Timeline of World Religions, Beta

UPDATE 2: And here’s the finalized version.

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UPDATE: Reflecting on comments, I’ve amended the timeline below, and discussed further in the comments.

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ORIGINAL POST: The following is a draft that I’m working on. I’d welcome comments that can be further incorporated into the graphic.


timeline of world religion thumb

Click the graphic for the expanded map.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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65 Responses to Timeline of World Religions, Beta

  1. M-Bone says:

    “I guess I am assuming that to qualify as an -ism, it has to have a coherent set of canon.”

    Shinto isn’t even an “ism” in Japanese.

    “A little generous on Shintoism. Japan did not have a writing system until much later so it’s hard to say that Shintoism started that far back.”

    One word – archaeology.
    For Judiasm, for example, we are pretty certain that everything we have of the bible was written after the 8th century BC. We aren’t even sure what kinds of Hebrew laws would have existed in actual old school biblical times – before 1000 BC or so.

    Anyway, much of what is in religious discourse is a bunch of baloney anyway so should it really make a big difference if that baloney is legitimized in a written canon or not? Can we really make judgements like “Oh, your totally irrational exclusive, racisit, homophobic mytho-nationalism is written down, so its in!”

  2. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    Oh M-Bone… Your last paragraph!!! Surely one of many nice things about this effort is that it is attempting to be non-judgmental about what is in these different religious traditions. Rather it is reporting what millions of adherents profess…. We do need a taxonomy to decide what qualifies as a religion, and a reasonable reproducible canon, even if not written down, seems a sensible place to start.. Only once we’ve drawn some boundaries can we begin to debate (politely I hope), exactly what qualifies as belief, myth, etc., and what distinguishes, or unites, them.

  3. sniv says:

    Interesting. Thsnks. What are the chances of posting a hi-res version? 46 kbytes hardly does your effort justice, or did I miss soemthing? Also, it seems that pre-historic findings in anthropology might provide good additional prespective. Maybe that’s outside your intent… Thanks again.

  4. M-Bone says:

    No individual religion named in that last paragraph. Plus the words “much of what is in religious discourse”.

    “attempting to be non-judgmental about what is in these different religious traditions”

    Some comments are very judgemental – clearly dismissing things like early Shinto and similar traditions behind a taxonomy that favors…. what exactly?

  5. Roy Berman says:

    “Shinto isn’t even an “ism” in Japanese.”
    Not etymologically, but “way of xxx” is more or less the old fashioned way of saying something similar. After all, “ism” is a neologism in Japanese, translated in the 19th century from “ism” in European languages. On the other hand, Confucianism and Buddhism are 教 (teaching) not 道(way of). And then there’s 道教…

  6. M-Bone says:

    Buddhisim has some 道s in it, however, like 修験道 (okay, that’s a bit 神道 too). There is something wonderfuly pluralist about the 道 concept, of course starting with 道教. If I was flippant earlier, it is because I don’t like the idea of seeing dogma as a sort of “qualification” and the pluralism of the 道 religions as a weakness. Let’s face it, attempts to codify Shinto were shit.

  7. kurt9 says:

    What kind of religions do you think we will have a thousand years from now? Is it not likely that there will be many new religions by then?

  8. Isn’t Shikism an offshoot of both Hinduism and Islam? As far a I remember it combines elements of both religions and tried to merge them in some sort of fusion-religion.

    Furthermore an comprehensive canon. Also the comments bring much insight. Such as Curzon’s: Greek pagan religion survives thanks to Alexander in tiny corners of Central Asia…. does it still survive or was it also wiped out in the 6th century?

  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_Orthodox_Church_of_Alexandria

    The Coptic Orthodox Church broke away at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.

    This was the church of the majority of Egyptians, and is still the church of the majority of Egyptian Christians.

    I think it is a big enough community to merit inclusion on the chart.

  10. Dan Nexon says:

    A nice effort, but this doesn’t really work. Too many issues of exclusion/inclusion, problems from the tendency of contemporaries to clump various “pagan” and “polytheistic” faiths together, and issues of relationship (Orthodoxy as offshoot of Holy Catholic Church? Very Rome-centric). Lots of missing (and significant) strands of Christianity, some of Islam, etc. And that’s before we get into the issues of creating these unbroken “lines” for religions like Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism etc. etc.

    Still, a very nice effort.

  11. Dan Nexon says:

    Also, if you want to trace back to periods when contemporary “forms” of a religion would be barely recognizable to their current adherents, than Taosim is *much* older than the emergence of the Tao Te Ching.

  12. Roy Berman says:

    Re: The Coptic Church,

    “Since the 1980s theologians from the Oriental (Non-Chalcedonian) Orthodox and Eastern (Chalcedonian) Orthodox churches have been meeting in a bid to resolve theological differences, and have concluded that many of the differences are caused by the two groups using different terminology to describe the same thing”

    While the Coptic and Eastern Church are indisputably different religious organizations, if they themselves consider their theological differences to be so minor, I’m not sure they necessarily qualify as different religions. On the other hand, the fact that they kept the Ancient Egyptian language alive all those centuries in the form of their liturgical Coptic language, provides a rather significant differentiating factor.

  13. Roy, no. The Copts broke away on doctrinal grounds.

    At this point, we see a lot of talk among the “Oriental” churches and the Orthodox and even with the Catholics, about uniting in some way.

    It has more to do with avoiding extinction at the hands of their Muslim neighbors.

    This dynamic has happened in the past. There are numerous non-Western “rites” within the Catholic Church that on their face are indistinguishable from Orthodoxy, for example. I have been to Byzantine Rite Catholic services, and it is entirely Eastern in appearance.

    But the Coptic Church is important because for over a thousand years it preserved Christianity in one of its original heartlands, Egypt.

  14. Blah. Thank god I’m an atheist. ;) That said, nicely done chart! :D

  15. Eric says:

    Why does the Mayan/Olmec religion stop at 0? Shouldn’t that continue until the 1500s?