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The adherent counts presented in the list above are current estimates of the number of people who have at least a minimal level of self-identification as adherents of the religion. A major source for these estimates is the detailed country-by-country analysis done by David B. This listing is not a comprehensive list of all religions, only the "major" ones (as defined below). Minnesota State University's "Religions of the World" website lists the "world's six major religions" as: Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Animism, Christianity and Hinduism. In modern Western thought, the first writers to divide the world into "world religions" were Christians. After many centuries, with the increased Western awareness of Eastern history and philosophy, and the development of Islam, other religions were added to the list. During the 1800s comparative religion scholars increasingly recognized Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism as the most significant "world religions." Even today, these are considered the "Big Five" and are the religions most likely to be covered in world religion books.
Beginning around 1900 comparative religion writers in England began to take note of the Sikhs which had begun to immigrate there from India (part of the British Empire at the time). The classical set of twelve is not necessarily the most accurate reflection of the present, real-world religious situation. There are many distinct religions or religious movements which have more adherents than some of the classical world religions, but which are not part of the classical list for various reasons. With a working definition of "a religion" and a method for measuring size, criteria for what constitutes a "major" religion must be determined, otherwise this list could be impractically inclusive and long. We are using the groupings most described used in contemporary comparative religion literature (listed above).
The Babi & Baha'i tradition, on the other hand, is probably the most unified of the classical world religions.
All adherents of a single religion usually share at least some commonalities, such as a common historical heritage and some shared doctrines or practices. In a practical sense, most people actually practice only one form of whatever religion they belong to.
To manage this question we have chosen once again to use the most commonly-recognized divisions in comparative religion texts. We recognize that within many religious traditions there are deeply felt arguments for excluding certain groups from their description of their religion. Groups such as Rastafarians, Mandeans, Tenrikyo, and the Church of Scientology are too small, too new or too unimportant in world history to be included in most surveys of "major world religions." Thus, in including such groups in this listing it is not always possible to appeal to a consensus within comparative religion literature. If the answer to both of these questions is no, then the faith group is probably a distinct religion.
Even fairly contemporary and progressive writers have a "youth cut-off" requirement for their listings of major world religions. But Ahmadiyya (a recent offshoot of Islam), is not included on this list as a separate religion because its adherents claim to be Muslim, view themselves as completely Muslim, and wish to be classified as part of Islam. When referring to the "size" of a religion, what is usually meant is its number of adherents. Organizational reporting: Religious bodies (such as churches or denominations) are asked how many adherents or members they have. Census records: Many countries periodically conduct a comprehensive household-by-household census.
Polls and Surveys: Statistical sampling using surveys and polls are used to determine affiliation based on religious self-identification. Estimates based on indirect data: Many adherent counts are only obtained by estimates based on indirect data rather than direct questioning or directly from membership roles.
Field work: To count some small groups, or to count the number of adherents a larger group has within a specific geographical area, researchers sometimes do "field work" to count adherents.
For the purposes of this list of major religions, we have used adherent counts or estimates based on self-identification.
Finally, let me make it clear that these definitions are simply working definitions for the purposes of making this list. NOTE: The following material is not intended to provide descriptions or summaries of these religions. Contemporary sociolgists and religious leaders generally consider pan-denominational classifications based not on historical denominational divisions but on current theological positions, organizational alignments, etc. Many Muslims (and some non-Muslim) observers claim that there are more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians in the world. Pitzer College sociologist Phil Zuckerman compiled country-by-country survey, polling and census numbers relating to atheism, agnosticism, disbelief in God and people who state they are non-religious or have no religious preference.
For the purposes of this list, this grouping also includes more proactive or well-defined philosophies such as secular humanism, atheism, agnosticism, deism, pantheism, freethought, etc., most of which can be classified as religions in the sociological sense, albeit secular religions. Estimates for atheism alone (as a primary religious preference) range from 200 to 240 million. China probably does have the largest number of actual atheists of any country in the world and many Russians clearly remain atheists. In the Western world, Europe is by far the place with the most self-avowed nonreligious, atheists and agnostics, with the nonreligious proportion of the population particularly high in Scandinavia. Zuckerman (2005) compiled numbers of people who don't believe in God, based primarily on polling and survey data, for every country in the world.
Zuckerman states that adding the "non-religious" segment of the world population would to his calculated maximum of 749,247,571 (about 750 million) atheists, agnostic and non-believers in God would yield a number nearly twice as large -- just under 1.5 billion. All those who profess religious belief are not necessarily registered members of a church or denomination, but in the U.S.
It may also be noted that the estimated figures presented in this particular "Major Religions" summary list are based on self-identification. The use of the term "nonreligious" or "secular" here refers to belief or participation in systems which are not traditionally labeled "religions." Of course, in the absence of traditional religions, society exhibits the same behavioral, social and psychological phenomena associated with religious cultures, but in association with secular, political, ethnic, commercial or other systems. These are some of the factors which make estimating the size of the secular (nonreligious, agnostic, atheist, etc.) segment of society difficult.
