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Major World Religions & Philosophies

Religion is more than just a belief in a deity. Religion is philosophy and a way of life. It can define who you are, how you view the world around you and how you interact within it. There are as many different types of religion as there are different types of people.
Major World Religions & Philosophies
Religion                                      Reference
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Bahai Faith                                       ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Kitab-i Aqdas
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Buddhism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Tripitaka
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Confucianism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Analects
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Christianity                                       ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Bible
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Hinduism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Bhagavad Gita
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Islam                                       ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Qur'an
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Jainism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Jain texts
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Judaism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Tanach
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Multi-faith                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)World Scripture
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Shintoism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Kojiki
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Sikhism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Adi Granth
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Taoism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Tao Te Ching
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Unitarianism                                      ball1.gif (1653 bytes)UUA Principles
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Zen                                       ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Sutras
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Zoroastrianism                                       ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Avesta
The core characteristics and beliefs of the world's major religions
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Baha'i
Founded by Mirza Husayn-Ali (known as Baha'u'llah) in Iran in 1852, Baha'i faith emphasizes monotheism and believes in one eternal transcendent God. Its guiding focus is to encourage the unity of all peoples on the earth so that justice and peace may be achieved on earth. Baha'i revelation contends the prophets of major world religions reflect some truth or element of the divine, believes all were manifestations of God given to specific communities in specific times, and that Baha'u'llah is an additional prophet meant to call all humankind. Bahais are an open community, located worldwide, with the greatest concentration of believers in South Asia.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Buddhism
Religion or philosophy inspired by the 5th century B.C. teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (also known as Gautama Buddha "the enlightened one"). Buddhism focuses on the goal of spiritual enlightenment centered on an understanding of Gautama Buddha's Four Noble Truths on the nature of suffering, and on the Eightfold Path of spiritual and moral practice, to break the cycle of suffering of which we are a part. Buddhism ascribes to a karmic system of rebirth. Several schools and sects of Buddhism exist, differing often on the nature of the Buddha, the extent to which enlightenment can be achieved - for one or for all, and by whom - religious orders or laity.
Basic Groupings:
Theravada Buddhism:
The oldest Buddhist school, Theravada is practiced mostly in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Thailand, with minority representation elsewhere in Asia and the West. Theravadans follow the Pali Canon of Buddha's teachings, and believe that one may escape the cycle of rebirth, worldly attachment, and suffering for oneself; this process may take one or several lifetimes.
Mahayana Buddhism, including subsets Zen and Tibetan Buddhism:
Forms of Mahayana Buddhism are common in East Asia and Tibet, and parts of the West. Mahayanas have additional scriptures beyond the Pali Canon and believe the Buddha is eternal and still teaching. Unlike Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana schools maintain the Buddha-nature is present in all beings and all will ultimately achieve enlightenment.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Christianity
Descending from Judaism, Christianity's central belief maintains Jesus of Nazareth is the promised messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that his life, death, and resurrection are salvific for the world. Christianity is one of the three monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, along with Islam and Judaism, which traces its spiritual lineage to Abraham of the Hebrew Scriptures. Its sacred texts include the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (or the Christian Gospels).
Basic Groupings:
Catholicism (or Roman Catholicism):
This is the oldest established western Christian church and the world's largest single religious body. It is supranational, and recognizes a hierarchical structure with the Pope, or Bishop of Rome, as its head, located at the Vatican. Catholics believe the Pope is the divinely ordered head of the Church from a direct spiritual legacy of Jesus' apostle Peter. Catholicism is comprised of 23 particular Churches, or Rites - one Western (Latin-Rite) and 22 Eastern. The Latin Rite is by far the largest, making up about 98% of Catholic membership. Eastern-Rite Churches, such as the Maronite Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church, are in communion with Rome although they preserve their own worship traditions and their immediate hierarchy consists of clergy within their own rite. The Catholic Church has a comprehensive theological and moral doctrine specified for believers in its catechism, which makes it unique among most forms of Christianity.
Mormonism (including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints):
Originating in 1830 in the United States under Joseph Smith, Mormonism is not characterized as a form of Protestant Christianity because it claims additional revealed Christian scriptures after the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The Book of Mormon maintains there was an appearance of Jesus in the New World following the Christian account of his resurrection, and that the Americas are uniquely blessed continents. Mormonism believes earlier Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant reform faiths, are apostasies and that Joseph Smith's revelation of the Book of Mormon is a restoration of true Christianity. Mormons have a hierarchical religious leadership structure, and actively proselytize their faith; they are located primarily in the Americas and in a number of other Western countries.
Orthodox Christianity:
The oldest established eastern form of Christianity, the Holy Orthodox Church, has a ceremonial head in the Bishop of Constantinople (Istanbul), also known as a Patriarch, but its various regional forms (e.g., Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox) are autocephalous (independent of Constantinople's authority, and have their own Patriarchs). Orthodox churches are highly nationalist and ethnic. The Orthodox Christian faith shares many theological tenets with the Roman Catholic Church, but diverges on some key premises and does not recognize the governing authority of the Pope.
