Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.
The demographic study – based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers – finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. In addition, more than 400 million people (6%) practice various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million people – slightly less than 1% of the global population – belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.1
At the same time, the new study by the Pew Forum also finds that roughly one-in-six people around the globe (1.1 billion, or 16%) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith. (See Religiously Unaffiliated.)
The geographic distribution of religious groups varies considerably. Several religious groups are heavily concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, including the vast majority of Hindus (99%), Buddhists (99%), adherents of folk or traditional religions (90%) and members of other world religions (89%).
Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) also live in the massive and populous Asia- Pacific region. Indeed, the number of religiously unaffiliated people in China alone (about 700 million) is more than twice the total population of the United States.
The Asia-Pacific region also is home to most of the world’s Muslims (62%). About 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, and nearly 16% reside in sub-Saharan Africa.
Of the major religious groups covered in this study, Christians are the most evenly dispersed. Roughly equal numbers of Christians live in Europe (26%), Latin America and the Caribbean (24%) and sub-Saharan Africa (24%).
A plurality of Jews (44%) live in North America, while about four-in-ten (41%) live in the Middle East and North Africa – almost all of them in Israel.
Living as Majorities and Minorities
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the world’s people live in countries in which their religious group makes up a majority of the population. Only about a quarter (27%) of all people live as religious minorities. (This figure does not include subgroups of the eight major groups in this study, such as Shia Muslims living in Sunni-majority countries or Catholics living in Protestant-majority countries.)
Overwhelmingly, Hindus and Christians tend to live in countries where they are in the majority. Fully 97% of all Hindus live in the world’s three Hindu-majority countries (India, Mauritius and Nepal), and nearly nine-in-ten Christians (87%) are found in the world’s 157 Christian-majority countries. (To see the religious composition of each country, see Religious Composition by Country table.)
Though by smaller margins, most Muslims (73%) and religiously unaffiliated people (71%) also live in countries in which they are the predominant religious group. Muslims are a majority in 49 countries, including 19 of the 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The religiously unaffiliated make up a majority of the population in six countries, of which China is by far the largest. (The others are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan and North Korea.)
Most members of the other major religious groups live in countries in which they are in the minority. Seven-in-ten Buddhists (72%), for example, live as religious minorities. Just three-in-ten (28%) live in the seven countries where Buddhists are in the majority: Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Israel is the only country with a Jewish majority. There are no countries where members of other religions (such as Baha’is, Jains, Shintoists, Sikhs, Taoists, followers of Tenrikyo, Wiccans and Zoroastrians) make up a majority of the population. There are also no countries where people who identify with folk or traditional religions clearly form a majority.2
Young and Old
Some religions have much younger populations, on average, than others. In part, the age differences reflect the geographic distribution of religious groups. Those with a large share of adherents in fast-growing, developing countries tend to have younger populations. Those concentrated in China and in advanced industrial countries, where population growth is slower, tend to be older.
The median age of two major groups – Muslims (23 years) and Hindus (26) – is younger than the median age of the world’s overall population (28).3 All the other groups are older than the global median. Christians have a median age of 30, followed by members of other religions (32), adherents of folk or traditional religions (33), the religiously unaffiliated (34) and Buddhists (34). Jews have the highest median age (36), more than a dozen years older than the youngest group, Muslims.
About the Study
These are among the key findings of a new study of the global religious landscape conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
The demographic study explores the size, geographic distribution and median age of eight major religious groups – including the unaffiliated – that together represent 100% of the estimated 2010 global population. The study is based on a country-by-country analysis of data from more than 2,500 national censuses, large-scale surveys and official population registers that were collected, evaluated and standardized by the Pew Forum’s demographers and other research staff.4 Many countries have recently conducted a national census or are in the midst of doing so. Therefore, new data are likely to emerge over the next few years. However, a datacollection cut-off had to be made at some point; this report is based on information available as of early 2012.5
For estimates of the religious composition of individual countries, see Religious Composition by Country table. For details on the methodology used to produce estimates of religious populations in 232 countries and territories, see Appendix A. For a list of data sources by country, see Appendix B.
To see each country’s and territory’s population broken down by number and percentage into the eight major religious groups in the study, see the sortable tables at http://features.pewforum.org/grl/population-number.php.
There are some minor differences between the estimates presented in this study and previous Pew Forum estimates of Christian and Muslim populations around the world. These differences reflect the availability of new data sources, such as recently released censuses in a few countries, and the use of population growth projections to update estimates in countries with older primary sources. (For more details, see the Methodology.)
