Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Which is the most global religion in the world?

Assuming you accept that religions are monoliths (which is a less-than-intelligent assumption), then the statistics in the report released on Dec 18 (last week) by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life are worth reading.

Titled "The Global Religious Landscape", the demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories is based on information available as of early 2012 for the period to the end of 2010.

The report finds that the overwhelming majority of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion have a clear religious affiliation (that is, 84%, or 5.8 billion people), and that the "religiously unaffiliated"(1.1 billion, or 16%) form the third-largest group but that many even of these hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit). The report does not actually quantify the number of atheists, presumably because the number is so tiny. Sadly, the Report does not include an Index, so I could not double-check.

The largest group is Christians - 2.2 billion (32% of the world’s population), followed by Muslims - 1.6 billion (23%), Hindus - 1 billion (15%), Buddhists - nearly 500 million (7%) and Jews - 14 million (0.2%). More than 400 million people (6%) practice various folk or traditional religions, including African, Chinese, Native American and Australian aboriginal or traditional religions. Slightly less than 1% of the global population - 58 million people – belong to "other religions" (Baha’i, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism, et. al.)

Beyond the raw facts (which are not that surprising or even interesting), the report also provides more interesting information, such as the geographic distribution of religious groups.

The Asia-Pacific region has the vast majority of Hindus (99%), Buddhists (99%), adherents of folk or traditional religions (90%), members of other world religions (89%), and three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%, most of whom are in China).

Most Muslims (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region (only 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, and nearly 16% reside in sub-Saharan Africa).

Worldwide, surprisingly, Christians are the most evenly dispersed: 26% live in Europe, 24% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 24% in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fewer Jews (41%) live in the whole of the Middle East and North Africa – including Israel! - than live in North America (44%).

The charts show also Religious Composition by Country, and which religions are majorities or minorities in which countries.

So guess which is the least global of the eight "major world religions" surveyed by the report? As we stigmatised, till less than a century ago, anyone who left the shores of India, it is not at all surprising that we Hindus are the least global: 94 percent of us live in one country, India.

However, as all of us know, there are as many Hinduisms as there are Hindus, and the variety of Christians and Muslims (for example) may not be quite as large, but is large enough to boggle the mind. And who is a true Muslim, Christian or Hindu, probably only God knows - to whom it doesn't matter much anyway: as far as can be made out, what matters much more to Him is whether we genuinely seek after Him and live in ways that reflect His love.

At least, that is what this Hindu makes of the coming of the Christ child.

Whether or not we follow the rituals of any religion, that urging to seek the love of God, and live out the love of God, may be worth being considered by all of us, given the dark state of the world today. Sphere: Related Content


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