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This FAQ contains the following sections:
Please note: This FAQ has not been updated in some time so please take this into account. The current owner of Adherents.com is Chuck Anderson, who that the site can provide useful information about religious topics, ideally promoting cultural understanding and cooperation.
Who created Adherents.com?The Adherents.com website is primarily the work of Preston Hunter (me: email@example.com). This is an independent project and is not supported by or affiliated with any organization (academic, religious, or otherwise). But numerous individuals (academic researchers; university professors of sociology, comparative religion or history; religious representatives) have provided assistance in their areas of expertise.
I work as a computer programmer in Texas. My work primarily involves biomedical and genetic research, with an emphasis on database-based bioinformatics. I currently program mostly in SQL, C/C++ and AppleScript, with some Frontier and X-Card (MetaCard, SuperCard, etc.) as well.
Previous to my current position I did some work for Micro Computer Solutions in Louisville, Kentucky, where I developed a software system integrating QuarkXPress with a Microsoft SQLServer database. Before that I worked for Digital Technology International, a vertical-market vendor of database-based systems for newspaper and magazine publishers.
I have a B.S. degree in Conservation Biology, a minor in linguistics and I'm working on completing a B.S. degree in Computer Science.
Why?Comparative/world religion, especially from a sociological perspective, has been an occasional topic of interest of mine for some time. In reading various books on the topic I frequently saw the same religions listed as the "major world religions." Most frequently included in these lists were Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Shinto, Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Yet some of these world religions are far smaller than some individual churches or denominations, and smaller than other religions not listed.
I was simply interested in seeing a more complete picture of religious/faith adherent statistics. I assumed I would be able to quickly locate a resource on the internet that would provide such data. There are many high quality comparative religion resources, but most of them are link lists. I could find no comprehensive lists of adherent statistics. The closest I could find were a few listings of adherent counts for ten or eleven of the "classical" (aforementioned) major world religions, and an internet site promoting the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn.), which is an excellent resource, but only has data for two countries: the U.S. and Canada.
I decided to collect some data myself, to satisfy my own curiosity. I ended up with a rather large spreadsheet of data. I'm presenting it here in what I hope is a simple, usable format. I frequently add new data from books, academic journals, periodicals and the Web.
I have included full references to all the data, and supporting information such as text excerpts, table names, and survey parameters. I do this in order to document the source of the adherent statistic citation and provide a way for researchers to ascertain the identity of a given group. It is not my intention to create an "encyclopedia of religions" in which the doctrines, history, organization, etc. of all the world's faith groups is outlined. This extra information is usually less than 500 characters long, both for technical reasons and simply to have a workable limit. (The program I wrote which generates the HTML pages limits these fields to 1,000 characters. Originally the limit was 256 characters.)
Adherents.com contains statistics for thousands of religions, churches and belief systems. I hope people won't judge any group by its size. Even the largest groups here were at one time small or nonexistent. Some of the smallest groups here were at one time the majority faith in some part of the world.
I welcome pointers to additional information, as well as suggestions with regards to how I can improve this website. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is the target audience of Adherents.com?Adherents.com is here for students, researchers, journalists or anybody else who wants statistical information about the size or spread of a specific faith group, or wants a general idea of the religious makeup of a specific country, continent, state or province.
Some of the many hundreds of web sites which have linked to Adherents.com are general Web guides and search engines (Yahoo, About.com, Academic Info Net, Dictionary.com, AltaVista, Excite, etc.), world religion web sites (including TalkReligion.com and Toronto Consultants on Religious Tolerance), public libraries, web sites sponsored by specific religions (Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Latter-day Saint, Presbyterian, Baptist, Baha'i, Urantian, Quaker, Jehovah's Witnesses, Nazarene, Buddhist, etc.), university sociology, history and theology departments (Columbia, Duke, Rutgers, Pacific Lutheran U., Calvin College, Wabash, University of Texas at Austin, University of Calgary, West Virginia University, Nazareth College of Rochester, etc.), and numerous theological seminaries.
Sources: Where did you get your data?We have collected adherent statistic citations from:
BooksThe majority of our citations come from books. Over 65% of the citations are not available elsewhere on the web because they come from printed books or periodicals.
Many of the books are religion books that we own. The majority are books we have borrowed from libraries. These can generally be classified as 1) broad surveys of the major world religions; 2) more in depth examinations of one class of religions (i.e. "religious which began in America" or "mainline Protestant denominations"); or 3) books about a single religion (i.e., The Amish).
Other books are general reference works, such as atlases, encyclopedias, books of lists and statistics, almanacs, etc. We have also used government publications which contain census records, history books, geographical books which focus on a single region (i.e. Japan), and others.
We have used books which range from scholarly anthropological studies to children's books. Most of the material is from objective, academic, or sympathetic sources. It should be noted, however, that we have included some citations from opposing sources. These are sources (usually written by "anti-cult" groups, hate groups, or apologetics writers) which purport to expose the errors of minority religious groups, or whatever religious groups the writer doesn't approve of. Such material is usually intended to malign the targeted groups in an attempt to lessen their appeal to members of majority faith groups. Typically this class of writing is of little or no value for sociological research. But we have sometimes used statistics from some of the less vitriolic opposing sources. This is because we have found that--although their descriptions of theology and practice are unreliable--the adherent statistics in most opposing works are no less accurate than statistics from many other sources.
We add to the database (and the web site) all adherent statistic citations that we encounter, even including duplicate occurences of the same statistic if the same figures are cited by multiple authors. If one takes a careful look at our records, one can see that we have many citations which present original data, obtained by the authors, as well as citations which mention the exact same figures, sometimes giving credit to the original source and sometimes not, depending on the nature of the literature.