Buddhism: World estimates for Buddhism vary between 230 and 500 million, with most around 350 million. Chinese traditional religion: In older world religion books the estimates of the total number of adherents of Confucianism range up to 350 million. Communist laws banning most religion and recent rapid changes introducing increasing openness make accurate estimates difficult to obtain.
In comparative religion texts Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Buddhism are sometimes addressed in three separate chapters, and sometimes treated in one chapter as "Chinese religion." Even today there are very valid reasons for distinguishing Taoism from Confucianism, and distinguishing both from Chinese Buddhism and non-scriptural Chinese folk religion.
Previously, adherents of African traditional religion were grouped here, and many religious statisticians would continue to do so. It may seem incongruous to distinguish African primal (traditional) religions from the general primal-indigenous category. Just as Yoruba may legitimately be distinguished from the general "primal-indigenous" classification, valid arguments could be made that other religious traditions such as Native American religion (less than 100,000 self-identified U.S.
African Diasporic Religions are those which have arisen, typically in the Western hemisphere, among Africans who retained much of their traditional culture and beliefs but adapted to new environments. Regarding Vodoun: For the most part, Voodoo (or "Vodoun") is not an organized religion, but a form of African traditional religion practiced primarily in Haiti, Cuba and Benin.
In the Americas (especially the Caribbean, Brazil and the United States), there is a large number of people who practice some form of Yoruba diasporan religion, especially forms of Santeria and Vodoun. A critical component of the spiritist influence upon the Yoruba traditions as practiced in the Western hemisphere is the pervasive influence of the BaKongo tradition, known as Palo Monte and Umbanda. Spiritism: According to the 1997 Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, there were 10,292,500 adherents of "Spiritism" in the world. Judaism: Estimates of the world's Jewish population range from about 12 million to over 17 million. As with most religious groups, organizationally reported adherent counts include significant numbers of nominal members, or people who no longer actively participate, yet still identify themselves as adherents.
On balance, while official Baha'i figures are not a measure of active participants, the proportion of participating adherents among claimed adherents is thought to be higher than average among the "major religions" on this list. Jainism: The highest published figure we've seen for Jainism is 10 million, but this is clearly incorrect. The difference is that in those European countries, those people are at least nominally adherents of the religion that claims them. Cao Dai: Most of the figures for this group are around 2 million, but we've seen some that say around 8 million. Tenrikyo is probably one of the largest, most fully-developed independent modern religious systems which most Westerners know nothing about. Scientology: One often sees Scientology listed in books and newspapers as having over 8 million adherents.
Realistically, a figure lower than 750,000 seems be more reasonable for this page's listing. This might cause some people to think the church's figures are inaccurate, or it might seem like we are being harsh to ignore their figure and estimate such a low one. If one eliminated from the total number of Christians in the world all those who are counted as Christians only because they identify themselves as such in a survey or census, even though they never actually attend Christian services, study Christian literature, or make behavioral changes based on Christian teachings beyond general societal norms, one might obtain a similar downgrade in actual number of effective adherents. Some people have commented on the fact that this page lists an estimate of 500,000 (previously 750,000) Scientologists worldwide, while the Religion in the U.S. Unitarian-Universalism: Being completely opposed to fixed doctrine (which they refer to as "dogma"), but affirming certain principles, the Unitarian Universalists (or simply "Unitarians" as they prefer to be called in some countries) are quite different from other major religions. Rastafarian: Because of the loosely-organized structure of Rastafarianism, and because many Rastafarians are nominal but non-participating members of larger religious groups, precise size estimates are difficult.
There are multiple reasons why Rastafarians are typically not counted as one of the major world religions: They are relatively new, having originated only in this century. Neo-Paganism: Neo-Paganism is an umbrella term for modern revivals of ancient ethnic and magickal traditions. There are two reasons why some might argue that Neo-Paganism should not be listed as a major religion on this page: 1) It might be said that Neo-Paganism is not a single religion, but an umbrella term for many disparate religions.
PL Kyodan: They currently claim about 1 million adherents and 500 churches in 10 countries.
Seicho-No-Ie: This organization is large (perhaps 2 to 3 million members) and appears somewhat like a typical New Asian syncretistic religion, but its literature states that it is an interdenominational organization and not a religion. Furthermore, Falun Dafa is properly classified as a subset of Chinese traditional religion and not as a distinct religion, so it would not be classified as a "major world religion" even if it did have 100 million followers.
Taoism: Included as a subset of Chinese traditional religion because of the impossibility of separating a large number of Taoists from traditional Chinese religionists in general. Although one religion may dominate a particular area other religions may also be practised there, as all six religions have spread throughout the world.
Christians are divided into groups (denominations.) The main Christian groups are Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians. As this map shows one or other of these groups dominates North and South America, Europe and parts of Asia. Over the last century the percentage of the world’s Christian population based in Europe and North America has fallen by about 40%.
