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Most Countries have a Single Numerically Dominant Religion
In most countries of the world, a majority of people (over 50%) are adherents of the same religion. In most nations where Christians make up the majority, the majority of the population are adherents of a single religious body (such as the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, the Catholic Church in Poland, or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Norway).
In most of the world's countries, the predominant religion is one of the world's two largest religions Christianity or Islam. A larger number of nations are predominantly Christian. But Islam generally is more influential in daily life in the predominantly Muslim countries.
Islam Christianity Hinduism Buddhism Sikhism Judaism
Taoism and Confucianism Baha'i Shinto Jainism Zoroastrianism
primal-indigenous Yoruba Tenrikyo Lingayats Juche Rastafarianism
Shiite - Catholic - Protestant - Orthodox Christian
Lutheran Anglican Methodist Congregational Baptist Latter-day Saints Seventh-day Adventists
The majority of the population are Muslims in the following countries:
- Gaza Strip
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- West Bank
In the following countries the majority of the population cites one of the branches of Christianity as their preferred religion:
The world's third largest religion, Hinduism, makes up the majority of the population of 3 nations:
Balinese-style Hindus also make up 95% of the large population of Bali, in Indonesia.
It is interesting to note that although the majority of the world's Hindus live in India, the nation as a whole is only about 80% Hindu, and is an officially secular state, i.e., there is no state religion. The continuation of a secular state is one of the Indian government's highest priorities.
- Bali, Indonesia
In Nepal a higher proportion of the population are Hindus than in India, and Nepal is the world's only official Hindu state. Freedom of worship is protected, but official state religion is Hinduism. (As in many countries, inter-religious proselyting is prohibited.)
In Mauritius, a bare majority of 54% of the population are Hindu.
The worlds' fourth largest organized religion, Buddhism, is the religion of the majority of the population in 10 countries:
- Sri Lanka
Buddhism is also very important historically and culturally in other several other Asian countries, but is no longer cited as the preferred religion by at least 50% of the population. In China and North Korea, Buddhism was forcibly suppressed by Communist regimes. Buddhism remains important in these countries, but is no longer claimed as the religious preference by the majority of the population. Taiwan is heavily Buddhist, but the religion is mixed with Taoism and Confucianism, and exists side by side with other religions to such a degree that Buddhism is probably not a majority religion, strictly speaking. In South Korea Christianity has recently made enough gains that Buddhism is no longer the religion of the majority of the population.
Currently, many people in traditionally Buddhist countries such as Korea and China are embracing Christianity in greater numbers, while Buddhism is in turn gaining increasing numbers of converts among Westerners in places such as Europe, Australia, and the United States. There are even organizations and books for "JuBus" (Jews who practice Buddhism).
Sikhism does not make up the majority of the population of any nations. It makes up the majority of the population of only one Indian Province: Punjab.
It might be said that of the world's largest religions, only Sikhism does not have a state. Sikhism is often called the world's fifth largest orgnanized religion, and with nearly 20 million adherents, is larger than Judaism (about 15 million, many of whom are secular).
For many Sikhs, not having a state of their own is an issue of great importance, and the Punjabi independence movement is hotly debated in the region and in the Sikh community worldwide. Other Sikhs genuinely feel emphasis on achieving their own independent political state is overly divisive and draws undue attention away from the profound theological and spiritual messages of their religion.
Jews makes up the majority (83%) in one country: Israel.
A large number of Israel's Jews are secular -- nonobservant and either philosophically nonreligious or even agnostic or atheist. Religious Jews are in the minority in Israel.
Interestingly enough, a larger number of Jews live in the United States than in Israel, and a higher proportion of American Jews are religious (i.e., practice Judaism or profess some form of belief in Judaism).
Taoism and Confucianism
No country can really said to be predominantly Taoist or Confucian in the sense that a majority of people claim one of these systems as their religion. But Taoism and Confucianism (mixed with Buddhism) are major cultural and philosophical influences in many East Asian nations. Religious Taoism in still very significant in Taiwan.
