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An informational catalog, or several catalogs, about Religion.

This is a supplement to the religion article.

Major religions of the world

Religions originating in the Middle East


Source of name: The Greek form of "Zarathustra"
Object(s) of worship:Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord," essentially God), and other good spirits
Founder(s):Zarathustra (Zoroaster)
Origins: Some nomadic pastoral society which (probably) inhabited the eastern Iranian Plateau circa 1400 to 1000 BC. (Some older works, following the Bundahisn, assume that Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander.)
Holy Text: The Avesta
Beliefs in a nutshell: The Two Principles (good and evil) and the Three Times: (1) a past in which good and evil were separate; (2) the present in which they are mixed; and (3) a future when they will be separated again, after a final war.
Major divisions:
Population: Estimates vary by a whole order of magnitude, from several hundred thousand to more than 2 million.
Main geographic areas: Yazd and Kerman (Iran), Bombay, Karachi.
Influenced: The Abrahamic religions in various ways (possibly including monotheism); also the Iranian national consciousness through such things as Noruz (New Years) customs and Firdowsi's Shahnama (Epic of Kings).


Source of name: From Judah, one of the Twelves Tribes of Israel
Object(s) of worship:God
Founder(s):It is difficult to name a single figure. Abraham as an ancestral figure, Moses as prophet and lawgiver. (Some historians doubt their existence.)
Origins: Palestine (Canaan or the Land of Israel) during the first millennium BC.
Scriptures: The (Jewish) Bible or "TaNaKh," consisting of the Law (Torah), Prophets (Neviim), and Writings (Khetuvim); also commentarial literature such as the Mishnah, Midrash, and Talmud.
Beliefs in a nutshell: God has entered into a relationship with the "people of Israel" (now represented by the Jewish people), as expressed through the "written and oral Torahs," and which remains constant despite periods of exile and catastrophe
Major divisions: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist.
Population: The ethnic Jewish population is 13-15 million and falling. A fraction of that would consider themselves religious.
Main geographic areas: Israel, New York, Russia, other diaspora locations.
Influenced: World history through the biblical tradition, as well as through later Jewish intellectuals such as Marx, Freud, and Einstein.


Source of name: From Samaria, a historic region within Palestine's West Bank
Object(s) of worship: God
Founder(s):Similar to Judaism. Abraham and Moses figure prominently.
Origins: An ancient Israelitic religion which arose in parallel to the one now associated with Judaism, claiming many of the same scriptures and prophets.
Scriptures: The Samaritan Penteteuch (which differs from the Jewish); various other historical and liturgical writings, midrash and hallakhah.
Beliefs in a nutshell: Similar to Judaism, but rejecting many post-exilic traditions, and recognizing Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem
Major divisions:
Population: Less than a thousand
Main geographic areas: Nablus (the West Bank) and Holon (Israel)
Influenced: Judaism and Christianity


Source of name: Refers to belief in Jesus as the Messiah (Greek Christos)
Object(s) of worship:God, generally in the form of the Trinity
Founder(s):Jesus Christ (though historians wonder if this was his intention)
Origins: Roman Palestine, early first century AD.
Scriptures: The (Christian) Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments
Beliefs in a nutshell: Jesus Christ is God incarnate, the Savior who forgives sins.
Major divisions: the "Oriental" churches, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism
Population: 1.5 to 2 billion
Main geographic areas: Europe, the Americas, Oceania, much of Africa, several Asian countries.
Influenced: European civilization (and through it, world history).


Source of name: From manda ("knowledge", cf. gnosis)
Object(s) of worship: God--associated with light, life, nonduality, and the Primal Adam.
Founder(s): Traditionally, Adam. Mandaeans recognize as prophets Noah and John the Baptist--but not Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad.
Origins: Iran or Mesopotamia, 2nd or 3rd century AD
Scriptures: The Ginza, Qolasta (prayerbook), the Book of John the Baptist
Beliefs in a nutshell: The soul is in exile on the earth, under the rule of the demon Ptahil, and must pass through various heavenly spheres after death in order to return to God. Various sacraments are enjoined, notably baptism.
Major divisions: Not applicable
Population: 50,000 to 70,000
Main geographic areas: Southern Iraq and Khuzestan (Iran)
Influenced: The study of gnosticism and Middle Eastern religions


