Lists of Facts > Overview of the World’s Major Religions

Overview of the World’s Major Religions

This section provides basic information about the world’s major religions, including when and where they originated; founder(s); theological orientation; major sacred texts; denominations and sects; estimated number of adherents around the world; and a listing of the main holidays in chronological order by the religion’s calendar.

Bahá’í

When originated: 1844
Where originated: Iran
Founder(s): Mírzá Husayn-‘Ali Núrí (Bahá’u’lláh); Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad (the Báb)
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred texts: Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), Kitáb-i-Õqán (Book of Certitude), and others written by Mírzá Husayn-‘Ali Núrí (Bahá’u’lláh)
Major denominations and sects: none
Approx. number of adherents: 5 million in about 235 coun­tries
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: Mar 21 – Festival of Naw-Rúz Apr 21 – May 2 – Festival of Ridván May 23 – Declaration of the Báb May 29 – Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh Jun, second Sun – Race Unity Day Jul 9 – Martyrdom of the Báb Oct 20 – Birth of the Báb Nov 12 – Birth of Bahá’u’lláh Nov 26 – Day of the Covenant Nov 28 – Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Jan, third Sun – Ayyám-i-Há Mar 2-20 – Nineteenth-Month Fast

Buddhism

When originated: Sixth century B.C.E.
Where originated: India
Founder(s): Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha
Basic orientation: Other: achieving enlightenment by accept­ing the four noble truths—1. There is suffering; 2. Suffer­ing results from desire; 3. The way to end suffering is to end desire; 4. The Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering—and the Eightfold Path: 1. Right view or right understanding; 2. Right thoughts and aspirations; 3. Right speech; 4. Right conduct and action; 5. Right way of life; 6. Right effort; 7. Right mindfulness; 8. Right contemplation.
Major sacred texts: The Sutras
Major denominations and sects: Theraveda, Mahayana, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Zen
Approx. number of adherents: 500 million worldwide, large­ly in Asia
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: April 8 or full moon day of Vaisakha - Vesak (birthday of the Buddha) July 6 - Birthday of the Dalai Lama July-September - Waso July-August – Ullambana (Hungry Ghosts Festival)

Christianity - Orthodox

When originated: 30s C.E.
Where originated: Palestine
Founder(s): Jesus of Nazareth
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred text: The Bible
Major denominations and sects: Adherents fall under the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; additional congregations include Russia, Ser­bia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, Armenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine
Approx. number of adherents: 250 million worldwide
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: September 8 – Nativity of the Virgin Mary September 14 – Elevation of the Life-giving Cross November 21 – Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple December 25 or January 7 – Christmas January 6 or January 19 – Epiphany February 2 – Presentation of Christ in the Temple March 25 – The Annunciation April or May – Palm Sunday April or May – Easter 40 days after Easter – The Ascension 50 days after Easter – Pentecost August 6 – The Transfiguration August 15 – The Repose, or Dormition, of the Virgin Mary

Christianity - Western

When originated: 30s C.E.
Where originated: Palestine
Founder(s): Jesus of Nazareth
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred text: The Bible
Major denominations and sects: Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglican, Episcopalian
Approx. number of adherents: 1.7 billion
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: December 25 – Christmas January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision/Solemnity of Mary January 6 – Epiphany Sunday after Epiphany – Feast of the Holy Family February 2 – Presentation of Jesus in the Temple February (40 days before Easter) - Ash Wednesday March 25 – The Annunciation March or April – Palm Sunday March or April – Maundy or Holy Thursday March or April – Good Friday March or April – Easter 40 days after Easter – The Ascension 50 days after Easter – Pentecost 1st Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday Thursday after Trinity Sunday – Corpus Christi May or July – Feast of the Visitation August 6 – Feast of the Transfiguration August 15 – The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin September 8 – Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin November 1 – All Saints’ Day November 2 All Souls’ Day November 21 – Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary

