According to some estimates, there are more than 30,000 different cults in the world: but which are the most widespread religions? This approximate number includes the best known and best known religious denominations, but also indigenous and new age faiths.

Religion has accompanied man since ancient times: man has always asked himself questions about the world and about himself, finding comfort and answers in religion, understood as a system of beliefs. Each culture has given different answers to the fundamental questions of man, based on the existence of one or more higher entities or on states of consciousness that can be reached through various practices.

What, then, are the main religions? Thosemore widespread are of course the great monotheistic faiths, professed all over the world and often professed within well-defined geographical areas. Then there are countless tribal and animistic cults, strongly linked to the territory. Finally, of course, more than a billion atheists with no beliefs also appear.

The origin of religion

It is a story that begins with the flowering of pre-Vedic cultures, around 2500 BC in what is now India, and with the birth of Abraham in Mesopotamia around 1800 BC, and then continues with the birth of Buddha, who historians date to about the fifth century BC. C., the crucifixion of Jesus (33 AD) and the migration of Muhammad to Mecca (622 AD) and which finally ends with the rapid and extensive expansion into the territory of Christianity and Islam.

Ancient religions: Sumeri, Egyptians, Greeces

With the passage of time, human societies became more complex and so also cults and religions changed, passing from divinized natural phenomena (Ex; the “sky god”) to real well-identified divinities, with different histories and characteristics in based on their “power”.

Prehistoric religions

The religions of Prehistory are particularly difficult to reconstruct since no document describes them: Prehistory is in fact defined as the long period which precedes the invention of writing. They are therefore only accessible through material remains, manufactured objects or works of art.

In the Lower Paleolithic, signs of spiritual concerns are extremely tenuous and open to discussion. For some authors, the symmetrical shape that most Acheulean bifaces present would reflect a first manifestation of aesthetic research.

The Sima de los Huesos deposit, in the Sierra d’Atapuerca, Spain, yielded one of the two most important known collections of Middle Pleistocene human fossils. The bones found represent around thirty individuals, identified as ancient Neanderthals, and dated to 430,000 years AD. They appear to have been intentionally deposited in the cavity. The absence of animal bones, scavenger tooth marks and tools, except for a biface, indicates that this is not a habitat but rather an intentional deposit in the part of a funeral rite. The only biface discovered is interpreted by some authors as a funeral deposit.

The first burials appear during the Middle Paleolithic, around 120,000 years ago in the Near East. They are due to Homo sapiens and perhaps to Neanderthals. Animal fossils considered as offerings are sometimes associated with buried individuals.

About 60,000 years ago, a ritual involving the removal of the post-mortem skull was revealed in the case of the Neanderthal burial in Kebara cave, Israel. The skull was removed a long time after burial, an upper molar having come loose.

During the Châtelperronian, a transitional industry between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, whose author seems to be Neanderthals, the elements of adornment multiply (ivory pendants, pierced teeth, etc.).

Figurative art appears at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, with the arrival in Eurasia of modern man. It translates into movable works of art, such as Hohlenstein-Stadel’s lion-man, an anthropomorphic ivory statuette about thirty centimeters high. It is also reflected in the explosion of cave art, of which the Chauvet cave, in Ardèche, has provided remarkable testimony.

Ancient Greek Religion

The dominant characteristics of the Greek religion immediately appear: it is a question of polytheism which has been enriched by the progressive addition of new divinities; the gods are conceived in the formanthropomorphized, although the traces of old animist cults of stone, plant and animal are visible in certain divine persons; they are endowed with exceptionally rich myths, which, from a certain date, form a constructed whole or mythology.

The Ancient Greek Religion is a set of beliefs, rituals and practices nuns of the Greek antiquity.

Developed for about a millennium throughout the Greek world, it presents itself in various forms depending on the place and time. Ancient Greek religion generally takes place in the context of the Greek city ( polis), which determines several of its aspects: the local particularities are very strong, each city having its pantheon of divinities, its sanctuaries and rites, sometimes its own mythology. We can therefore speak of an Athenian religion, a Spartan religion, etc. Religion is therefore very imbricated in the political and social framework of the city, which organizes it and makes it a strong element of its identity, and this is why it is often difficult to trace the contours of the religious in the Greek world.

Nevertheless, beyond these particularisms, it presents elements of unity, since the deities venerated by the cities generally come from a background common to all the Greek world, the rituals respond to similar beliefs, gestures and principles, the shrines are organized in the same way. Olympia and Delphi in particular) constitute from archaic times elements of unity of the Greek world whose foundation is religious. Religion is therefore a defining element of ancient Greek culture, and of the identity of the Greeks, whether at the level of their different communities or to distinguish them from other peoples.

