Scott's Little Corner of the Web
- History & Society -
World Religions
 
  HOME > History & Society > Religion & Belief Systems World Religions
 
 Belief Systems
World Religions 
Resources 


Here you will find breif descriptions of the world's major religions. Each description has a link that will take you to more information about that particular religion.


 
Baha'i 
Baha'i has more than five million followers. It was founded by Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri, who took the name Baha'u'llah (Glory of God) while in exile in Baghdad. His coming had been foretold by Mirza Ali Mohammed, known as al-Bab, who founded Babism in 1844, a sect from which the Baha'i faith grew. The central tenets of the Baha'i faith are the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity, and the common foundation of all religion. The people of Baha'i also believe in the equality of men and women, universal education, world peace, and the creation of a federal system of world government. 
 
Click here for more information. 

 
Buddhism   
Buddhism has 360 million followers worldwide. It was founded in southern Nepal in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. by Siddharta Gautama, known as the Buddha (Enlightened One). The Buddha achieved enlightenment through meditation and he gathered a community of monks to carry on his teachings. According to Buddha, meditation and the practice of good religious and moral behavior can lead to Nirvana, the state of enlightenment, although before achieving Nirvana one is subject to repeated lifetimes that are good or bad depending on one's actions (karma). Existence, for Buddhists, is a realm of suffering. Desire, along with the belief in the importance of one's self, causes suffering. Achievement of Nirvana ends suffering. And Nirvana is attained only by meditation and by following the path of righteousness in action, thought and attitude. 
 
Click here for more information or here for additional information. 
 
 
Catholicism 
The Roman Catholic Church, with 980 million followers, is the largest Christian church in the world. It claims direct historical descent from the church founded by the apostle Peter. The Pope in Rome is the spiritual leader of all Roman Catholics. He administers church affairs through bishops and priests. Members accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible, as well as the church's interpretations of these. God's grace is conveyed through the seven sacraments, especially the Eucharist or communion that is celebrated at mass, the regular service of worship. The other six sacraments are baptism, confirmation, penance, holy orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick. Redemption through Jesus Christ is professed as the sole method of obtaining salvation, which is necessary to ensure a place in heaven after life on earth. 
 
Click her for more information

 
Confucianism  
Confucianism is a community springing from Confucius, a Chinese philosopher in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., whose sayings and dialogues, known collectively as the Analects, were written down by his followers. Confucianism, which grew out of a strife-ridden time in Chinese history, stresses the relationship between individuals, their families, and society, based on li (proper behavior) and jen (sympathetic attitude). Its practical, socially oriented philosophy was challenged by the more mystical precepts of Taoism and Buddhism, which were partially incorporated to create neo-Confucianism during the Sung dynasty (CE 960-1279). The overthrow of the Chinese monarchy and the Communist revolution during the twentieth century have severely lessened the influence of Confucianism on modern Chinese culture. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Hinduism 
A religion with 900 million followers, Hinduism developed from indigenous religions of India in combination with Aryan religions brought to India around 1500 BCE, and codified in the Veda and the Upanishads, the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. Hinduism is a term used to broadly describe a vast array of sects to which most Indians belong. Although many Hindus reject the caste system-in which people are born into a particular subgroup that determines their religious, social, and work-related duties-it is widely accepted and classifies society at large into four groups: the Brahmins or priests, the rulers and warriors, the farmers and merchants, and the peasants and laborers. The goals of Hinduism are release from repeated reincarnation through the practice of yoga, adherence to Vedic scriptures, and devotion to a personal guru. Various deities are worshipped at shrines; the divine trinity, representing the cyclical nature of the universe, are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. 
 
Click here for more information. 