Many writers have noted that the influence of Confucianism is felt more significantly in present-day Japan than Buddhism, Shinto, or any other religion, even though no Japanese people cite it as their "religion." The majority of Chinese are influenced by combinations of Confucian and Taoist thought, and traditional religious practices and beliefs (ancestor- and nature-oriented), but most do not name themselves exclusively as adherents of these traditions. Other important influences and religions in China which are of non-Chinese origin are Buddhism, Communism, Islam, and Christianity.
There are no nations, provinces or states where Baha'is make up a majority of the population. This is not surprising, as the religion is very young.
There are some villages in Africa which are predominantly Baha'i. (It is not unusual for smaller, close-knit villages in Africa, and sometimes other parts of the world, to adopt a new religion en masse.)
Because of historical birth registration laws and customs, Shinto organizations claim over 80% of the population of Japan as adherents. (Keep in mind that Buddhist organizations claim 90% of the population as adherents.) The majority of Japanese take part in Shinto celebrations, festivals, etc., and many have Shinto shrines in their homes. Although less than 4% of Japanese claim Shinto as their religious preference in opinion surveys (most claim Buddhism, and most also say they aren't religious), the religion of Shinto can certainly be said to "have a state." But the religion's influence is more cultural, historical, and traditional--more comparable to the influence of the Anglican Church in England than Islam in Saudi Arabia.
There are no countries or provinces in which Jains make up the majority of the population. Jains have no significant, established communities outside of India.
The relatively few remaining Zoroastrians in the world do not make up the majority of the population in any countries, states, or provinces. They do form the majority in a few small Iranian towns, and they are an important segment of the cultural elite in a few major Indian cities.
Zoroastrianism was once the state religion of ancient Persia (present-day Iran), and at one time was one of the largest organized religions in the world.
Where Some Other Religions are in the Majority or Heavily Concentrated
The religions discussed below (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Baha'i, Shinto, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, and Confucianism) are the "Classical World Religion" -- those religions most often listed in comparative religion books. But there are other distinct religions in the world, some of which are much larger than some of the "classical" world religions.
"Primal-indigenous" is not a single religion, but simply the term that refers to followers of traditional, pre-literate cultures. Other terms used to refer to the religion of these peoples include "traditional", "native", "indigenous", or "tribal." Other words such as "paganism" or "animism" have been applied to these groups in the past, but have gone out of favor and may be less accurate. Many or most primal-indigenous religions may indeed contains elements of animism or paganism. But the statistical use of these terms is usually misleading because the way these groups have usually been identified by Westerners is by a people group's lack of written language or technological development, not by an actual understanding of their theology.
Virtually all societies, whether in Papua New Guinea or Texas, exhibit behavior and beliefs which are associated with their ethnic or regional identities rather than the official teachings of an organized religion. (Texans, for instance, generally have an aversion to state income taxes, love high school football, and believe cowboy boots are formal footwear.) Like other people everywhere, most Africans and tribal peoples who affirm membership in a major world religion (such as Christianity or Islam) also maintain traditional practices, rituals, and beliefs.
Primal-indigenous religion is part of every predominantly tribal society. But in the following countries, at least by some reports, it seems that the majority of the population officially claim to be adherents of traditional native religions, rather than at least nominally declaring themselves members of a major world religion:
Many other countries, such as Papua New Guinea, would have to be added if one looked at practice rather than nominal, census-based adherence to a major world religion. But to be fair in making such a list, one would also have to ask to what degree the Norwegians are more Norwegian than Lutheran, to what degree Spaniards are more Spanish than Catholic, to what degree the majority of Americans practice "Americanism" rather than Christianity or Judaism.
It is also interesting to note that 85% of the newly-formed (1999) Canadian province of Nunavut are Inuit. But this statistic indicates tribal/ethnic affiliation. I do not have data regarding the religious preference of the population of Inuit, but earlier statistics from the Northwest Territories (the province from which Nunavut was formed) indicate that most residents are Christian.
