of world religions

MOSAIC. This quick look at world religions is called “mosaic” because it clusters similar religions together so you have a mental place to store details as you learn them.

PLAN. First, religions that produced literature will be presented,  each with a capsule description, then a timeline. After that, characteristics of religions that were passed on by word-of-mouth will be listed,  then a selection of some New Religious Movements, comparative charts, and information from brain research, showing why neuroscientists have recognized that our brain is made to be religious.1

CLUSTERS. The religions with literature will be presented in these five clusters: (see diagram)

A. Polytheism (many gods)
B. Monotheism (one God, with an everlasting distinction between creator and created)
C. Monism (no God; we and the ultimate, and any and all gods, are the same)
D. Being Human (Chinese religions)
E. Inclusive religions (they accept two or more of the others as valid)

see location-map of world religions

Religions that produced literature include:

1. Ancient Egypt. Many writings about care of the dead and the after-life.
2. Mesopotamia: Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia. Thousands of clay tablets with names of their gods and early examples of magic and astrology.
3. Greek gods. They are presented as similar to humans, with flaws and conflicts.
4. Roman gods. Many have the same functions as Greek gods: Roman Apollos corresponds to Greek Zeus.

Judaism and Christianity both see themselves as continuations of the Hebrew religion. Islam’s holy book, the Koran, mentions people found in the Hebrew and Christian writings.

HEBREW RELIGION. It is the religion of the People of Israel from 2000 BC to the first century AD. After the 700’s BC, when they were dispersed to other countries, the Hebrews were called Judeans, (that means people from Judah, which is one of the regions of Israel); in English language, that word was shortened to “Jew.” Two major concepts are “covenant” and “sacrifice.”

COVENANT. The Hebrew Bible,  called “Old Testament” by Christians, writes that God gave a promise (called “covenant”) to their ancestor, Abraham.

The Bible in Genesis 17:7 has these words from God to Abraham: “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.

FOR JEWS: 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.

FOR CHRISTIANS: 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.” See more on Christianity’s use of the Jewish scriptures

SACRIFICE: 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.

FOR JEWS: 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.” 2

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.” 

THE JEWISH TEMPLE. King Solomon built a temple around 960 BC. It was destroyed in 586 BC, then rebuilt starting around 500 BC. The time between 500 BC and AD 70, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple, is called the “second temple period.”  Most of the Hebrew Bible was written by 400 BC, and was translated into Greek between 250 and 150 BC. The New Testament, telling about the life of Jesus, was written in Greek in the first century. Developments during the second temple period provide the backdrop for the New Testament events. For example, there was an expectation that a promised savior (called the Messiah in Hebrew, translated into Greek as the word Christ) would soon appear. Judaism and Christianity both continued some “second temple period” features, such as having a weekly meeting with Bible reading, sermon, and prayers. More detail about Second Temple period is in Appendix One. Also see Introduction to the Bible

ISLAM. Muhammad (also spelled Mohammed) defeated his opponents in AD 632 and brought monotheism to the Arabs, destroying their idols. Islam’s authoritative book, the Qur’an (also spelled Koran) consists of verses that he said were spoken to him by the voice of the angel Gabriel over the course of many years, and were written down after his death. He is called the “seal of the prophets,” that is, the final prophet in a line that includes Noah, Moses, and Jesus. He said he was restoring the way of worship that had been known by Abraham. The word “islam” means “submit,” so a Muslim is “one who submits.” This is shown in the posture during the five prayer times per day, and in the acceptance of fate: “God wills it.” Allah is the Arab word that means God; Christian Arabs also use that term.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach that the universe is not eternal, but was brought into existence by a creator. They all intend to direct their worship to that creator. One difference among these 3 religions is the attitude toward Jesus:

• For Christianity: Jesus is God and Savior, the promised Messiah (eternal king)
• For Judaism: Jesus is neither God nor Savior nor the promised messiah.
• For Islam: Jesus is not God or Savior, but a prophet, like Noah and Moses. (The Koran teaches that the Jews did not kill Jesus. The common explanation is that someone took his place before he could be nailed to the cross, for since He was a prophet, God would not have let him die on a cross.) See more on Qur’an     See articles by scholar Bassam Madany at item  4 on From Acorn to Oak

