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File:Major religions distribution.png

Religions of the world, mapped by distribution, with no sects.


Predominant religions of the world, mapped by state

In the 20th century study of comparative religion, major religious groups or "world religions" were divided up by adherence to a specific philosophy or theology. However, there is no consensus among researchers as to the best methodology for determining the religiosity profile of the world's population. A number of fundamental aspects are unresolved:

  • Whether to count "historically predominant religious culture[s]"[1]
  • Whether to count only those who actively "practice" a particular religion[2]
  • Whether to count based on a concept of "adherence"[3]
  • Whether to count only those who expressly self-identify with a particular denomination[4]
  • Whether to count only adults, or to include children as well
  • Whether to rely only on official government-provided statistics[5]
  • Whether to use multiple sources and ranges or single "best source[s]"

Nonetheless, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are usually considered the respective top four.

By world population

The table below lists religions classified by philosophy; however, religious philosophy is not always the determining factor in local practice. Please note that this table includes heterodox movements as adherents to their larger philosophical category, although this may be disputed by others within that category. For example, Cao Đài is listed because it claims to be a separate category from Buddhism, while Hoa Hao is not, even though they are similar new religious movements.

The population numbers below are computed by a combination of census reports, random surveys (in countries where religion data is not collected in census, for example USA or France), and self-reported attendance numbers, 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. Some organizations may wildly inflate their numbers.

Cultural tradition Religious category Number of followers Date of origin Main regions covered
Abrahamic religions Christianity 2.1 billion[6] 1st c. Worldwide except Northwest Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Central, East, and Southeast Asia.
Islam 1.5 billion[7] 7th c. Middle East, Northern Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Western Africa, Indian subcontinent, Malay Archipelago with large population centers existing in Eastern Africa, Balkan Peninsula, Russia, Europe and China.
Judaism 12–25 million[8] 1300 B.C. Israel and Jewish diaspora (meaning mostly North America and Europe)
Bahá'í Faith 5 million[9] 19th c. Dispersed worldwide with no major population centers
Rastafari movement 700 thousand[10] 1930s Jamaica, Caribbean, Africa
Dharmic religions Hinduism 650 million –1.4 billion[11] 2500–3000 B.C. or older Indian subcontinent, Fiji, Guyana and Mauritius
Buddhism 250–500 million[12] c. 500 B.C. Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Indochina, regions of Russia.
Sikhism 10–20 million[13] 15th c. Indian subcontinent, Australasia, Northern America, Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom and Western Europe.
Jainism 6–12 million[14] c. 800 B.C. India, and East Africa
Far Eastern religions Taoism Varies[15] Han Dynasty: 206 B.C. – A.D. 220 China and the Chinese diaspora
Shinto Varies Varies by tradition Japan
Confucianism Varies[15] 5th c. B.C. China, Korea, Vietnam and the Chinese and Vietnamese diasporas
Folk religions
Chinese folk religions Varies[15] Varies by tradition China
African traditional and diasporic religions Millions[15] Varies by tradition Africa, Americas
Other folk religions Millions[15] Varies by tradition India, Asia
each over 500 thousand
Chondogyo 3 million[16] 1812 North Korea
Tenrikyo 2 million[17] 1832 Japan, Brazil
Cao Đài 1–3 million[18] 1925 Vietnam
Ahl-e Haqq 1 million[19] 14th century Iraq, Iran
Seicho-No-Ie 800 thousand[17] 1929 Japan
Yazidism 700 thousand[20] 12th century or older mainly Iraq
Unitarian-Universalism 630 thousand[21] 1961 United States, Europe

By region

Further information: Religion in present-day nations and states and National church
  • Religion in Africa
  • Religion in Asia
    • Religion in India
    • Religion in China
    • Muslim world (SW Asia and N Africa)
  • Religion in North America
    • Religion in Canada
    • Religion in Mexico
    • Religion in the United States
  • Religion in South America
  • Religion in Australia
  • Religion in Europe
    • Religion in the European Union

Trends in adherence

File:Religion in the world.PNG

Map showing relative importance of religion by country. Based on a 2006-2008 worldwide survey by Gallup.