Source of name: From an Arabic word meaning "submission" (i.e., to God)
Object(s) of worship: God (Arabic Allah)
Founder(s): Historically, the Prophet Muhammad. From the point of view of the religion, God has sent a number of prophets or messengers including Abraham, who is called the "first Muslim." Muhammad is the final such prophet.
Origins: Arabia, seventh century AD.
Scriptures: The Qur'an. (Said to have been authored by God, not by Muhammad.)
Beliefs in a nutshell: There is only one God, and Muhammad is his prophet.
Major divisions: Sunni and Shi'a, based on disagreements over who should have succeeded Muhammad in his role as leader of the Muslim community.
Population:One billion, give or take a few hundred million.
Main geographic areas: The "land of Islam" includes Arabic, Persian, Turkish, African, Indian, Chinese, and Malay/Indonesian subregions.
Influenced: Medieval science and geography, world politics, the art and literature of all the regions mentioned above.

The Druze religion

Source of name: From an early leader (but not their founder) called al-Darazi
Object(s) of worship: God
Founder(s): The Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, whose divinity was championed by his courtier Hamza
Origins: Egypt, 11th century AD.
Scriptures: Secret, reserved for an elect
Beliefs in a nutshell: Basically a gnostic / Hermetic / neo-Platonist interpretation of Ismaili Islam, in which various prophets (and for that matter, all Druze) are said to be continually reincarnated
Major divisions: ???
Population: Half a million to a million
Main geographic areas: Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan
Influenced: Middle Eastern politics

The Bayani religion

Source of name: From their sacred text, the Bayan. Previously called Babis, after their founder.
Object(s) of worship: God
Founder(s): Said Ali Muhammad Shirazi, called the Bab ("Gateway," to the divine)
Origins: 1840's Iran
Scriptures: Qayyum al-Asma ("The Resurrection of Names"); the Arabic and Persian Bayan ("Commentary")
Beliefs in a nutshell: The Bab fulfilled various messianic prophesies of Islam, whose laws and teachings he abrogated through a new revelation.
Major divisions: Unknown
Population: A few thousand
Main geographic areas: Iran, Northern Cyprus
Influenced: The Baha'i religion

Bahá'í Faith

Source of name: Refers to their founder, Baha'u'llah
Object(s) of worship:God, through his "Manifestations" (roughly, prophets) who are regarded as divine.
Founder(s): Baha'u'llah ("The Glory of God", assumed title of Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri)
Origins: The 19th-century Persian and Ottoman empires
Scriptures: Various writings of Baha'u'llah and his successors, but especially the Kitab-i-Aqdas setting forth Baha'i law.
Beliefs in a nutshell: God has sent a series of prophets to guide humanity to ever-more-advanced levels of civilization. The most recent, Baha'u'llah, will bring about global unity (both spiritual and political).
Major divisions: One main group following the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel; several splinter groups.
Population: estimates range from 1.2 to 7 million
Main geographic areas: Numerous countries as a tiny minority; Iran as a largish minority
Influenced: Modern architecture, pop music, Esperanto, interfaith dialogue

Religions originating in India


Source of name: Chosen by Persian Muslims, to refer to the religion of people living on the "other" side of the Indus River.
Object(s) of worship: A wide variety of deities, of whom the most popular are Vishnu and Shiva. Although most Hindus are polytheistic, some strains within Hinduism are monist, monotheistic, or henotheistic.
Founder(s): Not applicable
Origins: Various. Some elements are probably prehistoric.
Scriptures: Chiefly the Vedas; also the epics, Puranas, various others.
Beliefs in a nutshell: Vary widely. Typical ones include the cycle of reincarnation and karma, together with the goal of escaping it; and the various duties that apply to different people according to gender, social class, ethnic community, and stage of life.
Major divisions: Hinduism is a collective name for a vast array of communities and their cults, whose integration into a common religion / society is often somewhat forced.
Population: 850 million to 1 billion.
Main geographic areas: India, Nepal, Bali, and the Indian diaspora.
Influenced: Indian society and culture, world philosophy and religion, aspects of Southeast Asian culture such as the Ramayana story and concept of kingship.


