Discussion of why
is classified as a major world religion
Juche is the only government-authorized ideology in North Korea, to the point of excluding all other religions. "Juche" means "self-reliance" in the Korean language. Some writers cited in the Adherents.com database (under "Juche" as well as "Kimilsungism") classify Juche as a North Korean form of Marxist Communism. Juche began in the 1950s and is the official philosophy promulgated by the North Korean government and educational system. Its promoters describe Juche as simply a secular, ethical philosophy and not a religion. But, from a sociological viewpoint Juche is clearly a religion, and in many ways is even more overtly religious than Soviet-era Communism or Chinese Maoism.
Thomas J. Belke has written a book describing Juche as the newest world religion, with "more adherents than Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism or Zoroastrianism" (JUCHE: A Christian Study of North Korea's State Religion, Publisher: Living Sacrifice Books, Bartlesville, OK; published July 1999; available at Amazon.com. Note: Any researchers interested in Juche or religion in North Korea will need to read this volume, but be aware that the "Christian Study" part of the title is not to be taken lightly. This book is not an objective ethnographic survey of Juche. Belke presents a wealth of fascinating factual information you won't find anywhere else, but the perspective is overtly Evangelical. Some readers who are not Evangelicals -- and some who are -- may be annoyed by this approach, but most serious researchers will recognize that the book has value to sociologists both in the unprecedented window it opens into contemporary North Korea, as well as the glimpse into Evangelical apologetic thought.).
Certainly there are more "followers" of Juche, by nature of their nationality, than there are Jews or Jains. (Belke's book reports 23 million Juche adherents, essentially the entire population of North Korea, but the author and international news services agree that the population of the country has decreased to about 19 million during the current famine.) Belke reports a few centers in India, and Juche web sites indicate some centers in Australia, Europe and Japan. But despite the presence of these outreach centers set up the North Korean government, there do not appear to be any established communities of adherents outside of North Korea.
Some other religions which exist substantially only within a single country have been excluded from this list of "Major Religions of the World." It is true that Juche has only a nominal presence outside of North Korea. But it has so many adherents, is so influential in their lives, and is so different from any other religious system, that including it on this list may be necessary in order to accurately reflect the total world religious economy. As with the other religions listed here, inclusion on this list does not constitute endorsement, merely recognition of Juche as a statistically significant distinct religion.
Other than geographic isolation, the other argument for excluding Juche from this list of major religions would be that it is not a completely independent system, but rather than a subset of Communism. (For numerical purposes, Communists who are not adherents of an established religion are included in the "Secular" category above.) The North Korean system is historically derived, in large part, from Soviet and Chinese Communism; during the 1960s there would have been no reason to draw any distinctions. But today's Juche has developed into a distinct, unique system, and has officially repudiated its Marxist-Leninist roots. While we recognize there may be validity in continued classification of Juche as a highly "heretical" subset of Communism or general secularism, it seems that, on balance, to do so today is no more accurate than continuing to classify Buddhism as a Hindu sect. Revision to the status of Juche on this list may be forthcoming pending further research and developments.