Religion - a comprehensive guide
Religion and other forms of belief in General¶
Religion is a set of beliefs, practices, and values concerning the nature of the universe and the role of humans within it, often involving devotion to a higher power or powers.
The other forms of beliefs, practices and values concerning the nature of the universe and the role of humans within it beside the religion are:
- Spirituality: A broad term that refers to an individual's personal, subjective experience of the transcendent or sacred. It often involves seeking a deeper connection to something greater than oneself, such as a higher power or a universal consciousness.
- Philosophy: A system of thought that attempts to answer fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, and ethics. It often relies on reason, logic, and critical thinking to explore these issues.
- Humanism: An ethical and philosophical worldview that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition.
- Secularism: A belief system that promotes the separation of religion and government, and the exclusion of religious influence from public life. It is often associated with the principles of rationalism, scientific inquiry, and individual liberty.
- Atheism: The lack of belief in any gods or supernatural entities. It is often characterized by a skeptical or rationalist approach to understanding the natural world.
- Agnosticism: The belief that the existence of gods or supernatural entities cannot be proven or disproven. It is often characterized by a stance of uncertainty or skepticism towards the existence of such entities.
Main worlds religions¶
Here is a list of some of the main religions in the world and their brief definitions:
- Christianity - a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as described in the New Testament of the Bible.
- Islam - a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, as recorded in the holy book of Islam, the Quran.
- Hinduism - a polytheistic religion that emphasizes the importance of dharma (duty), karma (action), and reincarnation, and the pursuit of moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
- Buddhism - a non-theistic religion that emphasizes the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the practice of meditation as a means to achieve enlightenment and escape the cycle of suffering.
- Judaism - a monotheistic religion based on the belief in one God who made a covenant with the Jewish people and gave them the Torah (the Jewish holy scripture).
- Sikhism - a monotheistic religion founded in Punjab, India that emphasizes the importance of selfless service, meditation on the name of God, and the pursuit of justice and equality for all.
- Confucianism - a system of ethical and philosophical teachings that emphasizes the importance of education, social order, and respect for authority.
- Taoism - a philosophical and religious tradition that emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with nature, simplicity, and the pursuit of inner peace.
- Shintoism - an animistic religion native to Japan that emphasizes the importance of reverence for nature and ancestors, and the worship of kami (spirits or gods).
Note that this list is not exhaustive and there are many other religions and belief systems practiced around the world.
Here is a breakdown of the percentages of the main world religions in population as of 2021 according to the Pew Research Center:
- Christianity: 31.2%
- Islam: 24.1%
- Unaffiliated (including atheists and agnostics): 16.3%
- Hinduism: 15.0%
- Buddhism: 7.1%
- Folk religions: 5.9%
- Other religions: 0.8%
- Judaism: 0.2%
Here is a world map that shows the percentage of the population that adheres to each of the major religions:
The map shows that Christianity is the largest religion in the world, followed by Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Other religions, such as Sikhism, Judaism, and Baha'i, also have significant populations in certain regions. It's important to note that these percentages are approximate and can vary based on different sources and methodologies.
Christianity is a diverse religion with many denominations, but how can we differentiate them beyond mere stereotypes? All Christians believe in and worship Jesus Christ as truly human and truly God. He was born of the Virgin Mary, died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will return to judge the living and the dead. These essential beliefs are contained in the Nicene Creed, a document used by various Christian churches.
- Baptists: Baptists believe that baptism is a personal and individual choice, not something that makes you a Christian. For Baptists, baptism is a proclamation of your personal born-again experience where you go from not being a Christian to being a Christian. This individualistic approach is why Baptists are most common in the Southern United States, and for them, a personal relationship with Jesus is crucial, with religious rituals taking a backseat. Their churches' religious rituals, such as the Lord's Supper, are symbolic and not as important as having a personal relationship with Jesus.