Source of name: Refers to Buddha, the "Awakened One."
Object(s) of worship: The Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha)
Founder(s):Historically, Gautama (i.e., the historical Buddha). However, Buddhist tradition recognizes other Buddhas who predated him.
Origins: North India, probably 5th century BC
Scriptures: Several collections, divided by language (Pali, Tibetan, Chinese) and genre (sutra, vinaya, abhidharma).
[Beliefs in a nutshell: disputed.]
Major divisions: (1) Theravada; (2) Mahayana, which may be subdivided into (2a) Tibetan / Mongolian / Himalayan and (2b) East Asian strains. (NB: "Vajrayana" or "Tantric" Buddhism are terms used in a variety of senses; some, mainly non-specialist sources use Vajrayana as a synonym for (2a); others include also some forms of (2b), others again apply it to elements found in all three branches)
Population: 100-150 million exclusively, more than double that if we add Buddhists who also follow other religions but Buddhism as their main one, and double again if we include all who count Buddhism as one of their religions.
Main geographic areas: Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Tibet, Mongolia, the Himalayas, China, Korea, Japan, parts of Russia, Christmas Island.
Influenced: Asian art, literature, philosophy, and (in some cases) society.


Source of name: From Jina (Sanskrit: "Conquerer"). Jain means "a follower of the jinas".
Object(s) of worship: The Jinas, also called Tirthankaras ("Forders"), consisting of those who have achieved enlightenment through aesceticism
Founder(s):Historically, Mahavira. However, he is numbered as the twenty-fourth Tirthankara, the first being Rishabha. (In any case, all 24 reappear in every eon.)
Origins: Bihar (India), 5th or 6th century BC
Scriptures: Various.
Beliefs in a nutshell: In order to escape from the cycle of reincarnation, one must abandon violence, lies, theft, sex, and possessions.
Major divisions: Digambar ("sky-clad") and Shvetambar ("white-clad"), based on monastic garb (or lack thereof).
Population: 10 to 12 million.
Main geographic areas: Bombay, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajastan, other parts of India.
Influenced: Indian literature (Jains composed crucial early writings in Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, and Hindi), art, diet (vegetarianism), philosophy (as a "heterodox" school, like Buddhism), and politics (its concept of ahimsa influenced Gandhi).


Source of name: From Punjabi shiksa ("instruction")
Object(s) of worship: God, addressed by various names such as Vahiguru ("Wonderful Teacher"), Ek Onkar ("One Taste"), or Sat Nam ("Name of Truth")
Founder(s):Guru Nanak
Origins: Punjab, the fifteenth century AD.
Scriptures: The Granth Sahib, a collection of hymns and other writings by the ten gurus.
Beliefs in a nutshell: Salvation comes from devotion to God and the recitation / remembrance of his divine name (nam simran). The guru is the voice of God.
Major divisions: Khalsa Sikhs, Namdharis, Udasis. (These disagree as to the number of gurus and/or the requirements of Sikh practice.)
Population: 18 to 20 million.
Main geographic areas: India's Punjab and Haryana, other parts of India, the Sikh diaspora (especially England)
Influenced: Sant Mat, Hindu-Muslim relations.

Brahma Kumaris

Source of name: Meaning Daughters of Brahma where Brahma is understood to be the founder and the majority of the original membership were women
Object(s) of worship: God, referred to as Shiva and understood to be the Supreme Being in the form of a point of light and different to the traditional Hindu understanding of the God Shiva
Founder(s): Dada Lekhraj
Origins: Hyderabad, Sindh
Scriptures: Channeled teachings believed to have mixed input from the founder, Dada Lekhraj, and Shiva.
Beliefs in a nutshell: World transformation from impure (based on vices) to pure (based on purity and virtue) and the start of the Golden age as an ever-repeating cycle
Major divisions:
Population: 825,000 according to the official website
Main geographic areas: Based in India with a substantial number centres in the UK and further centres in 100 other countries according to the official website

Religions originating in East Asia

Note: Chinese traditional religion is a complex of folk traditions such as ancestor-worship; professional religious services operating under the names of "Buddhism" and "Taoism"; a "Confucian" social ethic; and various sectarian movements which partake of this ethos. Should these be counted as one religion (on analogy with Hinduism) or as several, which may be held simultaneously? To further complicate matters, many people in this category describe themselves as irreligious, or else give "Buddhism" as the name of their religion. While most of the world's 1.3 billion Han Chinese would participate in some aspect of the folk religion, such as funeral or New Years' customs, the proportion who view this as their religion is surely much smaller. The government of China insists on sharply distinguishing between "Taoism" and "Buddhism" (which are regulated separately), and "superstition" and popular devotion (which are unprotected).

