of world religions

Quotes from The Spiritual Brain (Great Courses)

  • 80% of people in the world say they are religious
  • Our brain is a religious machine

Mosaic Chart

The chart is called Mosaic
because the facts we know are like tiles to put into a pattern. This chart puts similar religions together.

The dotted lines mean:

Top of horizontal line: religions that  “produced literature”
Bottom: religions that are passed on by “word of mouth”

The horizontal line divides west from east.
• by East I mean India and China
• by West I mean “West Asia”  (the Middle East)

Nearer the top means more recent in time.


The Box at left represents polytheism.
(the letters “the” mean “god,” poly means “many”)

List starting from the bottom:

  • Egypt
    •Babylon (Mesopotamia)
  • Greek


The next box represents Monotheism.
Mono=one, and the letters “the…” = god

Most monotheist religions also believe that God is eternal, and created the universe(as compared to other religions that say that the universe is eternal)

He = Hebrew Religion

The religion of the People of Israel, who spoke and wrote in Hebrew.
Later, when they were dispersed to other countries, they were called Jews, (meaning people from Judah, which is one of the regions of Israel)

The Hebrew Bible is called “Old Testament” by Christians.

It says that God gave a promise (called “covenant”) to their ancestor, Abraham.

The Bible in Genesis 17:7 has these words from God: “I will establish my covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you … to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

Both Judaism and Christianity see themselves as heirs of this covenant.

J = Judaism.

Ch = Christianity

Being in the covenant is still very real in Judaism. Leaders in Judaism today say that because of that covenant, God has put them into the world as His representative for a special task, that of helping to repair the world.

Christians also believe they have become included in that covenant. The Christian book “the New Testament” says in Galatians 3:29:

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”


The Hebrew religion engaged in animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
The Bible book of Leviticus says in 17:23, “the blood makes atonement for your soul.”
After the temple was destroyed by the Roman empire in AD 70, this sacrifice ended,
so another way to forgive sins was necessary.


The Jewish leader Johannan ben Zakkai after the year 70 taught that:
“acts of loving kindness atone no less effectively than the former Temple sacrificial ritual.”

For Christians, The New Testament says that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross
was the final and sufficient sacrifice for sin.
Hebrews 9:13 writes: “if the blood of goats and bulls … sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ … cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”



I = Islam. It is placed in between because the Koran (also spelled Qur’an) mentions people from both.

The word “islam” means “submit,” so a Muslim is “one who submits.
This is shown in the posture during the five prayertimes per day,
and in the strong sense of fate: “God wills it.”
Allah is the Arab word that means God; Christian Arabs use that term.
Muhammad (also spelled Mohammed) changed the Arabs from polytheists to monotheists.

The “Second Temple” Period

The number 2 means the “2nd temple period.”

The first temple built by Solomon around 960 BC.
It was destroyed by Babylonians around 586 BC.
King Herod made a new structure for the “second temple”


Judaism and Christianity emerged from the “second temple period,”

because characteristics from this period are found in both.


Example from New Testament: around 50 AD, the Apostle Paul was on trial before Jewish leaders. Acts 22:6 records that he “perceiving that one part were Sadducess and the other Pharisees, began crying out in the council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead.’  And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, or an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”


These groups are not found in the Hebrew Bible, but emerged during the Second temple period. The Sadducees accepted only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (the Torah) as authority, while the Pharisees accepted the rest of the Bible books.


Sadducees and many other groups did not continue after the Romans destroyed the second temple in AD 70. Only the Pharisees survived, and they shaped the continuation of the faith of the Jewish people into the religion called Judaism.


Jesus also accepted the entire Hebrew Bible. Luke 24:44 quotes Jesus as saying, “all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses the prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled. (The Law of Moses is the first five books, the Torah; the prophets also encompass the history after the time of Moses; and the Psalms are one of the “writings.”


Both Judaism and Christianity continued certain features of the 2ndtemple period:
•Belief in resurrection and eternal life
•Holding worship services at 7-day intervals
•The ingredients of those services is similar: readings, sermon, prayers.

One difference among these 3 religions is the attitude toward Jesus.
•Christians: Jesus is God and Savior, promised Messiah
•Islam: Jesus is not God or Savior, but a prophet, like Noah and Moses.
(Since He was a prophet, God would not have let him die on a cross.
(The Koran teaches that someone took his place before he could be nailed to the cross.
•Judaism: Jesus is neither God nor Savior nor the promised messiah.