PeriodicalsMany of our citations come from newspapers, magazines and academic journals. Some of these are online, some are not. The popular publications -- newspapers and magazines -- are rarely sources of original data. But they have sometimes provided information we didn't already have. The journals have often provided original data calculated by the authors, especially for smaller groups.
InternetWhere we have obtained data from the Internet, a link is provided in our listings. About 30% of the records in Adherents.com have a web link. These sources are not necessarily good places to find out more about a particular faith group. We concentrated on obtaining data from sites which contained census or survey data which covered lots of groups, so all that the site presents is a number, nothing more. To do this we used a lot of geography and country-data web sites.
There are also many links to web sites (official or otherwise) about or by individual denominations or faith groups. But there is no way to tell from our list which sites will really tell you anything about a faith group. If you want to check out our source and see the text or tables from where we obtained our statistic citation, follow the link. If you want to find out about the faith group, you may have better luck with search engines and link lists available on other web sites.
We will not necessarily be checking up on the thousands of links leading from our site. It's quite possible that there will be dead links, but you should be able to find the new location of a web page by backtracking up the URL. If you do find a dead link we would of course like to hear about it so we can update our site. (I'll be happy to mention your help on the Adherents.com Contributors page.)
CorrespondenceWe may use this method more in the future to track down figures we have been unable to find elsewhere. But at this point, less than thirty citations have come through correspondence. For these records we obtained reliable figures from organization leaders or scholars who we personally contacted. Everything else comes from published sources, either in print on online.
We have only used a few figures we received via email or correspondence, and we have always been the one who initiated the contact. The Adherents.com listings present no unsolicited, unpublished figures. This may seem like a rather strict rule, but we have done this to prevent the possibility of people sending me phony data that they have simply made up.
There have been some wonderful individuals who have written to me with data we did not already have. They have very generously sent me xerox copies of the pertinent pages in publications they had access to which we had not yet seen. You can read more about such help in the Adherents.com Contributors page.
If you have data which we don't have here yet, we would love to hear about it. If it's on the web, simply tell me the web address. Otherwise, we need to see copies of pages from a printed publication (book, magazine, pamphlet, etc.).
How many different religions are there in the world? In the United States?Short answer: The 2001 edition of Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia, identifies 10,000 distinct religions, of which 150 have 1 million or more followers. Within Christianity (counted as just one religion), 33,830 different denominations are counted. This would include denominations as large as Catholicism and as small as Shakers.
It could be pointed out that most of these religions are confined to a fairly restricted geographical region and often to single ethnic groups. The Major Religions of the World web page lists only 22 "major world religions." This is far fewer than the 150 religions Barrett lists which have 1 million or more adherents. This is because the list of "major world religions" only includes religions with a significant presence beyond a single country.
For the number of religions in the United States, the best source to consult is the excellent Encyclopedia of American Religions by J. Gordon Melton.
Long answer about how many religions there are in the world: I don't know. It depends on how you count the religions.
People often mean different things when they say "religion?" Do you mean individual denominations and religious bodies, or do you intend to count only broad "religions" (which are really classifications), counting Buddhism as one religion, Hinduism as a second religion, etc?
The Levels of Classification of Faith Groups document is useful in considering such terms as "religion", "denomination", "branch", etc., in a technical, taxonomic sense. But people do not always use the word "religion" in a taxonomic sense.
Also, there are countless definitions of "religion." In counting religions, do you only count groups that claim to be religions? Or do you add groups that religious scholars identify as religions? Or do you include all groups that sociologists identify as religions or pseudo-religions, including Animal Rights, Star Trek, Communism, Humanism, etc.
Frequently a useful identifying characteristic of a religion is its own insistence that it is not a religion. For instance, Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) adherents frequently say that they represent a "movement," or a form of "exercise" or a whole-life philosophy. But some of these statements may be based on legal realities within China rather than attempts to be linguistically precise. Other Falun Dafa adherents (and essentially all non-adherent observers) consider the movement a religion.
Likewise, Zen Buddhists, Sufis, Hindus, Jews, etc. all have among their numbers writers and leaders who point out that their movements are not "religions." It is not uncommon to hear Christians pointedly proclaim: "Christianity is not a religion. Islam and Judaism and Buddhism -- those are religions. But Christianity is a relationship with Jesus."
Of course, there's nothing wrong with saying that. But statements such as this are not useful in statistical research. In answer to the question, "How many religions are represented by the students on this college campus?", one would not expect to be given an answer such as: "3 percent are Jewish, 2 percent are Muslim, 1 percent are Buddhist, and 9 percent claim no religious affiliation." What about the other 85 percent? "They have a relationship with Jesus. But that's not a religion."
Do you have information on church attendance for various denominations/countries/etc.?Yes.
The Adherents.com database has a large number of church/religious service attendance estimates for the United States in various year, for foreign countries, and for individual denominations and religious groups. However, statistics pertaining to affiliation, not attendance, are the primary focus of the database.
The easiest way to find attendance data is to go to the home page, click on the letter "B" so that the full "Religion by Name" index loads. (The home page only has groups which start with the letter "A.") Once the full "Religion by Name" index loads, use the browser FIND command (Command-F or Control-F) to look for the word "attend" on this page. You will find various links to attendance statistics.
For attendance statistics for the general population of various countries, the category with the most data is "attendance - weekly". These data are based primarily on polls (often done by Gallup) which ask the question: "Other than special events such as weddings and funerals, did you attend a religious service during the previous week?" Sociologists familiar with this area of research are aware that this question yields a higher-than-actual response. In general, the actual proportion of a country's population which is in attendance at religious services during the week is one-half to two-thirds what this polling question indicates. This particular polling question is more indicative of what proportion of the population thinks of itself as regular church-goers, rather than the proportion physically in attendance during a given week.