These monotheistic religions together encompass more than half the world population. For statistics of world religion, see

This map shows where the world religions are located  wrelmap

For short descriptions of the major religions, see

CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS.  Their founder, Joseph Smith, was told that none of the current Christian churches were correct. He published the Book of Mormon in 1831, calling it “another gospel of Jesus Christ.” It tells of groups that lived in America prior to European settlement, and that a survivor left records of their history on a set of gold plates that he found in New York State and translated. In other books he taught that some members will become gods and populate their own planets, for he said that “as you are, God once was, and is God is, you shall become.”

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.)

Already before 700 BC a statement in early Hindu literature was written about Brahman, the ultimate reality (above any gods); a seeker was told “that thou art,3” In other words, you and Brahman are the same. That is an example of monism.

HINDUISM is a term that encompasses many religious practices in India, from the thousands of different gods worshipped in the villages to the belief by some that all these gods manifest one reality. (The words India and Hindu are named after the Indus River)

Polytheism, Monotheism, Atheism, and Monism are all found in Hinduism. Despite this variety, all these people would recognize one another as “Hindu.”  Author Stephen Neill offers these three concepts that encompass both the scholars and the villagers of India: (1) Caste, (2) karma (law of retribution and continual rebirth until the debt of all wrong-doing has been paid, and (3) the reality of the invisible world of spirits, while the visible world is regarded as an illusion or temporary.13

I will approach an explanation of Hinduism by first setting to the side other religions in India that have names of their own:

  • Muslims make up 14%of the population of India: 180 million
  • Christians make up 2% cent of the population:
    (a source of religious data for each country is the CIA factbook. Select “people and society.”

The following two religions were founded by Hindu men around 500 BC, and are regarded as separate from Hinduism: Buddhism and Jainism.

From Hinduism, both of these 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 in this one.
4. an eternal universe – and therefore no god who made it

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

BUDDHISM. Buddha is a title, which means “enlightened one.” The enlightenment that its founder experienced around 500 BC was that suffering is caused by desire, and since desire comes from the self’s grasping at things, the solution is to realize that “self” is an illusion. The components that constitute your apparent “self” are separated at your death, and can come together to create other apparent selves. Escape from present worries and from the cycle of reincarnations comes when you realize that your self becomes dissolved into the oneness of everything (nirvana); thus, Buddhism is monistic. During the centuries, many methods have been advocated to help people have this realization.

JAINISM. Jainism teaches that every object has a self, which includes a soul that can suffer. When you kill an animal, or cut down a tree, or kick a stone, you are causing suffering, and thus adding to your bad karma. You may have been an animal that suffered in a previous reincarnation, so all beings should be treated with respect. An ordinary follower will observe these precepts as much as possible, hoping for a better reincarnation. An Extra-ordinary follower who wants to escape reincarnation would follow the precepts to their logical conclusion, not wearing clothes and starving himself to death. Mahatma Ghandi was not a Jain, but adopted their concept of “non-violence.” The name Jain comes from “jinas,” the 24 ancients who revealed this path, culminating in the historic founder.

SIKHISM is another religion founded in India that is considered separate from Hinduism. 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.

ZOROASTRIANISM is 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.” Which means “people 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.

HINDUISM DETAIL. After setting aside the religions named above, and acknowledging that “many in the villages …have very little contact with Hinduism as this is set forth in the books4,” there is still a lot of variety among those who would regard each other as Hindus. A common belief would be in karma, the sense that any evil deed not made up for in this life must be paid for in future lives.  Unlike Buddhism, there is a self that persists through the reincarnations. To make progress toward moksha (the escape from the cycle of reincarnation), you might adopt a path of discipline. Each path is called a type of yoga (this word is related to the English word “yoke,” so implies coming under discipline).  Some of these paths are study (perhaps under a guru), or good works, or meditation, or devotion, or physical postures. A third century author said the goal of yoga is the “cessation of mental fluctuations” in order to experience a higher level of consciousness.5

There is a strand of Hindu thought 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). One recent Hindu scholar taught that the highest realization is that the ultimate is impersonal; those not capable of this may worship a personal god, or if not that, then worship spirits or idols.