Top 10 Ancient Greek Gods

The stories of gods and goddesses from ancient Greek mythology are immensely popular in pop culture. Their characters were popularized and subsequently immortalized by famous playwrights of ancient Greece, including Homer and Hesiod. What sets the folklore of these ancient Greek deities apart is how their stories differ from those of other contemporary ancient religions. The Greek gods resembled humans not only in form, but also in nature and emotions.


Also known as the messenger among the ancient Greek gods, Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia. It has been depicted in quite remarkable contrasts in various poems, plays and myths. Popularly, he appears as a handsome, athletic, hairless young man and sometimes as an older, bearded man. Hermes was a quick thinker and was even faster in his movements, and was notorious among the gods for his cunning. Since he could easily move between the three worlds of the ancient Greek mythological paradigm – the sky, the seas and the underworld, he often acted as a messenger from the gods.


Popular in Greek folklore as the God of Fire, Hephaestus was associated with the kingdoms of heaven. Homer and Hesiod gave it contradictory interpretations. Homer tells his story as the crippled son of Zeus and Hera. Hesiod takes a rather unconventional (and much more intriguing) path in stating that Hera is bored alone. He was born lame, which caused his mother to reject him from Mount Olympus, but in a different account he had interceded in a fight between Zeus and Hera and had been dragged away by the mighty Zeus. Once he fell to earth he became a prodigal craftsman and eventually was reinstated in Heaven where he built a number of wonders for gods and goddesses.


Born of Zeus and Hera, Ares was also known as the god of war. But it reflected the violent and bloody aspect of war much more than the justification and use of violence for the common good. He was always willing to wreak havoc just to show his might in battle and rarely thought about fighting for justice and defense. His reckless acts led both of his parents to despise him and admire his sister Athena.

Despite his epitome of cruelty in war, he was also cowardly, especially since he reacted outrageously to the slightest wound in combat. He was also blindly in love with Aphrodite, already married to Hephaestus. Their affair was not so secret among the Olympians and aroused a lot of disdain. As is evident, Ares was never very popular among men or gods and was not much followed or worshiped by a larger mass.


Among the best-known titans, Cronos was the ruling god before the age of the Olympian deities. The titans were known for their colossal bodies and equally massive brute strength – among which Cronus was shown to be the strongest when he became ruler by castrating his own father, Uranus. But once he came to power, much like his despised ancestor, Cronos became rather cautious of his children – the most notable of which were Zeus, Poseidon, and Aphrodite, among others. In his total paranoia, he engulfs them to prevent them from overtaking him. But his mother Gaia and his wife Rhea were able to save Zeus who fought him and banished him before the dreaded Tartarus in the underworld once he freed his siblings. The end of Cronos marked the age of the Olympian deities.


Twin brother of Artemis, Apollo was a multi-faceted god. His father was, once again, Zeus and he was born to his mother Leto on the island of Delos – the only refuge they found in a rabid Hera (no surprises there). Leto was so moved by the care she received from the people of Delos that she promised that Apollo would always promote their prosperity, which he indeed did. As stated earlier, Apollo has many facets that were quite opposite in themselves. He was the god of serenity and music and was often represented with the lyre. And he was also an experienced archer who often wandered with a silver bow. He was considered the god of healing and medicine, but when enraged he caused death and despair with his arrows. He harnessed his four-horse chariot and moved the sun across the sky daily – providing light and life to the earth. Being a prophetic god, he was a famous figure among the oracles and they built Delphi as a site dedicated to his worship.


As the god of party, pleasure, and wine, he was a very popular deity – both among gods and among mortals. He is the only god to have a mortal parent in the form of his mother Semele, his father being the mighty Zeus. He was bought under the protection of mountain nymphs as Hera was rather fierce in the face of her husband’s romantic advances outside of their marriage. Dionysus slowly built up a cult of followers and wanderers who would accompany him on his travels around the world.

Unlike other gods, he was much more present among his followers – feasting, drinking, and living his life to the fullest with them. And then he irrevocably fell in love with Ariadne, who was abominably abandoned by Theseus when she fell asleep in the islands of Naxos. The Greeks celebrated many festivals in his honor and it would not be an exaggeration to say that he was much more popular than Zeus in many places in ancient Greece.


