Atheism, in the broadest sense, is an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.The etymological root for the word atheism originated before the 5th century BCE from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. In antiquity, it had multiple uses as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society, those who were forsaken by the gods, or those who had no commitment to belief in the gods. The term denoted a social category created by orthodox religionists into which those who did not share their religious beliefs were placed. The actual term atheism emerged first in the 16th century. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word atheist lived in the 18th century during the Age of Enlightenment. The French Revolution, noted for its “unprecedented atheism”, witnessed the first significant political movement in history to advocate for the supremacy of human reason.Arguments for atheism range from philosophical to social and historical approaches. Rationales for not believing in deities include the lack of evidence, the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, the rejection of concepts that cannot be falsified, and the argument from nonbelief. Nonbelievers contend that atheism is a more parsimonious position than theism and that everyone is born without beliefs in deities; therefore, they argue that the burden of proof lies not on the atheist to disprove the existence of gods but on the theist to provide a rationale for theism. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies (e.g. secular humanism), there is no ideology or code of conduct to which all atheists adhere.Since conceptions of atheism vary, accurate estimations of current numbers of atheists are difficult. According to global Win-Gallup International studies, 13% of respondents were “convinced atheists” in 2012, 11% were “convinced atheists” in 2015, and in 2017, 9% were “convinced atheists”. However, other researchers have advised caution with WIN/Gallup figures since other surveys which have used the same wording for decades and have a bigger sample size have consistently reached lower figures. An older survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2004 recorded atheists as comprising 8% of the world’s population. Other older estimates have indicated that atheists comprise 2% of the world’s population, while the irreligious add a further 12%. According to these polls, Europe and East Asia are the regions with the highest rates of atheism. In 2015, 61% of people in China reported that they were atheists. The figures for a 2010 Eurobarometer survey in the European Union (EU) reported that 20% of the EU population claimed not to believe in “any sort of spirit, God or life force”, with France (40%) and Sweden (34%) representing the highest values.
Buddhism (, US: ) is a widespread Asian religion or philosophical tradition based on a series of original teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha. It originated in ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, spreading through much of Asia. It is the world’s fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists. Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, teachings, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on the Buddha’s teachings (born Siddhārtha Gautama in the 5th or 4th century BCE) and resulting interpreted philosophies.
As expressed in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, the goal of Buddhism is to overcome suffering (duḥkha) caused by desire and ignorance of reality’s true nature, including impermanence (anicca) and the non-existence of the self (anattā). Most Buddhist traditions emphasize transcending the individual self through the attainment of Nirvana or by following the path of Buddhahood, ending the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation, the relative importance and canonicity assigned to the various Buddhist texts, and their specific teachings and practices. Widely observed practices include meditation, observance of moral precepts, monasticism, taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and the cultivation of the Paramitas (perfections, or virtues).Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravāda (Pali: “The School of the Elders”) and Mahāyāna (Sanskrit: “The Great Vehicle”). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Mahayana, which includes the traditions of Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren Buddhism, Tiantai Buddhism (Tendai), and Shingon, is practiced prominently in Nepal, Malaysia, Bhutan, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian adepts, may be viewed as a separate branch or as an aspect of Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism, which preserves the Vajrayana teachings of eighth-century India, is practised in the countries of the Himalayan region, Mongolia, and Kalmykia. Historically, until the early 2nd millennium, Buddhism was also widely practised in Afghanistan and it also had a foothold to some extent in other places including the Philippines, the Maldives, and Uzbekistan.