This is not due to people moving but simply because a growing number of people in Africa, Asia and South America are becoming Christians, whilst numbers in the northern half of the world are dropping. World Faiths is an educational site designed to encourage interactive learning about religion. Barrett's religious statistics organization, whose data are published in the Encyclopedia Britannica (including annual updates and yearbooks) and also in the World Christian Encyclopedia (the latest edition of which - published in 2001 - has been consulted).
The list was created by the same people who collected and organized this database, in consultation with university professors of comparative religions and scholars from different religions.
Many Far Eastern ways of thought, in fact, were given the status of "world religion" while equally advanced religious cultures in technologically less developed or pre-literate societies (such as in Australia, Africa, South America, and Polynesia) were grouped together as pagans or "animists," regardless of their actual theology. Sikhs, if mentioned at all, had been classified as a sect of Hinduism during the first three hundred years of their history. Each of these "world religions" is actually a classification of multiple distinct movements, sects, divisions, denominations, etc. It is almost entirely contained within one very organized, hierarchical denomination, the Bahai Faith, based in Haifa, Israel.
There are adjectives with both positive and negative connotations which describe both ends of this spectrum. Buddhism, for example, if viewed as a whole, can be understood to have a large amount of internal variation, including the Theravada and Mahayana branches, all of their sub-schools, various revivalist sects, as well as Tibetan and modern Western forms.
These definitions are primarily sociological and historical, NOT doctrinal or theological in nature. For example, councils of Muslim leaders have voted to no longer accept Ahmadis as valid Muslims, although Ahmadis consider themselves orthodox Muslims.
Does the faith group consider itself to be part of (or the definitive version of) a larger religion? If the answer to both questions is yes, the faith group is a division within the larger religion (and thus not a world religion, but a division of a world religion).
Many writers will classify newer movements as NRMs ("New Religious Movements"), and reserve the label of "world religion" for "long established" religions. The accuracy of these surveys depends largely on the quality of the study and especially the size of the sample population. Wiccan groups have traditionally been secretive and often their numbers can only be estimated based on magazine circulations, attendance at conferences, etc.
This is often the only way to count members of small tribal groups or semi-secretive, publicity-shy sects. We have also favored inclusive rather than exclusive adherent counts (meaning all people who are part of a religious community, children as well as adults, rather than "full communicants"). This material is only intended to describe the reasoning for listing groups as "major religions" and determining their general size. Epke VanderBerg (Episcopal minister, Grand Rapids, MI); Classifying Protestant Denominations (General Social Survey project directed by James A. As is true with all major religions, there are adherents within all branches of Islam who consider some of or all of the other branches heterodox or not actually part of their religion. Although atheists are a small subset of this grouping, this category is not synonymous with atheism.
These data were published in the chapter titled "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns" in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed.
A minority among atheists are quite fervent in their beliefs and actively endeavor to proselytize atheism. The vast majority in this grouping are not aligned with any kind of membership organization.


But at this point, it is difficult to accurately determine how many of those classified as atheists or nonreligious during Communist-era USSR and by the current Chinese government are actually atheists according to their personal beliefs, and how many are unregistered religious adherents or participants in less-organized traditional systems that are oriented around ancestors, animism, shamanism, etc. He totaled the survey-based and poll-based estimates of non-believers from the top 50 countries with the highest proportion of people who do not believe in God, and added to this number the non-believers from highly populous countries (Mexico, Poland, Moldova Romania, Georgia, Uzbekistan, India, Ireland, and Chile).
The 750 million figure is already an attempt to estimate the total population of people who do not believe in God. Among all groups there exists a proportion (sometimes significant and sometimes small) which are only nominal adherents. Marxism and Maoism, for instance, had their scriptures, authority, symbolism, liturgy, clergy, prophets, proselyting, etc. Other books, including older versions of the Encyclopedia Britannica, have listed Chinese religionists under "Taoism," with adherent estimates up to about 200 million. For religious, philosophical, historical and scriptural purposes, distinguishing between these separate traditions is quite manageable. Since the Cultural Revolution and the government's campaign to destroy non-Communist religion, Taoism lost, for the most part, the main mechanism through which it remained distinct from the larger Chinese religious environment: its large numbers of temples and Taoist clergy.
In the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica lists over 5 million Confucianists in its summary table of world religions. But adherents of African traditional religions and diasporic derivatives are currently listed ennumerated separately on this page.
But the "primal-indigenous" religions are primarily tribal and composed of pre-technological peoples. Instead of the term "Santerian" perhaps the term "ab'orisha," which refers to both initiated and uninitiated devotees, would be more acceptable.
It does not appear in Brazil in the Haitian form, to my admittedly limited knowledge of this tradition. What I have seen in practice has a lot of Kardecian influence, but I expect to see what I observed with the Santeria tradition: that as one becomes more immersed into the actual tradition, that the outer layer of Catholicism peels away to reveal a tradition that, in reality, is very much unsyncretized.
