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Religious Affiliation of History's 100 Most Influential People
Adherents.com takes no position regarding the validity of Hart's rankings. Certainly ranking the relative historical influence of individuals is a subjective process. We welcome and will by happy to post comments from readers suggesting alternative rankings or names of influential individuals who should be included in the "Top 100." (Please send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org).
This list of names and their ranks are solely the work of Michael H. Hart. The columns "Religious Affiliation" and "Influence" are the work of Adherents.com. We will readily modify notes if there are any inaccuracies.
Note that many influential philosophies (such as Marxist Communism or Confucianism) are not always classified as organized "religions" in the traditional sense, but are classified as such by sociologists because they are a primary motivational worldview for individuals, cultures or subcultures. Also, many founders never considered themselves adherents of philosophies or religions which later bore their name (e.g., Martin Luther and Lutheranism).
In the table below, where there are two religions listed, the first one is the religion the person was born into. The second was the religion or philosophy the person later joined or founded. Comments in the "Influence" column are in bold when the influence is mainly in the realm of religion and philosophy.
Source of list of names: Hart, Michael H. The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Revised and Updated for the Nineties. New York: Carol Publishing Group/Citadel Press; first published in 1978, reprinted with minor revisions (reflected above) in 1992.
In the afterword to his book The 100, Michael H. Hart listed 100 runners-up, all of which are listed here. The book's afterword also included brief discussions about ten of these runners-up (about one page each). These discussions include notes about their influence and about they they were not included in the top 100. Hart states that these ten individuals should not be thought of as numbers 101-110 on the list. The ten runners-up discussed are: St. Thomas Aquinas; Archimedes; Charles Babbage; Cheops; Marie Curie; Benjamin Franklin; Mohandas Gandhi ; Abraham Lincoln; Ferdinand Magellan; Leonardo da Vinci. The other runners-up are simply listed, without further details or discussion.
Webmaster's Comments about this WebpageThis list is compiled only for fun and reference. Certainly no theological or sociological inferences should be drawn from a subjectively chosen list of only 100 people from throughout human history. These individuals clearly transcend statistical sociological analysis. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to consider the varied ways in which the lives and contributions of nearly all of them were profoundly influenced by their religious background and personal beliefs. ("Contribution" may not be the best word to describe the influence of some of these individuals, such as Hitler, Stalin, etc.)
Also, the "Influence" column in the table is very brief. It is only provided only to refresh one's memory about the identity of the historical person - not to encapsulate or summarize their career.
The most-represented religious group on this list is obviously Catholicism. This should be expected, given the many centuries that the most technologically and economically advanced Western world was synonymous with the Catholic world.
The most obscure faith group represented on this list is the Sandemanians, who were never very numerous. The physicist Michael Faraday (23rd on this list and history's 9th most influential scientist, according to Hart) was a devout member of this now-extinct group. Other small minority religious groups represented here are Jansenists (Voltaire) and some Quakers.
It is worth noting that many of the individuals on this list were the founders, major propagators, or reformers of major world religions: Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha, St. Paul, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mencius, Mani, Mahavira, Marx, Plato, Calvin, Martin Luther, Zoroaster, Mao. Many would include Freud among these. Other philosophers on this list made contributions which had an impact on religion but are not founders of a religion or branch of religion.
Of the twelve "classical world religions", the founders of eight are represented on this list (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism). Shinto and Hinduism have no founder. Sikhism and the Bahai Faith (the youngest of the "classical world religions") have founders (Guru Nanak Dev and Baha'u'llah, respectively), but Hart did not include them on his list.
Comments from Readers of this Website about the Ranking of Jesus on this ListJesus Christ
It is not uncommon for people to wonder why Jesus is not ranked first on this list. As far as the way the list appears on this web page, the answer is simple: We have reproduced Hart's list in exactly the order he wrote it. But it is true that many people, both Christians and secular historians, would have ranked Jesus first on a list of the world's most influential people. Hart said that he himself would have ranked Jesus first, if all the people who today identify themselves as Christians actually followed Jesus's teachings more substantially. He considers contemporary Muslims more influenced by Muhammad than contemporary Christians are by Jesus.
Also, Hart's outlook was essentially secular in outlook. He did consider the doctrinal role of Jesus in human salvation as taught by Christianity. Muhammad, on the other hand, carved out an actual, geographic empire during his lifetime. Christians as well as historians agree that Jesus himself conquered no lands and led no armies during his lifetime.