Bábism, also known as the Bábi Faith (Persian: بابیه, romanized: Babiyye), is a monotheistic religion which professes that there is one incorporeal, unknown, and incomprehensible God who manifests his will in an unending series of theophanies, called Manifestation of God. It has no more than a few thousand adherents according to current estimates, most of whom are concentrated in Iran. It was founded by ʻAli Muhammad Shirazi who first assumed the title of Báb (lit. ’Gate’) from which the religion gets its name, out of the belief that he was the gate to the Twelfth Imam. However throughout his ministry his titles and claims underwent much evolution as the Báb progressively outlined his teachings.Founded in 1844, the Bábi Faith flourished in Iran until 1852, then lingered on in exile in the Ottoman Empire, especially Cyprus, as well as underground in Iran. An anomaly amongst Islamic messianic movements, the Bábí movement signaled a break with Shia Islam, beginning a new religious system with its own unique laws, teachings, and practices. While Bábism was violently opposed by both clerical and government establishments, it led to the founding of the Baháʼí Faith, whose followers consider the religion founded by the Báb as a predecessor to their own. Baháʼí sources maintain that the remains of the Bab were clandestinely rescued by a handful of Bábis and then hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported according to the instructions of Baháʼu’lláh and then ʻAbdu’l-Bahá through Isfahan, Kermanshah, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and then by sea to Acre on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. On 21 March 1909, the remains were interred in a special tomb, the Shrine of the Báb, erected for this purpose by ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in present-day Haifa, Israel.
Caodaism (Vietnamese: Đạo Cao Đài, Chữ Nôm: 道高臺) is a monotheistic syncretic new religious movement officially established in the city of Tây Ninh in southern Vietnam in 1926. The full name of the religion is Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (The Great Faith [for the] Third Universal Redemption).Adherents engage in practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the goal of union with God and freedom from saṃsāra. Estimates of the number of Caodaists in Vietnam vary; government figures estimate 4.4 million Caodaists affiliated to the Cao Đài Tây Ninh Holy See, with numbers rising up to 6 million if other branches are added. However estimates vary. The United Nations found about 2.5 million Cao Dai followers in Vietnam as of January 2015. An additional number of adherents in the tens of thousands, primarily ethnic Vietnamese, live in North America, Cambodia, Europe and Australia as part of the Cao Dai diaspora.
Christianity is an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the world’s largest religion, with about 2.5 billion followers. Its adherents, known as Christians, make up a majority of the population in 157 countries and territories, and believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible (called the Old Testament in Christianity) and chronicled in the New Testament.Christianity remains culturally diverse in its Western and Eastern branches, as well as in its doctrines concerning justification and the nature of salvation, ecclesiology, ordination, and Christology. The creeds of various Christian denominations generally hold in common Jesus as the Son of God—the Logos incarnated—who ministered, suffered, and died on a cross, but rose from the dead for the salvation of mankind; and referred to as the gospel, meaning the “good news”. Describing Jesus’ life and teachings are the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the Old Testament as the gospel’s respected background.
Christianity began as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the 1st century in the Roman province of Judea. Jesus’ apostles and their followers spread around the Levant, Europe, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the South Caucasus, Egypt, and Ethiopia, despite initial persecution. It soon attracted gentile God-fearers, which led to a departure from Jewish customs, and, after the Fall of Jerusalem, AD 70 which ended the Temple-based Judaism, Christianity slowly separated from Judaism. Emperor Constantine the Great decriminalized Christianity in the Roman Empire by the Edict of Milan (313), later convening the Council of Nicaea (325) where Early Christianity was consolidated into what would become the State church of the Roman Empire (380). The early history of Christianity’s united church before major schisms is sometimes referred to as the “Great Church” (though divergent sects existed at the same time, including Gnostics and Jewish Christians). The Church of the East split after the Council of Ephesus (431) and Oriental Orthodoxy split after the Council of Chalcedon (451) over differences in Christology, while the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church separated in the East–West Schism (1054), especially over the authority of the bishop of Rome. Protestantism split in numerous denominations from the Catholic Church in the Reformation era (16th century) over theological and ecclesiological disputes, most predominantly on the issue of justification and the primacy of the bishop of Rome. Christianity played a prominent role in the development of Western civilization, particularly in Europe from late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Following the Age of Discovery (15th–17th century), Christianity was spread into the Americas, Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa, and the rest of the world via missionary work.The four largest branches of Christianity are the Catholic Church (1.3 billion/50.1%), Protestantism (920 million/36.7%), the Eastern Orthodox Church (230 million), and the Oriental Orthodox churches (62 million) (Orthodox churches combined at 11.9%), though thousands of smaller church communities exist despite efforts toward unity (ecumenism). Despite a decline in adherence in the West, Christianity remains the dominant religion in the region, with about 70% of the population identifying as Christian. Christianity is growing in Africa and Asia, the world’s most populous continents. Christians remain persecuted in some regions of the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia, and South Asia.
