When it comes to religious leaders, there’s no easy way to judge them. Three criteria are taken into account to compile this list: they are still alive, they have had a unique and spiritual contribution on a global scale, and they are present in people’s minds.
Here are the most influential religious leaders of history. This list is based on Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine, which publishes its list of the most spiritually influential people in the world every year.
Desmond Tutu (South-Africa, 1931)
Desmond Tutu was the first black South African to be elected and ordained as Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town (South Africa) and later Primate of the then Church of the Province of Southern Africa. Tutu gained international fame during the 1980s because he struggled against the racist Apartheid. He has also distinguished himself for his fight against poverty, homophobia, HIV, and other battles. In 1984 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ekhart Tolle (Germany, 1948)
Considered by the New York Times as the most widely read author of spiritual texts in the United States, Ekhart Tolle has established himself as one of the foremost authorities in the field of inner transformation and the awakening of consciousness. His most famous work alone, The Power of Now, has sold more than five million copies.
Dalai Lama (Tibet, 1935)
The fourteenth Dalai Lama – a position he has held since 1950 – is one of the most popular spiritual leaders and an influential public figure. Tenzin Gyatso – his given name – proposes compassion as an existential principle and has been an active promoter of his country’s independence from Chinese control.
Pope Francis (Argentina, 1936)
This Argentinean of Italian descent was a chemical technician when he entered the seminary as a novice of the Society of Jesus. He was elected Pope in the Conclave of 2014. Pope Francis has inaugurated a new style of an ecclesiastical pastor with gestures consistent with his humble disposition, concern about the poor and marginalized of different origins, and commitment to dialogue with people of different origins and creeds.