One of the most popular gods among the titans, Prometheus is considered significantly higher among the great benefactors of mankind in Greek mythology. His father Iapetus was also a titan, but his mother was an Oceanid. As the god of foresight, he foresaw the defeat of the titans at the hands of the new Olympian gods. He therefore skillfully sided with the Olympians throughout the battle and thus avoided being imprisoned in Tartarus with other titans. Prometheus was then given the task of fashioning humanity out of clay.

Once he finished creating men, he became attached to them, always concerned for the betterment of their lives. This led to him crossing paths with the mighty Zeus time and time again since he didn’t care much for humans. So when Zeus caught mankind on fire, he stole it from the heavens and gave it back to humans. Zeus punishes him for his treachery by chaining him to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver every day – his liver regenerating every night as he was an immortal. Finally, he was freed from his agony by the powerful demigod Hercules.


When Zeus and his brothers drew a straw to decide who would be the lord of which kingdom, Poseidon drew the kingdom of the seas. Thus, he became the ruler of the seas and, along with his wife Amphitrite, led a group of minor gods comprising the Triton and the Nereid. As lord of the seas, he was widely revered and followed by sailors and travelers. But he also had considerable influence – historians describe him as a major deity in several ancient Greek cities. In terms of power, he comes second behind the mighty Zeus. In addition to taming the enormous power of the seas, he also carried a trident whose simple hit caused massive earthquakes. At one point, he desperately fell under the spell of Demeter who asked him to create the most unique creature there was, if he were to wake her up. He is said to have created a number of animals for the purpose of creating the first horse.


After the advent of the Age of the Olympian Gods, Hades became the ruler of the underworld – a place where only the dead could immerse themselves (although there were some exceptions to this). Understandably, ruling over such a dark and fairly insane kingdom rarely makes a charming impression, making it less prominent in Greek mythology. But many Greeks thought he was the personification of death (which he was not) and paid him regular homage raised by their own superstition. But his evil image is a far cry from what he actually was – for he wasn’t much of a villain, as he is usually portrayed.

Contrary to popular belief, Hades was not responsible for the redemption of souls but for the three demigods Minos, Aiakos and Rhadamanthys who would execute the judgment. He was also fairly fair in his actions when Hercules approached him with the motivation to return with his three-headed dog as part of his job. While that didn’t stop him from getting distracted by his love interests, Persephone stayed with him.


He was the god of all known universes that the Olympians wrested from the titans. After defeating the titans, Zeus also won the coin toss with his brothers Hades and Poseidon, who becomes the ruler of the throne after their father Kronos, and thus became the god of all heavens and the recognized ruler of all gods. remaining.

He was married to Hera, the queen of all gods, but he was also known for his romantic escapades outside of his marriage. He was known as the father of the gods and, as you may have noticed by now, he fathered a large number of children with so many of his things. Being the great personification of nature as it is, he built the order which became the basis of the various kingdoms. He also addressed the age of regulated time in the form of changing seasons and repeated days and nights. He ruled with absolute authority and command over his universe. But he also had a bad temper and was very easy to provoke.

Beliefs and religious thought

The ancient Greeks maintain relationships with a multitude of divinities, governed by a set of principles revealed in particular by the study of their religious vocabulary, and that of the various religious practices ensuring contacts and exchanges with the divine world.

Their beliefs dispense with dogma and orthodoxy, and sacred texts: “rather than presupposing a body of revealed truth, Greek worship reflected the cumulative expression of the views of the Greeks on the general order of existence and their need to interact with the divine beings who created and controlled this order. ” The lack of orthodoxy does not prevent a set of beliefs are shared by the ancient Greeks, but the problem remains well identify because they are rarely discussed in the text. Regarding the major ritual of Greek worship, Mr. Detienne explains that“ the sacrificial system very largely escapes clear and explicit thought; it stems from a shared knowledge of which the Greeks feel the need to formulate the different terms only through the exegeses deployed in marginal circles where the ways of protest are rising and making themselves heard”, which allow us to draw in filigree the contours of this “secret and implicit system.”

Nature of deities

The ancient Greeks are polytheists. They venerate a multitude of gods, whom they conceive as beings resembling them, as well by the physical (anthropomorphism) as the behavior and the attitudes, but larger, more beautiful than them, and especially immortal. These gods are not presented as being fundamentally loving towards men, they can be factors of order as well as disorder, are often amoral in myths, and do not have an unfailing sense of justice. The difference between gods and men cannot therefore be explained by moral criteria: “gods are no better than men, they are just more powerful” (P. Veyne).

