The Major World Religions*
information provided below is intended to provide a short introduction to the major world religions as defined classically.
Each description has been kept very short so that it is easy to read straight through all of them and get a general impression
of the diversity of spiritual paths humanity takes to live the kind of life God wants. As a result, a great many things have
been omitted. No omissions are intentional and readers are encouraged to consult other resources on the web as well as books for more in-depth information.
For an excellent introduction to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Christianity,
and Judaism, Huston Smith's "The World's Religions" is highly recommended.
All souls are welcome at our Religion and Spirituality Discussion Boards. Bring your faith and your understanding.
Hinduism - 4000 to 2500 BCE*
origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization sometime between 4000 and 2500 BCE. Though believed by
many to be a polytheistic religion, the basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called
Brahman. The purpose of life is to realize that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existance and
rejoin with God. This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as samsara.
One's progress towards enlightenment is measured by his karma. This is the accumulation of all one's good and bad
deeds and this determines the person's next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help
one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even
Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into
is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the brahmins, may perform the Hindu
religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples.
If you are looking for information on "OM"
you can find it here.
More Resources on Hinduism
Hinduism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Hinduism and Hindus.
Sacred Texts of Hinduism - Hindu sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Hinduism at OCRT - Article on Hinduism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i faith all originated with a divine covenant between the God of the ancient Israelites
and Abraham around 2000 BCE. The next leader of the Israelites, Moses, led his people out of captivity in Egypt and received
the Law from God. Joshua later led them into the promised land where Samuel established the Israelite kingdom with Saul as
its first king. King David established Jerusalem and King Solomon built the first temple there. In 70 CE the temple was destroyed
and the Jews were scattered throughout the world until 1948 when the state of Israel was formed.
Jews believe in one
creator who alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. He monitors peoples activities and rewards good deeds
and punishes evil. The Torah was revealed to Moses by God and can not be changed though God does communicate with the Jewish
people through prophets. Jews believe in the inherent goodness of the world and its inhabitants as creations of God and do
not require a savior to save them from original sin. They believe they are God's chosen people and that the Messiah will
arrive in the future, gather them into Israel, there will be a general resurrection of the dead, and the Jerusalem Temple
destroyed in 70 CE will be rebuilt.
More Resources on Judaism
Judaism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Judaism.
Sacred Texts of Judaism - Jewish sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Judaism at OCRT - Article on Judaism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
Zoroastrianism - 1000 BCE
was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia which followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion at the time. He preached
what may have been the first monotheism with a single supreme god, Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrians belief in the dualism of good
and evil as either a cosmic one between Ahura Mazda and an evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, or as an ethical
dualism within the human consciousness. The Zoroastrian holy book is called the Avesta which includes the teachings of Zarathushtra
written in a series of five hymns called the Gathas. They are abstract sacred poetry directed towards the worship of the One
God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice, and individual choice between good and
evil. The rest of the Avesta was written at a later date and deals with rituals, practice of worship, and other traditions
of the faith.
Zoroastrians worship through prayers and symbolic ceremonies that are conducted before a sacred fire which
symbolizes their God. They dedicate their lives to a three-fold path represented by their motto: "Good thoughts, good
words, good deeds." The faith does not generally accept converts but this is disputed by some members.
Resources on Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism.
Sacred Texts of Zoroastrianism - Zoroastrian sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Zoroastrianism at OCRT - Article on Zoroastrianism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
Buddhism - 560 to 490 BCE
developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BCE, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha.
He promoted 'The Middle Way' as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of mortification of the flesh or
hedonism. Long after his death the Buddha's teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists
believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person
releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type
of God, the need for a savior, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated
many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization
is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.
Resources on Buddhism
Buddhism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Buddha and Buddhism.
Sacred Texts of Buddhism - Buddhist sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Buddhism at OCRT - Article on Buddhism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
is an ancient Japanese religion, closely tied to nature, which recognizes the existance of various "Kami", nature
dieties. The first two deities, Izanagi and Izanami, gave birth to the Japanese islands and their children became the deities
of the various Japanese clans. One of their daughters, Amaterasu (Sun Goddess), is the ancestress of the Imperial Family and
is regarded as the chief deity. All the Kami are benign and serve only to sustain and protect. They are not seen as separate
from humanity due to sin because humanity is "Kami's Child." Followers of Shinto desire peace and believe all
human life is sacred. They revere "musuhi", the Kami's creative and harmonizing powers, and aspire to have "makoto",
sincerity or true heart. Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. There are "Four Affirmations"
- Tradition and family: the family is the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved.
of nature: nature is sacred and natural objects are to be worshipped as sacred spirits.
