Chart of world religions

Here’s a handout I developed for our “Neighboring Faith Communities” course for middle schoolers, a timeline of some world religions:

World religions chart thumbnail

Timeline of some world religions (PDF)

This timeline shows the eight major world religions, as listed in Stephen Prothero’s book God Is Not One: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, Daoism.

In addition, the timeline shows some other religions of interest. Two religions from the Americas are shown, Mayan religion and Navajo religion. Two ancient religions that influenced the Western tradition are shown, viz., ancient Greek and Roman religions and ancient Egyptian religion. Several smaller religions that may be of interest to Unitarian Universalists are also shown: Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and Baha’i.

I’m still revising this timeline, and I invite your comments!

10 thoughts on “Chart of world religions”

  1. Hmm, not exactly world but
    Shintoism – admittedly only one country
    Australian Aboriginal Religions – effectively wiped out fairly recently
    Germanic paganism (Woden/Odin, etc.) – in reference to ancient mythology that students should be familiar with (e.g., days of the week).

  2. Erp, you bring up very good points. I’m not sure I’m right, but here’s my thought process:

    — Zoroastrianism gets in, even though it has so few adherents (c. 2.5 million), because Zoroastrianism influenced religions of the Ancient Near East, and thus influenced the Western tradition.
    — I thought about Shinto. If I included Shinto, then Cao Dai should have gone in, as it has about the same number of adherents (4 million) and in addition is not so localized. So I left them both out. If I were going to put one of them in, I’d lean towards putting in Cao Dai, if for no other reason than Victor Hugo is a Cao Dai saint.
    — Australian aboriginal religion would have made sense, to bring in another continent, but then that begs the question of why no Pacific Islander religions? Finally I decided to leave all of them out, just because of small numbers.
    — Norse/Germanic paganism certainly would have been interesting, but I feel it has less influence on our current tradition than ancient Greek religions and ancient Egyptian religions. And then what about various Celtic religious traditions? Sigh. Plus I wanted to put in Mayan religion, to get at least one more religion from the Americas (and we’re about as likely to know someone of Mayan descent as we are to know someone of northern European descent).
    — I almost substituted Incan religion for Mayan religion since it was in South America, which would pick up another continent, but Mayan culture (if not Mayan religion) persists in a way that Incan culture does not. Some revisionist scholars even argue that Mayan religion persists in a syncretic form, though I’m not entirely convinced.

  3. Thanks for the pointer, Jeff. I’m trying to balance traditional dates (the “insider’s view” of a given religion), with contemporary scholarship. For the date of Moses, I would tend to privilege Jewish dating; the Web site you reference describes itself as “Christian apologetics” site, so I would be unlikely to reference it for the date of the beginning of Judaism. However, I will look at some of the research cited in this blog post; though by this point, the post is eight years old. In any case, you bring up the valid point that all these dates are debatable.

  4. Great chart! I’ll be referencing it, do you have a list of sources?
    Also, How about Mesopotamia, they invented astronomy and astrology and had interactions and influenced both western (Egypt, Greece) and the East (Harappan/Indus Valley) ancient religions and systems.

  5. Julian, I did not footnote this chart, but I drew on standard college textbooks, esp. Partridge et al., Introduction to World Religions. But this chart is not meant to reflect the latest scholarship (see previous comments), it is meant to be used in Sunday school settings with middle school aged persons. It’s a rough approximation, painted in very broad brush strokes.

    And yes, I could have included Mesopotamian religions — just as previous commenters asked me to include other ancient and contemporary religions. Any chart of this kind is going to have to leave out a great deal; my chart may not work in other people’s Sunday school programs or classrooms. Therefore, what I’d suggest is that teachers should consider using my chart as a basis to create their own charts — it was super easy to create this chart in Excel!

  6. Afshin, thanks for the correction. This is one of several errors in the chart, and I’m working on a revised and corrected version — which should be done Real Soon Now.

  7. Hi. I find this extremely helpful. However, I find that it is somewhat lacking in religions, such as:
    Chinese traditional religion
    and Rastafarianism
    I understand this might be an exhausting (not to mention hard to pronounce) list, but I would recommend these to join the others

  8. Nunya, interesting suggestions. Remember that a small chart like this one can only include a tiny fraction of the religions that exist in the world today. As I was deciding which religions to include, I relied in part on Stephen Prothero’s list of what he terms “major world religions”; all eight of his choices are included. Zoroastrianism got included because of its influence on Western culture. Ancient Egyptian religion and Navajo religion got included to increase geographical representation. Jainism got included because I often teach about the parallel reform movements of Buddhism and Jainism. Baha’i makes it onto the list because Palo Alto Unitarians hosted the Baha’i world leader in 1912.

    Referring to your list, I’d categorize Juche, Spiritism, Tenrikyo, Neo-paganism, Scientology, and Rastafarianism as New Religious Movements (NRM). NRM does appear as a category on the chart, but with thousands of NRMs, it becomes difficult to choose which one appears on such a small chart. For example, why list Tenrikyo, when Cao Dai has far more adherents and is arguably more culturally important? So I made the decision to lump all NRMs together.

    As for Unitarian Universalism (no hyphen, by the way), with less than half a million adherents world wide, I couldn’t see any justification in including it on the chart.

    What about Chinese traditional religions? I thought about including it, but that opens up including lots of other indigenous traditions. It’s the same problem all over again: where do you draw the line? How many religions do you include?

    You probably won’t be happy with my criteria. So I’d suggest you make your own chart of world religions; if you’re using it for teaching, you’ll have your own priorities you’ll want to include, and your own authorities to draw upon.

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