For many Hindus, 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.  Two gods worshipped by many are Shiva and Vishnu, a god who has taken on many forms (avatars), notably Rama and Krishna.

What does it mean to be human 

Chinese traditional religion is passed on by word of mouth, and will be considered later. The two strands that have produced a lot of literature are Confucianism and Daoism (previously spelled Taoism).

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.

DAOISM. The two types of Daoism (or, two ways of using the term Daoism) are “book-based” and “esoteric.” 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 (previously spelled Lao-tse), who lived about the same time as Confucius.

The esoteric strand of Daoism put many of the ancient gods and traditions into a formal system. Some gods were placed over other gods, paralleling the organization of the Chinese empire. 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.

CONFUCIANISM. 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.

Confucianism has influenced the cultures of Japan and Korea. All three countries also have a large proportion of Buddhists. See Chinese Thought Quik

They claim to encompass two or more of the other world religions

BAHA’I. It started in Persia in the 1863. It is monotheistic. It teaches that its founder, Baha’u’llah, is the Messenger of God for this era whose mission is to establish a universal world religion,11  asserting that all religions are “manifestations of God.” It teaches the basic unity of all religions and the equality of all people.

UNIVERSALISM has several meanings. Within Christian theology, it teaches that all people will eventually be saved. In a secular sense, it posits and seeks for universal truth. A Universalist church united with a Unitarian church in 1961. The combined group, called the Unitarian Universalist church, encourages people to form their personal theology from the universal principles of most religions. They accept all religions in an inclusive manner.12

See Explaining gospel to selected religions


see timeline diagram

In India, a statue in a yoga position and the idea of a sacred cow are found in the “Indus Valley Civilization” before 2300 BC. The Aryan Invasion around 1500 BC brought new gods and the and the beginnings of the caste system. The earliest religious texts were the Vedas, written in the Sanskrit language. Around 500 BC, both Jainism and Buddhism separated from Hinduism. The early Buddhist writings (tripitaka, “three baskets” )were in the Pali language (a language of north India). Around 483 BC Buddhism separated into two types: Theravada, which continued the original teachings about using the Buddha as a model for meditation, and Mahayana, which taught that there are many Buddhas and many ways to achieve enlightenment.

Four of those ways are:

1. 100 BC. The Lotus Sutra was written (a sutra is a collection of teachings). It presents Buddha as a supernatural being with supernatural powers. It was emphasized by the Tientai school in China starting in 597, and in 1260 in Japan Nichiren said enlightenment was possible by repeating the phrase “I take refuge in the Lotus of the Wonderful Law Sutra.”

2. In the AD 300’s the Pure Land school taught that repeating the name of a Buddha called amitabha would result in being reborn in a land where it was easier to make progress toward nirvana.

3. In AD 400’s the Chan school began, which in Japanese is called Zen. Enlgihtenment is possible instantaneously by using irrational statements (koans) to bypass rational thought. In 1191 in Japan the Rinzai school furthered this approach.

4. In AD 622 Tibet began to adapt Buddhism. The first Dalai Lama was born in 1391.

The 500’s BC is called by academics the “axial age” because so many religious movements began at that time. Gautama Siddhartha (also called Sakyamuni, exalted one of the Sakya tribe) became the enlightened one (Buddha). Mahavira established Jainism as the 24thof a series of masters called jinns. Confucius and Laozi lived during this era. The Greek Pythagoras established a religious community. Zoroaster (also called Zarathustra) may have been earlier, possibly before 1300 BC.

