icelandic religion. An American version of the religion exists and is more loosely based on general beliefs of the prehistoric people of Northern Europe. The religion began surfacing in the 60s and 70s, with loose principals based on pre-Christian, folk-like beliefs and practices.
The term "Atheism" stems from the Ancient Greek adjective atheos, which translates to "godless" or, "those without a god." Atheists tend to reject the notions that a personal god or deity exists, and are often more grounded in science and nature as the fundamentals for their beliefs than those who have a god-like figure in their lives. Atheism tends to vary from person to person in terms of specific beliefs.
4. Baha 'i Faith
The Persian religion known as the Baha 'i Faith was established in the 19th century to unify all humankind, and is still practiced in more than 200 countries and territories all over the world. The majority of followers dwell in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and these followers tend to focus on three main concepts of unity: God, religion, and human beings. The religion was founded by Baha u llah, the self-proclaimed messiah who spent most of his life imprisoned for his beliefs, teachings, and writings of the religion.
The ancient religion of Tibet, Bon has gone through several incarnations as Tibet has changed rulers over its many years of existence. The origins of Bon were grounded in animistic, shamanistic, and mystic-like practices, but would later evolve to inherit texts and traditions (known as the Yungdrung Bon). The religion is still followed today by a small percentage of Tibetans; much of the religion is based on the five elemental processes of earth, water, fire, air, and space.
The origin of Buddhism began around 566 BC with a man by the name of Siddhartha Gautama. At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his home to seek out the meaning of life. He would spend years of meditation that eventually transformed him into the Budda, and his teachings became known as the Dhamma, translated as, "teachings of the enlightened one." Basic wisdom of Buddhism is based on The Four Noble Truths: life is suffering, and is fuel to attachment. This attachment can be overcome, and there is a path for accomplishing this.
7. Cao Dai
The religion of Cao Dai started in the late 1920s in Tay Ninh, a city in southern Vietnam. Concepts include a single god (Cao Dai means "high place," where the god reins). The religion is said to, "create a more tolerant world where all can see each other as sisters and brothers from a common divine source." This religion believes that God was born after a "big bang," and then created the universe using the concept of yin and yang. In addition to God, there is the goddess he created that is known as Mother Buddha.
8. Chinese Religion
There are many different religions that have influence over the people who reside in China. Buddhism is often considered the most prominent religion, with others including Taoism and Confucianism. Christianity has a place in China as well, with the rest of the nation being involved in more traditional Chinese folk religion. This folk religion is not necessarily an organized practice but more of a state of mind or way of life. The religion tends to combine practices from other religions and is based in concepts from Chinese mythology.
9. Chopra Center
The teachings of the Chopra Center originate from the man who developed them, Deepak Chopra. The center was founded in California in the early 1990s as an alternative to conventional Western healing practices, and is based on Hindu unification principles, more specifically the unity between the body, mind, and spirit. Teachings of Chopra include the, "Ten Keys to Happiness," and the, "Seven Spiritual Laws of Success." A follower of Chopra's teachings lives a simple lifestyle of yoga and meditation, and keeps the body healthy through proper nutrition and abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
The basic fundamentals of Christianity are those who believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings that make up the Bible. However, there are more than 1,500 Christian faith groups that all have somewhat different beliefs. Most of these different forms of the religion were spawned from the origins of Christianity, which began with the teachings of Jesus, who eventually would be crucified for proclaiming to be the son of God. Most Christians believe he died for our sins on the cross so that we could have the opportunity to join him in Heaven.
11. Christian Science
Christian Science is based on the teachings and interpretation of the Bible by Mary Baker Eddy, who provided the basis of these teachings in the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875. The underlying fundamentals of the Christian Science movement are that reality is not based on any physical or material notions, and that our existence is merely spiritual. Many who follow this interpretation are members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and follow their religion through popular publications including the Christian Science Journal.
The ancient Chinese religion of Confucianism began its roots at the birth of K'ung Fu Tzu (Confucius) in 551 BC. Confucius spent his life wandering through China and advising different rulers and developing a band of followers. Many of the teachings set forth by Confucius combined concepts taken from Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Over the years, the religion developed four, "life passages," including birth, maturity, marriage, and eventually death, which are celebrated moments of development. While some North Americans do practice the religion, most are found throughout China.
The tag line often used by those involved in Deism is "Belief in God + God Given Reason = Deism." Concepts of Deism revolve around the notion that the religion is "natural," and not a, "revealed" religion. Those who follow Deism believe in God based on the understandings and designs found throughout nature.The religion, "frees those who embrace it from the inconsistencies of superstition and the negativity of fear," found in religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Those who follow the Druze religion most inhabit the mountainous regions of the Middle East, and consider themselves to follow core principles of Islam, but have diverged much from the rest of the religion. They Druze believe in one God referred to as al-Hakim and are awaiting his return to Earth (the majority of Muslims believe he died in 1021, while the Druze believe he merely disappeared and will return). The religion is based on seven core principle's based on the acts and will of al-Hakim, and also believe in reincarnation.
