Think Free

Adherents of all Religions


Map showing the prevalence of Abrahamic (pink)...

Map showing the prevalence of Abrahamic (pink) and Dharmic religions (yellow) in each country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not easy to get accurate figures for the number of adherents in each world religion.

Religion is a very personal issue, often central to one’s self-image. So it’s conceivable that many people don’t want to report their true beliefs to a proverbial Big Brother, leading them to indicate “other” or “personal” on a government census.

Others may live in tribal societies and are never directly asked what they believe. Statisticians merely assume that each individual adheres to the general beliefs of his of her community. A good example of this would be the Santals of India and Bangladesh, who according to a 1991 census are about 4.2 million strong. Among this vast population, however, the religious beliefs of only 23,645 individuals are officially recorded.

An 1821 map of the world, where “Christians, Mahometans, and Pagans” correspond to levels of civilization (The map makes no distinction between Buddhism and Hinduism) – via Wikipedia

Another issue is the problem of defining religion (versus, for instance, a cult, a collective delusion, a myth or a pastime) and trying to assess who, if anyone, has the authority to define it.

The problem of bias in understanding religion is nothing new. The issue has merely evolved, with new biases coming to light since the days of the 1821 map, pictured right.

On the topic of New Religious Movements (NRM) Eileen Barker says:

When social scientists have been pressed in a court of law to say whether a particular NRM is “really” a religion, they have not always insisted as clearly as they might that science cannot give the definition of a real religion. It is only when the court provides a definition, or we use the form “if by religion you mean. . ,” that we can say whether, according to that definition, the movement is “really” religious.¹

Keeping the above in mind, the following figures should be taken cum grano salis.

2000 CE – millions ²

Christians 2,020
Muslims 1,200
Hindus 860
Buddhists 360
Jews 20
Sikhs 24
Shinto 95
Bahai’is 8
Jains 4
Parsees 0.219
Tribal Religions 100
New Religions 138
Total world population 6,260

¹ Eileen Barker, “The Scientific Study of Religion? You Must Be Joking!” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 34, No. 3, (Sep., 1995: 287-310, p. 306).

² D.B. Barrett, ed., World Christian Encyclopedia (1982) in G. Parrinder, A Concise Encyclopedia of Christianity (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998, p. 9). See also:


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2 thoughts on “Adherents of all Religions

  1. Hello,
    Unfortunately, that World Religion Day stamp is not real. It’s a hoax. Meanwhile, it’s beautiful and a wonderful thought, but Canada has never issued such a stamp. Though it sure would be great if they did!


  2. That’s very funny! And here I was patting myself on the back, so proud of my country, thinking that the stamp so well represented the Canadian ethos…


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