Defining the Religious Groups
This study is based on self-identification. It seeks to estimate the number of people around the world who view themselves as belonging to various religious groups. It does not attempt to measure the degree to which members of these groups actively practice their faiths or how religious they are.
In order to obtain statistics that are comparable across countries, the study attempts to count groups and individuals who self-identify as members of five widely recognized world religions – Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews – as well as people associated with three other religious categories that may be less familiar:
Folk or Traditional Religions
Folk religions are closely tied to a particular people, ethnicity or tribe. In some cases, elements of other world religions are blended with local beliefs and customs. These faiths often have no formal creeds or sacred texts. Examples of folk religions include African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions.
The Religiously Unaffiliated
The religiously unaffiliated population includes atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion in surveys. However, many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs. For example, various surveys have found that belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30% of unaffiliated French adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults.6
The “other religions” category is diverse and comprises groups not classified elsewhere. This category includes followers of religions that often are not measured separately in censuses and surveys: the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many other religions. Because of the lack of data on these faiths in many countries, the Pew Forum has not attempted to estimate the size of individual religions within this category, though some rough estimates are available from other sources. (See Spotlight on Other Religions.)
Roadmap to the Report
These and other findings are discussed in more detail in the remainder of this report, which is divided into eight sections – one for each of the major religious groupings, in order of size:
- Religiously Unaffiliated
- Folk Religionists
- Other Religions
To discuss the geographic distribution of religious groups, this report divides the world into six major regions: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and sub-Saharan Africa. For a list of countries in each region, see the Methodology.
1 Although some faiths in the “other religions” category have millions of adherents around the world, censuses and surveys in many countries do not measure them specifically. Estimates of the global size of these faiths generally come from other sources, such as the religious groups themselves. By far the largest of these groups are Sikhs, who number about 25 million, according to the World Religion Database. For more information, see Spotlight on Other Religions. (return to text)
3 The median in a population is the midpoint when the entire population is ordered by some characteristic, such as age or income. If everyone alive in 2010 lined up from youngest to oldest, the person in the middle (the median) would be 28 years old. (return to text)
4 A population register is a list of all permanent residents of a country. See the United Nations Statistics Division’s description of population registers (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sources/popreg/popregmethods.htm). (return to text)
5 For instance, in December 2012, just before the release of this report, new religion data were released from the 2011 Census of England and Wales. The new data suggest a slightly different religious landscape than the estimate made by this study for the broader United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), which is based primarily on the 2010 Annual Population Survey carried out by the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics.(return to text)
6 For more information on the beliefs and practices of religiously unaffiliated adults in the United States, see the Pew Forum’s October 2012 report “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” The Pew Forum’s U.S. surveys typically ask about belief in “God or a universal spirit.” French results are based on a Pew Forum analysis of 2008 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) data. The ISSP survey asks about belief in God or a “higher power of some kind.” Chinese results are based on a Pew Forum analysis of the 2007 Spiritual Life Study of Chinese Residents, conducted by the Chinese polling firm Horizon. In China, the belief in God statistic measures belief in God, gods, spirits, ghosts or Buddha. (return to text)
3Firstly, the notion of “religious landscape” includes the ritual and cultural practices in the sphere of religion.How does religion influence landscape? ›
Religion leaves an imprint on landscape, through culture and lifestyle. Religious structures - such as places of worship, and other sacred sites - dominate many landscapes. Religious traditions - Hindu ritual bathing in the Ganges, for example - leave their mark on the physical appearance of an area.What is the religious landscape of the United States? ›
Roughly 48.9% of Americans are Protestants, 23.0% are Catholics, 1.8% are Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Christianity was introduced during the period of European colonization. The United States has the world's largest Christian population.What are the 4 types of cultural landscapes? ›
The NPS identifies four cultural landscape types: historic designed, historic vernacular, historic agricultural, and ethnographic.What are the three main types of religious structures? ›
The major types of religious organization are the church, sect, and cult.
Landforms might include physical features like mountains or oceans. If you live in the mountains, you're likely to develop a particular culture that adapts to life at a high altitude. For example, you might wear heavier clothing and tend to be physically stronger as a result of climbing often.How does religion impact society? ›
Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment. Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.How does religion spread around the world? ›
Religions spread over time through a process called diffusion. The map shown above indicates where the identified religions are most prominent. There are two methods of diffusion: expansion and relocation. In expansion diffusion, beliefs of a religion transmit by direct contact between believers and nonbelievers.What is the fastest growing religion in the world? ›
- 1.1 Buddhism.
- 1.2 Chinese traditional religion.