The term Eckankar means, "co-worker with God," and assists its followers by creating unique and natural relationships with God. Those who study Eckankar are known as "ECKists," and number in the tens of thousands all over the world. Karma and reincarnation are primary beliefs in Eckankar, with the goals of its followers being to gain spiritual freedom and purification through spiritual exercises in order to become a co-worker with God in the next world. Those who find the twin pillars (the sound and light) of God will undergo a spiritual change.
Epicureanism got its name from Epicurus and was one of the major philosophies of ancient Greece, with many philosophies still relevant today. Epicurus taught his followers from his school known as, "The Garden" around 300 BC. The goals of Epicureanism are that we should find happiness and become content with life in the here and now, and reject concepts that deal with gods or ideas of heaven and the afterlife.
17. Falun Gong
Also known as Falun Dafa, this spiritual practice developed during the early 1990s in China. The religion at times has been portrayed by the media as a controversial "cult" while being praised by others. Its basic practice deals with developing its followers' character through truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. In 1999, practitioners appealed the Chinese Communist party in a silent protest, which resulted in persecution and propaganda from the government.
Developed in pre-Christian times, Gnosticism is based on principle that stray from rational knowledge and instead deals with the experiential knowledge of God and the divine that lies within us. The name of the religion derives from the Greek word, "gnosis," meaning knowledge, more importantly believing in a "secret" knowledge of God, humanity, and the universe that others are unaware of. The beliefs of Gnosticism differ slightly from much of the beliefs that would eventually become Christianity.
19. Greek Religion
Many religions encompass what can be referred to as Greek religion. There are ancient Greek religions, which include the classic Greek cult hero, the Elusinian mysteries, the Hellenistic religion that evolved through the Roman empire, and development of "platonic idealism," a theory that reality is a reflection of a higher truth. Today, there is the Greek Orthodox Church, whose liturgy includes the Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament. However, reconstructionist movements since the 1990s (known as "Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism") have emerged over the past 20 years, reviving some ancient Greek practices.
20. Hare Krishna
The religious mantra known as the Hare Krishna has its roots in Hinduism, popularized around 1500 by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The mantra is either spoken or meditated to bring a higher level of consciousness. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, an Indian monk, would begin learning the philosophy in the early-mid 20th century. He would arrive in America in the 1960s to spread the word of his teachings, which inadvertently led to the Hare Krishna movement.
The third largest religion in the world, Hinduism, whose followers mainly reside in India and Nepal, is often referred to as the planet's original organized religion. While it may be organized, it is not centralized like Christianity and Islam - it is a very large number of different religious groups that do not focus on any single founder or theology. The religion dates back to the sacred texts (Vedas) from 1500 to 4000 BC. One of the major principles is that of Brahman, which states that the universe is seen as one divine entity that can sometimes portray different manifestations.
One of the major religions of the world, Islam literally translates to "submission," as a follower of Islam (Muslims) devotes their life to that of their God. The religion began with the teachings of Muhammad in the 7th century. The theology of Islam is based on the Qur'an, which was given to Muhammad by God. Some of the major fundamental principles of Islam include the Five Pillars, which hope to unite all Muslims into a community. Two different factions of Muslims exist - the majority are known as Sunni, with a small percentage known as Shi'a - both predominantly reside throughout the Middle East.
Also known as the Jain Dharma, this religion began with the succession of 24 conquerors (Jinas) in ancient India. The religion was founded by the last Jina Vardhamana, who in 420 BC fasted to death (an act known as salekhana). The religion has similar ties with Hinduism and Buddhism, but does not have a heaven and hell. Instead, the religion sees the universe as a series of heavens and hells, where karma decides who lives on each level.
24. Jehovah's Witnesses
Inspired by the Bible Student Movement if the late 19th century, the name Jehovah's Witness came about in 1931 due in part to their leader, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Aspects of the religion are closely tied with Christianity with several major differences, notably their belief in God, named Jehovah, and his son Jesus. The death of Jesus is different in other respects, believing that only a certain number of people will receive the chance of immortal life in heaven with Christ, while others will simply live forever on Earth after the war of Armageddon.
The concept of Judaism is one of the most misunderstood in the world. Many argue that Judaism and Jews (followers of Judaism) are a race of people, while others view it only as a religion. However, there are those who refer to themselves as Jewish who do not practice the religion (known as Secular Jews), and view being Jewish as a "culture." One popular explanation, however, is that Jews are a nation, as described in their text the Torah. The term "nation" is used to describe a group of people with a common history and religious destiny.
26. Mayan Religion
Before the arrival of Europeans in what is today Central America, a great civilization known as the Mayan Civilization ruled the land. These Maya, as they were called, supported a polythetic religion, which was one composed of many gods, many with ties to nature. Mayan rulers were seen as demi-gods, and served as liaisons between the ordinary citizens and the gods they worshipped. The Mayans based much of their lives on astronomy and were known to use human sacrifice much as a method of prayer to their gods.