These monotheistic religions encompass more than half the world population.

For statistics of world religion, see

For short descriptions, see



Hi = Hinduism, the term for the many religious practices in India
From the thousands of different gods worshipped in the villages
to the realization by some that all these gods manifest one reality.
(The words India and Hindu are named after the Indus River)

One strand found in India is monism. Mono means one.
Monism thus means that all reality is one category, that you, the universe, and the gods are all one.

(in contrast, monotheism says that reality has two categories: Creator and Created.)

Around 700 BC a statement was written about Brahman, the ultimate reality (above any gods); a seeker was told “that thou art.” In other words, you and Brahman are the same.



Polytheism, Monotheism, Atheism, and Monism are all found in Hinduism.
Despite this variety, all these people would recognize one another as
“Hindu” …  except for those religions that have names of their own:


  • Muslims make up 14% of the population of India
    •Christians make up 2% of the population.

A source of statistics is CIA factbook


  • Bu = Buddhism
    •Ja = Jainism


Both of these were founded by Hindu men around 500 BC.

From Hinduism, both retained:
1. monism – that all is one, you and the ultimate are the same
2. reincarnation – and escaping it as the goal
3. karma – your next life is determined by your good and bad deeds in this one.
4. an eternal universe  — and therefore no god who created it.

Both rejected:
1. the caste system
2. the Hindu gods


Buddhism does not recognize the permanence of “self.” The components that came together to become your “self” are separated at your death, and other components come together to create the next “you.”  Escape from the cycle of reincarnations comes by the realization that the self is not permanent.


Jainism does recognize a “self,” which strives to escape the cycle or reincarnation by self-discipline and morality, including taking care not to harm animals even fleas. The name comes from “jinas,” the 24 ancients who revealed this path, culminating in the historic founder.


S = Sikhism. It began in 1469 under the influence of both Hinduism and Islam. It is monotheistic, and seeks to experience God through meditating on his name. Living a moral life overcomes bad karma and leads to escape from rebirths. The word “Sikh” means “a learner.” They are identified by the white turbans, and were used by the British as soldiers during the world wars.


Z = Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion. It began in Persia before 1000 BC and was the official religion of the Persian empire. After Arab Muslims took over Persia in the AD 600’s, many emigrated to India, and are called “Parsis” because they came from Persia. Zoroastrianism teaches that God is in a struggle with an evil being, and we participate in that struggle, even after death. At the end of the world the dead will rise and be united with God.


More detail about Hinduism itself. There is an underlying self that persists through the reincarnations. Your life consists of fulfilling your role in your caste at each stage of life, and to take part in the festivals honoring the gods of your locality. Three major divine figures are Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, the  creator-god who has taken on many forms (avatars), notably Rama and Krishna. There is a strand that says you are ultimately absorbed into the ultimate (monism) and another that says you remain distinct from it (like monotheism which says creator and creator remain distinct).


The squares at the right stand for Chinese religions. The C stands for Confucianism, which can be described by contrasting it with Daoism (also spelled Taoism). The two types of Daoism are “book-based” and “esoteric.”


Both began around the 500’s BC, but both claimed to be based on more ancient traditions. Confucius was interested in good government, while Daoism stressed finding contentment in a life uninvolved with government and going with the flow of nature.


The “book” strand in Daoism is based on a book, the “Dao de jing,” (also spelled Tao te ching), which is philosophical in nature. It uses the word “dao” to mean the most fundamental aspect of reality. The first sentence is “the dao that can be known is not the true dao.” The author is said to be a man named Laozi, who lived about the same time as Confucius.


Confucianism is a European term for the Chinese thought through the centuries that continues the concerns of Confucius. He said he was teaching the principles of a past golden age, in which good government led to harmony in society, as each person behaved appropriately for his role in the family: son subservient to father, younger brother to older brother, etc. Confucius did not teach about God.  He said “how can I teach you about God when you cannot even understand how to live on earth?” The Chinese people did worship gods, but according to their unwritten traditions.


The esoteric strand of Daoism put many of these gods and traditions into a formal system. Some gods were over other gods. Daoism added more detail to the Chinese diagrams for divination that were already in existence (the trigrams and the yin-yang circle). Daoism included alchemy.


