Have you ever wondered how many religions are in the world?
While the exact number is impossible to pin down, we can safely assume that there are tens of thousands of religions around the world. If you take the few dozen major religions of the world and then break down each of those into smaller religious systems, you easily end up in the thousands.
What do these different religious and spiritual beliefs look like around the world? While it would be impossible to cover every religion out there, today we’ve decided to take a brief look at the topic.
We’ll start by looking at the difference between religion and spirituality, then we’ll examine how culture affects spirituality and religion. Finally, we’ll take a look at a few of the world’s major religions and their belief systems.
Let’s get started!
Religion vs. Spirituality: Looking at the Differences Between the Two
Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, religion and spirituality are technically a little bit different from each other. Let’s look at what exactly makes them different.
Religion refers to an organized system of beliefs and practices. Religions are often organized around a specific figure or deity, such as God, Allah, or Buddha. These figures may be flat-out worshipped as all-powerful gods, or they may be simply revered and respected as wise figures.
Some religions worship multiple gods, while others recognize only one god. Christianity is an example of a one-god religion. Some branches of Christianity recognize saints as spiritual beings to be revered, but they usually do not place them at the same level as gods.
Religion often involves supernatural elements. For example, religious literature may include stories of fantastic miracles taking place. You might also see mention of angels, demons, and other supernatural creatures in religious texts and legends.
Spirituality is a more generalized term than religion. Deepak Chopra says that spirituality has to do with being connected to something “larger than you.”
Many spiritual people do not consider themselves to be part of any grander organized religion. They often do believe in a divinity of sorts, but they may see that “divinity” as a permeating spirit, rather than a specific entity with a name and shape.
Where religious beliefs are usually centered around a figure, spiritual psychology is generally grounded in practices. A spiritual person may be interested in the teachings of multiple religious figures, and may seek to implement different practices of various religions.
As you can imagine, there is often quite a bit of overlap between “spirituality” and “religion.”
Culture: A Driving Force Behind Religious and Spiritual Beliefs
Spiritual beliefs around the world are largely influenced by culture.
Think about the wide variety of cultures in the United States. As the world’s self-proclaimed “melting pot,” there are many diverse perspectives and backgrounds represented within the United States. With so many different cultural backgrounds, it’s easy to see why there are so many different religious and spiritual beliefs within the United States.
Compare that to a country like Japan, which places a higher value on uniformity within their culture. Additionally, the country is geographically much smaller than the United States. As such, there is far less spiritual diversity within Japan — the two major religions of the country are Shintoism and Buddhism.
Although culture and geographic location have a heavy influence on the spiritual beliefs of the people who live there, it is important to remember that someone’s spiritual beliefs are not necessarily limited by where they live or the culture that they grew up in. There are many different aspects that play into a person’s decision to embrace particular spiritual beliefs.
Major World Religions and Their Spiritual Beliefs
Let’s take a look at some of the world’s major religions and the different spiritual beliefs they hold. We’ll start with the top 3 world religions.
Christianity is practiced all over the world. It is, in fact, the most widely practiced religion in the world. Over 2 billion people (one third of the world’s population!) are practicing Christians.
Basic Christian Beliefs
Christianity is considered a monotheistic religion, which means that they worship just one god. The Christian god is frequently referred to as simply “God.” Sometimes he is also known as “Yahweh,” though this name is more common in Judaism.
Christianity is named after Jesus Christ, the son of God. Some branches of Christianity believe that Jesus himself is God incarnate in human flesh. Other Christians believe that Jesus is a separate entity from God.
Christians believe that Jesus was the promised “Messiah,” the one who would save the world from our sins. The Christian religion centers around Jesus’ crucifixion. His death was considered the ultimate sacrifice for humanity.
The core religious text for Christianity is the Bible. The Bible is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was the main religious text before Christ came; the New Testament represents changing belief systems after Jesus came to Earth and fulfilled many of the prophecies in the Old Testament.
The two testaments are further broken down into multiple smaller books, each with different writers. Christians believe that the “authors” of the Bible were divinely inspired by God.
Christianity is different from Judaism. Although both religions worship the same god, Jews do not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah written about in the Bible’s Old Testament. Thus, modern-day Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come.
Because Christianity is such a widely practiced religion, the religious and spiritual beliefs of Christians are different all around the world. The belief system for your church might even be different than a church that’s right down the road from you!
As a Christian, you could be a Baptist, a Methodist, a Mennonite, a Pentecostal, or a Catholic, just to name a few.
Origins of Christianity
Christianity originated in Israel in the first century A.D. In fact, the entire Western calendar system is centered around the birth of Christ: A.D. stands for anno domini, which is Latin for “year of our lord.”
This means that the Western calendar counts its years starting after Jesus was born. That’s how significant a figure he was — not just to the Christian faith but to the world! (Interestingly, several Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar and Thailand use a separate calendar to track different religious holidays and events, in addition to the Western calendar.)