Attendance data is also available for specific denominations and religious groups. These data are available by clicking on links in the "Religion by Name" index such as "Catholic - attend weekly", "Protestant - attend weekly", "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - attend weekly", "Judaism - attend at least monthly", "Orthodox Judaism - attend weekly", etc. Data for specific denominations are generally more accurate than polling-based data.
Researchers may also be interested in a related statistic: The number of "active" members of various denominations. For instance, "Catholic - active", "Anglican - active". Who is counted as "active" varies with each denomination.
Researches may also be interested in "affiliated" data. General estimates of the proportion of the population which is "affiliated" (i.e., registered with a specific denomination, congregation, synagogue, etc.) are under the "affiliated" link. Estimates of the proportion of specific groups which are affiliated (i.e., "Judaism - affiliated") are also available.
Where do adherent statistics come from? (Where did your sources get their data?)
There are five main methods for determining the number of adherents in a faith group:
What's an adherent?Well, be aware that there's no single definition, and sources of adherent statistics do not always make it clear what definition they are using. That's why we advise caution when making direct comparisons between data from different sources and between data for different faith groups.
It is important to recognize there are various levels of adherence, or membership within religious traditions or religious bodies.
Basically the most common definition used in broad compilations of statistical data is somebody who claims to belong to or worship in a religion. There is a United Nations definition of an adherent, which formally states about the same thing.
Such factors as religious service attendance, belief, practice, familiarity with doctrine, belief in certain creeds, etc., may be important to sociologists, religious leaders, and others. But these are measures of religiosity and are usually not used academically to define a person's membership in a particular religion.
This is the definition favored by David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia and editor of the oft-cited Encyclopedia Britannica's world religion statistics section. For example, using this definition, Barrett counts as Jews anybody who considers themselves Jewish, including officially unrecognized (by Israel) African Jewish groups, Messianic Jews who consider themselves Jewish rather than Christian, secular Jews, Bene Israel (in India), Black Jews, etc. Barrett thus arrives at a world figure for the total number of adherents of Judaism which is a few million higher than that calculated by "mainstream" Jewish leaders. Barrett does the same for Christians and other religionists. Although an Evangelical Christian himself, Barrett acknowledges, as do all academic researchers, that there are many Christian branches which are not typically defined as Evangelicals.
This is the self-identification method of determining who is an adherent of what religion, and it is the method used in most national surveys and polls.
But most denominational statistics are not based on survey data. Rather, they come from membership records. Various religious bodies use different methods to count their members, but many report formal membership figures, that is, numbers of people who have formally joined a religious organization. This official joining may have taken place when they were Christianed as an infant (as in most Catholic and Orthodox churches), or when they joined officially as a youth or adult.
In the annual Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, most religious bodies report two figures: inclusive membership and full communicants (sometimes referred to as "exclusive"). There is no set definition for these terms, but inclusive membership always refers to a larger number of people, perhaps all those attending services or all those who are in families registered with the religious body. Full communicants, on the other hand, represent a subset of the larger figure. These may be only those who have completed a study course or passed through an additional rite of initiation, or they may include only those actively participating in church activities.
Usually the two numbers are close to each other. The smaller number is usually 75% or more of the larger number.
When Adherents.com has encountered two sets of numbers like this, it uses the inclusive figures, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes a second figure is noted in the text notes in our tables.
In many religious groups, there is a discrepancy between reported figures and self-identification figures obtained through polling. In some small religious communities, such as Hindus in the United States, polls and surveys do not have a large enough sample size to adequately reveal their numbers. Or the poll may not determine a person's complete denominational affiliation. A poll in Israel, for instance, may only ask if a person is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Druze, but not determine if a Christian is Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, etc.
Some religious bodies, such as the Church of Scientology and the Southern Baptist Convention, report numbers for all people they have on record, even though many no longer consider themselves members of that religious body. This results in a denominationally-reported figure higher than the self-identification figure.
Other religious bodies have large numbers of nominal adherents who consider themselves members through family lineage or philosophical affinity, but who are not formally counted by the religious body. For instance, the number of people who claim to be Episcopalian in the United States is higher than the number of members reported by the Episcopal Church (but attendance is much lower). There are also more Methodists and Presbyterians, according to surveys, than will be found by adding up the memberships of all the Methodist or Presbyterian religious bodies.
This highlights the difference between affiliated and unaffiliated people. In the United States, the percentage of people who consider themselves Christian is always higher than the percentage who are actually affiliated with any Christian religious organization.
In the United States, some of the biggest discrepancies between formal membership and reported numbers come from the Unitarians and Jehovah's Witnesses, both of which have far more self-identified adherents than they report as formal members. About three times as many people claim to be Unitaritans than are actually formal members. It is likely that the self-identified Unitarians who are not formal members are not regular church service attenders, but prefer to think of themselves philosophically as Unitarians rather than adherents of any other group.
About twice as many people cite Jehovah's Witnesses as their preferred religion than are shown in Jehovah's Witness statistics in most books. This is because most books report this organization's figure for "average monthly number of Publishers" as their members. But the standard for being counted as a "Publisher" by the Jehovah's Witnesses is very high compared to the standards for being counted as a member in other organizations, and includes meeting certain standards of conduct as well as reporting their witnessing activities during the month (a person counted in one month may not be counted the next). Many more people are actually attending Jehovah's Witness meetings or adhere to their beliefs than are actually counted as Publishers.
There are other types of adherents which are routinely reported.