Known predominantly through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism describes the religion of those who believe in the Book of Morman, a supposed other testament of Jesus Christ. They have been tied with Christianity despite opposition from some religions denominations. Mormans also tend to believe in concepts that are common with Judaism as well. At one time, polygamy was prevalent in the religion, but has since been rejected as a practice in modern-day Mormonism.
28. New Age
There's really no specific description of what many sometimes refer to as New Age. The term generally is used to describe modern religious practices that are unique and separate from others, but usually draw upon different concepts of various religions. These religions could be offshoots of one religion or combinations from various religious principles. It can be argued that at some point, any religion in its origins could be regarded as "New Age," as it takes time and followers for a name for a religions to be coined.
29. New Thought
Commonly confused with New Age, the New Thought movement is 100 years old, and consists of a theology that uses constructive thinking and meditation to realize the true presence of God. The groups associated with New Thought do not have a standard practice or creed, but instead hold idealistic philosophies and practices that are found in Christianity and other religions. Those involved with New Thought are allowed to have freedom of belief, which has evolved into a number of different groups and beliefs.
The religious movement of Rastafari began in the early 1930s among the blue collar workers of Jamaica. Followers of the Rastafari believe in Jah, their God who was at one time Emperor of Ethiopia. A Black separatist by the name of Marcus Garvey helped spread the word and teachings of the Rastafari. The religion developed from those trying to reclaim the culture that was stolen from them, as many of their ancestors came to Jamaica as slaves. The movement is known throughout the world, influenced by Bob Marley and others of reggae music fame.
The religion known as Scientology is often criticized and has caused much controversy. The practice was created by the American science fiction author, L.Ron Hubbard during the 1950s. Most of the basic principles of Scientology are based in rehab-like programs; new followers are audited and then given specific cleansing regimens. Many famous celebrities are involved in the church, which has helped it grow in popularity.
32. Seventh-day Adventists
Often referred to simply as, "Adventist," the Seventh-day Adventist Church is based on the Protestant denomination of Christianity, with some obvious differences. Adventist was established in the 1860s by Ellen G. Whote, who developed the religion's writings and teachings. Some of the beliefs of in Adventist can be found in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, which are closely related to Protestant theology. One significant difference is the observance of Saturday as the seventh day of the week, or "sabbath."
The ancient Japanese religion of Shinto began around 500 BC, derived from the Chinese words, 'Shin tao" which translates into, "the way of the gods." Like many very ancient religions, Shinto does not have a tightly-knit group of founders, scriptures, or rules. Many in Japan follow both concepts found in Shinto (which has ties to Confucianism) in addition to Buddhism. Many of the religion's concepts reflect those of other ancient religions, including a strong connection to earth, nature, wildlife, and the elements.
The religious practice of Sikhism (which means "learner") was founded by Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Developed in Northern India in the 15th century, it is the 5th largest religion in the world. Sikhism differs from many other religions in that followers believe that God is the universe, instead of the belief that God is a figure who watches over it. The religion also believes in equality for all instead of the common Indian belief of a caste system.
One Greek religion, Stoicism was founded in Athens around the 3rd century BC. The term is derived from the word, "stoa," which generally refers to the buildings where the religion was originally taught. The Stoic logic is based on Aristotle thought, with the maxim, "live according to nature." The basic teachings involve developing self-control over one's emotions and improving a spiritual well-being. While the philosophies disappeared for the most part after the 2nd century, some of its teachings still resonate in new forms of the religion today.
Often known or referred to as "Daoism," the Tao is translated into, "the path" or, "way." The founder of the religion is said to be a peer of Confucius known as Lao-Tse. His teachings were written in his book, the Tao-te-Ching, although many also believe that he didn't exist, but is instead fictional. The concepts and traditions of Taoism have influenced many Asian religions over 2,000 years, and has become a philosophical way of life for many today.
37. Unification Church
Known as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, the religion started in 1954 in Korea with Sun Myung Moon. Moon experienced an incident at the age of 16, where supposedly Christ greeted him and chose him to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Moon brought the religion to America in 1959, where he would spread his message and develop international followers known as "moonies." This religion tends to be more controversial due to some of its practices and its eccentric leader.
38. Unitarian Universalism
Followers of United Universalism ("UU") do not necessarily share a common creed or subscribe to a specific doctrine. Instead, followers hold bylaws and values that are shared as a philosophy for life. Congregations of Unified Universalism began as Christian Protestants, and still share many of the traditions of Christianity today. However, followers are allowed to include other beliefs from separate religions to develop their own, as one of the main theories of the religion is its support of a, "free and responsible search for truth and meaning."
Considered a modern version of ancient European witchcraft religion, Wicca was re-introduced into modern religion in 1954 by Gerald Gardner. Different versions of the Wiccan religion have since surfaced, all with their own specific practices and beliefs. Because there is no core belief system, much can be argued about what makes a Wiccan. Typical beliefs include worshipping a God and Goddess (often symbolized by the sun and moon).
Many grow up in a world where one major religion is popular, and are never awakened to the other philosophies and theologies that exist throughout the world. Perhaps with a greater understanding of these other religions, one can live a more dynamic life with a greater understanding of spirituality and the possibilities that exist.