Hinduism () is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life. It is the world’s third-largest religion, with over 1.2 billion followers, or 15–16% of the global population, known as Hindus. The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit. ”the Eternal Dharma”), which refers to the idea that its origins lie beyond human history, as revealed in the Hindu texts. Another, though less fitting, self-designation is Vaidika dharma, the ‘dharma related to the Vedas.’Hinduism is a diverse system of thought marked by a range of philosophies and shared concepts, rituals, cosmological systems, pilgrimage sites, and shared textual sources that discuss theology, metaphysics, mythology, Vedic yajna, yoga, agamic rituals, and temple building, among other topics. Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life; namely, dharma (ethics/duties), artha (prosperity/work), kama (desires/passions) and moksha (liberation/freedom from the passions and the cycle of death and rebirth), as well as karma (action, intent and consequences) and saṃsāra (cycle of death and rebirth). Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (Ahiṃsā), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, virtue, and compassion, among others. Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, japa, meditation (dhyāna), family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Along with the practice of various yogas, some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions and engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monasticism) in order to achieve moksha.Hindu texts are classified into Śruti (“heard”) and Smṛti (“remembered”), the major scriptures of which are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Purānas, the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyana, and the Āgamas. There are six āstika schools of Hindu philosophy, who recognise the authority of the Vedas, namely Sānkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Mimāmsā and Vedānta. While the Puranic chronology presents a genealogy of thousands of years, starting with the Vedic rishis, scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of Brahmanical orthopraxy with various Indian cultures, having diverse roots and no specific founder. This Hindu synthesis emerged after the Vedic period, between c. 500–200 BCE and c. 300 CE, in the period of the Second Urbanisation and the early classical period of Hinduism, when the Epics and the first Purānas were composed. It flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.Currently, the four largest denominations of Hinduism are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. Sources of authority and eternal truths in the Hindu texts play an important role, but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning authority in order to deepen the understanding of these truths and to further develop the tradition. Hinduism is the most widely professed faith in India, Nepal and Mauritius. Significant numbers of Hindu communities are found in Southeast Asia including in Bali, Indonesia, the Caribbean, North America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and other regions.
Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life, Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE).
Confucius considered himself a transmitter of cultural values inherited from the Xia (c. 2070–1600 BCE), Shang (c. 1600–1046 BCE) and Zhou dynasties (c. 1046–256 BCE). Confucianism was suppressed during the Legalist and autocratic Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), but survived. During the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), Confucian approaches edged out the “proto-Taoist” Huang–Lao as the official ideology, while the emperors mixed both with the realist techniques of Legalism.A Confucian revival began during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). In the late Tang, Confucianism developed in response to Buddhism and Taoism and was reformulated as Neo-Confucianism. This reinvigorated form was adopted as the basis of the imperial exams and the core philosophy of the scholar official class in the Song dynasty (960–1297). The abolition of the examination system in 1905 marked the end of official Confucianism. The intellectuals of the New Culture Movement of the early twentieth century blamed Confucianism for China’s weaknesses. They searched for new doctrines to replace Confucian teachings; some of these new ideologies include the “Three Principles of the People” with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoism under the People’s Republic of China. In the late twentieth century, the Confucian work ethic has been credited with the rise of the East Asian economy.With particular emphasis on the importance of the family and social harmony, rather than on an otherworldly source of spiritual values, the core of Confucianism is humanistic. According to Herbert Fingarette’s conceptualisation of Confucianism as a philosophical system which regards “the secular as sacred”, Confucianism transcends the dichotomy between religion and humanism, considering the ordinary activities of human life—and especially human relationships—as a manifestation of the sacred, because they are the expression of humanity’s moral nature (xìng 性), which has a transcendent anchorage in Heaven (Tiān 天). While Tiān has some characteristics that overlap the category of godhead, it is primarily an impersonal absolute principle, like the Dào (道) or the Brahman. Confucianism focuses on the practical order that is given by a this-worldly awareness of the Tiān. Confucian liturgy (called 儒 rú, or sometimes simplified Chinese: 正统; traditional Chinese: 正統; pinyin: zhèngtǒng, meaning ‘orthopraxy’) led by Confucian priests or “sages of rites” (礼生; 禮生; lǐshēng) to worship the gods in public and ancestral Chinese temples is preferred on certain occasions, by Confucian religious groups and for civil religious rites, over Taoist or popular ritual.The worldly concern of Confucianism rests upon the belief that human beings are fundamentally good, and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor, especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue in a morally organised world. Some of the basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices include rén, yì, and lǐ, and zhì. Rén (仁, ‘benevolence’ or ‘humaneness’) is the essence of the human being which manifests as compassion. It is the virtue-form of Heaven. Yì (义; 義) is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. Lǐ (礼; 禮) is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life in harmony with the law of Heaven. Zhì (智) is the ability to see what is right and fair, or the converse, in the behaviors exhibited by others. Confucianism holds one in contempt, either passively or actively, for failure to uphold the cardinal moral values of rén and yì.