In most older religions, most "full-time" members, or those without outside jobs, are clergy. Full-time Jewish Rabbis, Catholic priests, or Protestant pastors are all forms of full-time service in a religious tradition. Some of these individuals serve for a limited period of time (such as many Latter-day Saint and Protestant missionaries and most Buddhist monks in Thailand), but most are involved in a life-long profession.
Monks and nuns in many traditions (Catholic, Buddhist, Jain) represent another type of full-time membership in a religious tradition, but which is not always the same as clergy.
In many New Religious Movements (NRMs), government and academic researchers make a distinction between full-time and part-time members. In ISKCON, for instance, there are many more part-time enthusiasts (adherents who consider ISKCON their preferred religion, but attend meetings only weekly or occasionally and have outside jobs) than there are full-time Hare Krishnas (those who live full-time in an ISKCON facility and adhere to the rigorous schedule prescribed for full-time devotees). Similar distinctions are made in other culturally distinctive or high-participation religious groups, such as Rajneeshism (Osho), 3HO, the Divine Light Mission, Scientology, and numerous small Fundamentalist Christian (i.e., Concerned Christians) groups.
Another number that may be reported is attendance. Most religions have many adherents who do not regularly, or even irregularly, attend services, yet still consider themselves members. Some groups, however, actually appear to have more people in attendance at meetings than are formally counted as members. These groups may have a stronger emphasis on attendance at meetings than on formal membership in their organization. Groups which fit this description include the International Church of Christ, the Willow Creek Community Church and some other megachurches, and perhaps the Seventh-day Adventists.
A related statistic frequently encountered is "active" versus "inactive." Typically only a sub-set of a religion's reported or self-identified membership is considered "active." The criteria for "activity" differs between studies and between religions. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members are formally considered "active" if they attend at least one Sunday sacrament (communion) meeting per month. The Church of England sometimes reports its "active" membership based on the attendance at Christmas or Easter mass.
Other times adherent refers to anybody within a cultural community of believers, even if they themselves do not identify with the dominant religion. Some figures that Adherents.com has (from groups as different as Jews, Eastern Orthodox, primal-indigenous tribal religionists, Hindus and Baptists) are not counts of formal membership in any organized religious community, but counts of people who are ethnically and/or physically part of a religious-cultural group.
Sometimes a religious practice may have participants, but not demand loyalty in name. Many people actively take part in religious traditions such as Zen, yoga, witchcraft, spiritualism or Scientology more than they participate in any other church or religion, yet they may still identify themselves in name by the religion of their parents, calling themselves a Catholic, Baptist, Jew, etc. Some of these people may be thought of as having dual religious affiliation, a concept not at all unusual in many Asian countries where traditions such as Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism can be quite co-mingled.
To summarize, the type of adherent referred to in the Adherents.com tables is usually identified in the accompanying text note, and is usually either an adherent by self-identification or by formal inclusive membership. Known exceptions to this are identified. Figures for other types of membership are usually grouped separately, immediately after the "regular" adherent figures (for example: "Shinto - clergy").
The types of adherents described above are:
What's the difference between the "Religion by Name" list and the "Religion by Location" list?The only difference is the order in which the data is listed. We only have one database from which the Adherents.com web site is compiled. In the "Religion by Name" list we order the data first by religion name (alphabetically), then by location, then by year. The index is based on the Religion names.
In the "Religion by Location" list, the data is listed first by location, then by religion, then by year. The index is based on the Location name (name of country, state, province, etc.).
The data set and table format is the same in both lists. So, essentially, the entire database is duplicated twice on the Adherents.com web site.
We should note that we do not re-compile and update the Location list as often as the Religion by Name list. So, sometimes a small percentage of the adherent records will not be in the Location list, but will be available in the Name list. At this point, however, the additional records being added are usually for minor movements or subdivisions of religions. So the few records that may not appear yet in the Location index would probably contribute little to getting an overall idea of the general religious makeup of a specific geographical region, which is the purpose of the Location list.
Q. "Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with Jesus." "Islam is not a religion, it is a way of life." "Hinduism is not a religion, it is Dharma." Etcetera.Date: 20 April 2005
Answer: One indicator that group or movement is functioning as the sociological equivalent of a religion is that its constituents strongly object to being classified as a religion. To say that something clearly non-religious such as "being blonde" or "being a Michael Jordan fan" is a religion would incite little or no protest. Blonde people and Michael Jordan fans have little group identity associated with blondeness or with Michael Jordan. Such a statement may appear to have so little meaningful truth in it, or be so innocuous, that they feel no need to counter it.
On the other hand, to say that the environmentalism is a religion is likely to draw protests by proponents who do not wish their movement to be associated with religions they or others don't like ("unwanted baggage"), who do not wish to think of themselves as a "member" of a religion other than another one they identify with, or who do not wish to lose the advantages a non-religious movement has in dealing with the public sphere (schools, government, media, etc.). Transcendental meditation is one recent example of a religious movement which had considerable latitude in introducing itself into public schools and government programs, until it was recognized as a religion.
Essentially all religions have adherents who claim that their religion is not a religion. This could even be considered one of the distinguishing characteristics of a religion. An oft-repeated sermon proclaims that "Christianity is not a religion; it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." There is nothing wrong or false about this statement when considered in the context of a sermon, a person's sincerely held belief, or a marketing campaign. But the slogan "Christianity is not a religion" is irrelevant to sociologists studying and describing the importance of religion in the lives of people. Such a statement is even more irrelevant to statisticians and demographers. However often this sentiment is repeated, it is unlikely that pollsters and census takers charged with counting a country's population will stop counting all self-identified Christians and simply group them with others who profess "No Religion." You are probably never hear a religious statistician say: "The largest religion in the United States is Judaism. What about Christianity? Oh, that's not a religion. We group them with atheists and agnostics and people who have no religious preference."