- Anglican/Episcopalian: The Anglican or Episcopalian Church is run by a hierarchy of bishops and is very structured, trying to balance tradition, reason, and scripture. Anglicans try to take the best parts from various traditions, resulting in a lot of diversity of belief. Anglicanism is seen by some as a middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism, with some Anglicans feeling more Catholic and others more Protestant. Anglicanism still has a rich tradition, and many of the prayers and hymn books come from it.
- Methodists/Wesleyans: The Methodists or Wesleyans added a fourth point to the Anglicans' triangle of reason, scripture, and tradition, turning it into a quadrilateral by adding spiritual experience. John Wesley's goal was to make the Anglican Church more spiritually active. Methodist thinking centers around the Holy Spirit, who empowers us on the path to righteousness. Free Will is vital for Methodists, and the end goal is entire sanctification, where one can improve so much that they stop sinning entirely. Methodists also focus on serving the poor and working for justice as they strive for Spiritual perfection. The Holiness movement and Pentecostalism arose from Methodism, with the former emphasizing the pursuit of holiness and the latter involving speaking in tongues.
- Lutherans: Lutherans come right out of the Reformation, and their beliefs are centered around Jesus and his gospel. Martin Luther believed the Bible had two messages: the law and the gospel. The law explains that you're not good enough, but the gospel says that's okay because Jesus is. Lutherans believe that you need to look outside of yourself to know if you're saved, specifically to the Lord's Supper, where the body and blood of Christ are really present and given for you. For Lutherans, baptism saves one who experiences Jesus.
While there are many denominations within Christianity, each has its unique beliefs and practices. Understanding these beliefs and practices can help us appreciate the diversity within the Christian faith.
There are several different forms of Islam, each with their own interpretation of Islamic scripture and tradition. Here are some of the major forms of Islam:
Sunni Islam: This is the largest branch of Islam and the one that is most commonly practiced around the world. Sunni Muslims believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful leaders of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Shia Islam: This is the second-largest branch of Islam, and it is mainly practiced in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. Shia Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, was his rightful successor and the first imam.
Sufism: This is a mystical form of Islam that emphasizes spiritual experiences and a direct personal relationship with Allah. Sufi practices include prayer, meditation, and chanting.
Salafism: This is a fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam that emphasizes a return to the early days of Islam and strict adherence to Islamic law.
Ahmadiyya Islam: This is a relatively new sect of Islam that was founded in India in the late 19th century. Ahmadi Muslims believe that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet.
Ibadi Islam: This is a sect of Islam that is mainly practiced in Oman, but also has followers in North Africa and Zanzibar. Ibadi Muslims believe in a moderate interpretation of Islamic law and reject both Sunni and Shia beliefs.
It's important to note that these forms of Islam are not mutually exclusive, and many Muslims may identify with multiple forms or interpret Islamic scripture in their own way.
Atheism and agnosticism¶
Atheism and agnosticism are not necessarily considered "forms" of belief, but rather positions on the existence of a deity or deities. However, there are different types of atheism and agnosticism that can be described:
Strong atheism: This is the belief that there is no God or gods.
Weak atheism: Also known as agnostic atheism, this is the lack of belief in God or gods due to a lack of evidence, but not necessarily the belief that there is no God or gods.
Antitheism: This is a belief that theism is harmful and should be actively opposed.
Humanistic atheism: This is a belief that human beings can lead fulfilling and ethical lives without the need for religion or belief in God or gods.
Agnosticism: This is the belief that the existence of God or gods is unknown or unknowable.
Weak agnosticism: Also known as agnostic skepticism, this is the position that one cannot know whether God or gods exist.
Strong agnosticism: Also known as apatheism, this is the belief that whether God or gods exist is irrelevant to life and should not be a concern.
It's important to note that there are variations and overlaps among these positions, and individuals may identify with more than one.
Hinduism is a diverse religion, and there are several different traditions or forms within it. Some of the main forms of Hinduism are:
Vaishnavism: This tradition is focused on the worship of Lord Vishnu and his various incarnations, such as Rama and Krishna.