The Hebrew religion traces its origins to the promise made to Abraham, which may have been around 2000 BC. Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt in the 1400’s (some academics say 1200’s). King David led the Israelites around 1000 BC. Daniel wrote down his visions while in captivity in Babylon in the 500’s BC. Ezra led the Jews from Babylon back to Israel and began the rebuilding of the temple. The Jews were under control of the Persians from 532 to 332, when they came under control of the Greeks. They had a century of self-rule under the Hasmonean family from 167 BC to 63 BC, when they were defeated by the Romans.

Jesus was born between 5 BC and 7 BC. (The system of dating events from the time of Christ’s birth was developed in the 500’s BC, and was a few years off10). Luke 3:23 states that Jesus began his ministry at about age 30. This ministry lasted for 3 years, and then Jesus died and the cross and rose from the dead. One timeline shows Paul becoming a Christian in AD 35 and killed by the Romans in AD 67 or 68.

After the temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, a group of rabbis who had escaped gathered on the coast (at Jamnia). They laid the foundation for Judaism to continue. Around AD 90 They authorized the selection of scrolls that is called the Hebrew Bible (for Christians, the Old Testament). The Hebrew name for this Bible is TaNaKh. That stands for Torah (the first five books), Naviim (the prophets – that includes the history books after the first five), and Ketuvim (the writings, including the psalms).

The Jews were expelled from Israel permanently after an unsuccessful revolt in AD 135. The Romans called the region Palestine, a Latin pronunciation of the word Philistines, who had lived there at the time of David. Judah ha-Nasi wrote down the oral law (laws said to have originated from Moses but not yet written down) in the late AD 100’s. It is called the Mishmah. Commentaries on the Bible and Mishnah were combined in the Talmud. The authoritative version was compiled in Babylonia in the 600’s.

In 150 AD the Book of Splendor appeared, a foundation for the ongoing development of Kaballah, a system of seeking union with God through diagrams of his nature.  Another movement seeking closeness to God is the Hasidic movement starting in the late 1700’s. As an adaptation to the European Age of Reason, Reform Judaism (also sometimes called liberal or progressive) appeared in the 1800’s. Those who did not want reform then called themselves Orthodox Jews. A conservative movement appeared as a compromise between them. A movement called reconstructionist started in New York in 1922.  In 1897 the Zionist movement began, advocating for a “home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.  to In 1917 the Balfour Declaration was made by a British foreign secretary, saying that Britain would not oppose a Jewish state there. In 1947 the state of Israel was proclaimed. In 2018, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.

During the early centuries after Christ, a number of religious movements arose. Gnosticism appeared in the second century; it taught that all had a divine spark, and that getting to God required knowing what to say to pass through layers of angels after death. Similar ideas were promoted by a man named Mani, who started Manichaeism after AD 228. During the Middle Ages, the Bogomils and Cathars in Europe continued these ideas.

Christians were persecuted in the early centuries, but in AD 313 emperor Constantine pronounced it legal. A Christian church council was held in AD 451 in a city of Turkey called Chalcedon, and it issued a statement about how to explain the balance between the human nature and divine nature of Christ. Those who did not accept the statement had to flee the Roman empire. They are called non-Chalcedonian churches (also called the Church of the East), and are of two types: those who place more emphasis on Jesus’ Human nature (Nestorians) , and those who teach that Jesus had one nature, which included both human and divine (miaphysites)   For a thousand years, both of these groups flourished from Syria all the way through Asia to China, but have been gradually diminishing after the arrival of Islam. These churches include those of Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia.

Those who accepted the council and stayed in the Roman empire eventually divided into a European (Catholic) church and Middle-eastern (Orthodox) churches: one key date in the split was AD 1054. In 1517 a Catholic monk, Martin Luther, produced the document that led to the Protestant churches splitting from the Roman Catholic church. For details on the varieties of Christian churches, see Denominations and Story of the Church.

