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Buddhism was founded by an Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama around the year 500 BCE. The young prince is said to have lived an affluent and sheltered life until he encountered illness, aging, poverty and death during a journey. He left home to seek enlightenment through meditation; when he finally found it he became known as the Buddha ("Enlightened One"). The Buddha taught the way to liberation from rebirth is to avoid desire for impermanent things.


With nearly two billion professed adherents worldwide, Christianity is currently the largest religion in the world. It has dominated western culture for centuries and remains the majority religion of Europe and the Americas. Christians believe that Jesus, a Jew from Palestine, was the incarnate Son of God. He was crucified, rose again and ascended into heaven, making it possible for those who believe in him to be saved from sin and have eternal life with God.

Greek Religion

The religions practiced in the Greek city-states were characterized by their rich variety. Different cities worshipped different deities: Athens had Athena; Sparta had Artemis; Corinth was a center for the worship of Aphrodite; Delphi and Delos had Apollo; Olympia had Zeus, and so on down to the smaller cities and towns. Identity of names was not even a guarantee of a similar cultus; the Greeks themselves were well aware that the Artemis worshipped at Sparta, the virgin huntress, was a very different deity from the Artemis who was a many-breasted fertility goddess at Ephesus.


Hindus call their faith sanatama dharma, "eternal religion." Hinduism has no founder or date of origin; the authors and dates of most Hindu sacred texts are unknown. Modern Hinduism is the product of religious development in India that spans nearly 4000 years, making it one of the oldest surviving world religions. Some Hindus are devoted followers of Shiva or Vishnu, some worship a variety of gods, and others seek to realize the divine Self (atman). Most recognize the existence of Brahman, the unifying principle and Supreme Reality behind all that is, and believe in karma and reincarnation.


Islam is a monotheistic religion founded by Muhammad, a camel driver who lived in seventh-century Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a mountain cave and delivered a message from the one true God, Allah. The Prophet dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading this message, which is recorded in the Qur'an, Islam's sacred text. Today, Islam is the second largest religion in the world and growing rapidly. "Islam" means "submission," reflecting the religion's central tenet of submitting to the will of God.


Jainism is an ancient religion that emphasizes non-violence and the ascetic life, founded by Mahavira (599-527 BC), a contemporary of the Buddha. Jains derive their name from the jinas, or spiritual conquerors who have achieved liberation and perfection. Included among these are the 24 spiritual leaders called "ford-makers" or tirthankaras. Jainism incorporates the Indian concepts of karma and reincarnation, but rejects the Veda scriptures, Hindu castes and the idea of a creator god. The goal of life is to reach liberation through purification and discipline as taught by the tirthankaras.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses follow the teachings of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) of Pittsburgh, who rejected the Christian doctrines of hell and the Trinity and predicted the immanent return of Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses consider themselves Christians but denounce mainstream Christianity as false and corrupt. Witnesses do not use the symbol of the cross or celebrate traditional Christian holidays.


Judaism is one of the oldest religions still existing today. It began as the religion of the small nation of the Hebrews but became a profoundly influential religion and culture. Judaism introduced ethical monotheism and the Bible to the western world and strongly influenced the two largest religions in the world, Christianity and Islam. Modern Judaism is a complex phenomenon that incorporates both a nation and a religion, and often combines strict adherence to ritual laws with a more liberal attitude towards religious belief.


The Church of Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, an American science fiction author, in 1954. Today there are about 8 million Scientologists in the world, including several prominent celebrities. Scientology teaches that the purpose of life is to gain spiritual freedom and emotional health by ridding one's mind of 'engrams.'


The word "Sikhism" derives from "Sikh," which means a strong and able disciple. There are about 23 million Sikhs worldwide, making Sikhism the 5th largest religion in the world. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India, primarily in the state of Punjab. Sikhism emerged in 16th-century India in an environment heavily permeated with conflicts between Hinduism and Islam. Sikhism teaches belief in one all-powerful God who makes his will known through ten historical Gurus. The Sikh sacred text, the Adi Granth, is regarded as the eleventh living Guru. Sikhs do not cut their hair and are often identified by their turbans, which keep the long hair clean and neat.


Taoism (also spelled Daoism) is based on the teachings of the Tao Te Ching, a short tract written in the 6th century BC in China. Its emphasis on spiritual harmony within the individual complements Confucianism's focus on social duty. These two great Chinese belief systems were founded at about the same time and continue to exist side-by-side in today's China. There are two main strands and schools within Taoism, usually labeled "philosophical Taoism" (Tao-chia) and "religious Taoism" (Tao-chaio). The former generally focuses on the philosophical writings of Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu and other early mystics while the latter emphasizes religious rituals aimed at attaining immortality.

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