The only comment we might add is that there are knowledgeable historians of Yoruba religion in the West who believe Yoruba, in addition to the Dahomean and Fon traditions, played a major role in the development of modern Africa-Haitian religion. But a recent census from Brazil indicates 15 million professed spiritists (practitioners of Umbanda, for instance), as well as a fringe following (not officially professed, but possibly quite avid) of up to 50 million.
On the high end of realistic estimates of how many people would consider themselves Jews seems to be about 15 million, but a figure this high would include a large number of non-practicing, purely ethnic Jews. One might think that this should make Baha'i records fairly straightforward and easily obtainable.
There are valid arguments that some of the "mass conversions" have resulted in adherents with little or no acculturation into the new religious system. The Baha'i community is remarkably active and influential in religious matters on both global and local levels, especially given their relatively small numbers compared to some other religions. In a nutshell, Shinto is simply the indigenous ethnic practice of Japan and its importance is almost entirely historical and cultural, not contemporary.
To whatever degree that is true, some observers believed Zoroastrianism was in a precarious state and its position as a "major" contemporary world religion was tenuous.
It's almost entirely a Vietnamese movement, and not even as important there as it used to be. Tenrikyo offers impressive opportunities for sociological, historical and comparative religion research which are relatively unexplored by the academic community. Independent sources indicate that the strongest communities of Scientologists are in California and the United Kingdom, as well as in Clearwater, Florida (where the main training center is located).
These are usually polytheistic, but many Neo-Pagans consider their faith pantheistic, and many other concepts of deity can be found among Neo-Pagans as well. But upon closer examination of the movement, one finds that despite drawing upon such disparate sources as European witchcraft, Norse mythology, Druidism, and Egyptian, Greek, and Native American ancient religions, Neo-Pagans as a whole have a remarkably cohesive, identifiable culture and generally shared value set, even more so than religions such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism when taken as a whole.
Although a large number of people hold beliefs which have been categorized as New Age, or participate in New Age practices, only a tiny percentage of people actually identify "New Age" as their religion.
Furthermore, it does not seem to have spawned a distinctive religious culture anywhere outside of Japan, and perhaps not even in Japan -- certainly not to the degree that groups such as PL Kyodan and Tenrikyo have. These numbers are obviously inflated; it is not true that 1 in every 58 people on the planet are adherents of Falun Dafa.
Although the movement is verifiably large and widespread, its adherents appear to be almost uniformly ethnic Chinese. Hundreds of additional sources providing more thorough and detailed research about individual religious groups have also been consulted. It's true that by the standards applied at the time, the Far Eastern religions Westerners encountered were often in a different category altogether than the religions they classified as pagan.
But after the influential British writers began to classify Sikhism as a distinct, major world religion, the rest of the world soon followed their example. On their official website, Baha'is claim 5 million adherents worldwide, established in 235 countries and territories throughout the world.
But there are small schismatic groups, such as the Arizona-based "Orthodox" Baha'is, Azali Babis (probably defunct), and four or five others. From an academic, comparative religions viewpoint, there is no basis for "prescribing" whether it is better for a religion to be highly unified, cohesive, monolithic, and lacking in internal religious diversity, or whether it is better to be fragmented, schismatic, diverse, multifaceted and abounding in variations on the same theme. But most actual Buddhists are not actually involved in all of these; rather they practice one, internally cohesive, fairly unified form, such as the Geluk order of Tibetan Buddhism, or Japanese Amida-Buddha worship. Should Sikhism be listed as a Hindu sect (as in many older textbooks), or a world religion in its own right? Many Evangelical Protestants churches exclude all non-Evangelical or non-Protestant groups from their definitions of Christianity. If the answer to only one of the questions is yes, there is a judgment call to be made, but of course we give more weight to a group's self-concept.
Thus, Tenrikyo was classified by the Japanese ministry of religion as a Shinto sect for about one hundred years.
Measures of religiosity and the degree to which a religious tradition has a meaningful impact on its adherents may be more important than raw adherent counts, but such measures are not as readily available nor are they easily comparable between groups. This is a highly reliable method for determining the religious self-identification of a given population.
Rarely are statistical surveys of religious affiliation done with large enough sample sizes to accurately count the adherents of small minority religious groups. The counts of many ethnic-based faith groups such as tribal religions are generally based on the size of associated ethnic groups.
Field work may involve contacting leaders of individual congregations, temples, etc., conducting interviews with adherents, counting living within enclaves of the group, or counting those participating in key activities.
It should be remembered, however, that self-identification is not the only legitimate measure of a religious group's size. Many of our reasons for defining the parameters as we have done have to do with the availability of data.
The 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia stated there were 2.1 billion Christians in the world, or 33% of the total population.
Relatively high birth rates in Muslim countries continue to make Islam a fast-growing religion. It seems likely, but we would point out that there are different opinions on the matter, and a Muslim may define "practicing" differently than a Christian. But these classifications are based primarily on historical lineage and self-identification. People who specify atheism as their religious preference actually make up less than one-half of one percent of the population in many countries where much large numbers claim no religious preference, such as the United States (13.2% nonreligious according to ARIS study of 2001) and Australia (15% nonreligious). Although a certain percentage of people in many countries classify themselves as nonreligious in surveys, there are few data indicating how many of these fit the passive "nonreligious" criteria described above, versus those who actually do contemplate such matters, but simply have their own personal philosophy and no stated affiliation with an organized religion.