Another of the world's largest religions (but not a "classical" major religion) is the traditional religion of the Yoruba peoples of western Africa. Two of its major modern branches in the Americas are known as Santeria and Vodoun. Vodoun may not be the official state religion of Haiti, but it is often called the unofficial national religion. The majority of the population are thought to participate in Vodoun. Most Haitians are also members of Christian faiths, and mostly claim Christianity as their religion in census counts.
It is estimated that 70% of the population of Cuba practices African-based New World religions, especially the Santeria form. The majority of Cubans are also baptized and self-identified Catholics. The Communist government in Cuba has also issued official figures indicating that the majority of Cubans are nonreligious. So, Cuba could be placed on three "majority religion" lists (Yoruba, Catholic and Nonreligious). (Interestingly enough, Cuba also has one of world's largest national communities of Jehovah's Witnesses (both in terms of raw numbers as well as percentage of the population).
- parts of western Africa
Tenrikyo is a distinct, living religion which emerged from a Shinto background, but which declared itself distinct from Shinto many decades ago and has truly gone its own direction. It has about 3 million adherents. It has not spread very much outside of Japan, although their are foreign and non-Japanese adherents.
In Japan its members probably make up less than 2% of the general population, but they form the overwhelming majority of the city of Tenri-shi. With approximately 50,000 citizens, Tenri is the heartland, headquarters, and site of pilgrimage of Tenrikyo faithful.
The Lingayat religion grew out of a Hindu environment and today most people (including the Indian government) classify it as a Hindu sect, although Lingayats prefer to call it a distinct religion. Published estimates of their numbers range from about 5.5 million to 20 million worldwide, most of whom live in the Indian state of Karnataka. Approximately 10 - 20% of the total population of Karnataka is Lingayat, but in the Lingayat heartland regions of Karnataka, as many as 67% follow the religion, a clear majority.
- parts of Karnataka, India
Little known outside of North Korea, Juche is the national philosophy and religion created and run by the North Korean government. By law, all North Koreans are adherents of Juche. Nearly all citizens regularly participate in Juche meetings, celebrations, education, etc.
Proportionately significant only in the Caribbean, Rastafarians do not make up the majority of any population. But in their home country of Jamaica, the majority of the people are thought to be Rasta "supporters," although less than 5% of the population are actually self-identified adherents.
Nations Where One Branch of a Major Religion is Predominant
As mentioned previously, in most nations where a single religion is predominant, it is also true that a single branch (and often a single religious body) of that religion is predominant. The countries in the following lists will have already appeared on lists above.
Not all countries listed above as being predominantly Christian, Muslim, etc., will appear in lists below. In a country which is predominantly Christian, there may not be one branch which is predominant. For instance, in a country which is 65% Christian, that 65% may be divided fairly evenly between Protestants and Catholics. This would mean that although Christianity is the predominant religion, there is not a predominant branch or religious body.
The majority (90%) of Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. Historically there has been considerable distance between Sunni and Shiite Islam, roughly comparable to the Catholic/Protestant split. But in recent years leading Sunni councils (such as at the Islamic university at Cairo) have increasingly accepted Shiites as thoroughly a part of orthodox Islam, and described Shiites as a "fifth" school, on par with traditional Sunni schools such as Shafii or Hanafi Islam.
Nevertheless, although Shiites may be thought of theologically as part of the orthodox Islamic "communion," there remain clear cultural, legal and even doctrinal differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
In the following nations the majority of the population are Shiite Muslims:
Notably, Shiite Islam is the predominant form in Lebanon, but Shiites do not make up the majority of the nation's population, as Muslims are only a slim and recent majority in the country. Large proportions of the nation's population are Christian and Druze. If one does not count Druze as Muslims, the Muslim majority in the country is slim and difficult to confirm.
In virtually all other countries in which one branch of Islam is predominant, the predominant branch is Sunni. There are other branches of Islam which are considered heretical by Sunnis (such as Ahmadiyyans and Druze), but these do not form the majority of the population in any nation.
