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Top 10 Organized Religions and their Core Beliefs
This list is Sourced from the Encylopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Beliefnet, and Adherents.com (a collection of 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations). The list is based on number of members. For a complete list (which also includes atheism and agnosticism, see the Wikipedia article or the Encylopaedia Britannica chart).
Christianity is a monotheistic religion which is based on the teachings of the Old Testament and Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that Jesus, as the Son of God is part of the Trinity (God as three persons in one), the others being God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Christians believe that Christianity fulfils Judaism. Most Christians believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus to be the cornerstone of their faith. Protestant ofshoots of Christianity believe that salvation comes from the belief in God alone, whereas Catholic and Orthodox Christians belief that faith, combined with good works is required for salvation.
The Christian scriptures are called the Bible – comprising two books, the Old Testament (based on the Septuagint) and the New Testament. Protestants and Catholics have the same books in the New Testament, but Martin Luther removed 7 books from the Old Testament during the Protestant reformation, considering them to be apocryphal. He also removed four books from the New Testament but was later persuaded to put them back – they were Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.
Christians believe in Sacraments (Catholics and Orthodox and some Anglicans believe in 7: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Last Rites, Holy Orders, and Matrimony; some Protestants (following Martin Luther) believe in the sacramental nature of Baptism and Holy Communion, while others reject outright the concept of sacramental theology.
Christianity is generally broken into three branches: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Catholicism is the largest with over 1 billion adherents. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches split in the 11th century in an event called the Great Schism. Protestantism split from Roman Catholicism in in the 16th century in an event called the Protestant Reformation.
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Islam is a monotheistic religion originating with the teachings of Muhammad, a 7th-century Arab religious and political figure. Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad, God’s final prophet, and regard the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam. They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition holds that Judaism and Christianity distorted the messages of these prophets over time either in interpretation, in text, or both.
Almost all Muslims belong to one of two major denominations, the Sunni and Shi’a. The schism developed in the late 7th century following disagreements over the religious and political leadership of the Muslim community. Roughly 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 15 percent are Shi’a. Muslims consider the Qur’an to be the literal word of God; it is the central religious text of Islam. Muslims believe that the verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel on many occasions between the years 610 and his death on July 6, 632.
Islam considers itself to be the supreme religion and therefore Muslims must not place themselves in a position inferior to that of the followers of other religions. Pursuant to this principle, Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men, non-Muslims may not inherit from their Muslim relatives, and a testimony of a non-Muslim is inadmissible against a Muslim. A non-Muslim who insults Islam must be put to death, according to most schools of Islamic jurisprudence, or flogged and imprisoned, according to others.
Hinduism has no founder, being itself a conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions. It is the world’s oldest existent religion, and has approximately a billion adherents, of whom about 905 million live in India and Nepal. Hinduism contains a vast body of scriptures. Divided as revealed and remembered and developed over millennia, these scriptures expound on theology, philosophy and mythology, providing spiritual insights and guidance on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among such texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Tantras, the sectarian Agamas, the Pur??as and the epics Mah?bh?rata and R?m?ya?a. The Bhagavad G?t?, a treatise excerpted from the Mah?bh?rata, is sometimes called a summary of the spiritual teachings of the Vedas.
Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include Dharma (ethics/duties), Sams?ra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various yogas (paths or practices). Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, monism and even atheism. It is sometimes considered as henotheistic (devotion to a single “God” while accepting the existence of other gods), but such a view may be considered an oversimplification of the complexities and variations of belief.
Buddhism is also known as Buddha Dharma or Dhamma, which means roughly the “teachings of the Awakened One” in Sanskrit and Pali, languages of ancient Buddhist texts. Buddhism was founded around the fifth century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama – most commonly referred to as The Buddha. In Buddhism, any person who has awakened from the “sleep of ignorance” (by directly realizing the true nature of reality), without instruction, and teaches it to others is called a buddha. All traditional Buddhists agree that Shakyamuni or Gotama Buddha was not the only Buddha: it is generally taught that there have been many past Buddhas and that there will be future Buddhas too.
While there are now many sects of Buddhism, they all hold to four fundamental points: 1, All accept the Buddha as their teacher; 2, all accept the Middle Way (non-extremism), Dependant Origination, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path; 3, all accept that both monks and the laity can pursue the path to englightenment; and 4, all consider Buddahood to be the highest attainment.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 AD) who was the first of Sikhism’s 10 Gurus, a lineage of holy teachers that continued until the end of the 17th century. The Gurus are understood to be the mediators of divine grace. Sikhism originated in the Punjab region of northwest India, where it drew on elements from Bhakti Hinduism and Islamic Sufism to develop into a distinctive religious tradition in its own right. Sikhs believe that liberation from the karmic cycle of rebirths occurs in the merging of the human spirit with the all-embracing spirit of God. Sikh males are recognisable by their long beards and turbans – worn to cover the hair that traditional says they should not cut.
Their religious worship involves contemplation of the divine Name. The ultimate deity is known by several names: Sat (truth), Sat Guru (true Guru), Akal Purakh (timeless being), Kartar (creator), and Wahi-Guru (“praise to the Guru”). By concentrating on God’s Name (or many titles), Sikhs believe that one conquers the ego and unites with God.