 
Islam 
Islam has 1.3 billion followers worldwide. It was founded by the prophet Mohammed, who received the holy scriptures of Islam, the Koran, from Allah (God) c. A.D. 610. Islam (Arabic for "submission to God") maintains that Mohammed is the last in a long line of holy prophets, preceded by Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. In addition to being devoted to the Koran, followers of Islam (Muslims) are devoted to the worship of Allah through the Five Pillars: the statement "There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet"; prayer, conducted five times a day while facing Mecca; the giving of alms; the keeping of the fast of Ramadan during the ninth month of the Muslim year; and the making of a pilgrimage at least once to Mecca, if possible. The two main divisions of Islam are the Sunni and the Shiite; the Wahabis are the most important Sunni sect, while the Shiite sects include the Assassins, the Druses, and the Fatimids, among countless others. 
 
Click here for more information. 

 
Judaism 
Stemming from the descendants of Judah in Judea, Judaism was founded c. 2000 B.C. by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and has 18 million followers in the U.S. Judaism espouses belief in a monotheistic God, who is creator of the universe and who leads His people, the Jews, by speaking through prophets. His word is revealed in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), especially in that part known as the Torah. The Torah also contains, according to rabbinic tradition, a total of 613 biblical commandments, including the Ten Commandments, which are explicated in the Talmud. Jews believe that the human condition can be improved, that the letter and the spirit of the Torah must be followed, and that a Messiah will eventually bring the world to a state of paradise. Judaism promotes community among all people of Jewish faith, dedication to a synagogue or temple (the basic social unit of a group of Jews, led by a rabbi), and the importance of family life. Religious observance takes place both at home and in temple. Judaism is divided into three main groups who vary in their interpretation of those parts of the Torah that deal with personal, communal, international, and religious activities: the Orthodox community, which views the Torah as derived from God, and therefore absolutely binding; the Reform movement, which follows primarily its ethical content; and the Conservative Jews, who follow most of the observances set out in the Torah but allow for change in the face of modern life. A fourth group, Reconstructionist Jews, rejects the concept of the Jews as God's chosen people, yet maintains rituals as part of the Judaic cultural heritage. 
 
Click here for more information or here for additional information. 
 

Orthodox Eastern Church 
With 250 million followers, the Orthodox Eastern Church is the second largest Christian community in the world. It began its split from the Roman Catholic Church in the fifth century. The break was finalized in 1054. The followers of the Orthodox Church are in fact members of many different denominations, including the Church of Greece, the Church of Cyprus, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox religion holds biblical Scripture and tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit as expressed in the consciousness of the entire Orthodox community, to be the source of Christian truth. It rejects doctrine developed by the Western churches. Doctrine was established by seven ecumenical councils held between 325 and 787 and amended by other councils in the late Byzantine period. Relations between the Orthodox churches and Roman Catholicism have improved since the Second Vatican Council (1962.65). 

Click here for more information  or  here for additional information. 
 
 
Rosicrucianism 
Rosicrucianism is a modern movement begun in 1868 by R. W. Little that claims ties to an older Society of the Rose and Cross that was founded in Germany in 1413 by Christian Rosencreuz.  The Rosicrucian Brotherhood was established in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, by Reuben Swinburne Clymer in 1902. The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crusis (AMORC) was founded in San Jose, California, in 1915 by H. Spencer Lewis. Both sects could be classified as either fraternal or religious organizations, although they claim to empower members with cosmic forces by unveiling secret wisdom regarding the laws of nature. 

Click here for more information
 

Shinto 
Shinto, with 3.5 million followers in the U.S., is the ancient native religion of Japan, established long before the introduction of writing to Japan in the fifth century A.D. The origins of its beliefs and rituals are unknown. Shinto stresses belief in a great many spiritual beings and gods, known as kami, who are paid tribute at shrines and honored by festivals, and reverence for ancestors. While there is no overall dogma, adherents of Shinto are expected to remember and celebrate the kami, support the societies of which the kami are patrons, remain pure and sincere, and enjoy life. 

Click here for more information

 
Sikhism 
Sikhism: A progressive religion well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago, The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide and is ranked as the worlds 5th largest religion. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Taoism 
Both a philosophy and a religion, Taoism was founded in China by Lao.tzu, who is traditionally said to have been born in 604 B.C. Its number of followers is uncertain. It derives primarily from the Tao-te-ching, which claims that an ever-changing universe follows the Tao, or path. The Tao can be known only by emulating its quietude and effortless simplicity; Taoism prescribes that people live simply. spontaneously, and in close touch with nature and that they meditate to achieve contact with the Tao. Temples and monasteries, maintained by Taoist priests, are important in some Taoist sects. Since the Communist revolution, Taoism has been actively discouraged in the People's Republic of China, although it continues to flourish in Taiwan. 