Roman religion

It was a polytheistic religion, that is to say it had several gods. These gods were numerous, because the rites honoring them corresponded to each circumstance of life. The essential aim of the Roman religion is to maintain the neutrality of the gods towards Rome. Roman religion is not concerned with life in the hereafter; many Romans feel a lack of it hence the growing success of deities promising another life after death, as the Romans come into contact with other peoples (such as Isis among the Egyptians, Mithras in the world military or christianity…) The Romans built many temples which testify to the importance they give to their gods. Over the course of their conquests, the Romans integrate some of the gods of the conquered peoples, which favors the Romanization of the Empire, within the framework of a certain syncretism. The Romans did not aim to suppress the religions of the conquered peoples. From the 4th century, Christianity, which spread throughout the Mediterranean, became the official religion of the Empire.

The history of Roman religion starts with the myth of the founding of Rome in viii th century BC. AD. According to legend, it was founded by two brothers, Remus and Romulus, in the place where they had spent their childhood. The city is then populated by shepherds from the surroundings, warriors and banished from other cities. As there are very few women among them, they then kidnap young girls from a neighboring city, the Sabines.

The concept of Peace of the gods 

The power of the gods is worrying, we must therefore live in harmony with them, recognizing their superiority, and therefore worshiping them through rites. Religion is simply “diplomacy” with the gods: we seek the peace of the gods (the pax deorum ).

When the city was founded by Romulus, the gods are believed to have given their consent by sending a favorable sign to Romulus. This agreement means that the gods are favorable to Rome, therefore that the Romans are at peace with the gods, who assure them their support. This favor of the gods is of course essential, and it is therefore important to maintain it. As long as the gods are favorable to Rome, they are constantly helping the Romans. Thus, any unfavorable event suffered by Rome, whether it be a natural disaster or a defeat, is interpreted as the result of an offense against the gods, which should therefore be repaired. The supplicatiowas the set of solemn prayers intended to appease the gods following a serious fault committed by the city. It is opened on the report of a magistrate and the Senate sets its duration, often four days. All the gods are concerned also all the temples remain open so that the people can parade to pray. The statues of the gods were placed on parade beds (lectisterns) and the Romans participated in the banquets they offered to the gods. The urban praetor decides the date of the prayers.

Attitude towards death 

The Romans honored by a cult in their house the lares, protective spirits of the hearth and the manes of the ancestors. They are deities peculiar to each family. To obtain their protection, an altar was dedicated to them in the house, the Lararium, where they were offered food.

Official religion is not concerned with consoling man for the misfortunes that befall him on earth, because he must do everything so that the gods leave him in peace. She does not provide him with more satisfactory answers about a possible survival after death and what to do to pass it as well as possible. It is only in contact with peoples who asked themselves these questions that the Romans will be concerned about these problems. The Eleusinian mysteries are going to seduce the minds attracted by Greek civilization, they are recruited especially in the cultivated circles. The cult of Mithra, originally from the East, through the military will be introduced in Rome. The conquest of the Hellenistic world, in particular that of the Egypt of the Ptolemies, will make known the mysteries of the cult of Isis, which promises the resurrection to its followers. Later, Christianity will develop thanks to the missionary and organizational action of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Religion in everyday life

For the Romans, it is much more the rites than the faith that counts. In daily life, religion is not distinct from civil life: it is pietas ( piety ) which consists of respect for the established order, and therefore of rites to perpetuate it. The pietas includes respect due to parents, respect for the fatherland, domestic worship of the gods as well as civic worship.

The multiplicity of gods was not a complex system for the Romans. The divine was present everywhere, but they worshiped the gods that concerned them, depending on the group to which they belonged: the private worship of the gods of the home (the father of the family being the only priest), the public worship of their city ​​(elected magistrates assisted by different priests perform the rites necessary for the “smooth running” of the City) and those who protect their profession or their associations.

The holidays

The Roman calendar is divided into good days and bad days: On good days everyone can attend to human activities and work. The harmful days are dedicated to the gods, it is 109 days in the year, including 61 days of public holidays, games for example. The Romans celebrated a feast almost every other day: they gave rise either to ceremonies with sacrifices, or to sometimes strange rites, or to games. The festivals, living manifestations of religion, were inscribed in the calendar. At each stage of the life of the city there was a party. These festivals were the Saturnalia: around the solstice of winter, from December 17 to 24, men and women wore garlands around his neck and offered all kinds of gifts. They were celebrated in honor of the god Saturn, and accompanied by great celebrations during which the slaves enjoyed an apparent freedom and where everything was allowed. The slaves became the masters and vice versa.