Most figures come from census and survey data, which most countries conduct only infrequently. Prior to Communist takeovers of these regions and government attempts to eradicate religion, both places had very high levels of affiliation with organized religions (especially Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism), as well as high levels of participation in and belief in traditional local traditions such as shamanism, ancestor ceremonies, spiritism, etc. Many people are unaware, for instance, that China has one of the largest, most active Christian communities in the world, and that in many former Soviet nations religions such as shamanism, Islam and Russian Orthodoxy remained even while official government reports announced the elimination of religion in these regions. The self-described nonreligious segment of society in Australia and New Zealand is also high, at around 15%. A large proportion of people in the surveys Zuckerman combined to arrive at this total expressly are adherents of named religions (such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Chinese traditional religion, Unitarianism and Christianity). The majority of agnostics, atheists and of course nonreligious are not members of an organization associated with their position. This segment may identify themselves as members of a certain religion and accept the religion as their primary philosophical system, yet not actively practice the religion in the normative sense. Sports, art, patriotism, music, drugs, mass media and social causes have all been observed to fulfill roles similar to religion in the lives of individuals -- capturing the imagination and serving as a source of values, beliefs and social interaction. But these figures are all based on counts of the same segment of Chinese people throughout the world -- people practicing what is, sociologically, more accurately called Chinese traditional religion, and often called Chinese folk religion.
Barrett (World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001) classified 384,806,732 "Chinese folk-religionists," 6,298,597 "Confucianists" and 2,654,514 "Taoists," or about 394 million total.
Although Islam, Buddhism and Christianity have bounced back and even surpassed pre-Communist levels in China, Taoism has not. But this total includes all African Traditional religionists, which we have listed as a separate category.) This group also includes, but is not limited to, people whose native religion is a form of shamanism or paganism (such as millions of people in traditional Siberian shamanist cultures). But African traditional religion has been singled out because of its much larger size, its considerable spread far beyond its region of origin and the remarkable degree to which it remains an influential, identifiable religion even today.
In many areas or subgroups the African elements exist alongside an overlay of European-based elements borrowed from the economically dominant culture, from influences such as Catholicism and Kardecian spiritism.
Some practitioners don't like the term Santeria at all because it implies that the tradition is a minor, heretical sect of Catholicism.
Judaism is far more important in areas such as history, literature, science, politics, and religion, than its relatively small numbers might suggest.
But statistical practices differ in each country and figures are not always released to the public. As is typical with a religious group made up primarily of converts, Baha'is who drift from active participation in the movement are less likely to retain nominal identification with the religion -- because it was not the religion of their parents or the majority religion of the surrounding culture. The number of adherents of Shinto are often reported as being around 100 million, or around 75 to 90% of the Japanese population.
In Japan, the majority of adherents of Shinto, as claimed by the Shinto organizations, don't even consider themselves adherents, even nominally.
The official Cao Dai website states that there are about 6 million adherents worldwide, and elsewhere states that there are 5 million in Vietnam, but points out that the religion is largely paralyzed there due to repression by the government. Moreover, churches and mission centers have been established in about 30 countries around the world." It has missions all over the world and a strong evangelical ethic. It comes from the Church of Scientology, just as most church membership figures come from churches themselves. One might generously estimate up to one million worldwide, but the actual number who would fit this criterion is probably under a half million.
Internal documents suggest 100,000 active members -- which would easily yield an estimate of a total of 600,000 or more, including one-time members, lapsed members, and strong supporters.
There is no reason to believe that less than 8 million people have willingly participated in Scientology activities and actively studied at least some of its teachings. But it should be kept in mind that there are self-avowed Christian Unitarians, Buddhist Unitarians, Pagan Unitarians, etc. Subdivisions within Neo-Paganism include Wicca, Magick, Druidism, Asatru, neo-Native American religion and others. Estimates regarding its worldwide size range widely--from under one hundred thousand to over four million. 2) It could also be said that Neo-Paganism could be classified as a subset of primal-indigenous religion. The group has a few branches in North America and Europe, and perhaps twenty in South America. They make some claims to be an emerging world religion, but as they call themselves "Won Buddhism," we include them within the greater body of Buddhism.
At this point "New Age" is more the umbrella term for a broad movement, rather than a religion. A reasonable worldwide number that some newspapers have used is 10 million, but this is only a guess. Valid arguments can be made for different figures, but if the same criteria are used for all groups, the relative order should be the same. One can not directly compare, for example, the local beliefs of the Polynesian islands of Kiribati during the 1500s to the organizational, political, literary and philosophical sophistication of Chinese Taoism during the same period.