AD 622 is the date of the establishment of Islam by Muhammad. The split into Sunni and Shi’a began right after he died. The Sunni felt that that the successor (Caliph) should be chosen from among qualified candidates, while the Shi’a insisted it must be a descendant of Muhammad. Both have the five times of prayer, but the Shi’as in addition have places and dates that recognize many martyrs to their cause. There has not been an official Caliph since 1923, after Turkey was defeated in World War II. Those Muslims who desire to return to the practices of the early centuries are called Salafists. One is a Sunni group, the Wahabi, who are the official Muslim group in Saudi Arabia. Smaller groups that emerged from Islam include the Druze (in Lebanon) the and the Alawites (the sect of President Assam of Syria). The Muslim movement to have a direct experience of God and God’s love (beyond what can be gained in the routine prayers) are called Sufis, and were already emerging in the 700’s.

In 1499 Guru Nanak had the experience that led to the Sikh religion.

In 1863 Baha-u-llah declared himself messenger of God, thus starting the Baha’i religion.

More dates are found below under NRM – New Religious Movements.


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).

These religions are all different, but each use some of the features in the list below.  Some of these features also appear in the religions that produced literature.

  1. Ancestors are given special consideration. Rituals at funerals may be used to assist the deceased to navigate safely in the other world. Some think the ancestors are watching what you do, and some burn money or objects to send them to the other world. Some seek contact with the ancestors through altered consciousness.

2. A high God is acknowledged by some, but usually regarded as unreachable

3. Shaman. He might be a healer; some seek altered consciousness to get visions.  This word come from a Siberian language.

4. Spirits are in things. (the term is animism).

5. Use objects to get knowledge (Divination)

6. Use objects to get power over others (Magic)

7. Use Objects that can protect (amulets) or harm (taboos)

8. Worship Images of spiritual beings (idols)

9. Animal sacrifice. This might be as a gift to a god, or as a way to maintain the seasons.

10. Group dancing. Besides creating community, some dances are meant to affect unseen forces.

11. Mysterious power (called mana in the Pacific Islands)

See essay Apostles Confront Spirits

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, died 2012; one son leads Sanctuary Church = Rod of Iron Ministries, another son leads Global Peace Foundation

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

Words needed to describe New Religious Movements

• Cult and occult. In common usage, cult is a group that uses  some words from a given religion but there is enough difference so that is not accepted by those in that religion. Occult means “secret,” and includes magic, divination, and contacting spirits.

• Esoteric and exoteric. Exoteric is the outward, public acts of a religion, like public worship. Esoteric are details that are not available to all, such as charts of bodily energies, hierarchies of angels, meanings of numbers.)

• Paranormal and supernatural – beyond what can be explained in a material way.

• Altered-consciousness, higher consciousness. Both refer to an experience in which nerve messages are blocked from reaching a part of the brain (the parietal lobe, or orientation area, which normally provides us with our sense of self.The more the self is masked, the more the person feels that all is one. The person then interprets the experience according to his religious worldview. If he is a monotheist, he says he has experienced oneness with God. If he is a monist, he has experienced oneness with the cosmos.Those seeking these experiences are sometimes called “mystics.”

• Spiritism/Spiritualism,  Spiritism refers to séances, in which one believes one has received a message, usually from a dead relative. This was at a high ebb in the late 1800’s but subsided when conjurers were able to duplicate some of the experiences. Spiritualism is the general belief that spirits want to contact us. Spiritual — when someone says  “I am spiritual but not religious” he means he is engaging in some practice that he feels connected to something beyond the material world, but does not want to belong to a named world religion or denomination. Spirituality is used in so many contexts that it doesn’t have a meaning much different from saying “religious but not just going through the outward motions.”

• mediumistic gifts, psychics. A medium is one who can contact a spirit. A psychic can read your mind — same as extra sensory perception.

• demon possession / channeling spirits. They are same thing. You use the first term if you don’t want it, and the second term if you do want it.

• Magic and divination – supernatural power and supernatural knowledge

Paganism. This term refers to groups that believe they are returning to the pre-Christian religions of Europe, whether Celtic, British (also called wicca), or Scandinavian. They recognize and call upon the gods known in these traditions.

• New Age, also now called “alternative spiritualities” (The “new age” is the age of Aquarius). Many groups gather under this umbrella term. Within it can be found some of the following beliefs: experience the “higher self” is to experience God (or reality, universe, ultimate source). sometimes that highest reality has purpose or love.