Traditionally, cultures and countries in the East Asian cultural sphere are strongly influenced by Confucianism, including China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Han Chinese people, such as Singapore. Today, it has been credited for shaping East Asian societies and overseas Chinese communities, and to some extent, other parts of Asia. In the last decades there have been talks of a “Confucian Revival” in the academic and the scholarly community, and there has been a grassroots proliferation of various types of Confucian churches. In late 2015 many Confucian personalities formally established a national Holy Confucian Church (孔圣会; 孔聖會; Kǒngshènghuì) in China to unify the many Confucian congregations and civil society organisations.
Druze (; Arabic: درزي darzī or durzī, plural دروز durūz) are members of an Arabic-speaking esoteric ethnoreligious group originating in Western Asia. They practice Druzism, an Abrahamic, monotheistic, syncretic, and ethnic religion based on the teachings of Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmad and the sixth Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, and ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Zeno of Citium. Adherents of the Druze religion are called The People of Monotheism (Al-Muwaḥḥidūn).The Epistles of Wisdom is the foundational and central text of the Druze faith. The Druze faith incorporates elements of Isma’ilism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Zoroastrianism,Buddhism, Hinduism, Pythagoreanism, and other philosophies and beliefs, creating a distinct and secretive theology based on an esoteric interpretation of scripture, which emphasizes the role of the mind and truthfulness. Druze believe in theophany and reincarnation. Druze believe that at the end of the cycle of rebirth, which is achieved through successive reincarnations, the soul is united with the Cosmic Mind (al-ʻaql al-kullī).Druze believe there were seven prophets at different periods in history: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Muhammad ibn Isma’il ad-Darazi. Druze tradition also honors and reveres Salman the Persian, al-Khidr (who identify as Elijah and reborn as John the Baptist and Saint George), Job, Luke the Evangelist, and others as “mentors” and “prophets”. They also have a special affinity with Shuaib, or Jethro.
Even though the faith originally developed out of Isma’ilism, Druze do not identify as Muslims. The Druze faith is one of the major religious groups in the Levant, with between 800,000 and a million adherents. They are found primarily in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, with small communities in Jordan. They make up 5.5% of the population of Lebanon, 3% of Syria and 1.6% of Israel. The oldest and most densely-populated Druze communities exist in Mount Lebanon and in the south of Syria around Jabal al-Druze (literally the “Mountain of the Druze”).The Druze community played a critically important role in shaping the history of the Levant, where it continues to play a significant political role. As a religious minority in every country in which they are found, they have frequently experienced persecution by different Muslim regimes, including contemporary Islamic extremism.