Protestant Christianity:
Protestant Christianity originated in the 16th century as an attempt to reform Roman Catholicism's practices, dogma, and theology. It encompasses several forms or denominations which are extremely varied in structure, beliefs, relationship to state, clergy, and governance. Many protestant theologies emphasize the primary role of scripture in their faith, advocating individual interpretation of Christian texts without the mediation of a final religious authority such as the Roman Pope. The oldest Protestant Christianities include Lutheranism, Calvinism (Presbyterians), and Anglican Christianity (Episcopalians), which have established liturgies, governing structure, and formal clergy. Other variants on Protestant Christianity, including Pentecostal movements and independent churches, may lack one or more of these elements, and their leadership and beliefs are individualized and dynamic.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Hinduism
Originated in the Vedic civilization of India (second and first millennium B.C.), Hinduism is an extremely diverse set of beliefs and practices with no single founder or religious authority. Hinduism has many scriptures; the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita are among some of the most important. Hindus may worship one or many deities, usually with prayer rituals within their own home. The most common figures of devotion are the gods Vishnu, Shiva, and a mother goddess, Devi. Most Hindus believe the soul, or atman, is eternal, and goes through a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) determined by one's positive or negative karma, or the consequences of one's actions. The goal of religious life is to learn to act so as to finally achieve liberation (moksha) of one's soul, escaping the rebirth cycle.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Islam
The third of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, Islam originated with the teachings of Muhammad in the 7th century. Muslims believe Muhammad is the final of all religious prophets (beginning with Abraham) and that the Qu'ran, which is the Islamic scripture, was revealed to him by God. Islam derives from the word submission, and obedience to God is a primary theme in this religion. In order to live an Islamic life, believers must follow the five pillars, or tenets, of Islam, which are the testimony of faith (shahada), daily prayer (salah), giving alms (zakah), fasting during Ramadan (sawm), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).
Basic Groupings:
The two primary branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia, which split from each other over a religio-political leadership dispute about the rightful successor to Muhammad. The Shia believe Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, was the only divinely ordained Imam (religious leader), while the Sunni maintain the first three caliphs after Muhammad were also legitimate authorities. In modern Islam, Sunnis and Shia continue to have different views of acceptable schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and who is a proper Islamic religious authority. Islam also has an active mystical branch, Sufism, with various Sunni and Shia subsets.
Sunni Islam:
Sunni Islam accounts for over 75% of the world's Muslim population. It recognizes the Abu Bakr as the first caliph after Muhammad. Sunni has four schools of Islamic doctrine and law - Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali - which uniquely interpret the Hadith, or recorded oral traditions of Muhammad. A Sunni Muslim may elect to follow any one of these schools, as all are considered equally valid.
Shia Islam:
Shia Islam represents 10-20% of Muslims worldwide, and its distinguishing feature is its reverence for Ali as an infallible, divinely inspired leader, and as the first Imam of the Muslim community after Muhammad. A majority of Shia are known as "Twelvers," because they believe that the 11 familial successor imams after Muhammad culminate in a 12th Imam (al-Mahdi) who is hidden in the world and will reappear at its end to redeem the righteous Variants.
Ismaili faith:
A sect of Shia Islam, its adherents are also known as "Seveners," because they believe that the rightful seventh Imam in Islamic leadership was Isma'il, the elder son of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq. Ismaili tradition awaits the return of the seventh Imam as the Mahdi, or Islamic messianic figure. Ismailis are located in various parts of the world, particularly South Asia and the Levant.
Alawi faith:
Another Shia sect of Islam, the name reflects followers' devotion to the religious authority of Ali. Alawites are a closed, secretive religious group who assert they are Shia Muslims, although outside scholars speculate their beliefs may have a syncretic mix with other faiths originating in the Middle East. Alawis live mostly in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Druze faith:
A highly secretive tradition and a closed community that derives from the Ismaili sect of Islam; its core beliefs are thought to emphasize a combination of Gnostic principles believing that the Fatimid caliph, al-Hakin, is the one who embodies the key aspects of goodness of the universe, which are, the intellect, the word, the soul, the preceder, and the follower. The Druze have a key presence in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.