Roman deities

The deities of the early Romans quickly disappeared due to their abstract character which is opposed to Greek anthropomorphism. Despite the Hellenistic influence, several local deities have survived, notably in the cult of Janus, Saturn, Quirinus and the private cult of Vesta or the gods Lares.


Vulcan, identified with the Greek god Hephaestus is the blacksmith god. Its attributes are a hammer, an anvil and a pincer. His functions are to protect against destructive fire and to watch over civilizing fire, and his wife is the goddess Venus. Vulcan is the only child of Juno and Jupiter. His body is misshapen, but he succeeds in marrying Venus, the goddess of beauty.

Janus and Saturn

Janus is one of the only deities of the first Romans to have survived. Deeply linked to the myth of the Golden Age, Janus is said to be the Latin king who welcomed Saturn during his reign on earth. After the modification of the Roman pantheon, Janus will keep a lesser place, that of god of openings and doors and protector of Rome in times of war. Saturn, later assimilated to Cronos (not to be confused with Chronos god of time), is also honored during the Saturnalia.


An archaic god, Quirinus is originally the protector of Roman citizens (the Quirites) and, associated with Jupiter and Mars, is part of the early triad of Roman mythology. He will later be equated with deified Romulus.


Protector of herds against wolves (hence his second name Lupercus), he will be honored during the Lupercalia until. We will then speak of fauns, a plurality which will associate them with Greek satyrs and which will assimilate Faunus to Pan.

Religion of ancient Egypt

The religion of ancient Egypt, one of the religions polytheists of the Mediterranean ancient, dating at least from the IVth millennium BC, will disappear with the ban by the Christian Roman emperors in the IVth century. During the five thousand years of the history of Pharaonic Egypt, religion, very present in the life of the Egyptians, has changed little. However, depending on the period, some gods have become predominant while others have taken a back seat. In addition, each cult being from a different region, the place of each god also varied according to the region.

In Egyptian thought, the gods shaped the Earth and established a harmonious order ( Ma’at ) allowing the miracle of life to be accomplished day after day. It is the sole pharaoh, descendant of the gods, that returns the task of ensuring the sustainability of this harmony and of fighting the forces of evil which continually seek to break it. The pharaoh is the only intermediary between deities and mortals. The maintenance of divine harmony requiring many daily cults throughout the country of Egypt, the pharaoh cannot ensure its material execution alone. This is the fundamental role of the priest: to deputize for Pharaoh in the material execution of daily rites.


For the Egyptians, the temple was not just a place of prayer, but the earthly abode of the god. The gods had chosen to live there in the form of the divine statue and the priests took care of their well-being through offerings and the rites of worship. Nowadays the temples had became the place which you must visit at least once in lifetime.

The temples also had an initiatory function and the young priests there learned the subtleties of theology and the wisdom of the Elders. They were also centers of astronomical studies and, through the Per-Ânkh (meaning house of life), very short study centers where the scribes copied and commented on the sacred texts, under the supervision of the god Thoth.

Top Egyptian Gods

With the exception of the Amarna period, during which Pharaoh Akhenaton defined Aten as the only God, the Egyptians were polytheists, which means that they worshiped several different Gods. Nevertheless, throughout the long history of Egyptian civilization, certain Egyptian Gods were considered to be the most important, the pharaoh still being the embodiment of Gods on earth, so he was seen by his people as a being of special light and not as a simple chef.

Ra, god of the sun

He is the Sun God and one of the most famous deities today, although in 2,400 BC he was only a minor deity. Nevertheless, from the V dynasty he became a major god in his capacity as the main protector of the pharaohs.

Ra is represented as a man with the head of a falcon, because of his intimate connection with the sun, he was responsible for bringing life to earth, which is why the God Amon, one of the most important Egyptian gods of the Egyptian mythology, ended up merging with Râ to become the great Amon-Râ.


Besides being the god of the city of Thebes, “the hidden one”, meaning of his name Amun, has been revered for a very long time as the supreme creator and the most important Egyptian deity for the Egyptians. Nevertheless, as we said before, he ended up being absorbed by Ra, thus becoming the God the main Egyptian God: Amon-Ra.

In the beginning he was known as the God of the Winds, which is why many boats had his name engraved on the rudder in order to be protected during their journeys.