File:Irreligion statistics by country.png

World map showing the percentages of people who regard religion as "non-important" according to a 2002 Pew survey

Since the late 19th century the demographics of religion have changed a great deal. Some countries with a historically large Christian population have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of professed active Christians. Symptoms of the decline in active participation in Christian religious life include declining recruitment for the priesthood and monastic life, as well as diminishing attendance at church. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of people who identify themselves as secular humanists. In many countries, such as the People's Republic of China, communist governments have discouraged religion, making it difficult to count the actual number of believers. However, after the collapse of communism in numerous countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, religious life has been experiencing resurgence there, particularly in the forms of Neopaganism and Far Eastern religions.

Following is some available data based on the work of World Christian Database and its predecessor, the World Christian Encyclopedia:


1970-1985[9] 1990-2000[22][23] 2000-2005[24]
3.65% - Bahá'í Faith 2.65% - Zoroastrianism 1.84% - Islam
2.74% - Islam 2.28% - Bahá'í Faith 1.70% - Bahá'í Faith
2.34% - Hinduism 2.13% - Islam 1.62% - Sikhism
1.67% - Buddhism 1.87% - Sikhism 1.57% - Hinduism
1.64% - Christianity 1.69% - Hinduism 1.32% - Christianity
1.09% - Judaism 1.36% - Christianity
1.09% - Buddhism
The annual growth in the world population over the same period is 1.41%.

While controversial in some respects, the results have been studied and found "highly correlated with other sources of data" but "consistently gave a higher estimate for percent Christian in comparison to other cross-national data sets" according to one study.[25]

A 2002 Pew Research Center study found that, generally, poorer nations had a larger proportion of citizens who found religion to be very important than richer nations, with the exception of the United States.[26]


  1. Pippa Norris, Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular, Religion and Politics Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, 2007-01-06.
  2. Pew Research Center. Among Wealthy Nations U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion. Pew Research Center. URL accessed on 2006-10-12.
  3. Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents. URL accessed on 2006-10-12.
  4. World Values Survey. URL accessed on 2006-10-12.
  5. United Nations Statistics Division - Demographic and Social Statistics. United Nations Statistics Division. URL accessed on 2007-01-06.
  6. [h]
  7. [1]
  8. Compilation of many sources at
  9. 9.0 9.1 International Community, Bahá'í (1992), "How many Bahá'ís are there?", The Bahá'ís: 14, .
  10. Leonard E. Barrett. The Rastafarians: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance. Beacon Press, 1988. p. viii.
  11. [Clarke, Peter B. (editor), The Religions of the World: Understanding the Living Faiths, Marshall Editions Limited: USA (1993); pg. 125]
  12. Compilation of many sources at
  13. Compilation of many sources at
  14. Figures for the population of Jains differ from just over six million to twelve million due to difficulties of Jain identity, with Jains in some areas counted as a Hindu sect. Many Jains do not return Jainism as their religion on census forms for various reasons such as certain Jain castes considering themselves both Hindu and Jain. Following a major advertising campaign urging Jains to register as such, the 1981 Census of India returned 3.19 million Jains. This was estimated at the time to still be half the true number. The 2001 Census of India had 8.4 million Jains.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 The adherent counts of folk traditions vary depending on how "belief" is determined, but each has definitely more than 500,000.
  16. Self-reported figures from 1999; North Korea only (South Korean followers are minimal according to self-reported figures). In The A to Z of New Religious Movements by George D. Chryssides. ISBN 0810855887
  17. 17.0 17.1 Self-reported figures printed in Japanese Ministry of Education's Shuukyou Nenkan, 2003
  18. Sergei Blagov. "Caodaism in Vietnam : Religion vs Restrictions and Persecution". IARF World Congress, Vancouver, Canada, July 31st, 1999.
  19. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa (Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2004) p. 82
  20. International Committee for European Security & Cooperation: statement presented by J.B.Daud Baghistani, ICESC Deputy Permanent Representative to the Commission on Human Rights... 10 Feb. 1995
  21. American Religious Identification Survey
  22. Barrett, David A. (2001). World Christian Encyclopedia, 4.
  23. Barrett, David, Johnson, Todd (2001). Global adherents of the World's 19 distinct major religions. William Carey Library. URL accessed on 2006-10-12.
  24. includeonly>Staff. "The List: The World’s Fastest-Growing Religions", Foreign Policy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2007.
  25. Hsu, Becky; Reynolds, Amy; Hackett, Conrad; Gibbon, James ((accepted for publication) December 2008), "Estimating the Religious Composition of All Nations", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 
  26. Pew Research Center. Among Wealthy Nations U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion. Pew Research Center. URL accessed on 2006-10-12.

See also

External links

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