Similarly, many Muslims say something like "Islam is not a religion; it is a way of life." One can find Buddhists who say "Buddhism is not a religion but rather a science of mind." Some people say "Judaism is not a religion but rather a nation." "Confucianism is not a religion, rather a set of rules regarding relationships." "Sikhism is not a religion -- it's a reality of the factual experience!" "Hinduism is not a religion, it is a Dharma." "Wicca is not a religion but a way of life." "Transhumanism is not a religion; it is a philosophy." "Ethical Veganism is not a religion; it is a lifestyle." All of these statements are true - from the perspective of the adherents making these statements. We have absolutely no argument with the belief that Islam is a way of life, Buddhism is a science of the mind, Judaism is a nation, Confucianism is a set of rules, Sikhism is a reality of factual experience, Hinduism is a Dharma, and Wicca is a way of life. But if none of these belief systems are religions, it makes the compilation of religious statistics and data impossible. For the sociologist and for the statistician (as for most people), these are all religions. Claims about not being a religion are pithy slogans contrived by people inventing a new definition of "religion" for the express purpose of emphasizing the benefits of their particular religious preference.
Pointing out that the "my religion is not a religion" notion has no importance in sociological and statistical research should not be viewed as criticism of people who say that Christianity or any other religion is "not a religion." To be fair, most Christians think this notion is a bit silly and don't try to tell people that their religion isn't a religion. They recognize that the word "religion" is neutral, not pejorative, and that essentially all people have a religion. What is important to researchers is how people believe and act, not what word or label is used to categorize the basis for their beliefs.
Can you provide statistics for my specific city/county?Probably not. But you can access this data yourself.
We rarely maintain information specific down to the city level. Only for a few large cities do we have very much information, and it's already on the web site. (Some of these cities are Houston, New York City, Los Angeles and some others, as listed on the Location Index. Occasionally we have one or two statistics for other cities, but not enough to provide a picture of the overall religious makeup of the city.) You might try looking in your local phone book under churches or religious organizations. That won't tell you percentages, of course, but it will give you a non-comprehensive idea about what denominations are there.
What proportion of the world believes in God or a Higher Power?Between 87.6 to 92.2% of the world's population professes belief in God, deities or similarly understood Higher Power.
Nationwide, in the U.S., this is an easier question to answer. Gallup, Harris, and other polls, including Kosmin (1990 survey of 113,000 Americans) consistently indicate that between about 91 and 96% of Americans say they believe in God.
A worldwide figure is more difficult to ascertain, but a recent estimate based on a country-by-country study is available. Pitzer College sociologist Phil Zuckerman compiled country-by-country survey, polling and census numbers relating to atheism, agnosticism, disbelief in God and people who state they are non-religious or have no religious preference. These data were published in the chapter titled "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns" in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005).
Zuckerman totaled the survey-based and poll-based estimates of non-believers from the top 50 countries with the highest proportion of people who do not believe in God, and added to this number the non-believers from highly populous countries (Mexico, Poland, Moldova Romania, Georgia, Uzbekistan, India, Ireland, and Chile). The remaining countries had proportionately miniscule populations of atheists/agnostics/non-believers. Zuckerman concluded, "the grand total worldwide number of atheists, agnostics, and non-believers in God is somewhere between 504,962,830 and 749,247,571."
The lower and higher numbers reflect that differences from different studies and surveys conducted in each country. The higher number (almost 750,000,000 people worldwide who don't believe in God) is calculate using the highest possible number from each country. If one postulates that even that number is too conservative and raises it to 800,000,000 worldwide who don't believe in God, that means that 12.4% of the world total of 6,437,993,942 people (26 April 2005, U.S. Census Bureau figure) don't believe in God or are agnostic or undecided. Using the lower figure (504,962,830) would mean that 7.8% of the world's population does not believe in God. Conversely, 87.6 to 92.2% of the world's population has a stated belief in God or a Higher Power.
Keep in mind that these figures are from an academic book entirely dedicated to the study of atheism, and this study is from a very atheist-friendly chapter. Much of the chapter extols the statistically ascertained positive social health indicators seen disproportionately in countries with high levels of "organic" atheism (rather than government-forced atheism). Also, this study isn't simply based on the relatively small number of people who identify themselves as "atheists." The study counts people who answer a number of different questions designed to determine belief in God.
In evaluating these numbers, keep in mind that "nonreligious" is not the same thing as "atheist" or "agnostic." Many of those who identify themselves as nonreligious do claim to believe in God. Such people simply don't consider themselves a member or adherent of any specific religion. Philosophically or intellectually, they believe God exists, but they may have a personalized form of spirituality, or feel that affiliation with a specific religion is unnecessary. For some people, the question of whether or not they believe or disbelieve in God may seem to not be of immediate concern. Such people may be so "undecided" that they aren't even agnostic; they may spend no more time considering ontological questions than most people spend choosing a favorite Latvian composer.
The precise number of people who believe in God depend on how the question is defined. Most people take no exception to the traditional view of God/Higher Power presented by the religious group they consider themselves a part of. But many individuals have a more personalized or more vague view.
The Adherents.com database is focused primarily on religious and tribal affiliation data (what groups people are a part of), more than on polling data. Belief in God or a Higher Power usually, but doesn't necessarily, correspond to religious group affiliation.
The Adherents.com database has some actual polling and survey data citations about the percentages of people in a few specific countries who profess belief in God. That data is in the "religion by name" database under "poll - believe in God". Related categories are "poll - disbelieve in God," "agnostic", "atheism" and "nonreligious."