In Japan, most citizens are associated with Buddhist and Shinto temples according to government registry, without necessarily personally identifying with either as a religion (though they are typically resorted to for life-cycle ceremonies such as weddings and funerals). As in China, Confucianism is regarded as a social ethic rather than a religion, but receives wide support.


Source of name: From a Chinese philosophical term (Dao or Tao) meaning "the Way." The term is used in discussions of both cosmology and proper behavior.
Object(s) of worship: Various gods such as the Jade Emperor or the Three Pure Ones. These are organized into a celestial bureaucracy mirroring that of traditional China
Founder(s): Traditionally Laozi or the Yellow Emperor. Chang Daoling started the first "Taoist" organized religion.
Origins: Some elements are probably prehistoric. The Laozi was composed during the 6th century BC. Zhang Daoling was active during the second century AD. Taoism can also be dated according to the assembly of later canons.
Scriptures: The Daozang ("Treasury of Tao), a collection of several thousand texts, mostly of a magical or ritualistic nature
Beliefs in a nutshell: That certain rituals/holiday observances are effective in ensuring the health of the soul and/or communal harmony.
Major divisions: Tienshi ("Celestial Masters") and Chuanzhen ("Complete Perfection") lineages
Population: See note on East Asian religions.
Main geographic areas: China proper and the Chinese diaspora.
Influenced: Art and literature of China, Korea, and Japan.


Source of name: From the Latinized name of its founder, Confucius (Kongfuzi or Kongzi). In Chinese it is called Rujia or Rujiao, an otherwise untranslatable term incorporating a character that originally referred to shamanism.
Object(s) of worship: Ancestors, other authority figures. "Veneration" is perhaps better than "worship," as no afterlife or metaphysical system is necessarily implied.
Founder(s): Confucius, though some elements predate him.
Origins: Shandong, 6th to 5th centuries BC.
Scriptures: The "Five Classics" (The Classic of Poetry, -of Music, -of Rites, -of History, and the Spring and Autumn Annals) and "Four Books" (The Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, Analects, and Mencius).
Beliefs in a nutshell: The practice of virtue, sincerity, and etiquette in various human relationships, from the familial to the political
Major divisions: The most natural dividing lines would be according to nation, or according to role or function within a society (e.g. education, philosophy, statecraft, etc.)
Population: See note on East Asian religions.
Main geographic areas: China, Korea, and Japan.
Influenced: East Asian society and politics.


Source of name: Japanese for "Way of the Gods"
Object(s) of worship: Various gods (Kami)
Founder(s): Not applicable.
Origins: Unknown / prehistoric.
Scriptures: The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (mythological compendia)
Beliefs in a nutshell: Reverence for nature, the gods, purification rites, tradition, and the family
Major divisions: Folk Shinto, shrine Shinto, state Shinto, sectarian Shinto
Population: Most of Japan's population is registered with a Shinto shrine, but few name Shinto as their religion. It is associated mainly with major life-cyle ceremonies.
Main geographic areas: Japan
Influenced: Japanese society and politics, several Japanese new religions


Source of name: Japanese for "Religion of the Heavenly Principle" (or, "Teachings of Divine Reason")
Object(s) of worship: God (Tenri-O-no-mikoto, "Divine King of the Heavenly Principle"), also called the "heavenly parent" or "moon/sun" (tsuhiki).
Founder(s): Miki Nakayama, called Oyasama ("honored mother")
Origins: Nara prefecture (now Tenri City), 1838. Oyasama's house there is also said to be the origin and spiritual center of the universe.
Scriptures: Ofudesaki ("Tip of the writing brush") Japanese term for automatic writing, Mikagura-uta, Osashizu
Beliefs in a nutshell: By returning to our true and original mind, we may achieve a joyous life. This includes spiritual healing, special rituals, and selfless action(hinokishin).
Major divisions: Divided into sects as well as national traditions.
Population: 2 million
Main geographic areas: Japan and Korea, various mission centers.
Influenced: Tenri style of Judo, science-fiction writer Avram Davidson