While most comparative religion textbooks produced during this century either ignore them or group them as a Muslim sect, the most recent books give them separate status and often their own chapter. On the other hand, some Hindu writers are so inclusive that they claim as Hindus adherents of any religion that arose in a Hindu environment, including Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Then the leaders of Tenrikyo asked that the faith no longer be classified as a Shinto faith. Many of the movements that seem like distinct new religions may die out within a few generations. Some count as members only those who are actively attending services or who have passed through a lengthy initiation process.
Adherents of some tribal religions (such as Yoruba) are sometimes counted simply by counting the members of the tribe and assuming everybody in it is an adherent of the religion. In collecting census or survey data based on self-identification statisticians find that nearly everybody claims to belong to a religion.
Regardless of the degree of accuracy of this figure, Christianity, if taken as a whole, is unarguably the largest world religion - the largest religion in the world.
In any case, the primary criterion for the rankings on this page is self-identification, which has nothing to do with practice. Protestations and disagreements based on exclusivistic internal concepts of belief or practice are normal, but are largely immaterial with regards to historical, taxonomic and statistical classification.
Different type of data collection methodologies using different types of questions showed a consistent pattern: In most countries only a tiny number of people (zero to a fraction of 1 percent) will answer "atheism" or "atheist" when asked an open-ended question about what their religious preference. Since the fall of Communism in former Soviet nations and the relaxation of anti-religious policies in China, observed religious affiliation and activity has increased dramatically, especially in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. In Australia less than a tenth of one percent described themselves as atheists in the latest national census (1996). Zuckerman concluded, "the grand total worldwide number of atheists, agnostics, and non-believers in God is somewhere between 504,962,830 and 749,247,571. Many of these people who do not believe in God, deities, or a Higher Power are nevertheless devout adherents of their various faiths, or even clergy.


Our figure of 1.1 billion in this category is considerably higher, and takes into consideration Zuckerman's analysis as well. This segment may be thought of as being functionally nonreligious or "secularized," but this segment is not what is meant by the "nonreligious" category on this Major Religious list. In a broader sense, sociologists point out that there are no truly "secular societies," and that the word "nonreligious" is a misnomer. The word "traditional" is preferable to "folk" because "folk" might imply only the local, tribal customs and beliefs such as ancestor worship and nature beliefs. Today, despite the existence of some self-identified Taoists and pure Taoists in the West, Taoism is difficult to isolate as a large, independent religion from a statistical and sociological perspective.
The fact that these religions exist within technologically advanced cultures alongside "classical" organized religions (such as Christianity) is one of the reasons for grouping these adherents separately from the general "primal-indigenous" category. A worldwide number of people who at least sometimes self-identify as adherents of this loosely-organized religious category might be 3 million, but this is just an estimate. Even those who practice Santeria or Voodoo more often then they practice Catholicism mostly identify themselves as Catholic. As a newer and somewhat less organized grouping than some other "major religions," accurate numbers for Spiritism are difficult to come by.
The American Jewish Year Book published in 2000 by the American Jewish Committee, reports there are currently 5.7 million Jews in the United States, 362,000 in Canada, and 13,191,500 worldwide. On the other hand, there are no countries in which people are automatically assigned to the Baha'i Faith at birth (as is the case with Islam, Christianity, Shinto, Buddhism, and other faiths), so their numbers aren't inflated with people who have never willingly participated in or been influenced by the religion while adults.
It's importance historically and philosophically far outstrips its relatively small number of adherents. These figures come from the Shukyo Nenkan (Religions Yearbook), put out by the Ministry of Education & Bureau of Statistics, and they obtain their figures by asking religious bodies for statistics. They had even stricter rules than Jews about whether or not children of mixed marriages would be considered Zoroastrians. Our data indicate that they cite this figure because it is the total number of people who have participated in Church of Scientology activities since the inception of the church.
Hartley Patterson, a critic of Scientology, has speculated that the circulation figure may be based on the total press run for three publications. Adding up organizationally-reported membership on a state-by-state, country-by-country basis would yield a current membership figure of about 750,000, according to a church critic. Large numbers of people have derived benefit from participation in church activities and church-sponsored programs.
Simply put, these two figures are from different sources and are based on different methodologies and critera. In 1990, 500,000 Americans claimed to be Unitarian-Universalists, three times the official organizational count of enrolled members, loosely indicating that Unitarian-Universalism is the general preferred philosophy of far more people than actually participate in or contribute to the congregations and organizations. Independent surveys and government-based figures are not indicative of the higher estimates provided by Neo-Pagan and Wiccan organizations, but there may be a variety of reasons for this. Though it has roots in primal ethnic religions, Neo-Paganism is something distinct, clearly drawing much of its identity from Gardnerian principles introduced in the 1930s.
So there is some spread beyond its home country, but with only about 500 branches worldwide, and with some question as to whether it has really emerged from it's original Shinto matrix, it may be inappropriate to call it a distinct major religion. In North Korea, once Ch'ondogyo's center, where it was, for a time, the country's second or third largest religion, it has essentially been co-opted by the government and turned into a hollow appendage of Juche. Lively, but probably less than 150,000 adherents, making it even smaller than Zoroastrianism.
