Timeline of World Religions, Beta

UPDATE 2: And here’s the finalized version.

timeline of world religion3 thumb

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

timeline of world religions2 thumb

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:

    Since Shinto does not have anything like a founder, a creed, or sacred book, nor an identifiable leader, it should probably go all the way back (or at least start as an early Shinto bar that links with Shinto later). What eventually became the Shinto of the court / Ise Shinto / State Shinto begins in the first centuries CE but while that has been super influential in a number of periods, it really didn’t have much to do with the religious experience of ordinary Japanese for much of Japanese history.

  2. Roy Berman says:

    You might want to also stick a very thin “neo-paganism” line starting in the mid-20th century or so, parallel to the old world paganism line. I would also certainly add Zoroastrianism, and if you’re doing major sects of major religions, probably also want to add, at the very least, Hassidism for the Jews. I also know very little about Hinduism, but I wonder if perhaps it has major divisions along the line of Buddhism that are worth separating out.

    I sort of agree with M-Bone, but if you’re going to get into the pre-Imperial Shinto then you’re really just talking about a simple animistic tradition comparable to folk religion all over the world that doesn’t really deserve to be mentioned on this chart at all.

  3. Jing says:

    To add to Roy’s list, you forgot to add Manichaeism which in its apex was a major world religion which didn’t really die out until well into the second millenium.

  4. Younghusband says:

    You’ve made a good start Curz. Now, can you tell me which one of them is the right religion? ;)

    Anyways, you might want to include Sufism (661-750 CE) and I agree with Roy that Hinduism is much too simplified. What about the Jains?

  5. Abe no Semei says:

    I would not put Shinto back so far, as most historical research pre-State Shinto indicates that it was a loose collection of practices, differing by region and even family, with little to identify it as a religion or religious practice at all. If you want to put in Shinto that far back, then you may as well include onmyoudou, since its just about as valid, and had roughly the same level of support within the old Imperial Court.

    Daoism also has various branches, at least consider differentiating “alchemical” Daoism from philosophical Daoism.

    And you forgot Wicca and Satanism…

  6. M-Bone says:

    “simple animistic tradition comparable to folk religion all over the world that doesn’t really deserve to be mentioned on this chart at all.”

    But how does that differ from early Hinduism or Greco-Roman paganism before the 5th century BC (especially if you are going to take those back to 2000 BC when those cultures were using the same types of simple “earth mother” icons that we see in Japan)?

  7. s says:

    the ‘sub-schools’ in buddhism, eg tibetan buddhism inside the vajrayana is perhaps comparable to the different reformer christianity in terms of differentiation, scale, and, the role it played in history.

  8. M-Bone says:

    “loose collection of practices, differing by region and even family”

    Yes, just like Judaism, Hinduism, and Greco-Roman paganism pre-1000 BC.

    “with little to identify it as a religion or religious practice at all.”

    In order to make that point, you have to come up with a def. of religion designed to make that point.

  9. I don’t see scientific materialism, or any mention of science on there.

  10. Curzon says:

    ++UPDATED

    Side comments to my updates: the comments on Hinduism aren’t helpful because although there are denominations, the time and details of the offshoots are not clear (to me), but if anyone has a clear source, please provide; Sufism is more of a mysticism of Islam; Shintoism is hard to trace as a firm religion historically, as with many of the ancient religions, hence the fade-in line.

  11. M-Bone says:

    Fade in lines are good – should indicate the meaning when you do up a final version.

  12. Church of Scientology? Really unsure of the numbers though, but could compare in distinction and numbers w/ Tenrikyo (about which I know very little, admittedly). I had thought of the Unification Church, but although it has the numbers it might be a subset of Christianity (of which there would be many). Scientology, on the other hand, is distinctive, and given the spotlight coming from various celebrities, and the fact that many Scientology churches and organizations exist around the world, it might be considered a world religion or has having some global reach.

  13. dj says:

    Move Sikhism down as an offshoot and reformation of Hinduism. I think you may have put it up there for aesthetics, but I think if you put Christianity on top of Judaism and Islam below those two the formatting will fit with your title.

  14. josephfouche says:

    There’s apparently 712 Samaritans left. The Samaritan fade may go into modern times since it represents a continuous religious tradition.

  15. Curzon says:

    The Samaritans were effectively wiped out in the 6th century when they fought for their own state and lost, their religion outlawed, and their numbers reduced from the hundreds of thousands to the thousands. While it may survive, just as the Greek pagan religion survives thanks to Alexander in tiny corners of Central Asia, it was basically wiped out in the 6th century.

