While the word religion is difficult to define, one standard model of religion used in religious studies courses defines it as

[a] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.[1]

Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, ultimate concerns, which at some point in the future will be countless.[2]

The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with the words "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a God or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, liturgies, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.[3][4]

Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; Indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths.[5] One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings,[6] and thus believes that religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

Eastern religions

Main article: Eastern religions

Indian religions

Main article: Indian religions

The four main religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism and religions and traditions related to, and descended from them.


Main article: Buddhism

See also: Schools of Buddhism

Dharmic philosophy schools

Main article: Hindu philosophy


Main article: Hinduism

Further information: Hindu denominations and Bhakti movement

Syncretic Hinduism


Main article: Jainism

See also: Jain schools and branches


Main article: Sikhism

Further information: Sects of Sikhism

Sects such as the Nirankari, Ramraiya and Namdhari are not accepted within the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) as they believe in a current human Satguru which goes against Guru Gobind Singh Ji's Dohra in Ardaas.


Main article: Yoga

East Asian religions

Main article: East Asian religions

See also: Three teachings

Religions that originated in East Asia, also known as Taoic religions; namely Taoism, Confucianism, Muism and Shinto, and religions and traditions related to, and descended from them.

Chinese folk religion

Main article: Chinese folk religion

Chinese philosophy schools

Main article: Hundred Schools of Thought


Main article: Confucianism

Japanese religions

Main articles: Shinto and Religion in Japan

See also: Shinto sects and schools

Korean religions

Main articles: Korean shamanism and Religion in Korea


Main article: Taoism

See also: Taoist schools

Syncretic Taoism

Southeast Asian religions

Religions that originated in Southeast Asia, namely Vietnamese folk religion, Muong ethnic religion, Philippine folk religions, and animistic indigenous religions.

Filipinos religions

Main articles: Indigenous Philippine folk religions and Religion in Philippines

Vietnamese religions

Main articles: Vietnamese folk religion and Religion in Vietnam

Middle Eastern religions

Main article: Religion in the Middle East

See also: Western religions

Religions that originated in the Middle East; namely Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and religions and traditions related to, and descended from them.

Abrahamic religions

Main article: Abrahamic religions


Main article: Christianity

See also: List of Christian denominations

Early Christianity

Main article: Early christianity

See also: Diversity in early Christian theology

Eastern Christianity

Main article: Eastern Christianity

Western Christianity

Main article: Western Christianity

See also: List of Independent Catholic denominations and List of the largest Protestant denominations




Main article: Islam

See also: Islamic schools and branches, Ilm al-Kalam, Ahl al-Hadith, and Islamism


Main article: Khawarij

Shia Islam

Main article: Shia Islam

See also: List of extinct Shia sects


Main articles: Sufism and Islamic Mysticism

See also: List of Sufi orders

Sunni Islam

Main article: Sunni Islam




Main articles: Judaism and Jewish religious movements

See also: Jewish schisms


Main articles: Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism

Non-Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism

Main article: Rabbinic Judaism

Historical Judaism

Other Abrahamic

Iranian religions

Main articles: Iranian religions and Religion in Iran


Main article: Manichaeism

See also: Manichaean schisms


Main article: Yazdânism


Main article: Zoroastrianism

Indigenous (ethnic, folk) religions

Main articles: Ethnic religion and Folk religion

See also: List of ethnic religions, Paganism, Animism, Totemism, Shamanism, and Fetishism

Religions that consist of the traditional customs and beliefs of particular ethnic groups, refined and expanded upon for thousands of years, often lacking formal doctrine. Some adherents do not consider their ways to be "religion", preferring other cultural terms.


Main article: Religion in Africa

Traditional African

Main article: Traditional African religions

Diasporic African

Main article: Afro-American religion


Main article: Shamanism in Siberia

See also: List of Tengrist movements


Main article: Native American religion





Main article: Dravidian folk religion

See also: Religion in ancient Tamilakam


Melanesian and Aboriginal

Main article: Melanesian mythology



Main article: Shamanism in Siberia


Tai and Miao



New religious movements

Main article: New religious movement

See also: List of new religious movements

Religions that cannot be classed as either world religions or traditional folk religions, and are usually recent in their inception.[12]

Cargo cults

Main article: Cargo cults

New ethnic religions

Main article: Ethnic religion

See also: List of ethnic religions


Black Hebrew Israelites

Main article: Black Hebrew Israelites


Main article: Rastafari


Native American

World Religion-derived new religions


Chinese salvationist religions

Main article: Chinese salvationist religions

Hindu reform movements

Main article: Hindu denominations § Newer movements

See also: Neo-Vedanta and Hindu reform movements


Main article: Korean new religions


Main article: Buddhist modernism

Perennial and interfaith


Main article: Japanese new religions


Modern paganism

Main article: Modern paganism

See also: List of Neopagan movements

Ethnic neopaganism

See also: Polytheistic reconstructionism and European Congress of Ethnic Religions

Syncretic neopaganism

Entheogenic religions

Main article: Entheogen

New Age Movement

Main article: New Age

New Thought

Main article: New Thought

See also: List of New Thought denominations and independent centers

Parody religions and fiction-based religions

Main article: Parody religion

See also: List of fictional religions

Post-theistic and naturalistic religions

Main articles: Post-theism and Religious naturalism

UFO religions

Main article: UFO religions

Western esotericism

Main article: Western esotericism

See also: Ceremonial magic, Left-hand path and right-hand path, and Occult

Historical religions

Main article: History of religion

Prehistoric Religion

Main article: Prehistoric religion

Bronze Age

Classical antiquity

Medieval Period

Other categorisations

By demographics

Main article: Religious demographics

By area

Further information: Religion geography

See also


  1. ^ (Clifford Geertz, Religion as a Cultural System, 1973)
  2. ^ "World Religions Religion Statistics Geography Church Statistics". Archived from the original on April 22, 1999. Retrieved 5 March 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  3. ^ "About - the Parapsychological Association".
  4. ^ "Key Facts about Near-Death Experiences". Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  5. ^ Harvey, Graham (2000). Indigenous Religions: A Companion. (Ed: Graham Harvey). London and New York: Cassell. Page 06.
  6. ^ Vergote, Antoine, Religion, belief and unbelief: a psychological study, Leuven University Press, 1997, p. 89
  7. ^ Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. Vol. 1-2. Indian Philosophy (1923) Vol. 1, 738 p. (1927) Vol. 2, 807 p. Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ a b c Tattwananda, Swami (1984). Vaisnava Sects, Saiva Sects, Mother Worship (1st rev. ed.). Calcutta: Firma KLM Private Ltd.
  9. ^ Dandekar, R. N. (1987). "Vaiṣṇavism: An Overview". In Eliade, Mircea (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 14. New York: MacMillan.
  10. ^ "Welcome to Jainworld – Jain Sects – tirthankaras, jina, sadhus, sadhvis, 24 tirthankaras, digambara sect, svetambar sect, Shraman Dharma, Nirgranth Dharma". Jainworld.com. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
  11. ^ Melton 2003, p. 611.
  12. ^ Clarke 2006.
  13. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1001.
  14. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1004.
  15. ^ Melton 2003, p. 997.
  16. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1112.
  17. ^ Clarke 2006, pp. 507–509, Radhasoami movements.
  18. ^ Laycock, Joseph P. Reitman (2012). "We Are Spirits of Another Sort". Nova Religio. 15 (3): 65–90. doi:10.1525/nr.2012.15.3.65. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2012.15.3.65.