Islam (; Arabic: اَلْإِسْلَامُ, romanized: al-’Islām, [ɪsˈlaːm] (listen) “submission [to God]”) is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion teaching that Muhammad is a messenger of God. It is the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity, with 1.9 billion followers or 24.9% of the world’s population, known as Muslims. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, and unique, and has guided humanity through prophets, revealed scriptures, and natural signs. The primary scriptures of Islam are the Quran, believed to be the verbatim word of God, as well as the teachings and normative examples (called the sunnah, composed of accounts called hadith) of Muhammad (c. 570 – 632 CE).Muslims believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed many times before through prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims consider the Quran, in Arabic, to be the unaltered and final revelation of God. Like other Abrahamic religions, Islam also teaches a final judgment with the righteous rewarded in paradise and the unrighteous punished in hell. Religious concepts and practices include the Five Pillars of Islam, which are obligatory acts of worship, as well as following Islamic law (sharia), which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, from banking and welfare to women and the environment. The cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are home to the three holiest sites in Islam.From a historical point of view, Islam originated in early 7th century CE in the Arabian Peninsula, in Mecca, and by the 8th century, the Umayyad Caliphate extended from Iberia in the west to the Indus River in the east. The Islamic Golden Age refers to the period traditionally dated from the 8th century to the 13th century, during the Abbasid Caliphate, when much of the historically Muslim world was experiencing a scientific, economic, and cultural flourishing. The expansion of the Muslim world involved various states and caliphates such as the Ottoman Empire, trade, and conversion to Islam by missionary activities (dawah).Most Muslims are of one of two denominations: Sunni (85–90%) or Shia (10–15%). Sunni and Shia differences arose from disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridical dimensions. About 12% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country; 31% live in South Asia, the largest percentage of Muslims in the world; 20% in the Middle East–North Africa, where it is the dominant religion; and 15% in sub-Saharan Africa. Sizable Muslim communities can also be found in the Americas, China, and Europe. Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.
Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 Yehudim, Israeli pronunciation [jehuˈdim]) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, although its observance varies from strict to none.Jews originated as an ethnic and religious group in the Middle East during the second millennium BCE, in the part of the Levant known as the Land of Israel. The Merneptah Stele appears to confirm the existence of a people of Israel somewhere in Canaan as far back as the 13th century BCE (Late Bronze Age). The Israelites, as an outgrowth of the Canaanite population, consolidated their hold with the emergence of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Some consider that these Canaanite sedentary Israelites melded with incoming nomadic groups known as ‘Hebrews’. Though few sources mention the exilic periods in detail, the experience of diaspora life, from the Babylonian captivity and exile to the Roman occupation and exile, and the historical relations between Jews and their homeland thereafter became a major feature of Jewish history, identity and memory.In the millennia following, Jewish diaspora communities coalesced into three, major ethnic subdivisions according to where their ancestors settled: Ashkenazim (Central and Eastern Europe), Sephardim (initially in the Iberian Peninsula), and Mizrahim (Middle East and North Africa). Prior to World War II, the worldwide Jewish population reached a peak of 16.7 million, representing around 0.7 percent of the world population at that time. During World War II, approximately 6 million Jews were systematically murdered by Nazi Germany in Europe during the Holocaust. Since then the population has slowly risen again, and as of 2018 was estimated at 14.6–17.8 million by the Berman Jewish DataBank, less than 0.2 percent of the total world population.The modern State of Israel is the only country where Jews form a majority of the population. It defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state in the Basic Laws, Human Dignity and Liberty in particular, which is based on the Declaration of Independence. Israel’s Law of Return grants the right of citizenship to Jews who have expressed their desire to settle in Israel.Jews have significantly influenced and contributed to human progress in many fields, both historically and in modern times, including philosophy, ethics, literature, politics, business, fine arts and architecture, music, theatre and cinema, medicine, and science and technology, as well as religion; Jews authored the Bible, founded Early Christianity and had a profound influence on Islam. In these ways, Jews have also played a significant role in the development of Western culture.
Judaism is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, and ethnic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural, and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people, also sometimes called Israelites. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel.
Sikhism () or Sikhi (Punjabi: ਸਿੱਖੀ Sikkhī, [ˈsɪkhiː], from ਸਿੱਖ, Sikh, ‘disciple’, ‘seeker’, or ‘learner’) is a religion originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century CE. Sikhism is one of the youngest of the major religions and the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, with about 25–30 million Sikhs as of the early 21st century. Sikhism developed from the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru (1469–1539) who had rejected teachings and ideologies of Hinduism, and of the nine Sikh gurus who succeeded him. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh (1666–1708), named the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, bringing to a close the line of human gurus and establishing the scripture as the last eternal 11th living guru, a religious spiritual/life guide for Sikhs. Guru Nanak taught that living an “active, creative, and practical life” of “truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity” is above metaphysical truth, and that the ideal man “establishes union with God, knows His Will, and carries out that Will”. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru (1606–1644), established the concept of mutual co-existence of the miri (‘political’/’temporal’) and piri (‘spiritual’) realms.The Sikh scripture opens with the Mul Mantar (ਮੂਲ ਮੰਤਰ), fundamental prayer about ik onkar (ੴ, ‘One God’). The core beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator; divine unity and equality of all humankind; engaging in seva (‘selfless service’); striving for justice for the benefit and prosperity of all; and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder’s life. Following this standard, Sikhism rejects claims that any particular religious tradition has a monopoly on Absolute Truth.Sikhism emphasizes simran (ਸਿਮਰਨ, meditation and remembrance of the teachings of Gurus), which can be expressed musically through kirtan, or internally through naam japna (‘meditation on His name’) as a means to feel God’s presence. It teaches followers to transform the “Five Thieves” (i.e. lust, rage, greed, attachment, and ego).The religion developed and evolved in times of religious persecution, gaining converts from both Hinduism and Islam. Mughal rulers of India tortured and executed two of the Sikh gurus—Guru Arjan (1563–1605) and Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621–1675)—after they refused to convert to Islam.