  16. Abe no Semei says:

    Zoroastrianism and the Eastern Church of Assyria, Copts…

  17. Abe no Semei says:

    Sufism, btw, it has been theorized as a result of the pre-muslim christian faith that had not come under Roman dominance, such as the anchorites of Egypt, combining with the newly arrived Muslims. If you are interested, I recommend the Sufis by Idries Shah.

  18. M-Bone says:

    Use Mithraism to link Christianity and Old World Paganism!

  19. Roy Berman says:

    “Zoroastrianism and the Eastern Church of Assyria, Copts…”
    I believe the Assyrian and Coptic churches theologically fall under the heading of “Orthodox” even though the actual organizations are separate. I read some news article a while back about Eastern Orthodox and Coptic bishops getting together to have a conference to try and sort of their minor theological differences.

    “But how does that differ from early Hinduism or Greco-Roman paganism before the 5th century BC (especially if you are going to take those back to 2000 BC when those cultures were using the same types of simple “earth mother” icons that we see in Japan)?”
    Certainly the fade-in lines help. I must admit I wasn’t fully conscious of them when I first looked at the chart. As for the difference between “organized religion” or “folk practice”, well that is a very hard line to draw. I think when one looks at the religions of say, ancient Greece or Rome or Germanic territories we tend to vastly oversimplify the amount of diversity over both geography and time because we’re so used to these neat little Edith Hamilton or other books of “Greek Myths” or “Egyptian Myth.” Certainly there is a distinction between religion that was organized by a central state and that practiced in the home, but a religion can be strong and organized without state backing. In my personal bias, having some kind of formalized scripture and doctrine, which can be studied and argued over, is a strong characteristic of organized religion, but I don’t know if this rises to the level of a proper definition.

  20. Roy Berman says:

    I do think “Paganism” deserves to be separated out more. Can we really say that different sects of Christianity are more different than the traditions of Egypt and Scandanavia, or pre-Islamic Arabia?

    There also seems to be a pretty huge difference between North and Central/South American indigenous religion. North America seems, generally, to be characterized by a more shamanistic style full of metaphorical animal-symbol based myths, while the Aztecs/Mayans and possibly Incans had an anthropomorphic polytheism that personally reminds me more of the “old world paganism.”

    You could also stick Gnosticism there at the very early stages of Christianity, which for a while represented a pretty strong union of the new Christian theology with the older mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world, before it was finally extinguished as a heresy after the Empire became Christian.

  21. M-Bone says:

    This gets super complicated – the early Roman religion, before they took on the Greek myths, was a lot like early Japanese animism or Native American religion. South America had anthro-gods, but the Native Americans had creator heroes and animals with human personalities….

    There are also the Australian and New Zealand native myths – that not only have anthro-characters but are still a cultural foundation for tens to hundreds of thousands today (codified by the white establishment / multi-culturals) so might be important enough to include if we are making continuity a criteria for inclusion.

  22. Roy Berman says:

    The Romans didn’t really have much in the way of “civilization” before they borrowed it from the Greeks. Much in the way that Buddhism and literacy came in a single package from China to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

  23. M-Bone says:

    They were civilized enough to give the Greeks an ass whuppin’. They only started redoing their religion after.

    Much of the early religion also lasted until Christian times – augury and whatnot (don’t want to think too hard about haruspicy, just ate). Many of the omens and stuff used to create divine mythology around Caeser and Augustus is also from the old school. It is not that complicated, but if one of the most powerful military machines in world history was marching by it, it is at least as important as Taoism, which also shares many of its characteristics. This is one potential problem that I can see with the graph (which is very good, and the reason to make something like that is to simplify) – some of the dates and categories put priority on founding philosophies, others on political power, but some examples of politically important religious beliefs are left out if they are too simple. The Romans really did rule “the world” while rooting around inside goats for policy advice.

  24. P.J. says:

    I was at the Smithsonian Musuem of Natural History yesterday and they had an exhibit on Rastfarians. Fascinating (although not exactly natural history) anyway might be worth a mention on your ever growing (and fascinating) chart.

  25. Mormonism and Pentecostalism are very rapidly growing, very important faith communities. The both merit a line.

    Pentecostalism: “Pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. At least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths”

    http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=140

    There are as many Mormons as Jews. They are aggressive and successful at spreading their faith. The majority of Mormons are converts.

    http://www.allaboutmormons.com/number_of_mormons.php

    In terms of wealth, global networks, and influence, the 13 million Mormons “punch above their weight”.