The compilation of the Sikh scriptures, the Adi Granth, was begun in 1604 by the Fifth Guru. The last of the ten Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, announced that he would be the last personal Guru and that thereafter, Sikhs were to regard the Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib) as their teacher. This sacred book is considered the living embodiment of all ten Gurus and is therefore the focus of worship in all Sikh temples and local gurudwaras, or sanctuaries.
Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, based on principles and ethics embodied in the Bible (Tanakh) and the Talmud (Rabbinical discussions on ethics, customs, and law). According to Jewish tradition, the history of Judaism begins with the Covenant between God and Abraham, the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish people. Judaism is among the oldest religious traditions still in practice today.
Throughout the ages, Judaism has clung to a number of religious principles, the most important of which is the belief in a single, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent, transcendent God, who created the universe and continues to govern it. Originally Judaism had priests and a temple in which sacrifices were made to God. The priesthood is an inherited position, and although priests no longer have any but ceremonial duties, they are still honored in many Jewish communities. Many Orthodox Jewish communities believe that they will be needed again for a future Third Temple and need to remain in readiness for future duty.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and worship was rebuilt around rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities. Modern Judaism is generally split into three groups: Orthodox, Conservative, and Liberal.
4 Baha’i Faith
Baha’i was founded in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century by Mirza Husayn Ali (1817-1892). Better known as Baha’ullah, he believed that he was the prophet foretold by the Bab, a religious leader who was believed to be a direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad. Baha’ullah was persecuted and banished several times during his life, and he died as a prisoner in Palestine. Babism (from which Baha’i originates) was a breakaway from shi’a Islam.
Important Baha’i prophets include Adam, the Jewish prophets, Jesus, and Muhammed, all of whom have been succeeded by Baha’ullah. The closest thing to a religious text the Baha’i have is Baha’ullah’s Kitab al-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book) which contains detailed instructions for Baha’i living.
The Baha’i believe that all religions teach the same truth. They therefore reject prejudice–racial, political, or otherwise–and stress ethical teachings such as world peace, education, and sexual equality. Although they believe that God is completely unknowable, they hold that God’s presence and works are evident in the creation of the world and the existence of the prophets, among other things.
Confucianism is a Chinese set of philosphical and ethical beliefs that were taught by the sage Confucius. It has had a tremendous effect on East Asia right up to the 21st century. Debated during the Warring States Period and forbidden during the short-lived Qin Dynasty, Confucianism was chosen by Emperor Wu of Han for use as a political system to govern the Chinese state. There is a large body of Confucian texts which includes the I Ching (a series of divinations) and a series of books on poetry, rituals, music, and more. You can view a complete list of these texts on Wikipedia.
Confucianist doctrine remained a mainstream Chinese orthodoxy for two millennia until the 20th century, when it was attacked by radical Chinese thinkers as a vanguard of a pre-modern system and an obstacle to China’s modernization, eventually culminating in its repression during the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China.
Confucianism aims at making not simply the man of virtue, but the man of learning and of good manners. The perfect man must combine the qualities of saint, scholar, and gentleman. Confucianism is a religion without positive revelation, with a minimum of dogmatic teaching, whose popular worship is centered in offerings to the dead, in which the notion of duty is extended beyond the sphere of morals proper so as to embrace almost every detail of daily life.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in India and it has co-existed alongside Hinduism despite being a minority of less than 1% of the population. The religion was founded by Mahavira (“The Great Hero”) who is considered to be the most recent in a long line of 24 teachers who have brought Jainism to the world during various epochs. These teachers preach a belief in enlightenment through austerity and rejection of the world. Jains do not believe in a god and they seek release from endless reincarnations through strict self-denial.
Jainism also places a great emphasis on non-harm of living things and will often have their mouths covered with muslin to prevent accidentally swallowing insects. Many Jains also use a small brush to sweep the ground in front of them while travelling so they don’t accidentally step on a creature.
The main religious text of Jainism is called Agamas. An agama is an ancient Jain textbook. There were many agamas in ancient times, but as time passed, many of them were lost or destroyed. At present, 45 agamas are available. Agamas are written in the Prakrit language. These are read and studied by Jain monks (sadhus) only. The sacred literature was not written down until 500 AD.
There are two main types of Jain, the Digambaras and the Shvetambaras. The Digambaras have much simpler rituals and disdain earthly belongings to a point that the male monks live completely naked.
Shinto is a religious system that originates in Japan which has influences from Buddhism and other Chinese religions. Shinto recognizes no all-powerful deity and is a diverse set of traditional rituals and ceremonies, rather than a system of dogmatic beliefs or ethics. Shinto recognises a variety of gods (kami) which are the powers of nature primarily associated with such things as animals, trees, mountains, springs, boulders, the sun, and sometimes ancestors. Offerings are made to these gods and they are later eaten.
Shinto rituals involve dance and Shinto priests bless the offerings to the gods with branches from the sacred sakaki tree dipped in holy water. In some parts of Japan, women Shamans fall into a trance and speak for the gods.
Shinto does not have a founder or canon of religious texts, but a written Shinto mythology appears in the early sections of the eighth-century books “Kojiki” (“Records of Ancient Matters,” completed in 712 AD) and “Nihon Shoki” (“Chronicles of Japan,” completed in 720 AD), which record the role of the kami in creating Japan and the Japanese imperial lineage.