The persecution of Sikhs triggered the founding of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 as an order to protect the freedom of conscience and religion, with members expressing the qualities of a Sant-Sipāhī (‘saint-soldier’).
Yazdânism, or the Cult of Angels, is a proposed pre-Islamic Mithraic religion of the Kurds. The term was introduced and proposed by Kurdish and Belgian scholar Mehrdad Izady to represent what he considers the “original” religion of the Kurds. According to Izady, Yazdânism is now continued in the denominations of Yazidism, Yarsanism, and Kurdish Alevism/Chinarism.
Jainism (), traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is an ancient Indian religion. It is one of the oldest Indian religions. The three main pillars of Jainism are ahiṃsā (non-violence), anekāntavāda (non-absolutism), and aparigraha (non-attachment).
Jains take five main vows: ahiṃsā (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). These principles have affected Jain culture in many ways, such as leading to a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle. Parasparopagraho jīvānām (the function of souls is to help one another) is the faith’s motto and the Ṇamōkāra mantra is its most common and basic prayer.
Jainism traces its spiritual ideas and history through a succession of twenty-four leaders or Tirthankaras, with the first in the current time cycle being Rishabhadeva, whom the tradition holds to have lived millions of years ago; the twenty-third tirthankara Parshvanatha, whom historians date to ninth century BCE; and the twenty-fourth tirthankara, Mahavira around 600 BCE. Jainism is considered to be an eternal dharma with the tirthankaras guiding every time cycle of the cosmology.
Jainism is one of the world’s oldest religions in practice to this day. It has two major ancient sub-traditions, Digambaras and Śvētāmbaras, with different views on ascetic practices, gender and which texts can be considered canonical; both have mendicants supported by laypersons (śrāvakas and śrāvikas). The Śvētāmbara tradition in turn has three subtraditions: Mandirvāsī, Terapanthi and Sthānakavasī. The religion has between four and five million followers, known as Jains, who reside mostly in India. Outside India, some of the largest communities are in Canada, Europe, and the United States, with Japan hosting a fast-growing community of converts. Major festivals include Paryushana and Das Lakshana, Ashtanika, Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, Akshaya Tritiya, and Dipawali.
Estimates for the population of Jains differ from just over four million to twelve million.
Mandaeism or Mandaeanism, also known as Sabianism, is a Gnostic, monotheistic and ethnic religion. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Noah, Shem, Aram, and especially John the Baptist. The Mandaeans speak an Eastern Aramaic language known as Mandaic.
Shamanism is a religious practice that involves a practitioner who is believed to interact with a spirit world through altered states of consciousness, such as trance. The goal of this is usually to direct these spirits or spiritual energies into the physical world, for healing or another purpose.
Shugendō is a highly syncretic religion, a body of ascetic practices that originated in Heian-era Japan, having evolved during the 7th century from an amalgamation of beliefs, philosophies, doctrines and ritual systems drawn from local folk-religious practices, Shinto mountain worship and Buddhism.
Taoism, is a philosophical and spiritual tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. In Taoism, the Tao is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism teaches about the various disciplines for achieving “perfection” by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the all, called “the way” or “Tao”.
Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna is one of the world’s oldest continuously-practiced religions, based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zaraθuštra in Avestan or as Zartosht in Modern Persian). It has a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology which predicts the ultimate conquest of evil by good. Zoroastrianism exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom known as Ahura Mazda (lit. ’Wise Lord’) as its supreme being. The unique historical features of Zoroastrianism, such as its monotheism, messianism, belief in judgement after death, conception of heaven and hell, and free will may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Islam, and the Baháʼí Faith.
With possible roots dating back to the 2nd millennium BCE, Zoroastrianism enters recorded history in the 5th century BCE. It served as the state religion of the ancient Iranian empires for more than a millennium, from around 600 BCE to 650 CE, but declined from the 7th century CE onwards as a direct result of the Muslim conquest of Persia (633–654 CE) which led to the large-scale persecution of the Zoroastrian people. Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians in the world at around 110,000–120,000 at most, with the majority living in India, Iran, and North America; their number has been thought to be declining.The most important texts of Zoroastrianism are those contained within the Avesta, which includes chiefly the writings of Zoroaster known as the Gathas, as well as poems within the Yasna that define the teachings of Zoroaster, which serve as the basis for worship. The religious philosophy of Zoroaster divided the early Iranian gods of the Proto-Indo-Iranian tradition into ahuras and daevas, the latter of which were not considered to be worthy of worship. Zoroaster proclaimed that Ahura Mazda was the supreme creator, the creative and sustaining force of the universe through Asha, and that human beings are given a choice between supporting Ahura Mazda or not, making them ultimately responsible for their choices. Though Ahura Mazda has no equal contesting force, Angra Mainyu (destructive spirit/mentality), whose forces are born from Aka Manah (evil thought), is considered to be the main adversarial force of the religion, standing against Spenta Mainyu (creative spirit/mentality). Middle Persian literature developed Angra Mainyu further into Ahriman, advancing him to be the direct adversary to Ahura Mazda.Additionally, the life force that originates from Ahura Mazda, known as Asha (truth, cosmic order), stands in opposition to Druj (falsehood, deceit). Ahura Mazda is considered to be all-good with no evil emanating from the deity. Ahura Mazda works in gētīg (the visible material realm) and mēnōg (the invisible spiritual and mental realm) through the seven (six when excluding Spenta Mainyu) Amesha Spentas (the direct emanations of Ahura Mazda).
Zoroastrianism is not entirely uniform in theological and philosophical thought, especially with historical and modern influences having a significant impact on individual and local beliefs, practices, values and vocabulary, sometimes merging with tradition and in other cases displacing it. The ultimate purpose in the life of a practicing Zoroastrian is to become an ashavan (a master of Asha) and to bring happiness into the world, which contributes to the cosmic battle against evil. The core teachings of Zoroastrianism include:
Following the threefold path of Asha: Humata, Hūxta, Huvarshta (lit. ’good thoughts, good words, good deeds’).
Practicing charity to keep one’s soul aligned with Asha and thus with spreading happiness.
The spiritual equality and duty of men and women alike.
Being good for the sake of goodness and without the hope of reward (see Ashem Vohu).
Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, the divine, or the supernatural is not known or knowable with any certainty. If the question is “Does God exist?”, “yes” would imply theism, “no” would imply atheism, and “I’m not sure” would imply agnosticism—that God possibly can or cannot exist.
Shinto is a religion which originated in Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion by scholars of religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan’s indigenous religion and as a nature religion. Scholars sometimes call its practitioners Shintoists, although adherents rarely use that term themselves. There is no central authority in control of Shinto and much diversity exists among practitioners.
Yarsanism, Ahl-e Haqq or Kaka’i, is a syncretic religion founded by Sultan Sahak in the late 14th century in western Iran. The total number of followers of Yarsanism is estimated to be just over half a million in Iran and Iraq who are mostly Kurds from the Guran, Sanjâbi, Kalhor, Zangana and Jalalvand tribes. Turkic Yarsan enclaves also exist in Iran.