Confucianism

When originated: Fifth century B.C.E.
Where originated: China
Founder(s): Confucius
Basic orientation: Other: philosophical, ethical system
Major sacred texts: The “Four Books,” Lun-yu (The Analects), Ta-hsueh (The Great Learning), Chung Yung (The Doctrine of the Mean), Meng-tzu (The Book of Men­cius), and the Five Classics: Shu Ching (The Book of Histo­ry), Shih Ching (The Book of Odes), I Ching (The Book of Changes), Ch-un Ch’ui (Spring and Autumn Annals), and Li Chi (The Book of Rites)
Major denominations and sects: School of Thought, School of the Mind, School of Practical Learning
Approx. number of adherents: Five million
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: First Sunday in May – Chongmyo Taeje (Royal Shrine Rite) September 28 – Confucius’s Birthday (Teacher’s Day) During second and eighth Chinese lunar months –Sokjon-Taeje Memorial Rites 876

Hinduism

When originated: 4000 B.C.E.
Where originated: Indus Valley of the Indian subcontinent
Founder(s): none
Basic orientation: Polytheistic – pantheon includes more than 30 million deities
Major sacred texts: The Vedas and the Epics (Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Bhagavad Gita)
Major denominations and sects: Vaishnavas, Saivites, Rama cults, and Krishna cults
Approx. number of adherents: From 500 million to more than one billion worldwide
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: There are hundreds of holidays, feasts, and fasts observed by the world’s Hindus (see index for a listing of those included in this volume); this list includes only a few of the most widely celebrated. Vaisakha 1 (April-May) – Vaisakh (Hindu New Year) 2nd day of waxing half of Asadha (June-July) – Rath Yatra full moon day of Sravana (July-August) – Rak­sha Bandhan 7-10 days during waxing half of Bhadrapada (August-September) – Ganesh Chaturthi New moon day of Bhadrapada (August-September) – Krishna’s Birthday/Janmashtami waxing half of Asvina (September-October) – Durga Purga/Dussehra/ Navaratri 15th day of waning half of Kartika (October-November) – Dewali 14th day of waxing half of Phalguna (February-March) – Holi 14th day of waning half of Phalguna (February-March) – Shivaratri 9th day of waxing half of Caitra (March-April) – Ramanavami

Islam

When originated: Seventh century C.E.
Where originated: Arabia
Founder(s): Muhammad
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred text: Koran (or Quran)
Major denominations and sects: Sunni, Shia (or Shi’ite), Sufi, Ibadis (or Kharijites)
Approx. number of adherents: One billion worldwide
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: Muharram 1 – Muharram (New Year) Muharram 10 – Ashura Rabi al-Awwal 12 – Mawlid al-Nabi (birthday of Muhammad) Rajab 27 – Laylat al-Miraj Ramadan 1-30 – Fast of Ramadan Ramadan 27 – Laylat al-Qadr Shawwal 1-3 – Id al-Fitr Dhu al-Hijjah 8-13 – Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) Dhu al-Hijjah 10-12 Id al-Adha

Jainism

When originated: Sixth century B.C.E.
Where originated: India
Founder(s): Vardhamana Mahavira
Basic orientation: Polytheistic
Major sacred texts: The angas, the Kalpa Sutra
Major denominations and sects: Digambaras, Svetambaras, Sthanakvasis and Terapanthi
Approx. number of adherents: Four million worldwide, most in India
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: 15th day of waning half of Kartika (October-November) – Dewali 10th day of waning half of Pausa (December-January) – Birthday of Parshva 13th day of waxing half of Caitra (March-April) – Mahavir Jayanti (Birthday of Mahavira month of Asadha (June-July) to month of Bhadrapada (August-September) – Caturmas during waning half of Bhadrapada (August-September) – Paryushana

Judaism

When originated: 1800 B.C.E.
Where originated: Palestine
Founder(s): Abraham
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred texts: The Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud
Major denominations and sects: Orthodox, Reform (or Pro­gressive), Conservative, Hasidism, Zionism, Reconstruc­tionist
Approx. number of adherents: 13 million in nearly 100 coun­tries worldwide, most in Israel and the United States
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: Nisan 14 – Fast of the First-born Nisan 15-21 (or 22) – Passover Nisan 16 – Sivan 5 – Counting of the Omer Nisan 27 – Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Day) Iyyar 18 – Lag ba-Omer Sivan 6 – Shavuot Tammuz 17 – Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz Tammuz 17 – Av 9 – Three Weeks of Mourning Av 9 – Tisha be-Av Tishri 1-2 – Rosh Hashanah (New Year) Tishri 10 – Yom Kippur Tishri 15-21 – Sukkot (Fast of Tabernacles) Tishri 22 – Shemini Atzeret Tishri 23 – Simhat Torah Kislev 25 to Tevet 2 – Hanukkah Tevet 10 – Asarah be-Tevet Shevat 15 – Tu Bishvat Adar 13 – Ta-anit Esther (Fast of Esther) Adar 14 – Purim