- Physical cleanliness: they
must take baths, wash their hands, and rinse their mouth often.
- "Matsuri": festival which honors the spirits.
Resources on Shinto
Shinto Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Shinto.
Sacred Texts of Shinto - Shinto sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Shinto at OCRT - Article on Shinto at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
Fu Tzu (Confucius) was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu in China. He traveled throughout China giving advice to its rulers
and teaching. His teachings and writings dealt with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power.
He stressed the following values:
- Li: ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
- Hsiao: love among family members
- Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
- Jen: benevolence towards others; the highest Confucian virtue
loyalty to the state, etc.
Unlike most religions, Confucianism is primarily an ethical system with rituals at
important times during one's lifetime. The most important periods recognized in the Confucian tradition are birth, reaching
maturity, marriage, and death.
More Resources on Confucianism
Confucianism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Confucianism and Confucius.
Sacred Texts of Confucianism - Confucian sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Confucianism at OCRT - Article on Confucianism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
founder of the Jain community was Vardhamana, the last Jina in a series of 24 who lived in East India. He attained enlightenment
after 13 years of deprivation and committed the act of salekhana, fasting to death, in 420 BCE. Jainism has many similarities
to Hinduism and Buddhism which developed in the same part of the world. They believe in karma and reincarnation as do Hindus
but they believe that enlightenment and liberation from this cycle can only be achieved through asceticism. Jains follow fruititarianism.
This is the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. They also practice
ahimsa, non-violence, because any act of violence against a living thing creates negative karma which will adversely affect
one's next life.
More Resources on Jainism
Jainism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Jainism.
Sacred Texts of Jainism - Jain sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Jainism at OCRT - Article on Jainism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
was founded by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Confucius in China. Taoism began as a combination of psychology and philosophy which
Lao-Tse hoped would help end the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts of his time. His writings, the Tao-te-Ching,
describe the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life. Taoism became a religion in 440 CE when
it was adopted as a state religion.
Tao, roughly translated as path, is a force which flows through all life
and is the first cause of everything. The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao. Tai Chi, a technique of exercise
using slow deliberate movements, is used to balance the flow of energy or "chi" within the body. People should develop
virtue and seek compassion, moderation and humility. One should plan any action in advance and achieve it through minimal
action. Yin (dark side) and Yang (light side) symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen through the universe, such as good
and evil, light and dark, male and female. The impact of human civilization upsets the balance of Yin and Yang. Taoists believe
that people are by nature, good, and that one should be kind to others simply because such treatment will probably be reciprocated.
Resources on Taoism
Taoism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Taoism.
Sacred Texts of Taoism - Taoist sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Taoism at OCRT - Article on Taoism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
Exploring Tao with Fun - Informative site written by Taoists for beginners and non-beginners.
Images of Taoism from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching - Illustrated Tao Te Ching based on Jeff Rasmussen's "Spirit of Tao Te Ching", introduction to Taoism, literal
pictograph-by-pictograph translation, annotated links.
started out as a breakaway sect of Judaism nearly 2000 years ago. Jesus, the son of the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph,
but conceived through the Holy Spirit, was bothered by some of the practices within his native Jewish faith and began preaching
a different message of God and religion. During his travels he was joined by twelve disciples who followed him in his journeys
and learned from him. He performed many miracles during this time and related many of his teachings in the form of parables.
Among his best known sayings are to "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek." At one point he revealed
that he was the Son of God sent to Earth to save humanity from our sins. This he did by being crucified on the cross for his
teachings. He then rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and told them to go forth and spread his message.
Christianity and Judaism share the same history up to the time of Jesus Christ, they are very similar in many of their core
beliefs. There are two primary differences. One is that Christians believe in original sin and that Jesus died in our place
to save us from that sin. The other is that Jesus was fully human and fully God and as the Son of God is part of the Holy
Trinity: God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. All Christians believe in heaven and that those who sincerely repent
their sins before God will be saved and join Him in heaven. Belief in hell and satan varies among groups and individuals.
are a multitude of forms of Christianity which have developed either because of disagreements on dogma, adaptation to different
cultures, or simply personal taste. For this reason there can be a great difference between the various forms of Christianity
they may seem like different religions to some people.
More Resources on Christianity
Christianity Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Christianity.