  26. Peter says:

    Regardless of the endless splicing into sects that can be done, I would separate all these “religions” into revealed religions (創唱宗教) and natural religions (自然宗教). There doesn’t have to be a thick line between those two categories either.

  27. Chirol says:

    Although not an actual religion, perhaps some information on formal atheism would be an interesting addition.

  28. Younghusband says:

    Chirol, you may appreciate this earlier timeline comparison of Christianity and Atheism.

  29. In line with Chirol’s thought, you might consider the non-religious (apathetic) which is, if I recall correctly the fastest growing religious view in the United States.

  30. Chirol says:

    YH: Very nice. Couldn’t agree more.

  31. Roy Berman says:

    Of course, the counterpoint to that atheism timeline is the Richard Dawkins South Park episode. I’m sure without magic-based religion people would still divide themselves up into bickering groups. In fact, we manage to do that quite well with politics, on top of religion.

  32. Roy Berman says:

    BTW, since you drew a line from Judaism to the founding of Christianity, I think it’s only fair to include a similar like to the beginning of Islam. I mean, their book is the third installment in the trilogy after all.

  33. Roy Berman says:

    I’m also not sure why you have a fade-in line for Islam. Their founding date is just as well established as that of Christianity.

  34. T. Greer says:

    Interesting map. If Pentecostals and Mormons deserve their own line, I imagine that some of the long gone Christian and Islamic sects who were of similar size* in their day should get one as well.

    The Orthodox Cathars and the Shia Safaviyya in particular come to mind. Both were quite influential in their respective periods and locations ( 1300s Europe 1500s Persia), and both are largely nonexistent today.

    *In terms of percentage of the global population.

  35. Roy Berman says:

    Bahá’í is worth mentioning – founded in 19th century Persia with 5-6 million followers today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD_Faith

    Also Unitarian Universalism maybe. Over 600,000 Americans listed that as their religion on the census in 2001.

    How about Falun Gong? Should it could? Certainly has more practitioners than many of the sects that made the list.

  36. Roy Berman says:

    Rastafarianism too, and I’d like to suggest a short line on the right side of the chart somewhere for Neopaganism. Wicca, founded in the 1950s, allegedly has almost 1 million followers worldwide, and there are any number of smaller groups.

  37. mnuez mn says:

    As you’re no doubt aware, one could pick a couple of thousand nits were one inclined to do so. I’m sure in fact that you yourself are not only aware of the potential of such nits but of dozens of worthy examples but had to make value judgments or there would never be a final product. This being the case, I’ll mention none of my favored nits and only mention a worthy fact which I believe is indisputable and doesn’t require a host of pros and cons to go along with it (though God knows that I’m tempted to delineate them for hours) : The Samaritans are still here.

    Aw, screw it. I can’t help but get into the pros and cons of the thing. I’ll just quit this comment while I’m not as far behind as I would be after a few hours of writing a thing that no one would read. Perfectionists make horrible producers. More power to the producers.

  38. mnuez mn says:

    Okay, one more comment. It would be more difficult to produce but far more effective at providing an accurate picture to have the timeline non-logorythmic. Lest you be concerned that this would require too much research into ancient religions so as to get them fairly onto the list, you could simply decide that in order to be included, a religion – ancient or modern (remember, we have fair rules throughout, so as not to be sillilly chauvenistic about our own era) – will have to have been around for at least 500 years and have had a large enough or historically important enough following in order to be included in the chart.

    But whatever rules you’d set, the chart displays a horridly inaccurate view of things being how it’s so strongly prejudiced towards our own era rather than the full view of history.

  39. Curzon says:

    Thanks all for the comments. As you can see through the amendment of the timeline over the past 36 hours, lots of these comments have been great and have improved the timeline. Many others have suggested change by saying that I add “some of the long gone Christian and Islamic sects” and “some information on formal atheism” or “Hinduism is much too simplified.” But I need concrete denominations, splits, offshoots or whatever, with real dates and reliable historical sources and ideas such that this could be vizualized and interract with the timeline.

    Some selected reactions:

    Roy: Bahai’ism has been there since version 1!

    I don’t think that the neo-Pagans or Rastafarians or voodoo or many other religions with less than a century of history are of the caliber of “world religion” that are worth adding. I’ve included Bahai, SGI, and Dao Cai, but only because these religions have organized heirarchies of leadership and institutional organization or structure (required for any religion to survive the generations), plus major sites of worship that have been built by congregants.

    Lex: Mormonism has been there since version 1! But Pentecostalism has been added.

    Mnuez: in re Samaritans, see my previous comment.

