Big Religion Chart: Compare World Religions

The ReligionFacts "Big Religion Chart" is our attempt to summarize all the complexities of over 40 religions, worldviews, and belief systems in tiny little boxes on a quick-reference comparison chart. Yes, this is impossible.

Oversimplification is unavoidable in all charts and summaries, so this is no substitute for reading about religions in greater detail or talking with actual religious humans. But it is our hope that this comparison chart can be a useful and accessible starting point, enabling you to "get the gist" of some unfamiliar groups and compare the basics of world faiths.

Despite this chart's simplistic title, it is very inclusive and not all groups listed here are necessarily "religions." The only requirements are that they have a significant following and offer answers about ultimate reality, human nature, the meaning of life, and/or how to find fulfillment or salvation. All of them may be found in dictionaries of religion. Conversely, if a group doesn't appear in this chart, it doesn't mean it's not a religion or doesn't matter; the chart is not comprehensive and will continue to grow. Denominations and sects within major religions are covered in other charts.

Links within the chart will take you to more detailed information on ReligionFacts. You may also be interested in our list of religions and definitions of religion.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.) Origins & History God(s) Meaning of Life Afterlife Rituals & Practices Scriptures & Texts
Aladura 1 million Various prophet-healing churches founded since c.1918, West Nigeria. Generally monotheistic; a mix of Anglican, Pentecostal and traditional African beliefs. Strong emphasis on healing and salvation in this life. Not emphasized; views vary. Spiritual healing is central. Mix of Anglican and African rituals; a prophet plays a prominent role. none
Asatru unknown Revival of Norse and Germanic paganism, 1970s Scandinavia and USA. Polytheistic, Norse gods and goddesses, Norse creation myths. Salvation or redemption not emphasized. Fatalistic outlook. Valhalla (heaven) for death in battle; Hel (peaceful place) for most; Hifhel (hell) for the very evil. Sacrifice of food or drink, toast to the gods, shamanism (less frequently), celebration of solstice holidays. Nine Noble Virtues is moral code. Eddas (Norse epics); the Havamal (proverbs attributed to Odin)
Baha'i 5-7 million Founded by Bahá'u'lláh, 1863, Tehran, Iran One God, who has revealed himself progressively through major world religions. The soul is eternal and essentially good. Purpose of life is to develop spiritually and draw closer to God. Soul separates from the body and begins a journey towards or away from God. Heaven and hell are states of being. Daily prayer, avoidance of intoxicants, scripture reading, hard work, education, work for social justice and equality. Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and other Bahá'í leaders.
Bon 100,000 11th-century Tibet household gods, White Old Man, sky god and his consort, Confucius Gain enlightenment. Reincarnation until gain enlightenment Meditation on mandalas and Tibetan deities, astrology, monastic life. Bonpo canon
Buddhism 490 million Based on teachings of Siddharta Gautama (the Buddha) in c. 520 BC, NE India. Buddhist deities include buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats, gods and goddesses; such as Tara, Kuan Yin, and Amida Buddha. Escape the cycle of rebirth and attain nirvana (Theravada Buddhism). Become a boddhisatva then help others attain enlightenment (Mahayana Buddhism). Rebirth or nirvana. Nirvana is seen simply as the cessation of suffering by some and as a heavenly paradise by others. Meditation, mantras, devotion to deities (in some sects), mandalas (Tibetan) Tripitaka (Pali Canon); Mahayana sutras like the Lotus Sutra; others.