Click here for more information  or  here for other information. 
 
 
Unitarian Universalist Association 
A liberal and diverse religious organization comprised of mostly atheists (or non-theists), agnostics, Humanists, liberal Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Neopagans, etc.  The denomination's 800,000 members take their origin from the merger of the Universal Church of America (organized in 1779) and the American Unitarian Association (founded in 1823). They profess no creed. They have strong social, ethical concerns, and emphasize the search for religious truth through freedom of belief.  They accept theists, humanists, and agnostics in religious fellowship. They are making efforts to create a worldwide interfaith religious community. Many members come from other denominations and religions. 

Click here for more information. 
 

Zoroastrianism 
Founded by Spenta Zarathustra sometime around 1500 to 1000 BCE in ancient Persia.  He preached what may have been the first monotheism with a single supreme god, Ahura Mazda.  Zoroastrianism became the state religion of various Persian empires, until the 7th Century CE.  It is a small religion with about 140,000 members. Yet its importance to humanity is much greater than its current numbers might suggest.  Their theology has had a great impact on Judaism, Christianity and other later religions, in the beliefs surrounding God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, savior, resurrection, final judgment, etc.  It is one of the oldest religions still in existence.  The Zorastrian holy book is called the Avesta. 
 
Click here for more information

 

 

PROTESTANTISM 
Baptists 
Founded by John Smyth in England in 1609 and by Roger Williams in Rhode Island in 1638. The Baptist Church has 31 million members, and no creed; authority stems from the Bible. Most Baptists oppose the use of alcohol and tobacco. Baptism is by total immersion. 

Click here for more information. 
 

Church of Christ 
Organized by Presbyterians in Kentucky in 1804 and in Pennsylvania in 1809. It has 1.6 million members. Members believe in the New Testament, and they follow what is written in the Bible without elaboration. Rites are simple. Baptism is of adults. 

Click here for more information

 
Church of England 
King Henry VIII of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church with the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which declared the king of England to be the head of the Church of England. The Church of England has 6,000 Anglican Orthodox Church members in the U.S. Supremacy of the Bible is the test of doctrine. Emphasis is on the most essential doctrines and creeds and on the Book of Common Prayer. The Church of England is part of the Anglican community, which is represented in the United States mainly by the Episcopal Church. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Episcopal Church  
This U.S. offshoot of the Church of England has 2.7 million members. It installed Samuel Seabury as its first bishop in 1784, and held its first General Convention in 1789. The Church of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Worship is based on the Book of Common Prayer and interpretation of the Bible using a modified version of the Thirty.Nine Articles (originally written for the Church of England in 1563). Services range from spartan to ornate, from liberal to conservative; baptism is of infants. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Lutheran Church  
The Lutheran Church, with 8 million members in the U.S., is based on the writings of Martin Luther, who broke with the Roman Catholic Church and led the Protestant Reformation. The first Lutheran congregation in North America was founded in 1638 in Wilmington, Delaware. The first North American regional synod was founded in 1748 by Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg. Faith is based on the Bible and the Augsburg Confession, written in 1530. Salvation comes through faith alone. Services include the Lord's Supper (communion). Lutherans are mostly conservative in religious and social ethics; infants are baptized, the church is organized in synods. The two largest synods in the United States are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