- 1.3 Christianity.
- 1.4 Deism.
- 1.5 Druze.
- 1.6 Hinduism.
- 1.7 Islam. 1.7.1 Modern growth. ...
- 1.8 Judaism.
Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs. There are an estimated 10,000 distinct religions worldwide. About 84% of the world's population is affiliated with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or some form of folk religion.
The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong.Who is the No 1 religion in the world? ›
Of the world's major religions, Christianity is the largest, with more than two billion followers. Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and is approximately 2,000 years old.What is the #1 religion in the world? ›
Christianity. The world's largest religion, Christianity, is practiced by about 2.4 billion people. The country with the highest number of practicing Christians is the United States, with a Christian population of 253 million. Brazil and Mexico follow closely with 185 million and 118 million Christians, respectively.What are the 7 landscapes? ›
coastal landscapes • riverine landscapes • arid landscapes • mountain landscapes • karst landscapes. levee, and a flood plain or terrace.What are the 3 main components of a cultural landscape? ›
Cultural landscapes include tangible and intangible characteristics, including: Natural systems and features. Spatial organization. Land use.Why cultural landscape is important? ›
The Cultural Landscape Foundation: "Cultural landscapes provide a sense of place and identity; they map our relationship with the land over time; and they are part of our national heritage and each of our lives."What are the 3 things that are related to world religion? ›
The world's religions are similar in many ways; scholar Stephen Prothero refers to these similarities as “family resemblances.” All religions include rituals, scriptures, and sacred days and gathering places.What are the four types of religious systems? ›
The most common classification of religion in sociology differentiates between four major types of religions: theism, animism, totemism, and the New Age.What are the 4 components of religion? ›
Describe the four dimensions of religion: Belief, ritual, experience, and community.
In general, geographers divide the ways in which people value landforms and landscapes into four categories: • cultural value • spiritual value • aesthetic value • economic value. The aesthetic value of a landscape is closely linked to its beauty and uniqueness.
- Mountain landscapes. We can see mountains, with narrow rivers, forests, villages and steep roads.
- Flat landscapes. We can see flat land, wide rivers, farms, cities and motorways.
- Coastal landscapes. We can see cliffs, the sea and tourist towns.
The first four, past landscape experience, travel, present living environment and recreational activities, would all seem to provide support for the influence of familiarity on landscape preferences.What is religion's role in society today? ›
Religion serves several functions for society. These include (a) giving meaning and purpose to life, (b) reinforcing social unity and stability, (c) serving as an agent of social control of behavior, (d) promoting physical and psychological well-being, and (e) motivating people to work for positive social change.What are the challenges of religion today? ›
Religion and mental health
- Guilt and shame.
- Substance abuse.
- Low self-esteem.
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
 More specifically, religions maintain the Golden Rule: “what you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others.” Therefore, through such religious values, globalization engenders greater religious tolerance in such areas as politics, economics, and society.Why do religions become global? ›
Why religions became global. So what they're saying is that religion provided structure and meaning for large groups of people in ways that small, tight-knit village communities used to do. Religion, especially faiths that were shared by large groups of people, actually provided stability in cities.Is religion growing in the world? ›
With the exception of Buddhists, all of the world's major religious groups are poised for at least some growth in absolute numbers in the coming decades. The global Buddhist population is expected to be fairly stable because of low fertility rates and aging populations in countries such as China, Thailand and Japan.Where does the world religion come from? ›
The world religions paradigm was developed in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, where it was pioneered by phenomenological scholars like Ninian Smart. It was designed to broaden the study of religion away from its heavy focus on Christianity by taking into account other large religious traditions around the world.Are Christians decreasing? ›
America's Christian majority is shrinking, and could dip below 50% by 2070 The U.S.'s Christian majority has been shrinking for decades. A Pew Research Center study shows that as of 2020, about 64% of Americans identify as Christian. Fifty years ago, that number was 90%.What is America's fastest growing religion? ›
Islam: The world's fastest growing religion.