Some previous enthusiasts of New Age movements now prefer to be called pagans or Neo-Pagans. The current crackdown on the movement by the Communist government is likely to increase the movement's growth both within and outside of China. Sociologically, the Falun Dafa movement has many parallels to the Pentecostal movement and Billy Graham revivals within Christianity.
This is not an absolutely exhaustive compilation of all such data, but it is by far the largest compilation available on the Internet.
But one could certainly question whether Japanese Shintoism, as an official "world religion", was theologically or spiritually more "advanced" than African Yoruba religion, which was classified simply as animism or paganism. Hinduism is often described as a collection very different traditions, bound by a geographical and national identity. Outsiders would agree that Tenrikyo has emerged as something identifiably distinct from traditional Shinto religion, although many world religion writers include Tenrikyo in chapters on Shinto or Japanese religion for simplicity's sake.
Many of the most recent movements, such as Seicho-No-Ie, Ananaikyo, Ch'ondogyo and other Asian new religious movements are overtly syncretistic or universalist, similar in some ways to but originating many years later than the Baha'i faith.
Others groups count all who have been baptized as infants and are thus on the church records, even though some of those people may have joined other faith groups as adults. Some people claiming membership in a certain denomination may actually attend religious services regularly, contribute resources to the group, and be influenced by its teachings.
David Barrett, an Evangelical Christian who is the compiler of religion statistics for the Encyclopedia Britannica and the World Christian Encyclopedia, includes all of the groups listed above in the worldwide statistics for Christianity. A slightly larger number of people will answer "yes" if asked pointedly if they are an atheist.
They are enumerated in the list above as adherents of those faiths, and not counted among nonreligious, atheists or agnostics because their primary religious identity is not atheism or agnosticism. Of the people in this grouping, it is estimated that 40 to 50% have a stated traditionally "theistic" belief in God, deities or a Higher Power. Accurate estimates of the size of this group are difficult to obtain because national government censuses only ask about preferred affiliation, not about religious practice. Sociologically speaking, "nonreligious" people are simply those who derive their worldview and value system primarily from alternative, secular, cultural or otherwise nonrevealed systems ("religions") rather than traditional religious systems. Hence, in this list, which is explicitly statistical and sociological in perspective, Taoism should be thought of as a major branch of Chinese traditional religion.
Adherents of African diasporic religions typically have no real tribal affiliation, may be converts to African-based religion, and are not necessarily African or black in their race and ethnicity.
Some sources refer to Vodoun as the Haitian form of Santeria; other sources refer to Santeria as a form of Vodoun. An estimate of 20 million worldwide seems justifiable--a grouping which would include but not be limited to strictly Kardecian groups.
The Shinto religious bodies have on record most Japanese citizens because of laws established in the 17th Century which required registration with the Shinto shrines. A high world-wide figure for people who consider themselves primarily practitioners of Shinto would be about 4 million.
Until about 2002, most published estimates for the world total of Zoroastrians were 100 to 125 thousand. But their figure does not include people who have only received services from their drug rehab groups and other non-Church facilities. As with all religions, the complete body of adherents represent a spectrum of participation, including fully active members as well as non-attending or disengaged sympathizers. But people rarely call themselves Scientologists mainly because their parents don't call themselves Scientologists. Barrett, author of The Rastafarians, estimates there are 800,000 Rastas worldwide, more than 2 million if one counts followers of the lifestyle but not the faith.
Neo-Paganism is distinct from the primal ethnic religions of ancient pre-industrial societies just as Buddhism has roots in, but is distinct from, Hinduism. Its status as a full-fledged "religion" is questionable, and it does not claim to be one in the traditional sense. Many clearly have a strong ethnic identity as Roma and a self-identified religious identity as Catholic or Protestant. So broad is this religious "umbrella" that it includes clearly polytheistic, tritheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, nontheistic, and atheistic traditions.
Other new religious movements of this century have primarily remained within established world religions, such as new Buddhist (Western Buddhist Order), Hindu (Hare Krishna), Muslim (Nation of Islam), Jewish (Reconstructionism), and Christian (Pentecostalism, neo-Evangelicalism, Calvary Chapel) movements and denominations.
Also, many countries either have no accurate census data, or do not include questions regarding religious affiliation.
Other people may name the denomination, but choose it as their religion only because they recall its name as the church their grandfather attended as boy.
A slightly larger number than that will answer "no" when asked if they believe in any type of God, deities, or Higher Power.
Pg 41.) But such a high figure is difficult to support with current country-by-country statistics, and perhaps reflects Communist-era official government statistics. It should be remembered that not all strains of all religions entail belief in God, a Higher Power or deities. Like traditional religions, secular systems (such as Communism, Platonism, Freudian psychology, Nazism, pantheism, atheism, nationalism, etc.) typically have favored spokespeople and typically claim to present a universally valid and applicable Truth. For most religious Chinese who do not explicitly follow a different religion such as Islam or Christianity, these different ancient Chinese philosophies and traditions form a single, seamless composite religious culture and worldview.