In the following places (listed alphabetically), at least 85% of the population is Catholic (at least nominally):
Northern Mariana Islands
Saint Pierre and Miquelon
Wallis and Futuna Islands
Places in which between 50% and 85% of the population is Catholic, at least nominally:
New Brunswick, Canada
Countries in which at least 85% of the population is Protestant, at least nominally (these lists are not necessarily comprehensive):
Countries in which between 50 and 85% of the population is Protestant, at least nominally:
- Antigua and Barbuda
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Orthodox (Eastern) Christianity
Countries in which at least 50% of the population is Orthodox:
- Serbia and Montenegro
Predominant Protestant Denominational Families
In some predominantly Protestant countries the majority of the population belongs to a single denominational family. Frequently this is because there is a State Church to which most people automatically belong from birth. In such countries, affiliation with the Christian church may be only nominal, with very low (essentially "post-Christian") levels are participation and belief.
In other countries, especially in Polynesia, there is not an officially state church, but the majority of some populations belong to a single denominational family or nationally-unified religious body, and the populace exhibits unusually high levels of religious participation.
In the following nations the majority of the population belong to a state Lutheran church. In these places, the nominally Lutheran population is at least 80%. Levels of religious participation and belief are known to be quite low, however. Church attendance among members of the state Lutheran churches is typically less than 5% and the church has little or no impact on the personal behavior of members.
Some sources indicate that the majority of Lithuanians and Latvians are Lutheran, which they may be, but if they are they make up barely more than 50% of the population.
Methodists form the third largest denominational family in the United States. There are no "Methodist States." There is one nation in which the majority (90%) of the indigenous population is Methodist: Fiji. (But other sources indicate the nation's population as a whole is 50% Hindu, 53% unknown, 8% Muslim. There are also large numbers of Sikhs, Catholics and Latter-day Saints. There are a large number of non-indigenous Fijians, most of whom are not Methodist. One source states that the overall population of Fiji is 37% Methodist.)
Most Tongans belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church, or one of three national Protestant religious bodies: the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, the Church of Tonga, or the Free Church of Tonga. Some sources indicate that the three national Tongan religious bodies are Methodist in origin, and that together these bodies can claim over 50% of Tongan residents as members. I am uncertain to what degree, if at all, these national Tongan bodies are affiliated with worldwide Methodist organizations.
- Fiji (indigenous population)
Methodists also make up a particularly large proportion (but not a majority) of the populations of Anguilla, Delaware, and the British Virgin Islands.
Anglicans make up the majority in two countries: the United Kingdom (where they make up about 50% of the total population of the U.K., or about 60% of England alone) and Antigua and Barbuda (75% of the population).
- United Kingdom
- Antigua and Barbuda
Anglicans are a large part of the population, but not a majority, in many other places, including Barbados, Burmuda, the Bahamas, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Uganda. The U.S. State with the highest proportion of Anglicans is Rhode Island, with about 3% of the population affiliated with the Episcopal Church, and another 2% of the population describing themselves as Episcopalian, but unaffiliated with a congregation.
Some 97% of the population of island nation of Tuvalu reportedly belong to the Church of Tuvalu, a historically Congregationalist religious body. 70% of the residents of Tokelau (a New Zealand territory) belong to the Congregational Christian Church. 75% of the population of Niue belong to the Ekalesia Nieue (a national Congregationalist body), while most of the rest are Latter-day Saints.
Owing to the British and American Congregationalist missionary efforts in Polynesia during the 1700s and 1800s, there are still large numbers of members in the historically Congregational bodies, but not over 50%. These modern Congregationalist churches are essentially non-denominational Protestant in nature.
Baptists do not form the majority in any countries. But the populations of three U.S. states (Mississippi, Alabama, and George) are just over 50% Baptist (divided among many Baptist denominations).
- Georgia (USA)
- Nagaland, India
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not form the majority in any countries. But the population of Utah (70%), as well as portions of other states, are predominantly members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Utah and the surrounding Rocky Mountain region in the Western U.S. are known to sociologists as the "Mormon Cultural Region."
