September 19, 2016 World Religion Stats: Monotheist, Reincarnation, etc. Bruce PhC
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By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics

Brief Summary of World Religious Statistics

World Population Percentages by Religious Group
religious 84%, unaffliated 16%.

Religious Groups
monotheists 55%, reincarnationists 22%, folk religionists 6%

Christians 32%, Muslims 23%

Hindu 15%, Buddhist 7%

Folk religionists 6% of World population

Almost 3 quarters in China

16% many have religious beliefs

These statistics are from Pew Research Center This is perhaps the most authoritative current source.

This analysis combines groups with similar theology and history together. For many people who are arguing who has the most popular theology, this organization is more reasonable.


The religious beliefs of almost all of the world's people can be grouped into four broad categories, monotheists, reincarnationists, folk religions, and the unaffliated. 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 55 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 a little less than 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 almost one-fourth of the world's population and growing rapidly. Islam's rapid growth is mostly the result of a higher birth rate. for a more detailed picture check out my web page on Muslim popularion growth and Pew's page on Muslim population 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.


The 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 22% of the world's population.

Over the course of the 20th century, these religions roughly held their own as a percentage of world population.


The third group based on the Pew figures are the unaffiliated. Pew says they are 16% of the population.

Previously this page was based on the statistics from David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia. Actually it was not Christian or an encyclopedia instead, it was a worldwide study of the world's religious populations. Encyclopedia Britannica cited the World Christian Encyclopedia, and most other reference works cited Britannica.

Barrett split the unaffiliated into the non-religious and anti-religious. The anti-religious were the atheists, freethinkers, and those that were opposed to all religion. They were about two and a half percent of the total population. The rest were the agnostics, do not know, and do not care groups. They were about 11% of the world's population. Pew's unaffiliated group may be defined slightly more broadly and includes some people who believe in God.

Both Barrett and Pew agreed that the unaffiliated, non-religious, and anti-religious populations were all a falling portion of the world's 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 high income/developed countries their percentage could rise if these developed countries become a larger portion of total world population.

Many people probably assume that the developed nations will shrink as a percentage of the total population as their birthrates are far lower. However, the lower birthrates are partially balanced by the net immigration from developing nations to developed. Furthermore, when we add in the countries that are moving up from developing to developed status the developed world has and will rapidly increase as a portion of the world's population. As this happens the portion of the world's population in the unaffiliated population may grow. For more on the prospects of non-belief. click here.


Finally, there are the local folk religions of the general type that existed before the great modern religions developed. Upwards of three-quarters of this population live in one country, China. Asia has about 90% of this population. Sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America have most of the rest even though they are both mostly Christian.


So 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.

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Last edited September 19, 2016

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