John H. Kerr, an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Canada wrote us on this topic. His ideas, echoed by many and presented here with his permission are below:
In my opinion no one has come near to Jesus Christ with respect to His influence on so many aspects of our world and society. Most schools of higher learning in the English speaking world and many in the non-English speaking world exist because of Christ. Women and children throughout this world, with the exception of a few countries have a much better way of life because of what Christ taught and people accepted. The peace, good will and renewal that result each year from the celebration of His birth is astounding. Many of the internalional charities that exist today are Christian based. The Christian work ethic has spurred inventions of all sorts that have benefited mankind enormously. Just think of the influence Christians have had down through the centuries, every bit of their influence is either directly or indirectly associated with the influence Christ had on them. Many of these Christians are on Hart's list.
John McDonagh (22 July 2005), who identifies himself as an informal proponent of freethought (a secular movement dedicated to reasoning independently of authority, especially religious dogma and revelation), wrote in response to John H. Kerr's statements:
John Kerr's comment may seem puzzling to the uniniated reader when he says that "All of the creation wouldn't exist if it were not for Jesus Christ. When one begins to dwell on what would or would not have been, had Christ not existed in the beginning". To the uninitiated reader, Jesus was born within the last 3000 years, so they may feel baffled as to how he could have participated in the creation of the universe billions of years ago. In fact, Mr. Kerr has let slip in the Gospel of John idea that Jesus eternally preexisted as the cosmic Logos.
Timothy W. Foutz (28 June 2002) also wrote to us about the ranking of Jesus on Hart's list:
Hart's criteria is clearly biased. His list is supposed to be about the most influential people, but he put Muhammad first because he was both a religious and military leader. Apparently one has to have a diverse resume to make the list. But there is a huge difference between what a person did themselves and how much of an influence they were. When Jesus ascended into heaven, there were only 120 people he could call his followers, so personally he was not very influential. But the movement he started is undoubtedly the most influential of all human history. I think Hart's list has value, but why make such a list if he wasn't going to be honest with the data? My suspicion is that Hart didn't want Jesus to be first on the list for personal reasons regardless of what history has clearly shown.
Alan Thibideau wrote (9 October 2002):
Aside from my religious affiliations and the present climate (after 9/11), it makes more sense that Christ sit atop the list of most influential individuals simply because history turned on his life more so than it did any other single figure. No one else can claim that history turned on a dime after his life.
The Rev. Anthony J. Felich, (Pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in Overland Park, Kansas; www.redeemer-pca.org) offered the following comments (9 April 2004):
While I appreciate the idea that Muhammad was both a founder of religion and a political/military leader, he should not displace Jesus Christ. Newton should be third at best. My obvious religious convictions aside:
Rev. Felich wrote (above): "Technically, Muhammad invented a religion somewhat based on Zoroastrianism. It was not very unique, when analyzed. Jesus Christ is the forecasted Jewish Messiah and the founder of the Christian Church. Hard to get more influential than that."
John McDonagh (22 July 2005) wrote in response to this statement (and another item on this page):
Mr. Felich steps into matters beyond the ambit of the historian. A historian would have to discount Jesus as the forecasted Jewish messiah, since 99.999999999% of all rabbis would not accept Jesus as the forecasted messiah. For that matter, Christianity, as with Islam, remains quite derivative.
Partially as a response to Rev. Felich's comments (and other comments shown here), M. S. Abdullah has written a list of 16 Reasons why Muhammad (not Jesus) should be ranked first on the list of history's most influential people.
Churchiaya@aol.com, an Evangelical Christian, said he agreed with Mr. Hart's choice for the top 2 spots, and that Jesus should be listed even lower. His explanation is here.
Mark Aubart expressed the opinion that Jesus should not even be on a list of mortal men. You can read his explanation here.
Musa Raza's response to Aubart, and his reasons why Muhammad should be at the top of the list are here.
Patrick Egbuchunam of Lagos, Nigeria wrote this thoughtful and detailed essay explaining why Jesus should be ranked #1 on the list of history's most influential people.
Other Suggested Revisions, Additions to the ListMichael McConnell (25 Sept. 2001) also suggests that some revisions to Hart's list are in order:
I just glanced at your list of the 100 most influential people and their religion and all I can say is this list is terrible at best. Jesus would have to be number one, Marx/Muhammad tie for number 2... Issac Newton was put above Marx who influences social-economic policy to this day.
Aki Nestori Vainio, a self-described atheist from Finland, does not believe that Moses existed (9 June 2003):
The book [The 100] is indeed very subjective, as you remark on your page. My main problem with it is the fact that Moses is seated at 15. I would've omitted him completely. He probably did not exist. He is a mythological character, just like Sankara, who did not make it into the book.[Most people would probably disagree with Vainio, simply because the existence of the books attributed to Moses -- books which are the mostly widely published texts in human history -- strongly suggest that somebody had to write them. That person (or persons) would clearly be highly influential on human history, regardless of the particulars of his life.]
