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Having gathered data on the world's religions and their adherents, we now need a handy way to present and interpret it. This module shows you how.

While we bear in mind the conceptual and practical difficulties in gathering data on religions, let us now take a look at the global and local estimates of the number of people who self–identify with the major religious traditions of the world. These religions account for 98 per cent of the world's population and was gathered by www.adherents.com from 34 000 statistical citations. The statistics for South Africa come from the 1999 census.

The first pie chart shows the percentage of the global population who belong to the major religions of the world. It also gives us a good idea of the percentage of people who regard themselves as non-religious.

The next figure shows the number of adherents of the major religious traditions of the world in a bar–chart. The information is thus the same as in the previous chart, but this time in number of people instead of percentage of the world population.

These charts show that Christianity is the major religion of the world with more than 2 billion adherents, or 33 per cent of the world population, identifying with it. This religion is however divided into a number of branches as set out below.

A bar–chart of the worl'd religious traditions that splits up the branches of Christianity will look as follows:

Amazing! "No religion" has suddenly become the single largest group! But wasn't Christianity the "winner" here? This shows that the way we conceptualise the question, the way we frame the question, determines the answer before we even start to gather data.

Yet another way to present data is to impose it on a map:

Distribution of Christians worldwide. © Wikimedia/TheGreenEditor CC BY-SA 3.0, 2014

The second largest religion of the world is Islam with 225 of the world population or 130 million adherents. The major branches of Islam are the Sunni and the Shi'ite. The table below shows the estimated numbers of followers.

  • Sunni - 940 000 000
  • Shi'ite - 120 000 000

The third largest religion in the world is Hinduism and the table below shows the main branches in this tradition.

  • Vaishnavites - 580 000 000
  • Shaivites - 220 000 000
  • Neo–and Reform Hindus - 22 000 000

However, just because Christians make up 33% of the world's population does not mean that the same is true on a smaller scale. In your country, in your state or province, in your city or town, things could look very different. Let us take my country as an example. In South Africa (according to one source – the 1999 statistics) the main religious groups are:

  • 54 % of South Africans are Christian,
  • 12.9 % have no religion
  • 21.6 % did not answer the question
  • 11.4 % belong to faiths such as Islam, Hinduism and Judaism

Another way of looking at the religious affiliation in South Africa is by looking at the larger religious groupings

Does this mean that we now have the exact breakdown of religion in this particular country? No, these numbers still need to be approached with caution. Those 21.6% who did not answer the question are of particular concern. Are they actually non-religious, like the 12.9% who said they were that? Do they belong to obscure religions that were not on the list? Or was it something more subtle? The census was run on a household basis, not on the basis of one census form per individual. If there are people practicing two or three religions in your household, which one do you put down as your household's religion? (I generally put down my wife's tradition - I know who the spiritual one in the family is).

Religious people like to trot out statistics. We all like to boast that our religion is "the largest" or "the most widespread" or "the fastest growing" religion in town. But I trust that this discussion has taught you to look beyond the bragging rights and enabled you to ask the hard questions. Who was counted? Who was not counted? Who was counted twice?

Questions & Answers

where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
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Source:  OpenStax, Learning about religion. OpenStax CNX. Apr 18, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11780/1.1
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