Historians might point to Shinto and even Judaism as the modern manifestations of what originally began as the religions of tribal groups who then became nations.
From a worldwide and historical perspective, Vodoun is properly classified as a branch of African diasporic religion, in the same way that Lutheranism is a subset of Christianity. But a worldwide number which eliminated adherents who are primarily Yoruba religionists more so than Spiritists would be smaller, and more in line with the Encyclopedia Britannica estimate. A recent, updated estimate in the 1998 Encyclopedia Britannica is reportedly 7.67 million, higher than any Baha'i-provided figure we have seen. Certainly most Japanese people participate in holidays which have Shinto roots, but in this list we are trying to track self-identification, not general vestigial influence. More recent publications of many major encyclopedias an world alamanacs include population estimates of 2 to 3.5 million.
In January 1999 Tenrikyo published country-by-country statistics showing nearly 1,000 churches or mission stations outside of Japan (in over 30 different countries), and over 37,000 in Japan.
Narconon's clientele are not counted as Church members unless and until they become Scientologists. Membership in the Church of Scientology does not necessarily preclude membership in another religious organization. Based on other data we believe a figure as high as this would have to include many Jamaicans who are strong Rastafarian supporters or enthusiasts, but who are also at least partially or nominally adherents of mainstream Protestant and Catholic denominations as well. So we are including Neo-Paganism on this list because the most recent sociological work in the field indicates it is a distinct religion, and because it is increasingly significant.
The Roma illustrate how arbitrary the dividing lines between ethnicity, culture, and religion can be. Other new religious movements of the 20th century, especially recently, have been new formulations of long-dormant faiths, such as Neo-Pagan and neo-Shamanist groups. When asked what religion they consider themselves to be a part of, many may name a religion that does not have them on their rolls.
It has been over fifty years since the United States included such a question in its national census, but Canada, India, New Zealand, Australia and other countries have very thorough, recent census data on the topic. Detailed analysis of the size of individual groups requires a knowledge of both self-identification data as well as data based on organizational reporting. A slightly larger number answer "no" when asked simply if they "believe in God" (omitting wording indicating more nebulous, less anthropomorphic conceptions of divinity). In many countries (Germany is a good example) there is also segment of the population which is counted as adherents of a religion, but which do not personally profess belief in that religion. Like traditional religions, secular systems are subject to both rapid and gradual changes in popularity, modification, and extinction. Key aspects of Spiritism, or Spiritualism, are widely accepted in popular society in many countries beyond the bounds of those who are officially adherents of these movements. The accuracy of all of these figures is difficult to determine, and the organization does not provide a breakdown of membership data for each country.
This is comparable to certain Catholic and Protestant nations in Europe where the majority of people have been Christianed or otherwise counted as a member of the state church, but where large proportions of the population are non-practicing. Also, the strongest active religions which have Shinto roots (such as Tenrikyo) no longer claim to be "branches" of Shinto, and can be listed separately. These figures dwarf the international statistics of some "classical world religions," such as Zoroastrianism and Jainism. As Narconon's mission is drug rehabilitation and not Church recruitment, the percentage of Narconon clients who become Church members is small.
A percentage of the claimed members will indeed affirm membership in the organization, while at the same time citing another religion as their primary religious preference.
The worldwide figure is as a conglomerate figure, using different criteria (as explained elsewhere on this page), based on official organizational as well as critical sources.
However, the movement's literature states that deriving full benefit from the techniques precludes membership in other religions, and there are people who consider Falun Dafa their primary or only religion. Scientology, is one of the few movements of the 20th century that has grown large enough and escaped its predecessor religious matrix thoroughly enough to be considered a distinct world religion. In the United States, for instance, three times as many people claim to be Unitarian Universalists than are actually on church records. Finally, a larger number of people answer "none" or "non-religious" when asked asked an open-ended queston about what their religious preference is.
The boundaries between Spiritism and other categories, especially Christianity (especially Catholic and Baptist), Yoruba religion and primal-indigenous religions, can be quite uncertain. The larger figure would include lapsed members, as well as people who are are adherents of Scientology, but also identify with another religious group, and name that group in a survey or census. Even its oft-criticized differences lend credence to the notion that it is truly a unique, new religion, and not a part of Hinduism, Buddhism or some other faith. Although figures vary for each country, average numbers indicate that roughly half of the people who self-identify as "nonreligious" also answer "yes" when asked if they believe in God or a Higher Power.
The current estimate posted on this page of millions of Zoroastrians in the world (rather than 100,000 to 150,000) is still under evaluation.
The number does not represent an exponential explosion the number of actual Zoroastrians (although there has been some growth in numbers), but is a result of re-evaluation of the existing population. The majority of the world's Zoroastrians are Parsees who now thought to live in the Middle East. Years of suppression under Muslim-dominated cultures and governments has doubtless led to erosion in some aspects of their community, relative to their co-religionists in India and even among expatriate populations in places such as the United States and the United Kingdom - places with far greater levels of continuous religious freedom.



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