Brief Summary of World Religious Statistics
World Population Percentages by Religious Group
Ethno-Religions Chinese 6.3%, tribal 4%
These figures are from David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia, the standard source of religious membership statistics, used by Encyclopedia Britannica. Most almanacs and other sources quote Britannica but are really using Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia.
This analysis combines groups with similar theology and history together. Barrett is in some cases more concerned with institutional organization than I am. For many people who are arguing who has the most popular theology, this organization is more reasonable.
MonotheistsThe religious beliefs of almost all of the world's people can be grouped into four broad categories. The largest are the monotheists who worship the God of Abraham. These are the Jews, Christians, and the Muslims, and perhaps some other groups. These groups include about 53 percent of the world's population and that percentage is increasing because of Islam's growth.
Christians are the largest portion of this group and the largest faith, with one third of the world's population. Christianity is roughly holding its own as a portion of the world's population. At both the beginning and the end of the century Christians were about one third of the human race. More on the future growth Christianity and the population of various Christian groups.
Islam is about one fifth of the world's population and growing rapidly. If present growth rates for the world population and the Muslim population continued in about a hundred and eighty years half of the world's population will be Muslim, and in eighty years Islam would pass Christianity and become the world’s largest faith. Islam's rapid growth is mostly the result of a higher birth rate, but Islam also wins more than it loses through conversions. More detailed picture of Muslim growth
It has been argued that Islam has already passed Christianity if we measure religious activity. For example, more people might go to Friday services at Muslim Mosques than Sunday services at Christian Churches.
ReincarnationistsThe second largest group are the religions of India that are based on reincarnation, mostly Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhism grew out of Hinduism somewhat like Christianity grew out of Judaism. These groups have 19% of the world's population. Many of the Asian New Religions belong to this group and are related to Buddhism. So I give them another percent or two.
Over the course of the 20th century these religions roughly held their own as a percentage of world population. Hinduism is growing slightly slower than world population 1.15% and Buddhism is growing much more slowly .86%.
Non-BelieversThe third group are the non-religious and anti-religious groups. Non-religious include the agnostics, do not know, and do not care groups. The anti-religious are the more radical atheists, free thinkers, and those that are opposed to all religion. All together these groups are 14 percent of the world's population. About two and a half percent are part of the more radical atheist group and eleven to twelve percent belong to the more moderate agnostic group.
This group is a falling part of world population, particularly the more radical atheists, who have lost almost half their percentage of the population since Communism failed in the Soviet Block countries. Outside the communist countries less than one percent of the population fits into the more radical atheist category. As Communist governments in China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam lose power the atheist percentage of the world population will drop quickly.
Because of lower birth rates atheists and agnostics will probably fall even if the communists do not loose any more countries, but as they are more common in the industrialized countries their percentage could rise if the more industrialized countries become a larger portion of total world population.
This is a big if because of the more rapid population growth in 3rd World countries. The 3rd World and the 1st World have been maintaining much the same percentages of World population as the more rapid birth rate of the 3rd World is balanced by 3rd World immigration to the 1st world and the rise of nations like South Korea from 3rd World to 1st World status.
Recently the 3rd World nations have begun to grow at about six percent per year in per person economic output. This is about three times the long run average growth of the most advanced nations. This means that percentage of the world's population in poor nations is likely to fall rapidly and this might lead to a rise in non-belief. For more on the prospects of non-belief.
Ethno-religionsFinally, there are the local ethno-religions of the general type that existed before the great modern religions developed. These primitive religions are in two categories in the religious statistics: ethno-religions and Chinese folk religions.
Chinese folk religions include ancestor worship and the usual Chinese traditions of dragons, the year of the rat etc. They also involve Confucianism and Taoism. While these were formerly counted as separate religions they are now thought to be too hard to separate out. There is also some Buddhism included in the mix, even though Buddhism is also a separate religion in China.
Primitive ethno-religions still have a following in Sub Sahara Africa and other places. Ethno- religions including the Chinese Folk religions make up about 7 percent of the world's population. As some of the religions in the other category also might fit in this category figure the ethno- religions including the Chinese folk religions have about eight percent of the world's population.
SummarySo there are two big international religious traditions, the Monotheists with a majority of the world's population, and the reincarnationists with about a fifth. Then there two groups that have not bought into these two big traditions, those that do not have a religion, and those that follow ancient tribal or national belief systems. Yes, there are perhaps thousands of different religions, but still there are a few dominate beliefs, which makes it far easier to study religion than the simple fact that there are thousands might suggest.
My other web pages on Religious Statistics
The following web page covers the Christian statistics from David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia.
Summary and analysis of World Christian population statistics
Key links to sites with Religious Statistics links
What, if anything, do religious statistics mean to the search for God?
Discussions of the future prospects for population growth of Islam, Atheism, and ChristianityIn my discussion of non-believers I mention trends like the fall of communism and the lower birth rates of people who are not religious. For a more extensive see this page on atheists, agnostics, and others who are opposed or indifferent to religion.
I have also written on the growth of Islam. Is the population growth of Islam continuing to decline or has it stabilized? As AIDS and presumably other venereal diseases skip Muslim populations what does that mean for the balance of religious numbers and power. Check it out.
In addition to the just mentioned web page on the growth of Islam, I have just added a web page on the growth of Islam in Europe. The figures are surprising.
Christianity has remained a steady one third of the world's population for a long time. Here is a page on the Christian faith's future prospects.
Religion is rising in the Third World while it declines in the First. But what will happen to the relative population of the First and Third World. With the rapidly declining birth rates and the rapidly rising rising economic growth rates of the Third World a much larger portion of the world's population maybe in the First World a few decades from now. This is discussed at length at the preceding link. How will the First World's growth influence the balance between religion and secularism? Related to the above is a list of First World nations and a discussion of political, and economic stability in the First World.
Using the Freedom House ratings for freedom and democracy the web page looks at the influence of various religions on freedom and democracy.
Gallop Polls reveal something interesting about education and religion. If actions count more than words religion maybe positively correlated to education.
Comments on the population of Hell debate between Neuhaus and The New Oxford Review
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Last updated April 16, 2008