Sekai Kyusei Kyo

Source of Name: Japanese for "World Saving Teachings," also known as "Church of World Messianity."
Origins: Visions Okada Mokichi had of God in 1926.
Objects of Worship: God as conceived by founder Okada Mochiki, Amaterasu.
Founder: Okada Mokichi, also known as "Meishu sama," or "Enlightened Spiritual Leader."
Scriptures: Writings of Okada Mochiki.
Beliefs in a nutshell: Goal is to save humankind from suffering, pain and death, by changing the meaning of life from accumulating money to making other people happy. The practice of Johrei, the healing done by channeling energy from one person to the other through the palm of the hand, and organic farming are main practices.
Major Divisions: Sekai Kyusei Kyo has centers in various countries.
Population: Japan, 410,000 in Brazil, 660,000 adherents in Thailand, centers in New York, Los Angeles. Other centers in Europe, Africa, and Australia.


Source of name: Japanese for "Great Foundation", i.e., the root of the world's religions
Object(s) of worship:
Founder(s): Nao Deguchi and her son-in-law, Onisaburu Deguchi
Origins: Kyoto, 1892
Scriptures: Oomoto Shin'yu ("Divine Revelation") and Reikai Monogatarai ("Tales from the Spirit World")
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions: Apparently none
Population: A five- or six-digit number
Main geographic areas: Japan, especially Ayabe and Kameoka (both near Kyoto)
Influenced: Seicho-no-Ie, Aikido, Esperanto, Inter-religious dialogue

Seicho No Ie

Source of name: Japanese for "Home of Long Life"
Founder(s): Masaharu Taniguchi
Origins: Japan, 1930
Scriptures: "Truth of Life' series (40 volumes), others
Beliefs in a nutshell: God cannot have created evil. Therefore evil is illusory. As children of God, we too are creators. The world is a reflection of mind. Through meditation, we can change the world (e.g., healing). All religions come from God.
Major divisions:
Population: Several million
Main geographic areas: Japan, some followers overseas


Source of name: Refers to the name of God, Caodai ("High Tower")
Object(s) of worship:God and his servants--the Buddhas, Saints, and Sages
Founder(s): God, through Ngo Van Chieu and others
Origins: Saigon, 1925 (at a seance)
Scriptures: The Compilation of Divine Messages, Phap Tranh Chuyen (Religious Constitution), New Canonical Code
Beliefs in a nutshell: In this Third Amnesty of Salvation, God unites the world by speaking directly (through mediumship) rather than through prophets
Major divisions: 18 subgroups
Population: 1-2 million claimed.
Main geographic areas: Vietnam, the Vietnamese diaspora.
Influenced: Graham Greene (see The Quiet American).

Yiguandao (or I-Kuan Tao)

Source of name: Chinese for "One-Unity Religion"
Object(s) of worship: God, called by a twenty-character name that begins Ming Ming Shangdi, various Buddhas/saints/sages from Chinese lore
Founder(s): Historically, Lu Zhongyi and Zhang Tianran in the late Qing Dynasty. Mythologically, the religion claims a series of "patriarchs" from the primordial Taoist and Buddhist past.
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions:
Population: One or two million claimed, this is likely inflated.
Main geographic areas: Taiwan
Influenced: Vegetarianism in Taiwan.