Many Christians and Jewish people consider Jerusualem to be the holiest place on Earth. Jerusalem is also a significant city for the Muslim faith. The city was historically considered to be the center of the world and the residence of God.
Jerusualem is home to many spiritual sites within its city, and the city brought in over 4 million visitors last year! It’s clear that regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, many people are interested in the cultural and historical significance of this city.
With over a billion practitioners around the world, the Islam religion is the second-largest religion in the world after Christianity.
Quick note: Islam is the name of the religion. Muslims are the people who practice the Islam religion. You may also see the word “Muslim” used as an adjective to describe different aspects of the religion, such as in the phrase “Muslim beliefs.”
Basic Muslim Beliefs
Islam, like Christianity, is also a monotheistic religion. Muslims worship one god who is known as Allah.
Muslims believe that Allah revealed his word and teachings to the prophet Muhammed, who is also a revered figure in Islam beliefs. Muslims also revere several of the same prophets that appear in Christian traditions, such as Moses, Abraham, and Jesus. However, they believe that Muhammed was the final prophet.
The core religious text of Islam is the Quran (also spelled Koran). This book is divided up into 114 chapters. It is believed to be the literal word of Allah as it was orally passed on to Muhammed.
Like Christianity, the Islam religion is made up of many diverse practitioners with different belief systems. Western media often paints Muslims and their religion in a negative light, but it is important to remember that much of this “information” is based in negative stereotypes that do not necessarily reflect the belief systems of all Muslims.
Origins of Islam
The Islam religion is believed to have originated in the 7th century in Mecca, which is now part of modern day Saudi Arabia. Like Jerusalem, Mecca is also considered to be one of the most spiritual places in the world.
Islam also has deep roots in parts of Africa. The religion has now spread throughout the world, with practitioners in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Coming in as the world’s fourth largest religion, we have Hinduism!
There is some controversy over whether or not Hinduism should technically be considered a religion, due to the fact that Hinduism is made up of many different ways of life. Most Western scholars of religion agree that Hinduism could be classified as a religion. However, many Hindus instead use the term “dharma,” which means “way of life.”
Basic Hindu Beliefs
Hinduism recognizes various gods and goddesses. Brahma, “the creator,” is at the top of the hierarchy. Shiva (“the destroyer”) and Vishnu (“the preserver”) are two other important Hindu gods, but there are many others.
Some Hindu beliefs are well-recognized throughout the world, such as karma. This is essentially the belief that “what goes around comes around.” Many non-Hindus believe in karma to an extent, and believe that you give to the world will come back to you, whether good or bad.
Samsara is another important Hindu belief, referring to the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. This is also connected to karma, as Hindus believe that what we do in one life affects the circumstances of how we return in the second life.
There is no one core text that could be considered the ultimate “bible” of Hinduism. Instead, there are many different sacred texts that are considered relevant to Hindu spiritual beliefs and traditions.
Origins of Hinduism
Hinduism is considered to be the world’s oldest religion. Hinduism actually pulls from a variety of religious traditions and spiritual beliefs. Because of this (and because of its ancient roots), it is difficult to trace the exact origins of Hinduism.
Unlike Islam and Christianity, which are spread throughout the entire world, 95% of the world’s practicing Hindus are located in India. It is reasonable to assume that Hinduism originated in the Indian continent, although it is impossible to pinpoint a specific city as the starting point of Hinduism.
In fact, the term “Hinduism” wasn’t even used until the 19th century, when it was first coined by British writers.
Other Spiritual Beliefs and Practices
We’ve taken an in-depth look at the beliefs and origins Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. This is just because they are the world’s 3 largest religions. That is, they have the highest number of practitioners around the world.
However, there are countless other religious systems and spiritual beliefs that are practiced throughout the world. Buddhism, for example, is rapidly growing in popularity all around the world. Buddhism itself is broken into different branches, such as Zen Buddhism or Theravada Buddhism.
Buddhism is a bit different from the other religions on this list. Buddhists do not necessarily view the Buddha as a god to be worshipped. Rather, the Buddha is respected as a wise figure with teachings that all can benefit from.
The word “buddha” means “enlightened.” Buddhists strive to all enter into this enlightened state, thus becoming “little buddhas.”
Consider the continent of Africa, which is made up of many diverse tribes and countries. In addition to the more widespread religions like Christianity and Islam, you will also find many traditional African religions here. The Yoruba religion is an example of this.
The African slave trade resulted in many of those traditional religious beliefs being brought to the Americas, but they often manifest in sneaky ways. Santeria, for example, is a popular Caribbean religion that is often described as a combination of Catholicism and Yoruba. The reality is much more complex than that, but it is true that there is some blending between the two.
We’ll close things off with the Hindu salutation of Namaste, a phrase that has now become mainstream. It is generally translated as “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.”
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some major spiritual beliefs around the world. Check out the rest of our site for more great informative articles about spirituality and religion!