Osiris is one of the main Egyptian gods. According to his father’s decision, this God should have inherited the fertile part of the kingdom of Egypt, Seth, his brother, should have inherited the dry part, but the latter, jealous to death, decided to kill him, cutting his body in 14 pieces that he scattered all over the world. The sister of the two, Isis, who later became Osiris’ wife, took charge of collecting all the pieces she found embalmed in order to resuscitate him. This legend is the first indication of any mummification in this culture.


Sister and wife of Osiris, she is the most important goddess for the Egyptians, the mother of all Gods as well as the giver of life. She was considered to be the deity of motherhood and birth, as it was she who took charge of bringing Osiris back to life after he was dismembered by Seth.



Represented as a man with the head of a jackal as by a jackal, he is the nephew of Osiris and one of the first Gods of the afterlife, being known as the “lord of the necropolis”, he is responsible for presiding the mummification rituals as well as accompanying the body of the deceased in the afterlife, guiding him to his last stretch of the road.


Seth was the personification of evil and destruction in Egyptian mythology, this is mainly due to his decision to kill and dismember his brother. His strange animal head reinforced the belief that he was a dark god, yet he was also the Egyptian god of the desert as he had been appointed to rule over these expanses of sand. For a short period of time in ancient Egypt, he was seen as the protector of the desert caravans, however, he was mostly seen as the God of Darkness.


Her name means the house of Horus and, alongside Isis, she was one of the most revered Egyptian goddesses. She was the wife of Horus and she represented a lot of the good things in life: love, joy, music, dance, so she was highly appreciated by the devotees.


Goddess of justice, order, world balance, equity, peace as well as truth. The hieroglyph which represents it is an ostrich feather which is in perfect balance, we find this symbol in the judgment of Osiris when was weighed on a balance made up of two plates, on the first one was the feather of Maat and on the second was the heart of the judged man. If the heart of the deceased weighed as much as Maat’s feather, he had access to the hereafter, otherwise Ammout would devour him.


The solar god of fertility, sexual potency and physical strength, he is known as the sacred bull. He is one of the oldest Egyptian Gods, indeed, the first traces of his cult are represented on rock engravings. He is the son of the creator Pthat, later he will be associated with Ra, it is then that he will begin to be represented with a solar disk between his horns.


Thoth, Egyptian god of wisdom and writing, he is also the Egyptian lunar god Khemenu. It is a God with the head of ibis, whose capacity is to know how to recognize drinking water from non-drinking water, it is this fact that made him the God of knowledge, he is therefore the one who holds know it and who should pass it on. In a society based on hieroglyphics, gradually he will become, of course, the God of writing.

Difference between monotheism and polytheism religion

Polytheism and monotheism are two words that can be very confusing for most people, although there is one essential difference between the two. Let’s approach this difference as follows. How many gods do you believe in? This is a question that may seem absurd to all those who are followers of monotheistic religions. Monotheism is a belief that there is only one god. On the other hand, many religions of a polytheistic nature allow the belief and worship of many gods. Although this is contradictory in thought and procedure, there are many similarities between the two types of religions.

What is monotheism?

The belief in and worship of a god is the basis of monotheism. Many of the great religions of the world today can be considered monotheistic because they believe in one Supreme Being or deity. These are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism. This may seem contradictory to some, especially when Hinduism and its pantheon of gods are included in religions of a monotheistic nature. But those who speak of hundreds of gods in Hinduism forget that there is an underlying unity between these gods and that the different gods are only manifestations of different powers.

What is polytheism?

Polytheism is the belief and worship of many gods. Many believe that many gods in Hinduism are an example of polytheism. The Hindu philosophy called Advaita as proposed by Shankara says that the belief and worship of many deities having different shapes and qualities makes it easier for believers to choose one of them. However, there is a greater understanding among all that all of these gods are but manifestations of one and the same Supreme Being, even though there is a fundamental trinity of gods called Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh in the Hindu faith.

15 Major World Religions

Religion is a vast subject. Actually, that’s an understatement. Religion touches on everything about the world around us, from the explanations we seek for the creation of the universe and our purpose within to the higher power behind these things to the way we behave, treat one another, and interact with society to the values, laws, and beliefs that govern us. Whether you are a person of faith, a skeptic, or something in between, the concepts of spirituality, organized religion, and morality effect us all. They produce cultural constructs, power dynamics, important historical figures and historical narratives. They can also produce philosophical innovation, ethical reform, and the advancement of social justice.


