- Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with 2.4 billion followers in 2019.
- An estimated 1.2 billion people around the world in 2019 do not follow any religion.
- Rastafari is the smallest religion in 2019, with 600,000 followers.
- Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, with 1.9 billion followers in 2019.
- Neo-Paganism has 1 million followers as of 2019.
- Most major religions today date their founding to the centuries between 900 to 200 BC.
- Christianity dominated Europe in the Middle Ages.
- Islam spread across the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa in the Middle Ages.
- Buddhism declined in India but spread in East Asia in the Middle Ages.
- Colonization spread Christianity to the Americas, Australasia, and part of Africa.
- The invention of the printing press helped start the Protestant Reformation.
- The French Revolution weakened religion by starting the secularization of society.
- The Industrial Revolution further accelerated the process of secularization.
- Religious influence worldwide faded by the late-20th century.
- The internet has become a way to spread and practice religion from the start of the 21st century.
- Archaeological evidence of religion goes back to the Old Stone Age.
- Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is the oldest religious site in the world, built in the New Stone Age.
- The Pyramid Texts of Egypt are the oldest religious texts in the world, going back to 2400 BC.
- The oldest of the Upanishads, Hinduism’s sacred texts, go back to the first millennium BC.
- The complete Hebrew texts were in circulation by the 1st century AD.
Methodism has 80 million followers worldwide today.
Methodism is an 18th century Christian Protestant denomination founded by John Wesley. Missionaries spread it from Britain across the empire and to the United States. The name comes from the methodical way its founder and his followers carried out their faith. Methodists first came from all social classes. Then it reoriented itself to taking in individuals outside of organized religion. In the United States at the time, this led to plenty of African slaves joining Methodist churches. This later led to many Black-founded churches following the Methodist denomination.
Islam has two main denominations.
These two denominations are Sunni and Shia Islam. Sunni Islam follows the tradition that Muhammad did not name a successor. Instead, the Muslim community elected Abu Bakr as the first caliph. In contrast, Shia Islam follows the tradition that Muhammad designated a successor. This was his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib. The disagreements between the two denominations have lasted to the present day.
Hinduism is not a single religion.
One of the less-known religion facts is that Hinduism is not actually a single religion. It is a collection of beliefs and philosophies sharing a common set of gods and concepts. The most significant of these common gods include Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. Shared concepts include karma, reincarnation, and the Vedas’ guidance.
Ashoka the Great spread Buddhism outside of India.
Ashoka was the third Emperor of India’s Maurya Dynasty. He ruled almost all India from 268 to 232 BC. Ashoka converted to Buddhism after his brutal conquest of the Kalinga region. He later sent nine Buddhist expeditions to spread the religion beyond India. After Ashoka died, the Maurya Dynasty weakened and collapsed. The dynasty’s collapse also saw Buddhist influence fade in India.
Hinduism is the smallest of the three largest religions in the world.
This is not very noticeable as far as religion facts go. But as of 2019, there are 1.15 billion Hindus in the world. Most are in India, but Nepal and Mauritius are also Hindu-majority. Bali in Indonesia is also Hindu-majority. You can find Hindu communities all over the world, from the Americas to Australasia. You can also find them in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere in Asia.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are the Abrahamic Religions.
This is particularly ironic among religion facts. It comes from the fact that Christians, Muslims, and Jews, all claim descent from Abraham. For Christians, this descent is spiritual through Jesus Christ’s New Covenant. In contrast, Jews and Muslims claim direct descent. Jews descend from Abraham’s son Isaac. Muslims descend from Abraham’s other son, Ishmael. The irony comes from the violence and war between the three religions over the centuries.
Human sacrifices in Mesoamerica offered themselves without resistance.
This is one example of religion facts that you’re not likely to learn from popular fiction. That is thanks to propaganda from the Spanish and the Roman Catholic Church. Their goal was to demonize and end the native Mesoamerican religion. But to Mesoamericans at the time it was a great honor to be a sacrifice. They believed that the gods sacrificed themselves to give life to the world. Thus, it was their duty and obligation to repay the gods with sacrifices of their own. The chosen sacrifices accepted their fate. In turn, their people treated them as heroes as they walked to the altar.
The Flower Wars were a religious ritual in pre-colonial Central America.
The ‘wars’ were a ritual between the Aztecs and their neighbors to take the best warriors ‘prisoner’. These prisoners were then sacrificed to the war god Huitzilopochtli. They believed that the souls of the sacrificed gained a place beside the god. In fact, some stories claim that defeated warriors protested an offer of mercy. Instead, they demanded the honor of becoming sacrifices to their god.
The Ancient Egyptians believed that the gods judged their souls after death.
The god Anubis weighed their souls against the Feather of Truth. If it was lighter than the feather, then the god Osiris would welcome them to the Afterlife. If their souls were heavier than the feather though, then the demon Ammit devoured them. This is actually well-known among religious facts. What’s not well-known is a resulting theory and argument among scholars. The theory is that the Christian concept of judgment after death came from the Egyptians.
The Chinese Mandate of Heaven is analogous to the Western Divine Right of Kings.
Here’s something interesting among religion facts, tying religion with politics. You might have heard of the divine right of kings before. If you haven’t, it means that kings rule because God gave them the right to. The Chinese Mandate of Heaven is similar, but not quite the same. The divine right of kings was a justification for western kings’ absolute power. In contrast, Chinese Emperors had the obligation to rule well under the Mandate of Heaven. The mandate also allowed the possibility that poor rulers could be overthrown. A successful rebellion only meant that the mandate now belonged to someone else. But, the divine right of kings condemned any and all rebellions. It didn’t matter if the king was good or bad. God had given him the right to rule, and only God could judge and take it away.