Sacred Texts of Christianity - Christian sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Christianity at OCRT - Articles on Christianity at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
was founded in 622 CE by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (also spelled Mecca). Though it is the youngest of the world's
great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They belief that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham,
David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalize and clarify the faith and purify it by removing
ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur'an, which are the words of Allah 'the One
True God' as given to Muhammad, and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad's sayings. The duties of all Muslims
are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and are:
- Recite the shahadah at least once.
- Perform the salat (prayer)
5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah.
- Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and
through additional donations to the needy.
- Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the
Qur'an from Allah.
- Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible.
follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people
to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God will
return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs, and gambling should be avoided and they reject
racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous
and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.
More Resources on Islam
Islam Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Islam.
Sacred Texts of Islam - Muslim sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Islam at OCRT - Article on Islam at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
http://www.jannah.org/ - Independent site on Islam with good information on the response of mainstream Muslims to terrorism.
The Islam Page - One of the oldest Islam pages on the web. Many articles/books and resources.
Islamic Circle of North America - Great resource with news, articles, family, youth pages, etc.
Islaam.com - Tons of informative articles and information.
Sikh faith was founded by Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the Punjab area, now Pakistan. He began preaching the way to enlightenment
and God after receiving a vision. After his death a series of nine Gurus (regarded as reincarnations of Guru Nanak) led the
movement until 1708. At this time these functions passed to the Panth and the holy text. This text, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib,
was compiled by the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. It consists of hymns and writings of the first 10 Gurus, along with texts from
different Muslim and Hindu saints. The holy text is considered the 11th and final Guru.
Sikhs believe in a single formless
God with many names, who can be known through meditation. Sikhs pray many times each day and are prohibited from worshipping
idols or icons. They believe in samsara, karma, and reincarnation as Hindus do but reject the caste system. They believe that
everyone has equal status in the eyes of God. During the 18th century, there were a number of attempts to prepare an accurate
portrayal of Sikh customs. Sikh scholars and theologians started in 1931 to prepare the Reht Maryada -- the Sikh code of conduct
and conventions. This has successfully achieved a high level of uniformity in the religious and social practices of Sikhism
throughout the world. It contains 27 articles. Article 1 defines who is a Sikh:
"Any human being who faithfully
- One Immortal Being,
- Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh,
- The Guru
- The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and
- the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru,
and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh."
More Resources on Sikhism
Sikhism Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Sikhism.
Sacred Texts of Sikhism - Sikh sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Sikhism at OCRT - Article on Sikhism at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
A Sikh Youth Site - Excellent Sikh site with lots of information and resources for youths and others.
Bahá'í Faith arose from Islam in the 1800s based on the teachings of Baha'u'llah and is now a distinct
worldwide faith. The faith's followers believe that God has sent nine great prophets to mankind through whom the Holy
Spirit has revealed the "Word of God." This has given rise to the major world religions. Although these religions
arose from the teachings of the prophets of one God, Bahá'í's do not believe they are all the same.
The differences in the teachings of each prophet are due to the needs of the society they came to help and what mankind was
ready to have revealed to it. Bahá'í beliefs promote gender and race equality, freedom of expression and
assembly, world peace and world government. They believe that a single world government led by Bahá'ís will
be established at some point in the future. The faith does not attempt to preserve the past but does embrace the findings
of science. Bahá'ís believe that every person has an immortal soul which can not die but is freed to travel
through the spirit world after death.
More Resources on Bahá'í
Bahá'í Books - Check out the most popular books concerning Bahá'í.
Sacred Texts of Bahá'í - Bahá'í sacred texts available for free online viewing at sacred-texts.com.
Bahá'í at OCRT - Article on Bahá'í at the web site of the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
http://www.bahaifaith.com/ - Gateway to the official sites of the Bahá'í Faith.
Religion Statistics and General
GeoHive - Country by country listing detailing the religious makeup of each.
Adherents.com - Major religions of the world ranked by the number of adherents.
Interfaith Calendar - Calendar of important days in the world's major religions.
* The dates are given in BCE (Before Common
Era) and CE (Common Era). These years correspond to the same dates in BC and AD but by defining the current period as the
"Common Era" the nomenclature attempts to treat all religions and beliefs as equal.
Much of the material on
this page was adapted from the descriptions of the different world religions at the web site of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Please visit their site if you would like more information on these faiths. They also have many links to resources on the
net for each faith.
*Material information was retrieved from http://www.omsakthi.org/religions.html