Shaivism: This tradition is centered on the worship of Lord Shiva, who is seen as the destroyer and transformer of the universe.
Shaktism: This tradition emphasizes the worship of the divine feminine or the goddess, Shakti, who is seen as the source of all creation and power.
Smartism: This tradition emphasizes the oneness of all gods and goddesses and encourages followers to worship any or all of them.
Brahmanism: This is a philosophical tradition that emphasizes the concept of Brahman, the ultimate reality and source of all existence.
Neo-Hinduism: This is a modern form of Hinduism that incorporates elements of Western thought and seeks to make Hinduism more accessible to contemporary society.
It is important to note that these different forms of Hinduism are not mutually exclusive, and many Hindus may practice a combination of these traditions.
Buddhism has several major branches or schools, which vary in their beliefs, practices, and interpretations of Buddhist teachings. Here are some of the main forms of Buddhism:
Theravada: Also known as the "Doctrine of the Elders," Theravada is the oldest surviving school of Buddhism. It is practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Theravada emphasizes the individual's path to enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana through meditation and the study of Buddhist scriptures.
Mahayana: Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle," is the largest branch of Buddhism, practiced mainly in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet. Mahayana emphasizes the role of compassion and the bodhisattva ideal, which encourages individuals to work towards the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Vajrayana: Vajrayana, or "Diamond Vehicle," is a form of Buddhism that emerged in India and spread to Tibet and Nepal. It emphasizes the use of esoteric practices such as mantra, mudra, and visualization to attain enlightenment. Vajrayana is sometimes called Tantric Buddhism due to its emphasis on tantra.
Zen: Zen is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China and spread to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Zen emphasizes the practice of zazen, or seated meditation, to achieve a direct experience of enlightenment. Zen also emphasizes the role of the teacher-student relationship and the use of paradoxical language (koans) to provoke insight.
Pure Land: Pure Land is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes devotion to the Buddha Amitabha and the attainment of rebirth in his Western Pure Land, where enlightenment is easily attainable. Pure Land is practiced mainly in China, Japan, and Korea.
...also known as traditional or indigenous religions, are local, often rural, belief systems that have developed within a specific culture or community. They are typically passed down orally and do not have a formalized set of beliefs or texts like many of the world's major religions. Folk religions often incorporate elements of animism, ancestor worship, and shamanism, and they often involve rituals, ceremonies, and festivals that are connected to the cycles of nature and the seasons. Examples of folk religions include African traditional religions, Chinese folk religion, and Native American religions.
The "Other religions" category refers to smaller religions or those that do not fit into the main categories. Some examples of religions that fall into this category include Baha'i, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism, among others.
Bahá'í Faith: A religion founded in the 19th century in Persia emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind and the progressive revelation of religious truth.
Jainism: An ancient religion from India emphasizing non-violence, self-control, and the principle of ahimsa (non-harming).
Sikhism: A monotheistic religion founded in the 15th century in India that emphasizes the importance of service, equality, and devotion to God.
Shintoism: An indigenous religion of Japan that emphasizes the importance of reverence for nature and ancestors.
Zoroastrianism: An ancient religion from Persia that emphasizes the worship of the god Ahura Mazda and the importance of good thoughts, words, and deeds.
Taoism: A Chinese philosophy and religion that emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with nature and the concept of Wu Wei (non-action).
Wicca: A modern Pagan religion that emphasizes the worship of nature and the use of magic in daily life.
Rastafarianism: A religion that emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s that emphasizes the importance of African heritage, social justice, and the use of marijuana as a sacrament.
Scientology: A new religious movement that emphasizes the importance of self-improvement and spiritual development through the use of certain techniques and practices.
Cao Dai: A syncretic religion founded in Vietnam in the 1920s that combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity.
Judaism has several different branches, each with its own practices and beliefs. Some of the main branches of Judaism include:
Orthodox Judaism: This is the most traditional form of Judaism, emphasizing strict adherence to Jewish law and the teachings of the Talmud. Orthodox Jews typically believe that the Torah was given to Moses by God and that its commandments are still applicable today.