2. That awareness of “oneness” brings spiritual and physical health.

3. channeling, with “ascended masters” or aliens brings direction

4. They could believe there is power in stones

5. They could be pantheistic or monistic

6. They might use past-life regression, ESP, telepathy

7. They might expect Cosmic progress and individual “spiritual evolution” thru many lives


For each statement below, decide which one or more world religions would hold to that statement. The author’s views are found below them.

1.God is a Judge.
2.Gods are temporary.
3.God made the universe.
4.There is only one God.
5.There are many Gods.
6.God is the same as us.
7.There is no God.
8.God is loving.
9.Gods live in trees
10.God is three-in-one
11.The universe existed before any Gods.
12. Gods were once people.

The author’s views: 1) Christianity, Judaism, Islam. 2) Buddhism (though it is atheistic, it accepts that some people will believe in a god during a stage in their development. 3) Christianity, Judaism, Islam. 4) Christianity, Judaism, Islam. 5) Hinduism, single-group religions. 6) Hinduism; Gods and us are also the same as the foundational reality, Brahman. 7) Buddhism. 8) Christianity, Judaism. 9) found in some single-group religions.  10) Christianity. 11) Hinduism. 12) found in Chinese traditional religion and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


1.Spirits want to harm you
2.You decided to disobey the creator
3.You did too many bad things in your previous life
4.Your problems are caused by fate
5.You are too attached to the material world
6.You are not consistent enough in keeping all God’s rules for living
7.The ancestors are not pleased with you

The author’s views: 1) many of the single-group religions, also found in Christianity and Islam. 2) Christianity. 3) Hinduism.  4) Islam  5) Buddhism  6)  Judaism  7) in single-group religions, particularly Chinese Traditional Religion.


1.You must meditate until you realize that you are already one with all things

2.If everyone kept all the rules for living, the end of the age would come.
3.You need to kill animals to please the spirits
4.The creator sent a substitute to receive the punishment you deserve.
5.You must do more good than bad so your next life will be more fortunate
6.You must burn cardboard objects to send to your ancestors
7.God is merciful, and will possibly be merciful to you

The author’s views: 1) Hinduism  2) Judaism  3) in some single-group religions 4) Christianity  5) Hinduism 6) Chinese Traditional Religion  7) Islam


These lists are offered with the expectation that you will add your own additional ideas.


A scholar named Neville Smart suggests these six:  1) Rituals (activities you can observe)  (2) Stories (events that shape the beliefs)  (3) Doctrine (systematic listing of beliefs)  (4) ethics (standards for right and wrong)    (5) social (community events)  (6) experiential (inner feelings) . (these are from Neville Smart, The religious experience of mankind (NY: Scribners 1976) pages 6 ff

1. Hearing a voice
2. Seeing a vision
3. Seeing a miracle
4. Finding a way to resolve apparent opposites.


1.SEEKING HELP WITH HUMAN NEEDS. (Abraham Maslow in the 1954 listed needs such as food and shelter, and “higher-order” needs like love and belonging, with the highest called “self-actualization.” Over the years this list has been expanded and tweaked. Wikipedia article.

Here is this web page author’s list of needs followed by a religious claim to meet it. As you research a religion, you can see which of these needs it claims to offer:

Guilt – forgiveness
loneliness – belonging to a group, sense of oneness with God or reality
fear of death – promise of after-life
physical health – healing, support
shame – acceptance
lack of meaning – larger purpose, serving God

2. WEIGHING ALTERNATIVES (could Jesus have risen from the dead? Do I want a life without meaning?) For more about Reasons to Believe, see:
(1) existence of God 
(2) meaning of faith 
(3) benefits of faith
(4) article Why do some people believe in the existence of God?

3. PERSONAL EXPERIENCES (answered prayer, seeing ghosts, out-of-body experiences)


1.Religions are carried out within cultures; some religions extend to more than one culture. See diagram about religion and culture

2. Humans with similar interests band together,
organizing with boundaries and rules.
3. Disciplines like art and music, and many others, are made use of by religions.
4. After accounting for those, there are also activities unique to religions.