Source of name: Korean for "Way of Heaven Teachings." Its earlier name was Donghak ("Eastern Learning"), in contrast to the "Western Learning" of Christianity.
Object(s) of worship: God (Hanul-nim)
Founder(s): Choe Je-u (pen name: Su-un), posthumously called Daeshinsa ("Great Master")
Origins: 1860's Korea.
Scriptures: Dongyeongdaejeon ("Compendium of Donghak") and the Songs of Yongdam, both by Daeshinsa Su-un; and the sermons of his successors.
Beliefs in a nutshell: God / heaven is not in some distant place, but lies within human beings (innaechon, "human beings are heaven"). Therefore we must serve others as we would God (sain yochon).
Major divisions: Apparently none. In North Korea, the movement was forced to assimilate into the Communist Party.
Main geographic areas:South Korea
Influenced: Korean independence movement (first anti-Qing, then anti-Japanese)

Unification Church

Source of name: short for "Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity"
Object(s) of worship: God ("Heavenly Father")
Founder(s): Sun Myung Moon
Origins: 1940s Korea.
Scriptures: Divine Principle, and the Bible.
Beliefs in a nutshell: God's original ideal, thwarted by Adam and Eve's fall, will be fulfilled in the Last Days by the Messiah and his followers.
Major divisions: None.
Main geographic areas: South Korea and Japan. (Less than 7,000 adult members in USA.)

Religions originating in Africa and the Caribbean


Source of name:
Object(s) of worship:
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:


Source of name: From Angolan Kimbundu ("religious practitioners")
Object(s) of worship: various spirits from West Africa, some conflated with Catholic saints
Founder(s): Zélio Fernandino de Moraes
Origins: Rio de Janiero, early 20th century
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:


Source of name:
Object(s) of worship:
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:

Religions originating in Europe


Source of name:
Object(s) of worship:
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:


Source of name:
Object(s) of worship:
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:


Source of name:
Object(s) of worship:
Origins: Italy, late 15th century
Beliefs in a nutshell:
Major divisions: Alchemy, Kabbalah, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism
Main geographic areas: Europe, North and South America, Oceania.
Influenced: Chemistry, Philosophy, Psychology (Jung), Ethics and Christianity.


Source of name: Pierre Viret's Instruction Chrestienne (1564)
Object(s) of worship:
Origins: France and England, early 17th century
Beliefs in a nutshell: God can be known by studying the laws of nature. God does not interfere.
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:


Source of name: Neologism created by its founder, Allan Kardec
Object(s) of worship: God
Founder(s): Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, under the pseudonym Allan Kardec
Origins: French, mid 19th Century
Beliefs in a nutshell: The existence of God, the existence of the spirits (life after death) and the reincarnation.
Major divisions:
Main geographic areas:


Source of name: Sweden, late 19th century. Modern form is Icelandic for believe in the aesir
Object(s) of worship: Ancestors worship. Polytheism; the gods are seen as the ancestors of humanity, nature spirits.
Origins: Palaeolithic Scandinavia and Saxony. Reykjavik, 1970s.
Scriptures: The edda's
Beliefs in a nutshell: Working towards the betterment of self by supporting familly and traditional indo-european values. All living beings including the gods are tied into the wyrd (web of destiny), and are part off the 9 plains of the world tree yggdrasil.
Major divisions: Different groups use different names like Odinism, Heathenism or Forn Sidhr.
Main geographic areas: Scandinavia, the British Isles, Germania, the Benelux, France, Iberia, Russia, North America and Oceania.
Influenced: Artistic movements; romanticism and neofolk. Church burnings and the movie industry.

Borderline cases

There is no agreement as to the proper meaning and scope of the term "religion." While some groups and movements are widely agreed to be "religions" (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.), others are debatable.

Confucianism. Textbooks on religion usually include Confucianism since it boasts temples, priests, rituals, scriptures, and doctrines. East Asians generally deny that Confucianism is a religion, pointing to Confucius' reluctance to discuss the supernatural.

Freemasonry. Masonic tradition contains ample references to God (called "the Grand Architect of the Universe") and biblical imagery (such as the Temple of Solomon). Like religions, the Masons perform solemn rituals, cultivate group solidarity, and stress the cultivation of ethical virtues. However, Freemasons deny that their fraternity qualifies as a "religion," on the grounds that it is meant to complement and encourage--not replace--its members' previous religious identities. Men from any religion (but not atheists) are eligible to join.