Europe (by choice) and Communist nations (often by force) are the places where belief in God has been lowest. Many former Communist nations, such as Poland, have turned out to have among the highest degrees of religiosity and belief in God once restrictions were relaxed, or "official" government figures were no longer the sole barometer. Cuba and Vietnam both have extremely high levels of religiosity, interest in spirituality, and belief in God compared to many surrounding countries, even while still under Communist rule, now that many restrictions have been relaxed.
Even in China the Christians are among the most devout in the world, although a minority of probably less than 4% of the population, and there are entire provinces which are almost entirely Muslim, in the Eastern parts of the country.
U.S. polls consistently show between about 92 and 95% of the population expressing belief in God. India, with about 1 billion people, is almost universally religious, with most of the population being Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, along with many Jains, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists, almost all of whom believe in God.
Breaking the world down by religions, there are over 1 billion Muslims in the world, and over 2 billion Christians, and easily over 750,000 million Hindus. All of these religions, and most of the people who consider themselves adherents, express belief in God (or Atman or Allah, or some version of Higher Power).
The world's 20+ million Sikhs certainly believe in God. There are also approximately 15 million Jews in the world. While not all Jews believe in God, all major Jewish religious organizations proclaim belief in God.
It is true that many of the world's Western/Caucasian Buddhists do not believe in God, they are atheists or, more often, agnostics if they do not believe in God. But these Buddhists are a tiny minority of the world's Buddhist population. Almost all of the world's Asian Buddhists believe in a Higher Power, whether they believe in Buddha as a transcendent God to whom they pray, or they believe in a more Western-style God, or they believe in Amida Buddha or some other form of Higher Power. Some Western Buddhists say that Buddhism is an atheistic religion, but I've lived in Japan and Thailand (representing both Mahayana and Theravada traditions of Buddhism) and I've studied the situations there, and I can tell you that the non-theistic version of Buddhism exists almost solely among some of the Westerners.
Do you have other information which does not appear on the Adherents.com web site?Most of the information we have is already available on Adherents.com, but we do have sources which contain raw data or statistics citations which we haven't had time to add to our database yet. We frequently add new records to our database. We upload the entirely re-compiled web site about every other week. If there are specific statistics you need that you can't find on Adherents.com let us know. We may have the information. If we do, we can move it up on the "To Do" list and get you the results in a day or two.
Why do some "statistic citations" have no statistics, just text in the notes field?Most records in the Adherents.com database have at least one actual number accompanying them: This might be a number of adherents in a given location, the percentage of a region's population who are adherents, the number of meeting units (congregations, churches, branches, temples, etc.), or the number of countries the faith group is organized in.
Sometimes, however, we have included a record with none of these four figures. We have done this mainly to include some idea of where a religion exists, or how big it is, when there is no other information available. Some groups are too poorly studied today, or went extinct a long time ago (such as Mithraism or Zurvanizm) to obtain hard data for. So if the text we have indicates something about what region a group is in, or generally how big it is, we may include this text in an Adherents.com record, especially if we don't have other, more quantitative data.
Currently (August 1999), 8% of the Adherents.com records do not have an actual number, but only information describing a religion's geographical or temporal location. 27% of these "numberless records" are from before 1900.
What group do you have the most records for?There are more records for "Catholic" in the Adherents.com database than for any other group (1,837 records, as of 7 July 1999). After this is "Islam", with 1,432 records. [NOTE: In September 1999 we began listing Catholic statistics under "Catholic" rather than "Roman Catholic". In the rare instances where the statistics refer only to Roman (Latin Rite) Catholics, they are now in the "Catholic - Latin Rite" category.]
What is the most frequently looked up religious group?18 June 1999. (Actually, nobody asked this. We just thought it would be interesting.)
It's difficult to tell. From our Access Logs the page where the Anglican records start is the most frequently accessed page in the main Indexed-by-name list. A major Anglican web site has had a link to Adherents.com for a long time, which might be part of the reason for this. Also, Anglicans are one of the world's largest religious groups, especially among populations most likely to have access to computers and the Internet. It's also possible that this section receives more visits partly because of its placement near the beginning of the alphabet.
The most frequently visited Largest Communities (summary statistics) web page is the Latter-day Saints page, followed by the Buddhist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheran, and Southern Baptist pages. Least frequently visited are the Seventh-day Adventists and Salvation Army pages. (Possible explanations may be that most SDAs do not have access to computers and the Salvation Army is relatively small and noncontroversial.)
(The Latter-day Saint, Buddhist, and Lutheran "Largest Community" web pages have been linked to from some prominent Latter-day Saint, Buddhist, and Lutheran web sites. The Southern Baptist page received many visits recently after it was updated and mentioned prominently on the Adherents.com homepage. Adherents.com is also a suggested link from the websites of several Baptist theological seminaries.)
In October 1999, the breakdown of visits to "Largest Community" web pages was:
What is the fastest growing religion?People often ask us about which religion or religions are the fastest growing, so it truly is a "frequently asked question."
People often ask us about growth rates. It may seem odd that a database which has collected tens of thousands of religion statistics does not store growth rates as well. But we don't. It's not unusual for us to come across studies and data sets which mention growth rates. But this type of data is only in the Adherents.com database if it is part of the text that accompanies the adherent statistics which are our main objective.
As mentioned elsewhere on this web site, comparing adherent statistics from different data sources is problematic enough, because there may have been different conditions used in the data collection, different criteria for how adherents are counted, or different sociological implications to religious membership in different regions and cultures.