Some reference books use the word “Daoism” for Chinese traditional religion, which includes giving offerings to ancestors and at temples for a hundred different gods. In this presentation I put the traditional religion as one of the single group religions that is passed on by word of mouth, recognizing that Daoism does borrow from it.


Across the top of the page are religions that describe themselves as connecting or including other religions, as we have seen in the Sikhs .


Ba = Baha’i. It started in Persia in the 1863. It is monotheistic. It teaches that its founder is the successor for this era of other “manifestations of God”  including Jesus and Muhammad. It teaches the basic unity of all religions and the equality of all people.


The dotted line above it represents Universalism, which teaches that all people will eventually be saved. One of its groups united with Unitarianism in 1961. Their church in Loveland says it welcomes those of all faiths.


The square to the left of Christianity with the letter L is another religion well represented in Colorado, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their founder Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1831. I have connected it to the Christian side because he called the book “another gospel of Jesus Christ,” but I have given it its own square as a world religion because he was told that none of the current Christian churches were correct.

Smith taught that “as you are, God once was, and is God is, you shall become.” Because of the belief that some members will become gods and populate their own planets, I have put the square to the left of the monotheism box.




There are thousands of these religions, in groups ranging in size from small tribes to large groups like the Chinese (Chinese traditional religion) and the Japanese (Shinto).


The religions are all different, but on the dotted lines are there to list features that a given religion may use. Some of these also appear in the religions that produced literature.




A high God




Spirits are in things (animism)
Use objects to get knowledge (Divination)


Use objects to get power over others (Magic)


Objects can protect (amulets) or harm (taboos)


Images of spiritual beings (idols)


Animal sacrifice


Group dancing


Seek altered consciousness to get visions


NRM – New Religious Movements since 1800


1830 Joseph Smith pub. Bk of Mormon, est. Ch of JC of Latter Day Saints
1866 Mary Baker Eddy has insights, in 1875 est. Christian Science
1879 Charles Taize Russell starts Watchtower mag, later est. Jehovah’s Witnesses
1954 Sun Myung Moon est. Unification Church

1889 Wovoka est. the Ghost Dance for Native Americans
1930 Guy Ballard starts I AM movement
1930 Wallace F Mohammed founds “Nation of Islam.”
1950  Rastafarianism begins, in Jamaica
1952 L Ron Hubbard starts Dianetics, in 1954 est. Scientology
1961 Universalists merge with Unitarians
1965 Paul Twitchell founds Eckenkar
1966 Anton LaVey founds Church of Satan
1975 Michael Aquino founds Temple of Set (ie. Satan)1991 Erhard Seminar Training (Landmark Worldwide).

1912 Rudolf Steiner founds Anthroposophy, which sponsors Waldorf Schools
1921 Gerald Gardner starts Wicca covens


1844 Babi movement. 1863 Baha-u-llah declares self messenger of God: origin of Baha’i


1828 Ram Mohan Roy founds Society of Brahman
1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson and Transcendentalists
1866 Swami Vivekanenda founds Ramakrishna order
1875 Helen Blavatsky forms Theosophical Society
1953 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi starts teaching Transcendental Meditation
1965 Swami Prabhupada est. Int Soc for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna)

1838 Nakayama Miki starts Tenrikyo (Japan — rel of heavenly wisdom)
1918 Deguchi Nao est. Omoto-kyo (Japan — Teaching of the Great Origin)
1926 Cao Dai (Vietnam). Monotheistic, syncretistic, goal is to end rebirths.
1930 Soka Gakkai (Japan — branch of Nichiren Buddhism)
1952 Falun Gong. (China) Oppressed by gov’t from 1999

1984 Aum Shinriko mvt, (Japan) releases poison gas in 1995, leaders get death penalty in 2018






Describers for New Religious Movements


Cult and occult

Esoteric and exoteric

Altered-consciousness, higher consciousness

Spiritism/Spiritualism, mediumistic gifts, psychics

Magic and divination


New Age, “alternative spiritualities”
The “new age” is the age of Aquarius,
to experience the “higher self” is to experience God (reality, universe, source)
awareness of “oneness” brings spiritual and physical health
channeling, with “ascended masters” or aliens
often pantheistic or monistic, sometimes highest reality has purpose or love
past-life regression, ESP, telepathy

Cosmic progress and individual “spiritual evolution: thru many lives
power in stones


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