    And as with regard to an alleged modern bias, I would counter with the following: (1) there is little reliable information on much of the ancient religions, so I can’t add the Aztec religion, Incan religion, or many denominations of various religions because there is not a reliable historical record; (2) the world population is triple what it was just a century ago, so the increase in major religions makes sense; (3) there is more tolerance for what previously would have been heresy, hence the existence of Bahai, SGI, Mormonism, Tenrikyo, etc., when in the past these types of heresies would overwhelmingly have been persecuted to eradication in the past.

    Naturally, if you have concrete sources on divergencies and can suggest how I can improve the timeline, please don’t hesitate.

  40. How did I miss those Mormons!

    Pentecostalism is shaping up to be a world-historic force. Interesting times.

  41. T. Greer says:

    @Curzon:

    Were the Cathars and the Safaviyya not “concrete” enough? The Cathars were large enough of a problem for Innocent III to declare a crusade against them in 1209.

    The Safaviyya were also rather large in their day; it was members of this Shia sect that formed the Safavid dynasty, and the Ottomans deported thousands of such “Qizilbash” (red-heads) to protect the integrity of their domain during the Ottoman-Safavid wars of the 1500 & 1600s.

    Wikipedia has a pretty good page on the Cathars, at least as far as their citations go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharism

    The Wikipedia page on the Safaviyya is not near as good. What knowledge I have of the sect comes from my readings of Ottoman history. Osman’s Dream by Caroline Finkel and Subjects of the Sultan by Suraiya Faroqhi. The danger with just using Ottoman sources is that the Turks were apt to exaggerate; I highly doubt that everyone they deported or fought against were part of this “heretical” sect. I imagine most were simply Shia Turks vulnerable to radicalization by the Safavids. Still, if you are looking for a religious sect that has had an over sized influence on world affairs, the Safaviyya fit quite nicely.

  42. kristen says:

    How about all the wiccans/witches out there. Pagansim is growing by the day. In countries like iceland it is a national religion on a par with christianity.

  43. Chirol says:

    @Roy Berman: People dividing themselves into groups is just part of human nature. As your examples show, religion is one of many ways people divide themselves, it’s not related to that phenomenon anymore than sex, skin color, language etc. It has nothing to do with religion in general and nothing to do with my many objections to it.

  44. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    This has evolved to a very fascinating and thought-provoking piece. Thank you!!

  45. Steve says:

    Zionism was largely a secular movement, and although many Haredim are anti-Zionist, it’s not a feature of Judaism.

    When I click on the final draft, the lower half of the chart doesn’t load even when I reproduce the chart in other applications.

  46. von Moltke says:

    Protestantism began around 1400 with the Hussite movement (Jan Hus) in Bohemia. Central Europe should not be forgotten in this sense, as there were established Protestant (Scheiter, viz. Scheiterhaufen) in Austria-Hungary already in the 1500s, when the Saracens defeated the Hungarians and officially allowed Reform Churches (as in Debrecen, Nagy Varad, Temesvar, etc.)–generally to promote dissent amongst the occupied populace.

    Note also that the Orthodox Church or the Eastern Rite does distinguish itself from the Catholic Church, but rather the opposite. In the original Nicene Creed, the issue of the Filioque was avoided, and remained under the radar until around 900, when the Latins introduced an extension to the Creed: … we believe in the Holy Spirit “the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son He is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.”

    The Roman Church eventually excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1054, after the Byzantium had been substantially weakened by the Saracens. Note that the Catholic Church was formed by the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome, and it cannot be said that the Roman was predominant at that time. In this sense, it is better to show a branching of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, while various original Patriarchs were split off at the respective time of Arab Moslem invasion. Note that the Russian Orthodox Church recognizes itself as the pure continuation of the Greek Church, since the last Greek heir was married to a Russian before the Turks took Constantinople.

    Islam has no theological relationship to Christianity (aside from the allegation that Jesus was a prophet–whose words evidently can be ignored), but has a very strong theological relationship to ancient Judaism.

  47. George1 says:

    Note that “Church” is still spelled “chuch” in your final version.

  48. A friend who possesses expertise had this comment, which I pass on for your consideration.

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

  49. Roy Berman says:

    I’m also unsure about the appropriateness of listing Zionisn and anti-Zionism. While both are inseparably linked to Judaism, Zionism was historically more of a secular Jewish political movement than a religions one. As far as I know, the disagreements between Zionists and anti-Zionists are almost exclusively non-theological, with the notable exception of the anti-Zionist Hassids, who believe that Aliyah before the coming of the Messiah is a sin.