But when one discusses growth rates, the variables involved are multiplied to such a degree that comparing growth rates from different data sources becomes meaningless. To say that Religion X has a 15% growth rate or Church Y has a 20% growth rate doesn't really convey any information whatsoever unless one knows the parameters used to calculate these rates. One must know:
Unless one knows the answers to these questions, one can not properly evaluate a single number calculated as a "growth rate" for a religious group, and one can certainly not compare growth rates extracted from different studies.
While it may not be the definitive answer people hope for, our best answer to the question "What is the fastest growing religion?" is: All religions are the fastest growing religion.
Some religions are the fastest growing on a percentage basis, some by raw numbers. Some are growing fast in some countries, but losing ground in others. Some are growing through increased numbers of congregations, but losing overall market share. Some groups are losing members, but growing by other measures. For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention had a net membership loss in 1998, but the percentage of the remaining membership who were attending church was up, indicating a smaller but more committed membership.
What if one carefully defines the parameters and asks a very specific question such as: What is the fastest growing religion worldwide, on a percentage basis, over the past five years?
It is still difficult to provide a single answer to the question, with data taken out of context. To answer such a question on a percentage basis, one must compare very large religions such as Christianity and Islam, which make up one-third or one-sixth of the world's population, with very small religions, such as Jainism, Zoroastrianism or Neo-Paganism, which have only a few millions or hundreds of thousands of adherents. Such a comparison may show a fast growth rate for Wiccans, and zero percentage growth for Christianity, but the two abstract figures don't convey very much meaningful information.
Even if the overall world growth rate for a given list of religions is known and is accurate (which is unlikely), one must ask about the religions which were left off the list. If a small religion such as Zoroastrianism is included in the statistics, why not an even smaller religion, such as Eckankar? Or what about Samaritans. With only a hundred or so members, this distinct religion can have a tremendous growth rate with just a few births in one year.
If you have seen claims that a certain religious group is the fastest growing religion, this is true. But the same claim might be made by another group as well, using different parameters.
Okay, so you won't tell me what THE fastest growing religion is. What are SOME of the fastest growing religions?Although we don't wish to propose a single religion as the fastest growing religion in the world, it is true that some religious groups really are growing faster than others. Below is a subjective list of some of the groups we think are growing and becoming increasingly important on a worldwide basis. This isn't a list of the most important or largest religions, but a list of those groups which, relative to their own current status, should show the most dramatic gains in some combination of membership, market share, visibility, and/or importance over the next few decades.
(Because of the extreme differences in the sizes of various religions, we don't believe a ranked list with raw numbers is meaningful for comparing religions on a worldwide scale. Also, in some cases it is more meaningful to speak of "religious groups" rather than only entire religions, because different divisions within the religion are experiencing different amounts of growth.)
Some Fast Growing Religious Groups, listed alphabetically.
This list is not comprehensive. There are doubtless many religious groups which are certainly growing and dynamic, but are not listed here. Also, it should be noted that religious groups rarely disappear. Those which have declining numbers usually merge with other groups, forming larger groups. So, although there will probably be fewer people in the years to come who call themselves Congregationalists or Methodists, there will be more members of the heirs of these groups: nationally-based United churches and liberal or conservative "post-denominational" Protestant groups.
What is the role of citations from fiction?In late 1999 Adherents.com began collecting a different type of citation in addition to the religious statistic references stored in the main database. We have collected citations from many science fiction/fantasy novels -- citations which mention real religious or tribal groups. Although some of these mention statistical or geographical information (normally the only type of data collected by Adherents.com), most do not. We have also added some citations from science fiction novels which mention specific statistics for fictional religious groups (such as the 10,000 Jedi Knights specified in some books about the Star Wars fictional universe).
Won't this be confusing? No. There is no chance that the quotes from fictional sources will be confused with statistics citations. The two databases are separate off-line, and the lists are separate in the online webpages that present the data from these databases. The citations from fiction are in a completely separate section, and a different web directory. Every page of citations clearly indicates whether it is in the Statistics/Geography database or the Literature database. For another thing, most of the quotes from novels do not provide any numbers, so nothing will appear in the "number of adherents" or "percent" or "number of congregations" columns.
The "Religion in Fiction" section is a listing of citations presented online in a format somewhat similar to the Adherents.com main statistics lists. But it contains only references from fiction: novels and short stories. These are primarily references to real-world religious groups, usually mentioned by name. Fiction references are not necessarily statistical in content. They may simply mention a Catholic priest aboard a starship, or a Shinto-derived space empire. Abstract discussion about religious topics such as God or belief or morality, not connected to an identifiable faith group, are generally not referenced. There are currently over 34,000 citations in the literature database, from hundreds of different books and novels.
Why would we do this? In a way, the citations from science fiction novels may be seen as a totally different topic, and part of a different database. Most researchers using the Adherents.com database will simply ignore these citations. Someone who wants only to know how many Muslims are in Canada probably doesn't care that Robert Heinlein wrote about Muslims on Mars 150 years in the future.
But quotations about various real religions from science fiction novels can be seen as an extension of Adherents.com's role as a reference to literature. Instead of citing non-fiction books (about sociology, history, religion, etc.), this is a new category -- citations from novels. Rather than providing a hard piece of real world numerical data, the citations from novels provide a measure of the degree to which certain religious groups have penetrated the popular consciousness. For instance, English science fiction literature from a certain period frequently mentioned Jews, but ignored the existence of the far more numerous Islam. Later novels which describe religion in the future invariably mention Muslims, but never refer to Baptists.
These citations are also interesting because most come from books which take place in the future, sometimes even on distant planets colonized by people from Earth. When science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, Greg Bear, and Larry Niven, whose profession is essentially to think about the future, write about the continued existence of Catholics, Muslims, Latter-day Saints and Jews many hundreds of years from now, it may not actually tell us something about the future of these religions, but it says something about how we think of them in the present.
