Religion has played a huge part in our history. It has helped define historical periods, it has fueled wars and confrontations, and has financed multiple cultural and technological breakthroughs as well, while also condemning others.
How many religions are there in the world? Enough for there to be university careers focused precisely on the study of them. Here we are going to talk about the most popular religions in the world right now.
Santeria is a belief system that has been syncretized with Christianity – people can believe in both religions – especially in the Caribbean. Its origin is the Yoruba religion – an African population that suffered slavery. The main deity is Olodumare within a pantheon with more deities called Orisha. It has two main branches (Osha and Ifa). However, it hasn’t religious texts since it’s a religion that has been transmitted orally, and the main practice is based on ritual and divination.
Zoroastrianism is a religion based on the teachings of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra, who is believed to have lived in the 6th century B.C. or, at least, his doctrine began to spread at that time. The basis of his doctrine is a reformed Mazdeism or worship of the Mesopotamian deity Ahura Mazda. Its sacred scripture is the Zend Avesta.
The bases of Confucianism are the study and worship of Chinese history, harmony with the universe, respect for the family, and accompaniment in death, among other topics. Its leader, Master Kong, was a Chinese scholar (551-479 B.C.) After his death, his followers gathered his teachings in a set of books: Analects, Mencius, Doctrine of the Median, and Great Knowledge, among others.
Tao or Dao means a way of life, doctrine, deity, or path. It is the center of Taoist ethics and spirituality. The main book that brings together all the teachings of Taoism is the Dào Dé Jing, believed to have been written by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Gautama and Confucius with the later contributions of Zhuangzi.
Jainism was born – or rather – revised in the 6th century BC. Its founder – Mahavira – recovers the most ancestral beliefs of India from the pre-Vedic era (more than 3000 years ago). He teaches us to live a life that leads to enlightenment through meditation, the practice of nonviolence, vegetarianism, and respect for karma. All this leads to moksa or liberation. Besides, the main enemies of the practitioner are attachments.
Siddhartha – the enlightened – Gautama creates Buddhism in the 6th century B.C. Some call it “wisdom” rather than religion since the figure of the creator is blurred. In any case, Buddhism does have deities or bodhisattvas, Sakyamuni Buddha being one of them. Each Buddha is a reincarnation of another bodhisattva who has become enlightened through the practice of compassion and meditation. The most important holy book is the Pali Canon.
Hinduism has its origin in the most ancestral beliefs of India. Between 500 and 300 B.C., a period called Axis-Time by Karl Jaspers, a great syncretism between all the Vedic currents took place; and the sacred texts Upanishad was elaborated, which ordered the system of beliefs and the pantheon of Hindu deities. Other sacred texts of Hinduism are the Vedas, the Agama, and the Bhagavad-gita.
Born after the Hegira of Mohammed in 622, Islam is divided into Sufi, Khajirism, Sunni, and Shi’a religions.
It is estimated that some 3 billion people profess one of these religions. However, these numbers are difficult to determine. For example, in the case of Christianity, the number of followers is counted by the number of baptized persons, which does not imply that a part of the total has ceased to be a practitioner or even a believer.
Jesus of Nazareth was its founder in the first half of the 1st century AD. Today, Christianity is divided into numerous confessions: Catholics, Armenians, Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Evangelicals, Evangelists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Messianic Jews who recognize Jesus as the messiah announced in the Hebrew Scriptures.
With its origins in Abraham, born in Ur some 4200 years ago, it is the parent religion from which Christianity and Islam will later evolve. Currently, the most important currents within Judaism are the ultra-orthodox Jews, the reformists, the humanistic Judaism, the Karaite, the orthodox, the conservative, and reconstructionist.