We obey laws made and enforced by governments, not by God. Secularism is on the rise, with science providing tools to understand and shape the world. Given all that, there's a growing consensus that the future of religion is that it has no future.Which religion founded first? ›
Hinduism is the oldest religion followed by Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism and Confucianism.What is the purpose of religion? ›
Religion serves several functions for society. These include (a) giving meaning and purpose to life, (b) reinforcing social unity and stability, (c) serving as an agent of social control of behavior, (d) promoting physical and psychological well-being, and (e) motivating people to work for positive social change.What are the 7 main religions of the world? ›
Christianity has been estimated to be growing rapidly in South America, Africa, and Asia. In Africa, for instance, in 1900, there were only 8.7 million adherents of Christianity; now there are 390 million, and it is expected that by 2025 there will be 600 million Christians in Africa.Will there ever be no religion? ›
For all of these reasons – psychological, neurological, historical, cultural and logistical – experts guess that religion will probably never go away. Religion, whether it's maintained through fear or love, is highly successful at perpetuating itself. If not, it would no longer be with us.Why Christians are decreasing? ›
More recent study published in 2022 by Pew Research Center, have found a retention rate among American Christians closer to 67%, and cited that the decline of Christianity is primarily due to people leaving Christianity and choosing to have no religious affiliation (rather than due to people converting to other ...Which is the oldest religion? ›
The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.What is true religion according to the Bible? ›
In short, James tells us that true religion is a devotion to God, demonstrated by love and compassion for fellowmen, coupled with unworldliness. Such a statement seems too simple to be sufficient, but in its simplicity it speaks an important truth.Which country is best in religion? ›
- Netherlands. #1 in Religious freedom. #12 in Best Countries Overall. ...
- Canada. #2 in Religious freedom. ...
- United Kingdom. #3 in Religious freedom. ...
- Australia. #4 in Religious freedom. ...
- Norway. #5 in Religious freedom. ...
- Sweden. #6 in Religious freedom. ...
- Denmark. #7 in Religious freedom. ...
- United States. #8 in Religious freedom.
2 The literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods,” according to Merriam-Webster. And the vast majority of U.S. atheists fit this description: 81% say they do not believe in God or a higher power or in a spiritual force of any kind.Which is older Islam or Christianity? ›
Christianity developed out of Second Temple Judaism in the 1st century CE. It is founded on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and those who follow it are called Christians. Islam developed in the 7th century CE.Who is the father of religion? ›
God is the father of humanity and the father of each religion.What religions dont believe in God? ›
An atheist doesn't believe in the existence of a god or divine being. The word atheist originates with the Greek atheos, which is built from the roots a- (“without”) and theos (“a god”). Atheism is the doctrine or belief that there is no god.What is the meaning of religious geography? ›
Another aspect of the relationship between religion and geography is religious geography, in which geographical ideas are influenced by religion, such as early map-making, and the biblical geography that developed in the 16th century to identify places from the Bible.What defines cultural landscape? ›
The National Park Service defines a cultural landscape as a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values.What is the meaning of religious nature? ›
: a religion validated on the basis of human reason and experience apart from miraculous or supernatural revelation. specifically : a religion that is universally discernible by all men through the use of human reason apart from any special revelation compare revealed religion.What is the landscape expression of Christianity? ›
Churches are the dominant landscape expression of Christianity. Churches play a critical role in the landscape expression of Christianity because they are commonly considered holy ground, because they are built to express religious principals, and because community worship is extremely important for most Christians.What is the importance of religion in geography? ›
Religion, like any other cultural practice, can readily be assessed from a geographic lens. Geographers study the spatial distribution of organized religious systems, specific religious practices, and the impact of religion on the landscapes of culture and institutions.What type of geography is religion? ›
Religion is also studied within cultural geography, which studies how cultural processes spread.
Geography does not only affect where particular religions or belief systems, such as the world's major faiths, are located but it can affect how specific beliefs are practiced and behaviors that it encourages.What are 3 examples of cultural landscape? ›
Cultural landscapes include neighborhoods, parks and open spaces, farms and ranches, sacred places, etc.What is religious in simple words? ›
In the simplest sense, religion describes "the relationship of human beings to what they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual or divine". 2. It is usually accompanied by a set of organised practices which foster a community of people who share that faith.What is the nature and functions of religion? ›
Religion ideally serves several functions. It gives meaning and purpose to life, reinforces social unity and stability, serves as an agent of social control, promotes psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive social change.What is the nature of religious experience? ›
Religious experiences can be characterized generally as experiences that seem to the person having them to be of some objective reality and to have some religious import. That reality can be an individual, a state of affairs, a fact, or even an absence, depending on the religious tradition the experience is a part of.What are spiritual landscapes? ›
Dewsbury and Cloke (2009) refer to “spiritual landscapes”, which, for the authors, means moving beyond religion to “open out spaces that can be inhabited, or dwelt in different registers” (696), echoing Foley's (2010) reference to the interplay of meanings for particular sites.What are the 4 points of Christianity? ›
- God loves me!
- I have sinned.
- Jesus died for me.
- I need to decide to live for God.