Cao Dai 4-6 million Founded in 1926, Vietnam by Ngo Van Chieu and others based on a séance. God represented by Divine Eye. Founders of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity venerated, and saints including Victor Hugo. Goal is peace and harmony in each person and in the world. Salvation by "cultivating self and finding God in self." reincarnation until Nirvana/Heaven Hierarchy similar to Roman Catholicism. Daily prayer. Meditation. Communication with spirit world (now outlawed in Vietnam). Caodai canon
Chinese Religion 394 million Indigenous folk religion of China. Dualistic yin and yang; mythological beings and folk deities. A favorable life and peaceful afterlife, attained through rituals and honoring of ancestors. judgment, then paradise or punishment and reincarnation Ancestor worship, prayer, longevity practices, divination, prophecy and astrology, feng shui. none
Christian Science 400,000 Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, Massachusetts. One God. No Trinity (in traditional sense). Matter and evil do not exist. "Life, Truth, and Love understood and demonstrated as supreme over all; sin, sickness and death destroyed." Heaven is "not a locality, but a divine state of Mind in which all the manifestations of Mind are harmonious and immortal." Spiritual healing through prayer and knowledge, Sunday services, daily Bible and Science & Health reading. Christian Bible, Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures
Christianity (mainstream) 2.2 billion Life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (born c. 4 BCE), a Jew living in Roman Palestine; spread by his followers in Near East and Europe; adopted by Roman Empire in 4C; schisms in 11C and 16C. All have sinned and are thereby separated from God. Salvation is through faith in Christ and, for some, sacraments and good works. Resurrection of body and soul; eternal heaven or hell (most denominations); temporary purgatory (Catholicism) prayer, Bible study, baptism, Eucharist (Communion), church on Sundays, numerous holidays Bible (Hebrew Bible + New Testament)
Confucianism 5-6 million Based on the teachings of Confucius (551–479 BCE, China) not addressed To fulfill one's role in society with propriety, honor, and loyalty. not addressed none Analects
Deism unknown Especially popularized in the 18th-cent. Enlightenment under Kant, Voltaire, Paine, Jefferson, and others One Creator God who is uninterested in the world. Reason is basis for all knowledge. not addressed not addressed None prescribed, although some deists practiced prayer. Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason and similar texts
Druze 500,000 Founded by Al-Darazi in 11th century, Cairo, Egypt. Roots in the Isma'iliyya sect of Shia Islam. Universal Intelligence (al-Aql al-Kulli) or Divine Essence (akin to Neoplatonism), of which al-Hakim is believed to be an incarnation. Live a good life for a favorable reincarnation. Await the re-appearance of al-Hakim (a Fatimid caliph who disappeared in 1021), who will usher in a Golden Age for true believers. Reincarnation. Heaven is a spiritual existence when one has escaped reincarnation. Hell is distance from God in lifetime after lifetime. Modest lifestyles, fasting before Eid al-Adha. Beliefs and practices are hidden for protection from persecution. Special group of initiates called uqqal. Al-Naqd al-Khafi (Copy of the Secret); Al-Juz'al-Awwal (Essence of the First)
Eckankar 50,000-500,000 Founded by Paul Twitchell in Las Vegas, 1965 The Divine Spirit, called "ECK." "Each of us is Soul, a spark of God sent to this world to gain spiritual experience." Salvation is liberation and God-realization. Reincarnation. The Soul is eternal by nature and on a spiritual journey. Liberation possible in a single lifetime. Spiritual Exercises of ECK: mantras, meditation, and dreams. These enable Soul travel and spiritual growth. Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad and books by Harold Klemp.
Epicureanism n/a Based on the teachings of Epicurus, c. 300 BCE, Athens. Polytheism, but the gods take no notice of humans. Pursue the highest pleasures (friendship and tranquility) and avoid pain. No afterlife. The soul dissolves when the body dies. none Letters and Principal Doctrines of Epicurus
Falun Gong 7-20 million Founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992 in China Countless gods and spiritual beings. Demonic aliens. Good health and spritual transcendence, achieved by practicing Falun Gong. Not addressed Five exercises to strengthen the Falun. Cultivation of truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. Meat eating discouraged. Zhuan Falun and other writings by Master Li
Gnosticism ancient form extinct; small modern revival groups Various teachers including Valentinus, 1st-2nd cents. AD The supreme God is unknowable; the creator god is evil and matter is evil. Humans can return to the spiritual world through secret knowledge of the universe. Return to the spiritual world. Asceticism, celibacy Gnostic scriptures including various Gospels and Acts attributed to apostles.