Atheism refers to either the absence of a belief in the existence of deities or to an active belief that deities do not exist. This belief system rejects theology as well as the constructs of organized religion. Use of the term originated in the ancient world and was meant to degrade those who rejected commonly accepted religious precepts. It was first self-applied during the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century. The French Revolution was driven by the prioritization of human reason over the abstract authority of religion. This prompted a period of skeptical inquiry, one in which atheism became an important cultural, philosophical, and political entity.

Many who characterize themselves as atheists argue that a lack of proof or scientific process prevents the belief in a deity. Some who refer to themselves as secular humanists have developed a code of ethics that exists separate from the worship of a deity. Determining the actual number of “practicing” atheists is quite difficult, given the absence of a unifying religious organization. Polling around the world has produced an extremely wide variance, with the largest rates of atheism generally seen in Europe and East Asia.


The Bahá’í faith is essentially a spiritual ideology that teaches the value of all religions, espousing the importance of universal equality and unity. Bahá’u’lláh, the founding figure in the Bahá’í faith, officially established his ideology in 1863 in Persia (or modern-day Iran). As something of a hybrid of other faiths, Bahá’í grew out of the tradition of Babism, which itself emerged from an Islamic denomination called Shaykhism. (Today, Babism exists with a few thousand adherents, concentrated largely in Iran, and standing separately from the Islamic ideologies that surround it.) Like Babism, Bahá’í incorporates some of the teachings of Islam but merges them with some Christian principles. The central governing body of the Bahá’í faith, a nine-member council called the Universal House of Justice, operates from Haifa, Israel. Today, the Bahá’í faith has somewhere between five and seven million adherents around the world.


Buddhism is both a religion and philosophy. The traditions and beliefs surrounding Buddhism can be traced to the original teachings of Gautama Buddha, a sagely thinker who is believed to have lived between the fourth and sixth centuries BCE. The Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of ancient India, providing the template for a faith based on the ideas of moral rectitude, freedom from material attachment or desire, the achievement of peace and illumination through meditation, and a life dedicated to wisdom, kindness, and compassion. The Buddha’s teachings proliferated widely through much of Asia in the centuries that followed.


Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah (the savior of humanity foretold in the Torah, the primary scriptural doctrine of the Jewish faith). Christian scripture incorporates both the Torah (referred to by Christians as the Old Testament) with the story of Jesus, his teachings, and those of his contemporaneous disciples (the New Testament). These form the Bible, the central text of the Christian faith. Christianity began in Jerusalem as an outgrowth of Judaism that considered Jesus the Christ (meaning “anointed one”). This idea and its adherents spread rapidly through ancient Judea around the first century CE, then throughout the ancient world.


Confucianism was a dominant form of philosophy and religious orientation in ancient China, one that emerged from the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived 551–479 BCE. Confucius viewed himself as a channel for the theological ideas emerging from the imperial dynasties that came before him. With an emphasis on family and social harmony, Confucianism was a distinctly humanist and even secularist religious ideology. Confucianism had a profound impact on the development of Eastern legal customs and the emergence of a scholar class (and with it, a meritocratic way of governing).


Druze refers to an Arabic ethnoreligious group that originated in and still largely inhabits the Mountain of Druze region in southern Syria. Despite a small population of adherents, the Druze nonetheless play an important role in the development of their region (known in historical shorthand as the Levant). The Druze view themselves as the direct descendants of Jethro of Midian, distinguished in Jewish scripture as the father-in-law of Moses. The Druze consider Jethro a “hidden” prophet, one through whom God spoke to “revealed prophet” Moses.


Gnosticism likely refers not to a single religious orientation but to an “interreligious phenomenon” in which various groups across an array of regions evolved to a similar set of beliefs and ideas. A term adapted in modern historical discourse, gnosticism concerns the variety of religious systems and beliefs in the ancient world that emerged from the Judeo-Christian tradition. These belief systems held that emanations from a single God were responsible for the creation of the material world and that, as such, all humans carried the divine spark of God.

Gnosticism is dualistic and draws sharp divides between the superior spiritual world and the inferior material world, with the gaining or receiving of special, hidden knowledge (“gnosis”) allowing transcendence from one realm to another. Emerging in the first century CE — in close concert with the emergence of Christianity — gnosticism is perhaps best understand as the intermediary set of ideas shared by portions of the world as Christianity gradually eclipsed Judaism in size and scope.


Hinduism is regarded by some as the world’s oldest religion, likely dating back to what is known on the Indian subcontinent as the Vedic age. During this period, 1500–600 BCE, civilization transitioned from tribal and pastoral living into settled and agricultural living. From this emerged social classes, state-entities, and monarchies. The primary texts retelling this period of history are called the Vedas and would significantly inform the so-called Hindu Synthesis.