Jainism:
Originating in India, Jain spiritual philosophy believes in an eternal human soul, the eternal universe, and a principle of "the own nature of things." It emphasizes compassion for all living things, seeks liberation of the human soul from reincarnation through enlightenment, and values personal responsibility due to the belief in the immediate consequences of one's behavior. Jain philosophy teaches non-violence and prescribes vegetarianism for monks and laity alike; its adherents are a highly influential religious minority in Indian society.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Judaism
One of the first known monotheistic religions, likely dating to between 2000-1500 B.C., Judaism is the native faith of the Jewish people, based upon the belief in a covenant of responsibility between a sole omnipotent creator God and Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism's Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. Divine revelation of principles and prohibitions in the Hebrew Scriptures form the basis of Jewish law, or halakhah, which is a key component of the faith. While there are extensive traditions of Jewish halakhic and theological discourse, there is no final dogmatic authority in the tradition. Local communities have their own religious leadership. Modern Judaism has three basic categories of faith: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform/Liberal. These differ in their views and observance of Jewish law, with the Orthodox representing the most traditional practice, and Reform/Liberal communities the most accommodating of individualized interpretations of Jewish identity and faith.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Shintosim
A native animist tradition of Japan, Shinto practice is based upon the premise that every being and object has its own spirit or kami. Shinto practitioners worship several particular kamis, including the kamis of nature, and families often have shrines to their ancestors' kamis. Shintoism has no fixed tradition of prayers or prescribed dogma, but is characterized by individual ritual. Respect for the kamis in nature is a key Shinto value. Prior to the end of World War II, Shinto was the state religion of Japan, and bolstered the cult of the Japanese emperor.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Sikhism
Founded by the Guru Nanak (born 1469), Sikhism believes in a non-anthropomorphic, supreme, eternal, creator God; centering one's devotion to God is seen as a means of escaping the cycle of rebirth. Sikhs follow the teachings of Nanak and nine subsequent gurus. Their scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib - also known as the Adi Granth - is considered the living Guru, or final authority of Sikh faith and theology. Sikhism emphasizes equality of humankind and disavows caste, class, or gender discrimination.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Taoism
Chinese philosophy or religion based upon Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, which centers on belief in the Tao, or the way, as the flow of the universe and the nature of things. Taoism encourages a principle of non-force, or wu-wei, as the means to live harmoniously with the Tao. Taoists believe the esoteric world is made up of a perfect harmonious balance and nature, while in the manifest world - particularly in the body - balance is distorted. The Three Jewels of the Tao - compassion, simplicity, and humility - serve as the basis for Taoist ethics.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Zoroastrianism
Originating from the teachings of Zoroaster in about the 9th or 10th century B.C., Zoroastrianism may be the oldest continuing creedal religion. Its key beliefs center on a transcendent creator God, Ahura Mazda, and the concept of free will. The key ethical tenets of Zoroastrianism expressed in its scripture, the Avesta, are based on a dualistic worldview where one may prevent chaos if one chooses to serve God and exercises good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Zoroastrianism is generally a closed religion and members are almost always born to Zoroastrian parents. Prior to the spread of Islam, Zoroastrianism dominated greater Iran. Today, though a minority, Zoroastrians remain primarily in Iran, India, and Pakistan.
Miscellaneous Resources
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Biblical names and their meanings
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Biblical Training
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Chinese: "First Language of the Bible?"
The Chinese language is the oldest continuous written language in the world. This language may provide answers to many questions posed in the Bible. Is it possible that the Bible was first written in Chinese? Click on this link to find out for yourself: Chinese: "First Language of the Bible?"
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Largest Religious Communities in the World
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Religions practised in the world
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Religious holidays
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)The Bible: find and read any Bible passage from any book online at the click of the mouse button.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)The Bible: here are some other interesting facts about the Bible:
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)Sheep are mentioned 45 times and goats 88 times in the Bible. Dogs are mentioned 14 times and lions 89 times, but domestic cats are not mentioned. The pig is rated the fourth most intelligent animal but are mentioned only twice in the Bible
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)More than 500 million pieces of Scripture are distributed annually. The Bible in its complete form or portions of it is available in 2,233 languages - according to the 1999 Scripture Language Report issued by the United Bible Societies. The first Bible Society was founded in 1804 and was called the British and Foreign Bible Society Mission. The United Bible Societies was founded in 1946 at a conference in Haywards Heath, England. Its 127 members work in more than 200 countries and territories. They are currently involved in projects in 685 languages. The Bible is being translated for the first time in 468 languages.

During 1998, 20.8 million complete Bibles, including 20.1 million New Testaments, 19.4 million Portions (at least one book of the Bible), 16.5 million New Reader Portions, 35.5 million New Reader Selections, and an amazing 472.7 million Selections (less than one book of the Bible) were distributed through the National Societies. Distribution in China rose to almost 2.4 million Bibles. Distribution in the Middle East also saw an increase. In total, Bibles distributed in 1998 reached 20,751,515. In all, Bible Societies around the world distributed 585,023,708 pieces of Scripture.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)The Vatican: A Virtual Reality Tour of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)View the panoramic interesting pictures of the interior and exterior of 13 main buildings on the site.
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)World Major Religions in a Nutshell
ball1.gif (1653 bytes)World Religious Leaders
Copyright © 2000 Siakhenn
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