Shinto

When originated: Sixth century C.E.
Where originated: Japan
Founder(s): none
Basic orientation: Polytheistic
Major sacred texts: Kojiki, Nihongi, and Engishiki
Major denominations and sects: Shrine Shinto, Sect Shinto, Confucian Shinto
Approx. number of adherents: About three million identify Shinto as their primary religion; about 110 million take part in some way; most adherents are in Japan
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: January or February – Hadaka Matsuri June 17 – Saigusa Matsuri September 17 – Chinkashiki October 19 – Bettara-Ichi Late October to early November – Izumo-taisha Jinzaisai November – Tori-no-ichi

Sikhism

When originated: Fifteenth century C.E.
Where originated: India
Founder(s): Guru Nanak
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred texts: Guru Granth Sahib
Major denominations and sects: Nirankari, Namdhari
Approx. number of adherents: 20 million worldwide, most in India
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: Chait 1 (March-April) – Scriptural New Year Chait 1 (March-April) – Hola Mohalla Basakh 1 (April-May) – Baisakhi (Birth of the Khalsa) Basakh 1 (April-May) – Guru Parab (Guru Nanak’s Day) Har 2 (June-July) – Martyrdom of Guru Arjun Sawan 8 (July-August) - Birthday of Guru Har Krishan Bhadro 17 (August-September) – Installation of the Guru Granth Sahib Asun 25 (September-October) – Birthday of Guru Ram Das Magar 11 (November-December) – Martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur Poh 23 (December-January) – Guru Gobind Singh’s Birthday During month of Magh (January-February) - Maghi

Taoism

When originated: Fifth century B.C.E.
Where originated: China
Founder(s): Lao Tzu
Basic orientation: Polytheistic
Major sacred texts: Tao-tsang
Major denominations and sects: Heavenly Masters, Perfect Truth
Approx. number of adherents: 20 million
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: 23rd day of third Chinese month (March-April) – Matsu Festival 8th day of fourth Chinese month (April-May) – Tam Kung Festival 8th-9th days of fourth Chinese month (April-May) – Birthday of the Third Prince 13th day of sixth Chinese month (June-July) – Birthday of Lu Pan Full moon day of seventh Chinese month (July-August) – Festival of Hungry Ghosts First 9 days of ninth Chinese month (September-October) – Festival of the Nine Imperial Gods During ninth Chinese month (September-October) – Monkey God Festival During 12th Chinese month (December-January) – Ta Chiu

Zoroastrianism

When originated: Before 1500 B.C.E.
Where originated: Iran
Founder(s): Zoroastr (Zarathustra)
Basic orientation: Monotheistic
Major sacred texts: The Avesta
Major denominations and sects: None, though adherents follow one of three calendars: Fasli, Shahanshahi, and Qadimi. Each calendar has the same named months, but their Gregorian equivalents vary.
Approx. number of adherents: 150,000-180,000 worldwide
Major holidays in order by the religion’s calendar: Frawardin 1 – Nawruz (New Year); Frawardin 6 – Khordad Sal; Frawardin 19 – Feast of Frawardin; Ardwahist 3 – Feast of Ardwahist; Ardwahist 11-15 – Maidyozarem; Hordad 6 – Feast of Hordad; Tir 11-15 – Maidyoshahem; Tir 13 – Tiragan; Amurdad 7 – Feast of Amurdad; Shahrewar 4 – Feast of Shahrewar; Shahrewar 26-30 – Paitishahem; Mihr 1 – Feast of Mithra; Mihr 16 – Mihragan; Mihr 26-30 – Ayathrem; Aban 10 – Aban Parab; Adar 9 – Adar Parab; Dae 1, 8, 15, and 23 – Feasts of Dae; Dae 11 – Zarthastno Diso; Dae 16-20 – Maidyarem; Vohuman 2 – Feast of Vohuman; Spendarmad 5 – Feast of Spendarmad; Spendarmad 26-30 – Farvardegan Days
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