Greek Religion ancient form extinct; various modern revivals Indigenous religion of the ancient Greeks, c. 500 BCE to 400 CE. Olympic pantheon (Zeus, etc.) mixed with eastern deities like Isis and Cybele. Human life is subject to the whim of the gods and to Fate; these can be partially controlled through sacrifice and divination. Beliefs varied from no afterlife to shadowy existence in the underworld to a paradise-like afterlife (mainly in mystery religions). Animal sacrifice, harvest offerings, festivals, games, processions, dance, plays, in honor of the gods. Secret initiations and rituals in mystery religions. Epic poems of Homer and Hesiod.
Hare Krishna 250,000-1 million Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1966, USA (with roots in 15th-century Hindu movement) Krishna is the Supreme God. Salvation from this Age of Kali is by a return to Godhead, accomplished through Krishna-Consciousness. Reincarnation until unite with the Godhead. Chanting, dancing, evangelism, vegetarianism, temple worship, monastic-style living The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is
Hinduism 1.1 billion No founding date; indigenous religion of India as developed to present day. Earliest forms (Vedic religion) date to 1500 BCE or earlier; major developments 1st-9th centuries CE. One Supreme Reality (Brahman) manifested in many gods and goddesses, including Shiva, Vishnu, and Ganesha Humans are in bondage to ignorance and illusion, but are able to escape. Purpose is to gain release from rebirth, or at least a better rebirth. Reincarnation based on karma until attain liberation, which is union with God or a blissful state. Some beliefs in ancestors and ghosts. Yoga, meditation, worship (puja), devotion to a god or goddess, pilgrimage to holy cities, live according to one's dharma (purpose/ role). Shruti (revealed truth): Vedas, Upanishads, Agama; Smriti (remembered wisdom): Upavedas, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata (includes Bhagavad Gita), Agama Shastras
Islam 1.6 billion Founded by the Prophet Muhammad in 622 CE, Mecca, Saudi Arabia. One God (Allah in Arabic); the same God revealed (imperfectly) in the Jewish and Christian Bibles Submit (islam) to the will of God to gain Paradise after death. eternal Paradise or eternal Hell Five Pillars: Faith, Prayer, Alms, Pilgrimage, Fasting. Mosque services on Fridays. Ablutions before prayer. No alcohol or pork. Holidays related to the pilgrimage and fast of Ramadan. Qur'an (sacred text); Hadith (tradition)
Jainism 4 million Founded by Mahavira, c. 550 BCE, eastern India Polytheism and pantheism. The universe is eternal; many gods exist. Gods, humans and all living things are classified in a complex hierarchy. Gain liberation from cycle of rebirth, by avoiding all bad karma, especially by causing no harm to any sentient being. Reincarnation until liberation. Monasticism under the Five Great Vows (Non-Violence, Truth, Celibacy, Non-Stealing, Non-Possessiveness); worship at temples and at home. Meditation and mantras. The teachings of Mahavira in various collections.
Jehovah's Witnesses 6.5 million Founded by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), 1879, Pittsburgh one God: Jehovah Salvation is through faith in Christ and obeying Jehovah's laws. The End of the World is soon. Heaven for 144,000 chosen Witnesses, eternity on new earth for other Witnesses. All others annihilated. No hell. No blood transfusions, no celebration of holidays, no use of crosses or religious images. Baptism, Sunday service at Kingdom Hall, strong emphasis on evangelism. New World Translation of the Scriptures
Judaism 14 million The religion of Abraham (c. 1800 BCE) and the Hebrews, especially after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. One God: Yahweh (YHVH) Obey God's commandments, live ethically. Focus is more on this life than the next. Not emphasized; views vary: no afterlife, shadowy existence, World to Come (similar to heaven), Gehenna (similar to hell), reincarnation Circumcision at birth, bar/bat mitzvah at adulthood, observing Sabbath, wearing tallit and tefilin, prayer services Hebrew Bible (Tanakh); Talmud