Steve Petersen [email@example.com] made the following suggestion (27 April 2002:
Yes, indeed, I think you need to add another person to your list! What about Ellen G. White of the Seventh Day Adventist Church? She wrote more books than any other woman in history!
On 6 August 2002, Jukka Vatanen of Finland wrote with the following suggestion:
My vote for the list of "Top 100" is NICOLA TESLA, who was the actual inventor of the radio. Marconi was most successiful in capitalizing the usage of it, but TESLA was first. He also invented the Tesla turbine that powered the Niagara Falls alternating current generators. The alternating current being propably his greatest invention, making it possible to transfer high voltage current long distances. This invention alone would make him of same importance as Marconi etc...
Charles Benedetti wrote:
I predict that the most influential person of all time will be L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology (1954). It may take 10 years, or 25 or 50, but that day will surely come. I make this statement after 20 years of experiencing and drawing from the deep reservoir of this spiritual philosophy and Wisdom. Only those who have experienced Scientology would understand these words, and therefore I would not expect others to understand or agree with me. For those who may seek to know more about Scientology, see my website: www.our-home.org/charliebenedetti.
Of course, the most ridiculous ommission of all from Hart's list is Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of the television. His invention came relatively late in history, and so he had no impact on humanity during the first thousands of years of civilization. But today television has so completely transformed human culture, values, beliefs, etc. that its inventor is easily one of the most influential people in history with regards to people now living.
MuhammadMany Muslims have written to us about this webpage. All that have written to us are in agreement with Hart's assessment of Muhammad's top-ranked place on this list, but many have written to disagree with parts of Hart's description of Muhammad. In particular, a number of correspondents have written to point out that Muhammad is not the author of the Qu'ran, but is in fact the Prophet through whom Allah delivered the Qu'ran to humanity. Hamzah Jaradat's notes on this are representative of this discussion: Mohammad is the not the author of the Qu'ran.
Excerpt from Hart's book:
My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels...M. S. Abdullah has written a list of 16 Reasons why Muhammad (not Jesus) should be ranked first on the list of history's most influential people.
Musa Raza's his reasons why Muhammad should be at the top of the list are here.
Additional Notes about the Religious Affiliation and Religious Beliefs of History's 100 Most Influential PeopleNOTE: Adherents.com presents this list, and Hart's arguments, for informational purposes. We do not take any stand on the validity of Hart's statements. We welcome (and will post online) alternative viewpoints.
Is Alexander Graham Bell really the inventor of the telephone?: There is some dispute over whether or not Bell is "the inventor" of the telephone. A helpful document is: Who is credited as inventing the telephone? Was it Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray, or Antonio Meucci?, a page sponsored by the Science Reference Services of U.S. The Library of Congress. This page states that "Alexander Graham Bell was the first to patent the telephone," but also points out that Gray and Meucci played important roles in the development of the telephone. On the other hand, the Italian Society of America has an article about Antonio Meucci that casts the Italian inventor as the true father of the telephone, and takes a dim view of Bell.
Time Magazine's Person of the Century Poll"While Time deliberated on its Person of the Century, the magazine's Web site invited readers to vote. [Source: The King of the Century" in the San Jose Mercury News, 27 Dec. 1999.; URL: http://www7.mercurycenter.com:80/premium/nation/docs/timebox27.htm]
In choosing their Person of the Century, Time did not use the poll results, but made their own decision. They chose Albert Einstein (Jewish).
The runners-up for Time's Person of the Century were Franklin Roosevelt (an Episcopalian) and Mohandas Gandhi (a devout Hindu whose mother was a Jain and whose beliefs and practices were partially Jain).
Most Influential Asians of the 20th Century
[Source: Nisid Hajari. "Asians of the Century" in Time Asia, August 23-30, 1999 Vol. 154 No. 7/8; URL: http://www.cnn.com/ASIANOW/time/asia/magazine/1999/990823/cover1.html]
Useful Biography Links
Related Links on this Web Site
Lists of Influential People Without Reference to or Information About Religious Affiliation
Our thanks to Jason Quartarone for assistance with some Voltaire, Marconi and Copernicus facts. Thanks to Joe Rowe for assistance with Johann Gutenberg info. Thanks to Ann Rodgers-Melnick of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for additional Edison information.
Copyright © 2005 by Adherents.com. Please send comments, suggestions, questions, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web page created 16 September 1999. Last modified 31 May 2007.