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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

6 Major Religious Traditions: Where Did They Come From?

Even if you’re not a religious person, you should know something about religion. It’s one of the main forces that shapes the modern world and has informed all of human history. If you don’t know the basics, you’re going to have a hard time understanding the world around you — and you might look pretty silly, too! With that in mind, we’re here to share a little bit of the history of 6 major world religions. Let’s get to it!
1. Hinduism
The third largest religion in the world today is Hinduism, which has about 1 billion adherents. Interestingly, some people do not classify Hinduism as a religion, but rather as a “way of life.” Hinduism has roots in the deep past of the Indian subcontinent, many thousands of years ago when tribal religions were widely practiced across the region. Some of the these are believed to have had elements of proto-Hinduism that were later incorporated into the main tradition. It wasn’t until around 500 B.C. that Hinduism became truly well-defined. Over the next several hundred years, the religion spread across the region, becoming the dominant force in South Asian life that it continues to be today.
2. Buddhism
The history of Buddhism is wrapped up with the Buddha himself. The Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, was born in Nepal some 2,600 years ago. Gautama lived and taught in eastern India, but it wasn’t until several hundred years after he died that his lessons were first collected in writing. Over the succeeding centuries, Buddhism would be spread throughout eastern and southern Asia and would even exert influence on Greek philosophy and religion via Greco-Buddhism. Today, it’s estimated that around 7% of the world’s population is Buddhist.
3. Chinese Folk Religion
The so-called “three teachings” of China — Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism — have an enduring legacy within the country. Confucianism comes from the teachings of a wise man around 2,500 years ago, while Taoism came from the teachings of Laozi around 200 years earlier. Chinese folk religion, which is based in ancestor worship and an animist worldview that places gods and spirits in all things, is extremely widespread. It’s estimated that as much as 80% of the Chinese population practices some form of traditional Chinese religion still today.
4. Shinto
The traditional religion of Japan is Shinto, which is based on ritual practices to honor the past, as well as on spirits and gods inhabiting all things. The religion has its roots in the 7th century B.C. Shinto is widely practiced in Japan alongside Buddhism, which was introduced to the country around the year 550. In fact, an estimated 80% of the Japanese population practice some form of Shintoism, but few self-identify as Shinto any longer.
5. Christianity
The largest religion in the world today is Christianity, which is estimated to have around 2.4 billion adherents. Christianity began in the Levant (the region of modern Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan) about 2,000 years ago, originally emerging as a sect of Judaism. Over the next 400 years, the religion spread across the region and became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It spread throughout Europe, North Africa, India, and other regions during the Middle Ages.
6. Islam
Islam emerged around the turn of the 7th century in modern-day Saudi Arabia, when the prophet Muhammad began to unite the tribes of the region under a single banner. After his death in 632, the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) was compiled and his successors began a series of holy wars to expand the religion. This so-called first Caliphate expanded the reach of Islam throughout the region, and it continues to spread today. Islam is the fastest-growing religion and includes more than 25% of the world’s population. Like Christianity (and Judaism), Islam is an Abrahamic religion.


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