Mayan Religion Several million Maya practice a Catholicism that retains many elements of traditional Mayan religion. Mayan civilization began c. 2000 BCE; earliest ceremonial site dated to c. 1000 BCE. Many gods, including Itzamná, Kukulcán, Bolon Tzacab, and Chac Appease and nourish the gods; determine luckiest dates for various activities. The soul journeys through dark and threatening underworld; but sacrificial victims and women who die in childbirth go to heaven. Astronomy, divination, human sacrifice, elaborate burial for royalty, worship in stone pyramid-temples Dresden Codex; Madrid Codex; Paris Codex; Books of Chilam Balam; Popol Vuh; The Ritual of the Bacabs
Mormonism (LDS) 12.2 million Revelations to Joseph Smith, 1830, New York. God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate individual beings Return to God by faith in Christ, good works, ordinances, and evangelism. All return to spirit world instruction before resurrection. Then Mormons to heaven with God and families; others rewarded apart from God; hell for those who still reject God. Abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea; baptism for the dead; eternal marriage; temple garments under daily clothes; active evangelism. Christian Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price
Nation of Islam 10,000-100,000 Founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad, 1930, Detroit, USA. "One God whose proper name is Allah." Wallace Fard Muhammad became the divine messiah and incarnation of Allah in 1930. "The Blackman is the original man." Live righteously and worship Allah. Mental resurrection of the righteous. Black people will be mentally resurrected first. Prayer five times a day. Work for the equality of the African race. Respect laws of the land, don't carry arms, don't make war. Healthy living and abstinence from alcohol, smoking and substance abuse. Modest dress. Qur'an and "Scriptures of all the Prophets of God" are holy texts. Influential writings include Elijah Muhammad's Message to the Blackman in America (1965)
New Age 5 million Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Annie Besant in the 19th C, Alice A. Bailey (1880-1949), flourished in 1970s and 80s The Divine is an impersonal life force that pervades all things Dawning of a New Age of heightened consciousness and international peace. Individuals can obtain a foretaste of the New Age through spiritual transformation ("Ascension"). More emphasis on the latter now. Evil comes from ignorance. Reincarnation Astrology; mysticism; use of crystals; yoga; tarot readings; holistic medicine; psychic abilities; angelic communications; channeling; amulets; fortune-telling Works of a variety of New Age writers
New Thought 160,000 Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-66) and others, late 19th century, USA. Generally monism (all is One), but members might be theists, pantheists or panentheists. God is immanent; the universe is essentially spiritual. Man is divine, essentially spirit, and has infinite possibility. Mind can control the body. Sin and sickness caused by incorrect thinking. Man can live in oneness with God in love, truth, peace, health, and prosperity. "Life is eternal in the invisible kingdom of God." Emphasis on spiritual and mental healing, but without rejection of modern medicine. Worship services; prayer for the sick; discussion of New Thought authors and ideas. Writings of Quimby (such as the The Quimby Manuscripts) and other New Thought authors
Rastafarianism 1 million Founded by Marcus Garvey in the slums of Jamaica in the 1920s and 30s God is Jah, who became incarnate in Jesus (who was black); Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I was messiah. Humans are temples of Jah. Salvation is primarily in this world and consists of liberation from oppression and return to Africa. Some Rastas will experience "everliving" (physical immortality). Heaven is a return to Eden, which is in Africa. Many practices based on Jewish biblical Law. Abstinence from most or all meat, artificial foods, and alcohol. Use of marijuana in religious rituals and for medicine. Wearing of dreadlocks. Holy Piby (the "Blackman's Bible"). The Ethiopian epic Kebra Negast also revered.
