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Major world religions have been distinguished from minor religions using a variety of methods, though any such division naturally reflects a particular bias, since many adherents of a religion are likely to consider their own faith "major". Two methods are mentioned in this article, number of adherents and the definitions used by classical scholars of religions.
For a list of all religions, please see the article list of religions.
For a discussion of the relationships between religions, see Religious pluralism
Defined by population
One way to define a major religion is by the number of current adherents. Population numbers by religion are computed by combination of census reports and population surveys (in countries where religion data is not collected in census, for example USA or France), but results can vary widely depending on the way questions are phrased, the definitions of religion used, and the bias of the agencies or organizations conducting the survey. Informal or unorganized religions are especially difficult to count.
All religions or belief systems by number of adherents
This listing does not draw distinctions between organized religion, which has a single belief code and religious hierarchies, and informal religions, such as Chinese folk religion, which are a mix of different folk religious ideas.
- Christianity 2.1 billion
- Islam 1.3 billion
- Sunnism: 940 million
- Shi'ism: 170 million
- Sufi, Ibadiyyah, Ahmadiyyah, Druze and other Muslims : 2 million
- Secular/Irreligious/Humanist/Rationalist/Agnostic/Atheist 1.1 billion
- Hinduism 900 million
- Chinese folk religion 394 million
- Buddhism 376 million (see also Buddhism by country )
- Primal indigenous 300 million
- African traditional and diasporic 100 million
- Not a single organized religion, this includes traditional African beliefs such as Yoruba as well as diasporic beliefs such as Santeria (which itself draws from Catholicism) and Vodoun.
- Sikhism 23 million
- Juche 19 million
- Not considered a religion by adherents, who view it as secular and anti-revisionist. Juche is the political ideology of the Workers Party of Korea, the ruling party of the DPRK; some have argued it constitutes a religion due to its Great Leader Worship characteristics. The number is approximately the entire population of the country.
- Spiritism 15 million
- Not a single organized religion, includes a variety of beliefs including some forms of Umbanda.
- Judaism 14 million
- Falun Gong 10-100 million*
- Not necessarily considered a religion by adherents or outside observers. No membership or rosters, thus the actual figure of practitioners is impossible to confirm.
- Bahá'í Faith 7 million
- Jainism 4.2 million
- Shinto 4 million
- Cao Dai 4 million
- Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
- Tenrikyo 2 million
- Neopaganism 1 million
- A blanket term for several religions like Wicca, Magik and Druidry
- Unitarian Universalism 800,000
- Rasta 600,000
- Scientology 500,000
- Source of statistics for all religons except Falun Gong: adherents.com, updated 2005. These statistics are based on analysis of a range of sources on religious populations, for more on the methodology, please see Adherent.com's explanation.
*Falun Gong estimate that of the People's Republic of China, other estimates are much higher.
Organized religions by population ranking
The Christian Science Monitor used a separate standard, examining only organized religions. The newspaper listed the following in 1998 as the "Top 10 Organized Religions in the World" based on descending level of population:
Historic "classic" view
Major religions have also been identified based on their perceived importance, whether theological or temporal. This sorting has been generally been the preserve of Western, Christian scholars, so lists of classic major religions betray this bias. Early Christian scholars, the earliest known classifiers of major religions, recognized only three religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Paganism (which they considered to encompass every other religion). Views evolved during the Enlightenment, however, and, by the 19th century, Western scholars considered the five major religions to be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. As the exposure of Westerners to other religions increased, five other religions were added to the original five: Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, Shinto and Zoroastrianism. Later, the Bahá'í Faith was added to this list, resulting in eleven classic religions:
- Bahá'í Faith
Modern Western definitions of major religion come from the classical definition, often expanding on "Christianity," and omitting Jainism and Zoroastrianism. An example is this list found in the New York Public Library Student Reference:
- Bahá'í Faith
- Orthodox Eastern Church
See also: Religions of the world, Religious_pluralism.
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