Overview of Six Prominent World Religions
A description and overview of six most prominent world religions
Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pali/Sanskrit “the awakened one”). The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by adherents as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering, achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. Buddhism is traditionally conceived as a path of liberation attained through insight into the ultimate nature of reality.
Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Theravada, the oldest surviving branch, has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications, a third branch, Vajrayana, is recognized, although many see this as an offshoot of the Mahayana. While Buddhism remains most popular within Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world at between 230 million and 500 million.
Buddhist schools vary significantly in the exact nature of the path of liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices. The foundation of Buddhist practice is based on taking refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Other practices may include renunciation, meditation, cultivation of mindfulness and wisdom, study of scriptures, physical exercises, devotion and ceremonies, or invocation of bodhisattvas.
Christianity (from the Greek word Khristos, “Christ“, literally “anointed one”) is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, God having become man and the savior of humanity. Christians, therefore, commonly refer to Jesus as Christ or Messiah.
Adherents of the Christian faith, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible (the part of scripture common to Christianity and Judaism). The foundation of Christian theology is expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds, which contain claims predominantly accepted by followers of the Christian faith. These professions state that Jesus suffered, died from crucifixion, was buried, and was resurrected from the dead to open heaven to those who believe in him and trust him for the remission of their sins (salvation). They further maintain that Jesus bodily ascended into heaven where he rules and reigns with God the Father. Most denominations teach that Jesus will return to judge all humans, living and dead, and grant eternal life to his followers. He is considered the model of a virtuous life, and both the revealer and physical incarnation of God. Christians call the message of Jesus Christ the Gospel (“good news”) and hence refer to the earliest written accounts of his ministry as gospels.
Christianity began as a Jewish sect and is classified as an Abrahamic religion. Originating in the eastern Mediterranean, it quickly grew in size and influence over a few decades, and by the 4th century had become the dominant religion within the Roman Empire.
During the Middle Ages, most of the remainder of Europe was Christianized, with Christians also being a (sometimes large) religious minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread to the Americas, Australasia, and the rest of the world, therefore Christianity is a major influence in the shaping of Western civilization.
As of the early 21st century, Christianity has between 1.5 billionand 2.1 billion adherents. Christianity represents about a quarter to a third of the world’s population and is the world’s largest religion. In addition, Christianity is the state religion of several countries.
Hinduism is the predominant religious tradition of the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is often referred to as San?tana Dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning “the eternal law“) by its adherents. Generic “types” of Hinduism that attempt to accommodate a variety of complex views span folk and Vedic Hinduism to bhakti tradition, as in Vaishnavism. Hinduism also includes yogic traditions and a wide spectrum of “daily morality” based on the notion of karma and societal norms such as Hindu marriage customs.
Among its roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, and as such Hinduism is often called the “oldest living religion“ or the “oldest living major tradition”. Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion after Christianity and Islam, with approximately one billion adherents, of whom approximately 905 million live in India. Other countries with large Hindu populations can be found across southern Asia.
Hinduism’s vast body of scriptures are divided into the “revealed” and the “remembered” texts. These scriptures discuss theology, philosophy and mythology, and provide information on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among these texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Pur??as and the epics Mah?bh?rata and R?m?ya?a. The Bhagavad Gita treatise spoken by Krishna, is sometimes called a summary of the spiritual teachings of the Vedas.
Islam is the religion articulated by the Qur’an, a book considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of the single incomparable God and by the Islamic prophet Muhammad‘s demonstrations and real-life examples (called the Sunnah, collected through narration of his companions in collections of Hadith). The word Islam is a homograph, having multiple meanings, and a triliteral of the word salaam, which directly translates as peace. Other meanings include submission, or the total surrender of oneself to God. When the two root words are put together, the word ‘Islam’ gives the meaning ‘Peace acquired by submission to the will of God’.
An adherent of Islam is a Muslim, meaning “one who submits (to God)”. Muslims regard their religion as the completed and universal version of a monotheistic faith revealed at many times and places before, including to the prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Islamic tradition holds that previous messages and revelations have been changed and distorted over time.
Religious practices include the Five Pillars of Islam, which are five duties that unite Muslims into a community. Islamic law touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, encompassing everything from dietary laws and banking to warfare and welfare. The vast majority of Muslims belong to one of two major denominations, the Sunni (87-90%) and Shi’a (10-13%).
Islam is the predominant religion in much of Africa, the Middle East and major parts of Asia. Large communities are also found in China, Russia and the Caribbean. About 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, 31% in the Indian Subcontinent, and 20% in Arab countries. Converts and immigrant communities are found in almost every part of the world. With 1.57 billion Muslims, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world and arguably the fastest growing religion in the world.
Judaism (from the Latin Iudaismus, derived from the Greek Ioudaïsmos, and ultimately from the Hebrew Yehudah, “Judah“ Yahadut) refers to sets of beliefs and practices originating in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh, and explored and explained in later texts such as the Talmud. Jews consider Judaism to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God developed with the Children of Israel—originally a group of around a dozen tribes claiming descent from the Biblical patriarch Jacob and later the Jewish people. According to most branches, God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. However, Karaite Judaism maintains that only the Written Torah was revealed, and liberal denominations such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic.
Judaism claims a historical continuity spanning well over 3000 years. It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions, and the oldest to survive into the present day. Its texts, traditions and values have inspired later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith. Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced secular Western ethics and civil law.
In 2007, the world Jewish population was estimated at 13.2 million, 41% of whom lived in Israel and 40% of whom lived in the United States. This figure includes both ethnic Jews (i.e. Jews by birth) and converts to Judaism. In more conservative branches such as Orthodox Judaism, conversion entails a full commitment to Jewish observance. At least in principle, these branches expect a similar level of commitment from every Jew. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the many rabbis and scholars who interpret these texts.
Sikhism, founded in fifteenth century Punjab on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and ten successive Sikh Gurus (the last one being the sacred text Guru Granth Sahib), is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root meaning “disciple” or “learner” or meaning “instruction”.
The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in waheguru—represented using the sacred symbol, the Universal God. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. A key distinctive feature of Sikhism is a non-anthropomorphic concept of God, to the extent that one can interpret God as the Universe itself. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus, or enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture which, along with the writings of six of the ten Sikh Gurus, includes selected works of many devotees from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds. The text was decreed by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism’s traditions and teachings are distinctively associated with the history, society and culture of the Punjab. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 23 million across the world. Most Sikhs live in Punjab in India and, until India’s partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now Pakistani Punjab.
( Information in this overview has been gleaned from wikipedia and other sources )