In studying world religions we must adopt one fact there will be no agreement on one belief structure as this article will show the vast differences of beliefs. In general religion means, a belief structure which is governed by a doctrine (set of rules) determined by ancestry or committee. There are literally thousands of religions and belief structures in the world, with more New Age beliefs emerging everyday. To list everyone and their beliefs would take volumes of books, so for the purpose of this writing I am using the list compiled by adherents.com of the top 22 religions or beliefs. I used their list only as a guide to determine the most well known religions or belief structures. During the research of this article I was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge I have added to my understanding of others. Instead of starting with number one on that list I have decided to work backwards from 22.
22) Scientology has about half of a billion followers with growth continuing with the addition of prominent celebrity involvement. Scientology was started by novelist Ron L. Hubbard author of Dianetics. Scientology claims they can free the human spirit from its bondage to the materialistic world by a process called auditing (counseling procedures). They also draw on eastern philosophy and modern psychology.
21) Rastafarianism’s believe themselves to be reincarnated Israelites. They take their name from former Ethiopian Haile Selassie I precoronation name, Ras (prince) Tafari. They believe Africa to be their heaven on earth where whites will be compelled to serve them. To them Haile was the divine champion of the black race. Rastafarians are mostly vegetarian and wear their hair in dreadlocks and consume ganja (marijuana).
20) Universalism/Unitarianism merged in 1961; both groups share the same Protestant traditional beliefs that very from one group to another. Although they believe in a monotheistic God but denies the divinity of Jesus.
19) Neo-Paganism is mostly based on nature with most of their rituals and holy days tied to the change of seasons. They can be traced back to ancient times with the two most recognized being the Druids and Wiccans. Druids were intellectuals; they were inhabitants of the Celtic nations including Scotland and the Isle of Man. Their name literally means “wise oak” and their language is called Gaelic. They studied astronomy, philosophy, law, poetry and music but were forced underground by the persecution of the Christians. Like Druids, Wiccans are based in Celtic society and again is a nature based religion. The most infamous account of Wiccan society would have to be the Salem witch trials in the 1600’s. Wicca is a strong feminine religion they even have a ceremony to help women during their mid life struggles. They strongly deny they are involved in any devil worship.
18) Tenrikyo is a large division of the Japanese Shinto religion (worship of nature spirits and ancestors). It was founded by a peasant girl from the Yamato province who claimed she was possessed by the,”Lord of Divine Wisdom” (Tenri O noMikoto). The doctrine emphasizes charity and healing disease through the mental acts of faith. The goal in Tenrikyo is to be free from suffering.
17) Zoroastrianism looks at humanity as an ongoing struggle between good and evil. Ahura Mazada is the supreme God of this religion with good and evil represented by his offspring, Spenta Mainyu (good) and Angra Mainyu (evil). At death a person is judged by their ethics they lived by in their lifetime. Their Holy texts are the surviving texts that were salvaged after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia (Iran), it’s called the Avesta.
16} Cao Dai (High Tower) was formally established in 1926 in which Ngo Van Chieu became its prophet. This religion draws from many other religions including Confucianism, Taoism, Jesus, and Muhammad. Followers spread out over Vietnam, Cambodia, France, and the U.S., but its main home is in Tayninh, near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
15) Shinto followers believe in Kami the spiritual essence that exists in gods, humans, animals, and inanimate objects. They have no founder or sacred scriptures but their guiding beliefs have survived threw he ages. Purification of mind and physicality is at the core of this religion. It’s hard even for the followers to put in words about their belief the best way is that Kami is a continuation threw time.
14) Jainism along with Hinduism and Buddhism are the three most ancient religions in India today. Jainism is simple; they wish to overcome their feelings of hate, greed, and selfishness in order to achieve bliss. They also renounce materialistic needs and practice non-violence.
13) Baha’i was founded by a descendant of Muhammad, Ali Mohammad of Shiraz, Iran. He declared himself a messenger from God and called himself the Bab (gateway). Baha’i teaches there is one god who is unknowable and wishes to create a peaceful and just society. He called to break free from the Islamic ideology. He was arrested and executed when he was declared a rebel and heretic.
12) Judaism is a personal relationship with God. According to belief God made the Jews His chosen people threw their patriarch Abraham. They believe in the one all powerful God Judaism gives us a history of these people along with other cultures and people. Some use the Old Testament as a history book and spiritual guide. It gave Christians the royal linage of Jesus along with the ten basic laws that govern us and the Wisdom of Solomon. For other religions a belief in Judaism is critical because Jesus was a Jew and practiced many of their practices.