Here are some Unique Religious Activities:


Joining a community that gathers regularly
Pondering that community’s Authoritative Literature
Pondering and sharing one’s own experiences
adopting and pursuing moral ideals
Donating resources or time to the community and to society


Addressing that supernatural person, as in praise, thanks, requests
Expressing intentions through objects (like candles)
speaking in tongues

Accumulating merit through doing good
attempting altered-consciousness state interpreted as oneness.


Attempting a state of altered consciousness, interpreted according to the teachings of the community


Attempting to contact dead people or spirits
Using objects to seek knowledge or guidance (divination)


Go to History page

Go to World Religions page

Go to Cross Cultural page

Go to Nurture page

Go to Understanding local religion page 


The first temple built by Solomon around 960 BC. It was destroyed by Babylonians around 586 BC. The rebuilding process started around 500 BC, resulting in a “second temple.” King Herod made a new structure for the “second temple” in the years just prior to the first century, but the name of the period 500 BC to AD 70 is called the “second temple period.” During this time groups and concepts emerged beyond those found in the Old Testament. Jesus lived during the Second Temple period, and the kind of Judaism described in the New Testament is Second Temple Judaism.

Here is an example from the 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
•Gathering for worship services at 7-day intervals in a building, which the Jews called the “synagogue” (Greek for gathering place).
•The Christian worship service continues the ingredients of the synagogue service: readings, sermon, prayers. See more on the origins of the worship service.

During the years between 250 BC and 150 BC in the Second Temple period, Jewish scholars translated their scriptures (what Christians call the “Old Testament”) from Hebrew into Greek. This translation is called “The Septuagint.” The scholars had to select a suitable Greek word for each Hebrew word. For example, for the Hebrew word “Sheol” they selected “Hades” as the closest Greek word. (of course, the Bible meaning is not the same as the ancient Greek meaning. For each word in a new translation, we need to find what the meaning was of the original Hebrew word. The meanings are discovered by examining the sentences they are found in). The writers of the New Testament then did not have to wonder which Greek word to use to explain the teachings of Jesus: they used the words that were found in the Septuagint. Here is one more example: The Hebrew Bible uses the word “kahal” for the assembly of God’s people. The scholars chose the Greek word “ekklesia,” (ek means “out” and the “kl” is an abbreviation of the word for “call,” so “ekklesia” means “the called-out ones”). This was a common word for a gathering in Greek. The New Testament writers called the gathering of believers in Jesus an “ekklesia,” which was translated into English as “church.” We can conclude that the early Christian believers saw themselves as the continuation and culmination of God’s people of the Old Testament. (Latin does not have a “k”, so it writes the same word as “ecclesia.” From the Latin spelling comes the English word “ecclesiastical,” meaning “regarding the church.” ) See also this website’s page called “Bible Terms” for more examples of the progress from Hebrew to Greek to English and Chinese.


1 From page 2 of The Spiritual Brain, by Andrew Newberg. The handbook to a CD produced by The Great Courses, Chantilly, Virginia, 2012.

2 Encyclopedia Britannica, article Johannen ben Zakkai.

3 Quoted in Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, under the entry Advaita Vedanta.

4  Christian Faith and Other Faiths, by Stephen Neill, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1984, page 159.

5 This statement was made by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (2nd– 3rdcenturies). Quoted in Bowker, op. cit., under the entry “yoga.”

6. The Illustrated Timeline of Religion, by Laura S. Smith, New York:Sterling 2007, page 10.

7. Smith, op. cit, page 35.

8. Newberg, op. cit. page 156.

9. Mysticism and Religion, by Robert S. Ellwood, Jr. Englewood Cliffs New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1980. Page 22

10. The BC/AD system was devised by Dionysius Exiguus, who served in the court of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the AD 500’s.

11. Smith op. cit. page 85

12. Wikipedia article “Universalism”

13. Neill op. cit. pages 92-94

Mosaic of World Religions © Jim Found 2018
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