Islam is a monotheistic religion that — like Christianity and Judaism — traces its roots to the Garden of Eden, Adam, and the prophet Abraham. Islam teaches that Allah is the only God and that Muhammed is his messenger. Islam holds that God spoke to Muhammed through the archangel Gabriel some time around 600 CE, delivering the revelations that would form the Quran. This primary text of the Islamic faith is believed by adherents to contain the exact words of God and therefore provides a full and nonnegotiable blueprint for how to live. Their faith is also found in their art, Turkish movies and books.


Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that — according to its adherents — can be traced through a succession of 24 sagely teachers. The first of these teachers is thought to have been Rishabhanatha, who lived millions of years ago. Jainism’s primary tenets are ahiṃsā (nonviolence), anekāntavāda (many-sidedness), aparigraha (nonattachment) and asceticism (abstinence from pleasure). These and other concepts are outlined in the Acaranga Sutra, the oldest of the Jainist scriptures.


Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic world religions, among the first ethnoreligious groups to move away from idolatry or paganism and toward the recognition of a single deity. Judaism is said to have begun with the figure of Abraham, a man living in the Land of Canaan — a geographical expanse likely encompassing portions of Phoenicia, Philistia, and Israel. In the Tanakh — the body of Jewish scripture which includes a foundational text called The Torah, and later supplemental texts call the Midrash and the Talmud — it is said that God spoke to Abraham and commanded him to recognize the singularity and omnipotence of God. Abraham accepted, becoming the father not just of Judaism but of the various monotheistic (or Abrahamic) religions that followed.


Rastafarianism is a newer religious movement that follows in the Abrahamic tradition of monotheism, referring to the singular deity as Jah. Rastafari hold the Christian Bible as their primary scripture but offer an interpretation highly connected to their own political and geographical realities. Centered around early 20th century Jamaica, Rastafarianism emerged as a ethnocultural reaction to British occupation and oppression. This oppression would play a major role in the Afrocentric interpretation of the Bible favored by Rastafari.

In the early 1930s, a movement of Rastafarians espoused that the faithful were living in an African diaspora, scattered from their homelands by colonization and slavery. To be freed from oppression in Western society (or Babylon), many Rastafari believe it necessary to resettle adherents in the African homelands. A figure of central importance in the Rastafarian faith, Haile Selassie rose to the rank of Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. This was considered the germinal moment in the emergence of the modern religious tradition. Selassie was viewed by Rastafari as the Second Coming, a direct descendant of Christ, and the Messiah foretold in the Book of Revelation.


Shinto is religious tradition native to Japan. Initially an informal collection of beliefs and mythologies, Shinto was less a religion than a distinctly Japanese form of cultural observance. The first recorded use of the term Shinto can be traced to the sixth century CE and is essentially the connective tissue between ancient Japanese customs and modern Japanese life. The primary focus of Shinto is the native belief in kami (spirits) and interaction with them through public shrines.


Sikhism is a monotheistic faith emerging from and remaining concentrated in the Punjabi region that traverses Northern India and Eastern Pakistan. The Sikh religion came into focus during the late 15th century and draws its tenets of faith, meditation, social justice, and human equality from a scripture called the Guru Granth Sahib.

The first spiritual leader of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, lived from 1469 to 1539 and taught that a good, spiritual life must be intertwined with a secular life well-lived. He called for activity, creativity, fidelity, self-control, and purity. More important than the metaphysical, Guru Nanak argued, is a life in which one enacts the will of God. Guru Nanak was succeeded by a subsequent line of nine gurus, who served as spiritual leaders. The tenth in this line of successors, Guru Gobind Singh, named the scriptures as his successor. This was the end of human authority in the Sikh faith and the emergence of the scriptures as a singular spiritual guide.


Zoroastrianism is considered one of the world’s oldest religions, and some of its earliest ideas — messianism, posthumous judgment, and the duality of heaven and hell — are believed to have informed the evolution of Judaism, as well as Gnosticism, Christianity, and Islam. Its founding figure, Zoroaster, was an innovative religious thinker and teacher who is believed to have lived between 700 BCE and 500 BCE in Persia (modern-day Iran). Its primary text, the Avesta, combines the Gathas (Zoroaster’s writings) with the Yasna (the scriptural basis of Zoroastrianism). Zoroaster’s influence loomed large in his time and place. In fact, Zoroastrianism was soon adopted as the official state religion of the Persian Empire and remained so for nearly a thousand years.

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