Scientology 70,000 or several million, depending on the source Founded by L. Ron Hubbard, 1954, California God(s) not specified; reality explained in the Eight Dynamics Human consists of body, mind and thetan; capable of great things. Gain spiritual freedom by ridding mind of engrams. Reincarnation Auditing, progressing up various levels until "clear". Focus on education and drug recovery programs. Writings of Hubbard, such as Dianetics and Scientology
Seventh-Day Adventism 25 million Rooted in Millerite movement; founded 1863 in New England; early leaders: Ellen White, Hiram Edson and Joseph Bates Trinitarian monotheism Live in accordance with the Bible, including the Old Testament. The Second Coming will happen soon. A "peaceful pause" after death until the coming of Christ, then resurrection to judgment, followed by eternity in heaven or nonexistence. No hell. 24-hour Sabbath observance starting Friday at sunset; adult baptism by immersion; church services emphasizing sermon Christian Bible; writings of Ellen G. White as helpful supplement
Shinto 3-4 million Indigenous religion of Japan kami: ancient gods or spirits Humans are pure by nature and can keep away evil through purification rituals and attain good things by calling on the kami. Death is bad and impure. Some humans become kami after death. Worship and offerings to kami at shrines and at home. Purification rituals. Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters); Nihon-gi (Chronicles of Japan)
Sikhism 23 million Founded by Guru Nanak, c. 1500, Punjab, India. one God: Ik Onkar Overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a "saint soldier," fighting for good. Reincarnation until resolve karma and merge with God. Prayer and meditation on God's name, services at temple (gurdwara), turban and five Ks. Balance work, worship, and charity. No monasticism or asceticism. Adi Granth (Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
Spiritualism 11 million c.1850, USA, UK, France Generally accepts the Christian God Body and spirit are separate entities. Morality and contact with spirits affect afterlife. A spiritual existence with access to the living. Condition depends on morality of life and advancement is possible. Sunday services. Seances and other communication with departed spirits. Spirit healing. No authoritative texts. Doctrine learned from spirit guides (advanced departed spirits).
Stoicism Zeno in c.313 BC, Athens. Pantheism: the logos pervades the universe. Happiness, which is achieved by living reasonably. Possible continued existence of the Soul, but not a personal existence. Ethical and philosophical training, self-reflection, careful judgment and inner calm. writings of Zeno, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius
Taoism 20 million specifically of Taoism (Chinese religion contains Taoist elements) Based on teachings of Lao-Tzu, c. 550 BCE, China. Pantheism - the Tao pervades all. Achieve inner harmony, peace, and longevity by living in accordance with the Tao. Revert back to state of non-being, which is simply the other side of being. General attitude of detachment and non-struggle, "go with the flow" of the Tao. Tai-chi, acupuncture, and alchemy to help longevity. Tao-te Ching; Chuang-tzu
Unification Church over 1 million (3 million acc. to official sources) Founded by Sun Myung Moon, 1954, South Korea. Monotheism, with the duality of God (esp. masculine and feminine) emphasized. No Trinity. True love and world peace instead of selfish love. True love and the kingdom of God on earth will be restored by the creation of "true families." Eternal life in a spirit world. Blessing Ceremony The Divine Principle (1954) by Rev. Moon.
Unitarian Universalism 800,000 Formal merger of Unitarians and Universalists in 1961, USA. Has no set beliefs, which is its defining characteristic. Salvation is "spiritual health or wholeness." Members seek "inner and outer peace," insight, health, compassion and strength. Not specified. Some believe in an afterlife, some do not. Very few believe in hell - "Universalism" indicates the belief that all will be saved. Ceremonies for marriages, funerals, etc. Church services have elements from various religions. Emphasis on civil rights, social justice, equality and environment. Most UUs are anti-death penalty and pro-gay rights. Many sacred texts are revered by various members; some none at all. The Bible is the most commonly used text.
Wicca 1-3 million Based on ancient pagan beliefs, but modern form founded early 1900s. Founder generally said to be Gerald Gardner. Polytheism, centered on the Goddess and God, each in various forms; also a belief in a Supreme Being over all "If it harms none, do what you will." reincarnation until reach the Summerland Prayer, casting a circle, Drawing Down the Moon, reciting spells, dancing, singing, sharing cakes and wine or beer No sacred text; foundational texts include The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches
Zoroastrianism 200,000 Based on teachings of Zoroaster in 6th cent. BCE Persia. Official religion of ancient Persia. May have influenced Judaism and Vedic religion. One God, Ahura Mazda, but a dualistic worldview in which an evil spirit, Angra Mainyu, is almost as powerful. Humans are free to do good or evil, must choose the side of good. Judgment followed by heaven or hell. Hell is temporary until final purgation and return to Ahura Mazda. prayers; tending the sacred fire; coming of age rituals; burial by exposure in the Tower of Silence Zend Avesta