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History's Major Religious Leaders

Skip down to Famous Contemporary Religious Leaders.

The following list of religious leaders is taken directly from Living Biographies of Religious Leaders by Henry Thomas and Dana Lee Thomas, Garden City, New York: Garden City Books (1959), one volume in the Thomas's classic Living Biographies series. has no position about whether or not these are really history's greatest or most influential religious leaders. Clearly this list represents the perspective of Henry and Dana Lee Thomas, who are historians and biogaphers.

Other Living Biographies Books by Henry and Dana Lee Thomas are about: Great Philosophers; Great Scientists; Great Composers; Great Poets; Great Painters; Famous Novelists; Famous Women.

If you have an alternative list of religious leaders which you would like included here, please write us at

Henry and Dana Thomas Great Religious Leaders List

MosesJewish prophet
IsaiahJewish prophet
Zoroasterfounder of Zoroastrianism
Buddhafounder of Buddhism
Confuciusfounder of Confucianism
John the Baptistprophet and contemporary of Jesus Christ
St. PaulChristianity
MohammedProphet of Islam
St. Francis of Assisiearly Christian theologian
John HussBohemian Christian reformer; founder of Czech Hussites
Martin Lutherprimary founder of Protestantism
Loyolatheologian and founder of Jesuits
Calvinfounder of Calvinist branch of Protestantism
George Foxfounder of Quakers
John Wesleyfounder of Methodist movement
Swedenborgfounder of Swedenborgianism
Brigham Young2nd prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Mary Baker Eddyfounder of Christian Science
GandhiHindu reformer and Indian political leader; mother was a Jain

Greatest Historical Religious Figures
(Steven A. DeVore and Richard Linford, InteliQuest Learning Systems; URL:

(Listed chronologically)
  • Abraham
  • Moses
  • Lao-tzu
  • Buddha
  • Confucius
  • Jesus Christ
  • Apostle Paul
  • Saint Augustine
  • Muhammad
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Martin Luther
  • John Calvin
  • Joseph Smith
  • Gandhi

Other categories in the DeVore/Linford Series are: Explorers, Scientists, Inventors, Writers, Painters, Composers, and Leaders.

Greatest Historical Religious Figures (Bill Yenne)

(Listed chronologically)
  • Moses
  • Lao Tsu
  • Buddha
  • Confucius
  • Jesus Christ
  • St. Paul
  • St. Augustine
  • Mohammed
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Martin Luther
  • Gandhi

Source: Yenne, Bill. 100 Men Who Shaped World History. San Francisco, CA: Bluewood Books (1994)

Greg Bear's List of History's Major Prophets

Greg Bear is the critically acclaimed author of such science fiction works as Eon, The Forge of God, Moving Mars, Foundation and Chaos, Blood Music, and Darwin's Radio. He has been awarded six Hugo and Nebula awards. His novella Heads (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990, pg. 101-102) contains the following entertaining account narrated by the main character (a colonist on the moon) as he begins to research the book's fictional religion Logology:
I had dipped into records of past prophets during my Earth research. Zarathustra. Jesus. Mohammed. Shabbetai Tzevi, the seventeenth-century Turkish Jew who had claimed to be Messiah, and who in the end had apostatized and become a Moslem Al Mahdi, who had defeated the British at Khartoum. Joseph Smith, who had read the Word of God from golden tablets with special glasses, and Brigham Young...
Although Bear's fiction often incorporates theological and sociolgical themes, Bear himself does not claim to be a theologian or historian by training. This list of major prophets is Bear's attempt to describe the perspective of somebody living about 100 years in the future. Naturally, the list also reflects Bear's own perspective--that of a popular writer, futurist, and commentator on society who lives in the Pacific Northwestern United States. (Bear himself has stated he does not believe in any contemporary religion, but is fascinated by the subject.)
  • Zarathustra (Zoroaster)
  • Jesus
  • Mohammed
  • Shabbetai Tzevi
  • Al Mahdi
  • Joseph Smith
  • Brigham Young

Other lists shown above were compiled from a secular/historical (and Western) perspective. Lists prepared by writers with a different background, or written from a different perspective, would probably be different. A Hindu or Indian writer might include Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Gandhi, etc.