The Baháʼí Faith (; Persian: بهائی Bahāʼi) is a relatively new religion teaching the essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people. Established by Baháʼu’lláh in the 19th century, it initially developed in Iran and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. The religion is estimated to have over five million adherents, known as Baháʼís, spread throughout most of the world’s countries and territories.The religion has three central figures: the Báb (1819–1850), considered a herald who taught that God would soon send a prophet in the same way of Jesus or Muhammad, and who was executed by Iranian authorities in 1850; Baháʼu’lláh (1817–1892), who claimed to be that prophet in 1863 and faced exile and imprisonment for most of his life; and his son, ʻAbdu’l-Bahá (1844–1921), who was released from confinement in 1908 and made teaching trips to Europe and the United States. After ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s death in 1921, leadership of the religion fell to his grandson Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957). Baháʼís annually elect local, regional, and national Spiritual Assemblies that govern the religion’s affairs. Every five years the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies elect the Universal House of Justice, the nine-member supreme governing institution of the worldwide Baháʼí community that is located in Haifa, Israel, near the Shrine of the Báb.
According to the Baháʼí teachings, God is single and all-powerful (omnipotent). Baháʼu’lláh taught that religion is revealed in an orderly and progressive way by Manifestations of God, who are the founders of major world religions throughout history; Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are noted as the most recent of these before the Báb and Baháʼu’lláh. Baháʼís regard the major religions as fundamentally unified in purpose, though varied in social practices and interpretations. The Baháʼí Faith stresses the unity of all people, explicitly rejecting racism and nationalism. At the heart of Baháʼí teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes.Letters written by Baháʼu’lláh to various people, including some heads of state, have been collected and assembled into a canon of Baháʼí scripture. This includes works by his son ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, and the Báb, who is regarded as Baháʼu’lláh’s forerunner. Prominent among Baháʼí literature are the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Some Answered Questions, and The Dawn-Breakers.
Cheondoism (spelled Chondoism in North Korean sources; literally “Religion of the Heavenly Way”) is a 20th-century Korean Pantheistic religion, based on the 19th-century Donghak religious movement founded by Ch’oe Che-u and codified under Son Pyŏng-Hi. Cheondoism has its origins in the peasant rebellions which arose starting in 1812 during the Joseon dynasty.
Cheondoism incorporates elements of Korean shamanism. It places emphasis on personal cultivation and social welfare in the present world. Splinter movements include Suwunism and Bocheonism.
Daejongism (Korean: 대종교, romanized: 大倧敎 Daejonggyo or Taejongkyo, “religion of the Divine Progenitor” or “great ancestral religion”: 192 ) or Dangunism (Korean: 단군교, romanized: 檀君敎 Dangungyo or Tangunkyo, “religion of Dangun”) is the name of a number of religious movements within the framework of Korean shamanism, focused on the worship of Dangun (or Tangun). There are around seventeen of these groups, the main one of which was founded in Seoul in 1909 by Na Cheol (나철, 1864-1916).Dangunists believe their mythos to be the authentic Korean native religion, that was already around as Gosindo (古神道, “way of the Ancestral God” or “ancient way of God”) at the time of the first Mongol invasions of Korea, and that was revived as “Daejongism” (Daejonggyo) just at the start of the Japanese occupation. The religion was suppressed during the Japanese rule.The religion believes in one God manifested in three persons, whose earthly incarnation was the legendary king Dangun, who ruled over a Korean empire around 5000 years ago. Its main tenet is that the Koreans have their own God and they have no need to worship foreign gods. Its emphasis is on the national identity and unity of the Korean people (known as minjok) and as such has been associated with Korean nationalism (and sometimes ultranationalism).: 193 Daejongism does not focus so much on institutions or rituals but rather on central doctrines and associated mythologies, so that it is more definable as a creed or a faith system rather than an organized religion. In the decade of 1910-1920, it had its major growth, reaching an estimated following of 400,000. Its popularity was largely due to its efforts on behalf of Korean independence. Once this aim was achieved, its membership declined, although Daejongism acquired a reputation for its educational and scholarly institutions, which published in particular monumental works about Korea’s struggle for independence and Daejongism’s contribution to it. A 1995 census found that fewer than 10,000 Koreans claimed to follow the religion, although Korean census figures systematically underestimate the number of followers of new religions, who are often reluctant to indicate their religious affiliation.
The Ryukyuan religion is the indigenous belief system of the Ryukyu Islands. While specific legends and traditions may vary slightly from place to place and island to island, the Ryukyuan religion is generally characterized by ancestor worship and the respecting of relationships between the living, the dead, and the gods and spirits of the natural world.