It should be mentioned once again that virtually all the records in the Adherents.com database are quotes or citations from various sources. Adherents.com does not purport to be simply a database of statistics, but a database of statistics and geography citations. If it were a database of statistics, it might provide a single number which tells the number of Buddhists in the world, for instance. But because this is a database of citations, we provide over fifty citations which give the number of Buddhists in the world. Researchers have a choice of sources to choose from, and can see if there is or is not some consensus for a certain figure.
Do you have statistics relating to the religious affiliations of people in prison?This subject is not a primary area of research for Adherents.com. We do have some notes and links on this subject here.
Do you have statistics relating to religious affiliation and suicide?Scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals consistently show that religious belief and religious affiliation are associated with significantly lower levels of suicide. More details are on the Religion, Atheism and Suicide page.
Some conventions observed regarding the names of religious groups.Adherents.com strives always to refer to religious groups by the name that they prefer be used.
Just as it is inappropriate and offensive to use the 6-letter "N word" in reference to African-Americans, it is inappropriate and offensive to call a Catholic a "papist." Calling a Muslim a "Mohammadan" is equivalent to calling a person of Chinese ancestry a "Chink." A person who uses ethnic or religious slurs indicates that they are disrespectful and that their arguments are probably without merit.
Catholic: The shortened term "Catholic" is used in preference to "Roman Catholic." Many members of the of the Catholic Church based in Rome are not, in fact, "Roman Catholics," as there are non-Latin rites in full papal communion. Some contemporary Catholics consider the term "Roman Catholic" offensive. Obviously terms such as "Roman Church" and "papist" are inappropriate, inaccurate, and offensive. This topic is discussed further here.
Islam - The name of the religion is "Islam." An adherent of the religion is a "Muslim." Terms such as "Muhammadan" are highly offensive. "Arab" refers to an ethnicity (like "Hispanic") and should never be equated with Islam. There are many Arabs who are not Muslims and there are many Muslims who are not Arabs.
Neo-Paganism - There is no single, agreed-upon spelling convention. We generally use "Neo-Paganism" and "Neo-Pagan." Some writers drop the hyphen and write "Neopagan" or "neopagan." Many writers drop "neo" and refer simply to "pagans" and "paganism." Adherents.com generally reserves "pagan" to refer to classical pre-modern paganism. In Western literature, the term "pagan" most often refers to the pre-Christian religious beliefs of Western civilization, particularly Greco-Roman classical religion and ancient Scandinavian/Norse/Teutonic religion.
Wicca - Some writers use the terms "Wicca" and "Neo-Pagan" interchangeably. We do not. Wicca is but one branch within Neo-Paganism.
Judaism - Judaism is the religion of the Jews. "Jewish" refers both to the Jewish religion and to Jewish ethnicity. In the United States approximately one half of all Jews say that Judaism is their religion. Approx. 25% of American Jews say they are are completely secular, with no religion. Approx. 25% of American Jews are adherents of a religion other than Judaism (they are Jewish by ethnicity, but their religion is Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - There has never been any organization with the name "Mormon Church." Use of the term is inaccurate and potentially offensive. The phrase "Church of Latter-day Saints" (dropping "Jesus Christ") is never acceptable, even by Associated Press standards, and is considered highly offensive. The name "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" has been used continuously since April 1838. In writing about it, the full name (with a lower-case "d" in "day") should be written out. Subsequent references in an article may simply refer to "the Church" or "the church." Officially the Church itself does not use the shorthand phrase "LDS Church," although in practice this is a widely used abbreviated name used by members themselves and not known to be offensive to anyone. Members of the church are known as "Latter-day Saints." The plural form "Latter-day Saints" should never be used as an adjective; it is gramatically awkward. The singular form "Latter-day Saint" is the proper adjective form, as in, "I saw a Latter-day Saint movie" or "I attended a Latter-day Saint college." Older members of the church do not generally mind the nickname "Mormon," in reference to a church member or used as an adjective pertaining to historical and cultural institutions (as in "Mormon pioneer", "Mormon Tabernacle Choir", "Mormon cinema", "Mormon literature"). Many younger members consider "Mormon" disrespectful and prefer that "Latter-day Saint" be used univerally when referring to them in a religious sense. In many forums, "Mormon" is best understood as an ethnicity. There are people who are Mormons in an ethnic sense, but who are not necessarily practicing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church considers the term "Mormonism" an appropriate word to refer to the complete theological, historical, cultural and artistic movement relating to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members.
Community of Christ (RLDS) - in the year 2000 the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints formally adopted the name "Community of Christ." This religious body was in times past sometimes known as the "RLDS Church" for short. Our statistics are listed under "Community of Christ."
Lingayat - Lingayats and Veerashaivas are equivalent. Veerashaivism (also known as the Lingayat religion) is the religion of the Lingayats.
Quakers - Orginally "Quaker" was a nickname applied by outsiders to members of the Religious Society of Friends. Today, there are multiple Quaker denominations with their own names, not a single denomination known as the Religious Society of Friends. Many Quakers, however, still refer to themselves as members of the Religious Society of Friends. The term "Quaker" is used widely by Quakers today, is not considered offensive, and is the main appellation used by Adherents.com. "Friends", of course, is also an appropriate term to use, but is sometimes avoided as it can be confused with "friends" in a generic sense.
ISKCON - We use the abbreviation "ISKCON" to refer to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Statistics are listed under "I". Members of ISKCON do refer to themselves as "Hare Krishnas."
OCRT has an extended guide on this topic, with particular emphasis on Wicca, on their page: Suggested usage of religious terms in essays, media articles, etc.
Webpage created circa August 2000. Last updated 19 April 2007.