11) Spiritism is the belief that the dead speak to the living threw mediums, auras, telepath, clairvoyance and trance speaking. Spiritualists believe that God is the Supreme Being and creator of all things but also believe in the incarnate spirits. Spiritualists do point out that there is no scientific evidence to validate the spiritual claims of traditional religions.
10) Juche is a philosophy that was created by Kim II Sung to promote his ideas in the form of a personality cult around himself and his family. Kim merged the aspects of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoist into Juche. Juche is the belief we are the masters of our own destiny and guided by the Great Leader.
9) Sikhism follows the belief n one God and the teachings of Guru Nanak and the nine gurus who succeeded him. Sikh means follower in Sanskrit (India). Sikhism is based on over coming the five vices of greed, anger, false pride, lust, and love of material goods. It’s also important to live a moral life that includes practicing loyalty, gratitude, philanthropy, justice and honesty. They have the belief in reincarnation to the point of how you live this life what you will become in the next one. Eventually you will unite with the infinite one.
8) African Traditional and Diasporic are as diverse as the 50 modern nations they encompass in Africa. Diasporic literally means a religion that is carried from its home to another location. Almost all religions can be classified in this way. The slave trades of the past in Africa is responsible for most of this diversion. With a large amount arriving in the southern Unite States. To lock down one belief structure in Africa is almost an impossible task because of all the diverseness involved. What most scholars have done is to find a simile within the tribes and most tribes believe in one creator god maker of everything. There are ALS cults within Africa that range from prayer rituals to blood sacrifices.
7) Primal-indigenous refers to the diverse beliefs in Asia. Adherents had put the African Traditional in a separate category added this to cover the remaining diverse religions in the area but give no indication of who or what they are and since my research was unable to pinpoint any I wish not to offend anyone on speculation..
6) Buddhism simply put is following and preserving the teachings of Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama is the founder of Buddhism, which means, “Enlightened One”. The ultimate goal in Buddhism is to attain Nirvana, which may take several rebirths. At the core of Buddhism belief is the Four Nobel Truths: a) all life is suffering. b) Suffering stems from desire. c) There can be an end to desire. d) The way is the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is eight rights, right view, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditations.
5) Chinese traditional religion comprises the religion that is practiced in much of China, which includes ancestor worship and Chinese mythology. The Chinese dragon is one of the key religious symbols in these beliefs. The Chinese blend a combination of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism in their religious ceremonies. Along with communication with the sun, moon, earth, animals and the heavens there is a strong ancestral bond also within this belief.
4) Hinduism and its origins have baffled historians for years. Hinduism according to some within the faith has always been there is no founder it just exists. As diverse as the rivers within it so is the body of religion that exists within India. The idea of reincarnation is universal in India. Hindu concept have being born over and over again into a state of suffering until one becomes one with Being. The sacred writing of Hinduism is called the Veda (knowledge). In Hindu literature there were 33,333 deities with Vishnu. Vishnu is the binding force that holds the universe together. Along with the Veda there are two western writings that stand out among the large collection of Hindu texts, The Upanishads and The Bhagavad-Gita. The Upanishads contains the basis of Indian philosophy, whereas the Bhagavad-Gita is a dialogue between the hero and his charioteer.
3) Atheist/Agnostic/Secular/non-religious is a vast category and according to adherents has a following of 1.1 billion people. What’s shocking is how high this category fits within the top ten of this list. This is the third largest movement yet it can be summed up like this: Lack of critical evidence of God’s existence, the denial of belief in God, and more worldly than religious.
2) Islam’s founder Muhammad is believed to be the last prophet in a series of prophets that include, Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The Holy Book of the Muslim’s is the Qur’an is regarded as the Word of God delivered to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Teh Hadith contains Muhammad’s sayings or actions he made during his lifetime. The Central Beliefs in Islam are the Five Pillars of Islam, which are: 1) Profession of Faith. 2) Prayer 3) The Zakat(obligatory tax) 4) Fasting 5) Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca if physically or financially able). Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad and is the most sacred city in Islam located in Saudi Arabia.
1) Christianity is both well known and the one that receives the most criticism. Christianity is simply the belief in Jesus of Nazareth, his life, teachings, death, and Resurrection. Christian’s accept Jesus their Savior from sin. Their Holy Book is the Holy Bible that contains both Jew and Christian history. It would take volumes of books to list all the factions and beliefs structures within the Christian belief. To visualize the vast denominations with in Christianity drop a metal ball-bearing on a frozen lake and watch the cracks develop. Christians worship one God with three parts, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They believe Jesus will come again in the last days.
There you have it the top 22 faith structures in today’s world. The purpose of this writing is to give you a basic understanding of religious groups among us, so if you come across someone of different faith you have some knowledge of who they are and how they believe. Simple knowledge is better than making rash judgments of others. With