"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom." - Albert Einstein
It is extremely difficult to define religion, as it is a composite of the narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices that shape the lives and lifestyles of individuals belonging to that religion. Generally, every religion is based on the concept of an ultimate truth, a supreme power, which is believed to guide the course of one's life. Religion is expressed through rituals, traditions and cultural values and also through convictions that serve as the guiding principles of one's life. A religion influences the patterns of thinking and behavior of its practitioners.
Religion has played an important role in world history. It has always served as a source of inspiration for the creation of the different cultures found around the world. Religions have been in existence since the prehistoric times. Let us look at the five major religions of the world.
Major Religions of the World
Christianity: Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It began in the eastern Mediterranean region and managed to spread its influence across the globe within a few decades from its creation. The teachings of Jesus Christ are central to this religion. The followers of Christianity, Christians, as they are called, believe that Jesus is the revealer of God as also His incarnation.
Most of them also believe in the return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. Bible, the sacred book of Christianity, is composed of two parts, the Old Testament that describes life before the birth of Jesus and the New Testament describing the life and teachings of Jesus. There are around 2 billion followers of Christianity around the world.
Buddhism: Buddhism is a system of beliefs based on the teachings of Buddha. It is categorized as Theravada, which boasts of a large following in Southeast Asia and Mahayana that predominates East Asia. Gautama Buddha was born in southern Nepal. He spent his lifetime in the north-eastern region of the Indian subcontinent, preaching people about the philosophies of life. His teachings preached the way out of sufferings of Samsara. Buddha is believed to have died in 400 BCE. An estimated 300-400 million people in Asia as well as in many other parts of the world, practice Buddhism.
Islam: Islam, meaning 'surrender to God', is an Abrahamic religion that originated from the teachings of Islamic prophet Muhammad. Prophet Muhammad was an Arab, born in Mecca, who believed that he had been sent to Earth by Allah as his apostle. The sacred book of Islam is called Quran, which is believed to have been revealed to Muhammad through Angel Gabriel. The followers of Islam are known as Muslims. They are expected to follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which represent the five duties in the life of a Muslim. There are about 1 to 1.3 billion Muslims, mostly in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia, making Islam, the second largest religion.
Hinduism: The Hindu religion is referred to as 'Sanatana Dharma', meaning 'the eternal law'. It is often described as the oldest living tradition. Hindu beliefs vary widely across different regions of the world. The teachings of Hinduism are found compiled in scriptures such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Philosophy, theology and mythology form the important constituents of the scriptures of Hinduism. A discussion on Hinduism is incomplete without the mention of Bhagavad Gita, a part of Mahabharata that comprises the teachings of Lord Krishna. It summarizes the principles stated in the Vedas. Hinduism prevails in the Indian subcontinent and some parts of South Asia. It is practiced by about 828 million Hindus, making it the third largest religion.
Judaism: Judaism is a set of beliefs that have originated from the Hebrew Bible. Judaism establishes a relationship between Israelites, the Children of Israel and God. The western concepts of ethics and civic law are largely similar to the principles of Judaism. Judaism has also influenced Christianity and Islam. Those adhering to Judaism are called Jews.
They believe in the existence of God, who created the universe and continues to rule it. Judaism says that death is not the end of the world and that a new world is yet to come into existence. Torah, the five books of the Hebrew Bible form the most important constituent of the scriptures of Judaism. Today, there are about 13 million Jews across the globe with a large number of them, inhabiting Israel. Many people consider Judaism to be the oldest religion in the world.
This was an overview of the five major religions of the world. However, there is one religion that binds the human race together and that is humanity.