- Southern Idaho
- parts of Wyoming
- parts of Arizona
- parts of Nevada
- parts of Colorado
- Laie, Hawaii
- Colonia Juarez, Mexico
- Colonia Ciudad, Mexico
- Cardston, Alberta, Canada
- Liahona, Tonga
In addition, there are predominantly Latter-day Saint towns and villages in other countries where there are large numbers of Latter-day Saints, such as Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Chile, Peru, etc.
Although Seventh-day Adventists (a Protestant denomination, but culturally and doctrinally distinctive) can be found throughout the world, they make up less than 0.5% of the population of the United States (their country of origin). There are no U.S. states or politically independent countries where SDAs make up the majority, but there is one land where, until recently, they make up 100% of the population:
For a time, ALL (100%) of the residents of Pitcairn Island (a British protectorate) were Seventh-day Adventists. (In 1998 the population of the island was 46 people.)
[Update: Baha'i publications recently announced (2000) that two Baha'is pioneers from New Zealand had been allowed to move to Pitcairn.]
Seventh-day Adventists are widespread, but represent less than 1% of the population in most U.S. counties. However, for whatever it's worth, the 1990 Glenmary county-by-county study of U.S. church membership indicated that the SDAs of Dawson County, Georgia accounted for 17.5% of the county population, and 5,667 SDAs made up 11.7% of the population of Walla Walla County, Washington.
SDAs make up a larger proportion of the population (up to a few percent -- nothing near a majority) in many small and "third world" countries.
Nations Without a Majority Religion
In a minority of the world's countries, no single religion (not even Christianity if taken as a whole) can claim more than 50% of the population.
In the following nations, no single major religion can claim a clear-cut majority of the population as adherents:
Congo, Republic of the
Papua New Guinea
In some of these countries, such as Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, and Taiwan, I am aware of data indicating a single majority religion, but I also have other reports which indicate otherwise.
In most predominantly Christian nations, a single religious body can claim the membership of the majority of Christians -- usually the Catholic Church or a locally strong Orthodox church. In most predominantly Protestant nations, no single religious body claims the membership of the majority of country's Christians. Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States are four examples of such countries.
In the United States, Christianity is the largest religion, but less than 30% of the population belong to the largest religious body, the Catholic Church.
According to the county-by-county Glenmary study of 1990, there are only two states in the U.S. in which the majority of the population belong to a single religious body. These are Utah (where members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make up 70% of the population), and Rhode Island (which is 63% Catholic). Other sources indicate a slim Catholic majority in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well.
Places Where Truly 100% of People Belong to the Same Religion
Pitcairn Island isn't really an independent state. But there is an independent state in which 100% of the population belong to the same religion and the same church: I'm fairly certain that 100% of the 480 permanent residents of the Holy See, Vatican City are Catholics. Although small, the Vatican is politically autonomous.
This might make the Vatican and Pitcairn Island the only two lands on Earth where 100% of the people practice exactly the same religion, and even belong to the same religious body, because even in the most completely mono-religious countries (such as Saudi Arabia or Tunisia), there are foreign nationals who do not belong to the majority religion, and possibly some native converts to other religions, sometimes in secret.
Sarita was kind enough to write to inform us about Mt. Athos: Mt. Athos is a peninsula in eastern Greece (near Thesaloniki) that is extremely revered by Orthodox believers. It is inhabited exclusively by monastics. There are twenty large monasteries plus countless small sketes, brotherhoods and hermitages. It is a major pilgramage sight for Orthodox males. I would include Mt. Athos in the list of places where the entire population is of one religion (Orthodox.) Obviously, since it is soley inhabited by monastics, they are all Orthodox. While it is militarily protected by Greece, it is an independent entity in that it requires a seperate visa to enter Mt. Athos that has its own visa offices (this visa can not be obtained from the Greek goverment) and they administer their own affairs.
This web page copyright © 2005 by Adherents.com.
Created April 30, 1999. Last updated 12 April 2005.