  • If one insists that the Masons are a religion, despite their protests to the contrary, what are we to make of the Boy Scouts, who boast many of the same features? Scounting has rituals (e.g., the flag ceremony), texts (the Boy Scout Handbook), a founder (Lord Baden-Powell), institutions with rank, and in some countries, required beliefs (such as God).

American civil religion. In the United States, various political rituals are practiced which some (such as Jehovah's Witnesses) reject as covertly religious. An example would be the "Pledge of Allegiance," in which Americans customarily stand facing their flag--with the right hand covering the heart--and recite a short oath which refers to the USA as "one nation under God."

Soviet Communism. For all its anti-religious rhetoric, the USSR boasted "sacred" texts, condemned "heretics", revered founders, conducted rituals (such as venerating Lenin's mummified body), and promoted an elaborate eschatological prophecy in the form of the future workers' utopia. Communism often played much the same organizing role in its citizens' lives as religion does elsewhere--for example, in sponsoring "coming of age" ceremonies. The North Korean version, Juche, is even more like a religion.

Astrology. Astrology involves particular ways of viewing the cosmos in relation to human nature, and drawing meaning from that. While it generally lacks ritual or institutional manifestations, it does form part of several religious traditions.

Subud. Subud is an international network of people who practice a spiritual exercise called the Latihan, in which initiates "open" themselves to God or the Great Life-Force. Subud denies having doctrines, yet promotes numerous traditions (often derived from the teachings of its founder, Bapak Subuh) relating to the nature of the universe and the human soul. Subud sources deny that Subud is a religion, using reasoning similar to that of the Masons. (Atheists are however permitted.)

Yoga. "Yoga" is sometimes taught and practiced as a religious activity, but sometimes not. For many, it is merely another form of exercise, though some aspects (e.g., saluting the sun) bespeak its religious origins and are scarcely understandable otherwise.

Meditation. Refers to a wide range of practices aimed at mental activity or quiesscence. They are usually performed for the sake of spiritual goals, but sometimes for the sake of psychological or physiological health.

Interest in UFOs. While there do exist a number of religious movements centered around the thesis that UFO's are space aliens, many other enthusiasts focus on UFO's (and even find a worldview, or source of ultimate meaning, in them) without joining any of the "Saucer Cults."

Straight Edge. A subculture within the hardcore punk community, whose members pledge to abstain from drugs and other self-destructive behavior. The movement is often accused of cultlike behavior, and some members have been involved in violence.

Skinheads. Another music- and fashion-related subculture, originally working-class British. Skinheads are today widely associated with neo-Nazism, but some groups are Socialist or anti-racist. All sides have been accused of violence.

Esperanto. Enthusiasm for this artificial language resembles a religious movement in some ways. The movement has a revered founder (Dr. Zamenhof), martyrs, goals which some regard as of ultimate concern (world peace, Esperanto as a solution to "the language problem"), and has even suffered "schisms" with offshoots like Ido.

Traditional worldviews / traditional behavior. Many traditional societies make no clear distinction between "religious" and "nonreligious" aspects of daily life. How are we to decide, for example, whether a particular people's understanding of their place in the cosmos qualifies as a belief to which they adhere? When is a taboo a religious requirement, and when does it fall under the category of "etiquette"? The roles of kings and priests (and their respective entourages) may similarly blur.

Scientific / secular values. Simiar questions could be asked about the beliefs and customs prevailing in "modern" industrialized societies, which will surely appear quaint to our descendents. Is the scientific worldview now prevailing, really just another religious option? If religion is banned in schools, does that amount to an endorsement of the "religion" of "secular humanism" or atheism?

Way of the Future. An attempt to develop a religion based on artificial intelligence ([1]).

Mock Religions

Discordianism. Discordianism is a self-proclaimed "nonsense religion" which began when Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill published the Principia Discordia in 1955. It has since grown in fame as new editions of the original Discordian bible were published. It has no official status, no known churches or temples. Even adherents who are willing to admit they are true believers in the worship of Eris, Goddess of chaos, are hard to find.

Flying Spaghetti Monster-ism. Created to mock advocacy and teaching of intelligent design.

Jedi. A fictional religion from the Star Wars films. In the 2001 Census for England and Wales, 390,000 people put this down as their religion. The Registrar-General took the view that this was a joke, and classified them as having no religion.