 
Methodist Church  
Methodism has 13.5 million members in the U.S. It was founded by the Reverend John Wesley, who began evangelistic preaching with the Church of England in 1738. A separate Wesleyan Methodist Church was established in 1791. The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in the United States in 1784. The name derives from the founders' desire to study religion "by rule and method" and follow the Bible interpreted by tradition and reason; worship varies by denomination within Methodism (the United Methodist Church is the largest congregation). The church is perfectionist in social dealings. Methodists have Communion and they perform baptism of infants and adults. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Pentecostal churches 
The churches grew out of the "holiness movement" that developed among Methodists and Protestants in the first decade of the twentieth century. There are some 3.5 million followers today in the U.S. Pentecostals believe in baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, faith healing, and the second coming of Jesus. Of the various Pentecostal churches, the Assemblies of God is the largest. A perfectionist attitude toward secular affairs is common. Services feature enthusiastic sermons and hymns, and Pentecostals practice adult baptism and communion. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Presbyterian Church 
Presbyterianism in the U.S. grew out of the Calvinist Churches of Switzerland and France. John Knox founded the first Presbyterian Church in Scotland in 1557. The first presbytery in North America was established by Irish missionary Francis Makemie in 1706. For 3.2 million members of the Presbyterian Church, faith is in the Bible. Sacraments are infant baptism and communion. The church is organized as a system of courts in which clergy and lay members (presbyters) participate at local, regional, and national levels. Services are simple, with emphasis on the sermon. 

Click here for more information. 

 
Seventh Day Adventist Church 
Grew out of the teachings of William Miller in the 1840s. Formally founded in North America in 1863. For 734,527 adherents, the Bible is the only creed. They emphasize the second coming of Jesus. Members abstain from alcoholic beverages and tobacco. They baptize infants and have communion. 

Click here for more information. 
 

United Church of Christ 
Formed in 1957 by the union of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. Belief in the Bible is guided by the Statement of Faith (written in 1959). The church is organized by congregations, which are represented at a general synod that sets policy. Services are simple, with emphasis on the sermon. They practice infant baptism, and communion. 

Click here for more information. 
 
 
 


Other Christian-based Communities 
Amish Mennonites 
Founded in Switzerland in the 1500s after secession from the Zurich state church; the followers of Jacob Ammann broke from the other Mennonites in Switzerland and Alsace in 1693; most Amish Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania in the eighteen century when others rejoined the main Mennonite group.  The Bible is the sole rule of faith; beliefs are outlined in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632); Mennonites shun worldly ways and modern innovation (education and technology); the sacraments are adult baptism and communion. 
 
 
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) 
Founded by Joseph Smith, in upstate New York in 1830, then in Ohio in 1831. After two more attempts to establish a permanent home for the church (the second one resulting in Smith's death at the hands of a mob), the Mormons trekked to Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young, and established headquarters in what was to become Salt Lake City in 1847. For its 9.5 million members, faith is based on the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, all of which are considered scripture as well as the Holy Bible. Stress is placed on revelation through the connection of spiritual and physical worlds and through proselytizing. Members abstain from alcohol and tobacco and believe in community and self reliance. Public services are conservative. Mormons have baptism, the laying on of hands, and communion. They have a temple for certain secret ceremonies, including baptism for the dead. 

Click here for more information. 
 

Jehovah's Witnesses 
Founded by Charles T. Russell in the United States in the late nineteenth century. Some 893,000 members believe in the imminent second coming of Christ and the potential salvation of mortal souls during the millennium. All members are ministers who proselytize their faith with door.to.door missionary work. Members refuse service in the armed forces, will not salute national flags or participate in politics, will not accept blood transfusions (but will accept all other forms of medical treatment), and discourage smoking, drunkenness, and gambling. 

Click here for more information  or  here for an opposing view

 
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 
Founded by George Fox in England in the seventeenth century, who preached a doctrine of Inner Light, and inveighed against organized churches. The Friends, who have 113,000 U.S. members, believe in reliance on the Inner Light, the voice of God's Holy Spirit experienced within each person. Meetings are characterized by quiet meditation without ritual or sermon. Quakers are active in peace, education, and social welfare movements. They refuse to bear arms or take oaths. Earlier schisms are still reflected in three main affiliations of Friends. 

Click here for more information. 
 

 
Return to Top of Page

  HOME | Pharmacy/Health | Photography | Financial/Consumer | History & Society
Computer/Internet | Humor | General Interests | My Soapbox | Who is Scott | Sitemap
 
Last updated: 10/9/02