Major Baha'i Prophets

The Baha'i Faith lists the following figures as major Prophets, or Manifestations of God:
  • Krishna
  • Zoroaster
  • Abraham
  • Moses
  • Buddha
  • Jesus
  • Muhammad
  • the Bab
  • Baha'u'llah

Compton's Encyclopedia Religion Biographies

Compton's Encyclopedia lists the following entries in their "Religion Biographies section" (; viewed 18 May 2000; copyright 1998):

Agnes of Assisi
Agnes of Montepulciano
Agnes of Poitiers
Aidan of Lindisfarne
Akiba Ben Joseph
Allen, Richard
Anselm of Canterbury
Aquinas, Thomas
Arminius, Jacobus
Arrupe, Pedro
Augustine of Canterbury
Augustine of Hippo
Ba'al Shem Tov
Baeck, Leo
Barth, Karl
Bartholomew I
Becket, Thomas
Bede the Venerable
Beecher Family
Bellarmine, Saint Robert
Benedict Biscop
Benedict of Aniane
Benedict of Nursia
Benedict the Black
Benjamin, Saint
Bernard of Clairvaux
Boesak, Allan
Boniface VIII
Brennan, Francis Joseph, Cardinal
Brewster, William
Buber, Martin
Cabrini, Mother
Cajetan of Thiene
Calvin, John
Carroll, John (1735-1815)
Christina the Astonishing
Clements, George
Cranmer, Thomas
Dalai Lama
Eddy, Mary Baker
Edwards, Jonathan
England, John
Farrakhan, Louis
Finkelstein, Louis
Fox, George
Francis of Assisi
Ghazali, Al-
Graham, Billy
Gregory, Popes
Harris, Barbara Clementine
Hus, Jan
Hutchinson, Anne
Innocent III, Pope
Jesus Christ
Joan of Arc
John Paul, Popes
Judson, Adoniram
Julius II
Kimball, Spencer
Knox, John
Kobo Daishi, or Kukai
Latimer, Hugh
Lefebvre, Marcel
Leo, Popes
Loyola, Ignatius of
Luther, Martin
Mather Family
Meyendorff, John
Moody, Dwight L.
Mott, John R.
Muhlenberg Family
Newman, John Henry
Nirmala, Sister
Ockham, William of
Pascal, Blaise
Paul (Ad 10?-67?)
Paul VI
Pedersen, Christiern
Pius, Popes
Ricci, Matteo
Russell, Charles Taze
Sa`adia Ben Joseph
Savonarola, Girolamo
Schweitzer, Albert
Seton, Mother
Smith, Joseph (1805-44)
Ssderblom, Nathan
Swedenborg, Emanuel
Tanenbaum, Marc
Teresa, Mother
Tillich, Paul
Tomasek, Frantisek
Urban, Popes
Weber, Max (1864-1920)
Wesley, John
Whitefield, George
Wycliffe, John
Xavier, Francis
Ximenes, or Jim*nez, De Cisneros, Francisco
Young, Brigham
Zwingli, Huldrych

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:] It's clear from this poll that many individuals voted for the contemporary major religious leader who represents their own faith (Protestants voted for Billy Graham, Catholis voted for Pope John Paul II, Latter-day Saints voted for Gorden B. Hinckley).

Other people voted for an ideological leader important to them (Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi or Ronald Reagan). Jews and Israelis voted for Yitzhak Rabin. People who value pop culture put Elvis Presley at the top. Adolf Hitler's third place ranking is probably a result of people trying to make an accurate historical assessment of who had the most impact. They certainly don't endorse his actions, but recognize his importance.

Elvis Presley624,574
Yitzhak Rabin599,557
Adolf Hitler516,408
Billy Graham470,477
Albert Einstein443,630
Martin Luther King Jr.381,462
Pope John Paul II372,015
Gordon B. Hinckley*255,026
Mohandas Gandhi163,940
Ronald Reagan81,262
*Hinckley is president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Source: Time Web site

Famous Contemporary Religious Leaders

(Some leaders listed below are simply among the most visible representatives of certain groups, not necessarily titular heads or official representatives, e.g. Billy Graham.)

Special "Millennium Month" Christmas Eve and New Years Eve Guests
On the Larry King Show (CNN), December 1999

  • Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa
  • Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism
  • Rev. Billy Graham, world-famous evangelist
  • Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Rev. Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral and the television program "Hour of Power"

GO Network's "Famous Religious Leaders and Figures"

Leaders listed on the GO Network web portal's Religious Leaders and Figures directory page (as of 21 March 2000; URL:
  • Dalai Lama
  • Louis Farrakhan
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Mary Baker Eddy *
  • Billy Graham
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Mother Teresa *
* Deceased

Some Major American Protestant Leaders (Bynum)

As listed by Pastor E. L. Bynum, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas.

  • Benny Hinn
  • Bill Hybels
  • Bill McCartney
  • Billy Graham
  • Jack Van Impe
  • Jerry Falwell
  • John MacArthur
  • Robert Schuller

Some Major Christian Leaders and Writers (MisterPoll)

List of individuals from the "Christianity Poll," done by Mister Poll (
  • Billy Graham
  • Bishop Desmund Tutu
  • Pat Robertson
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Max Lucado
  • C.S. Lewis
  • T.D. Jakes
  • Benny Hinn
  • Charles Swindoll
  • James Dobson



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Web page created 28 September 1999. Updated 12 November 2005.