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, or ultimate concerns.[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

Eastern religions are the religions which originated in East, South and Southeast Asia encompassing a diverse range of eastern and spiritual traditions.[7]

East Asian religions[edit]

World religions that originated in East Asia, also known as Taoic religions; namely Taoism and Confucianism and religions and traditions descended from them.

Chinese philosophy schools[edit]



Syncretic Taoism

Indian religions[edit]

The four world religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent, also known as Dharmic religions; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism and religions and traditions descended from them.


Dharmic philosophy schools[edit]


Syncretic Hinduism



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.


Abrahamic religions

Main article: Abrahamic religions

See also: Western religions


Early Christianity Eastern Christianity Western Christianity




Shia Islam Sufism Sunni Islam




Historical Judaism

KabbalahNon-Rabbinic Judaism Rabbinic Judaism

Other Abrahamic[edit]

Iranian religions

Main articles: Iranian religions and Religion in Iran




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.


Traditional African[edit]

Diasporic African[edit]








Koreanic and Japonic[edit]

Melanesian and Aboriginal[edit]




Tai and Miao[edit]



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.[13]

Cargo cults[edit]

New ethnic religions[edit]


Black Hebrew Israelites Rastafari


Native American[edit]

World religion-derived new religions[edit]


Chinese salvationist religions[edit]

Hindu reform movements[edit]



Perennial and interfaith[edit]



Modern paganism[edit]

Ethnic neopaganism[edit]

Syncretic neopaganism[edit]

Entheogenic religions[edit]

New Age Movement[edit]

New Thought[edit]

Parody religions and fiction-based religions[edit]

Post-theistic and naturalistic religions[edit]

UFO religions[edit]

Western esotericism[edit]

Historical religions

Main article: History of religion

Prehistoric religion[edit]

Bronze Age[edit]

Classical antiquity[edit]

Post-classical period[edit]

Other categorisations

By demographics

Main article: Religious demographics

By area

Further information: Religion and 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. ^ Coogan, Michael David; Narayanan, Vasudha (2005). Eastern Religions: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195221907.
  8. ^ Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. Vol. 1-2. Indian Philosophy (1923) Vol. 1, 738 p. (1927) Vol. 2, 807 p. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ a b c Tattwananda, Swami (1984). Vaisnava Sects, Saiva Sects, Mother Worship (1st rev. ed.). Calcutta: Firma KLM Private Ltd.
  10. ^ Dandekar, R. N. (1987). "Vaiṣṇavism: An Overview". In Eliade, Mircea (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 14. New York: MacMillan.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ Melton 2003, p. 611.
  13. ^ Clarke 2006.
  14. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1001.
  15. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1004.
  16. ^ Melton 2003, p. 997.
  17. ^ Melton 2003, p. 1112.
  18. ^ Clarke 2006, pp. 507–509, Radhasoami movements.
  19. ^ Engle, John (2014). "Cults of Lovecraft: The Impact of H.P. Lovecraft's Fiction on Contemporary Occult Practices". Mythlore. 1 (125): 85–98. JSTOR 26815942.
  20. ^ 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.