Friday, February 13, 2015

Beginning a survey on religions

I'm going to start a series next week, taking one world religion at a time and attempting a 50,000-foot view of origin, founder (if any), holy book(s), and major holy days or celebrations. It seems to me that this is a significant part of culture that many people overlook.

I grew up in a religious family, where our faith was a big part of our lives, and not just on Sunday morning. I have known many people in the United States for whom that is also true. A few years back, I found an article one Facebook discussing why several Muslim students chose to attend the University of Notre Dame, a major Catholic campus.  Among the reasons was that a religious campus understood religious observations that can include clothing and dietary restrictions.

In my religious studies, I was taught about 5-6 major World Religions, after which there are many more regional or local traditions. The major World Religions are usually subdivided into Eastern and Western religions.

The Western World Religions all trace back to the biblical Abraham, and each considers themselves monotheistic (believing in one God).  A Pew Research Center article from 2010 analyzes the Global Religious Landscape, and estimates the number of practitioners. Estimates below come from the Pew Research data. Chronologically, the Western religions are:
The Eastern World Religions may have more complex theologies, allowing for monotheism, polytheism (believing in many Gods), or even atheism. Two of the biggest ones are, chronologically:
  • Hinduism - 1 billion practitioners
  • Buddhism - nearly 500 million practitioners
In some places, I have seen Confucianism and Taoism discussed under Chinese religions or philosophies.

An InfoPlease article on major religions of the world includes the five bulleted above plus these seven:
  • Baha'i
  • Confucianism
  • Jainism
  • Shinto
  • Sikhism
  • Taoism
  • Zoroastrianism
The Global Religious Landscape estimates 58 million people practice "other" religions that list these seven, Tenrikyo, Wicca, and "many other religions."

400 million people continue to practice their traditional religions, whether Native American, Australian Aboriginal, African, or Asian.  I don't plan to include these religions in my high-level summary at this time. The important things to know about these are: 
  1. the practice may be "closed," a religion that may not take converts.
  2. there are many different faith practices and traditions in this category, just as there are many different peoples. If you know something about, for example, Cherokee religion, do not assume that it applies to Lakota. 
1.1 billion considered themselves unaffiliated to any religion in 2010.

On Monday, I'll attempt to highlight a little bit on Judaism and provide resources for further study.  The article may be posted late in the day, due to President's Day.