Conservative Judaism: This is a more moderate form of Judaism that seeks to balance tradition with modernity. Conservative Jews generally follow Jewish law but are more open to modern interpretations and adaptations of tradition.
Reform Judaism: This is the most liberal form of Judaism, which focuses on individual autonomy and contemporary relevance. Reform Jews tend to be more flexible in their interpretation of Jewish law and practice and prioritize ethical values and social justice.
Reconstructionist Judaism: This is a relatively recent movement within Judaism that emphasizes the need to reconstruct Jewish tradition and practice to meet the needs of modern Jews. Reconstructionist Jews prioritize the role of Jewish culture and history, rather than just religious practice, in shaping their identity and community.
Humanistic Judaism: This is a non-theistic form of Judaism that emphasizes the cultural and ethical aspects of Jewish identity rather than belief in God. Humanistic Jews see Judaism as a human creation, rather than a divine revelation, and prioritize reason and science over superstition and dogma.
Pagan religions are a diverse group of spiritual practices that are typically characterized by a focus on nature, the worship of multiple deities, and a belief in the interconnectedness of all things.
Folk religions and pagan religions share some similarities but are not exactly the same.
Pagan religions are a group of religions that are typically polytheistic or animistic and are often characterized by their connection to nature and ancient beliefs and practices. They usually worship multiple deities and may have rituals and practices that are different from mainstream religions.
Folk religions, on the other hand, are typically practiced by small, localized groups of people and are often tied to a specific culture or region. They may also be characterized by their connection to nature, ancestral worship, and traditional beliefs and practices. Unlike paganism, folk religions are not necessarily tied to a particular set of gods or deities.
While there may be some overlap between pagan religions and folk religions, they are not interchangeable terms and refer to different types of religious practices.
Here are some examples of pagan religions:
Wicca: A modern pagan religion that centers around the worship of the goddess and the god, often celebrated through the cycles of the moon and the seasons.
Druidism: A spiritual practice that originated in ancient Celtic cultures, which emphasizes the connection between humans and nature, as well as the worship of a variety of deities.
Asatru: A modern revival of pre-Christian Germanic paganism, which focuses on the worship of the gods and goddesses of Norse mythology.
Hellenism: A revival of the ancient Greek religion, which involves the worship of the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon, as well as a focus on philosophy, ethics, and the arts.
Shamanism: A diverse set of spiritual practices that involve communication with the spirit world, often through the use of trance, meditation, or other altered states of consciousness.
Heathenry: A polytheistic religion that focuses on the worship of a pantheon of gods and goddesses, often associated with Germanic, Scandinavian, or Anglo-Saxon cultures.
Vodou: A syncretic religion that originated in Haiti, which blends elements of West African religion with Christianity and indigenous Caribbean beliefs.
Santeria: A syncretic religion that originated in Cuba, which blends elements of West African religion with Catholicism.
Paganism: A catch-all term for a diverse group of modern spiritual practices that are typically characterized by a focus on nature, multiple deities, and a belief in the interconnectedness of all things.
Pagan religions are constituted in various countries around the world, and their followers can be found in many different cultures and societies. However, it is important to note that the term "pagan" is often used as a catch-all category for a wide range of non-Abrahamic religions, so it can be difficult to make generalizations about their beliefs and practices.
Some countries with significant pagan communities include:
- Iceland: where the Old Norse religion, Ásatrú, has been formally recognized by the government since 1972.
- United States: where neopaganism and Wicca have gained popularity since the 1960s and 1970s.
- Brazil: where there is a large community of practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé and Umbanda.
- Russia: where Slavic paganism has seen a revival in recent years.
- India: where various forms of Hinduism, including animistic and nature-based traditions, have been practiced for thousands of years.
It is worth noting that many pagan religions are also practiced by people outside of their countries of origin, as they often emphasize a connection to nature and the land rather than a specific geographic location.