Jainism 101: Religions in Global History

Jainism 101: Religions in Global History

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Josenmiami Religious Studies

This video is amazing and so simple, I actually thought that hinduism was polytheistic. Now many things make sense but still makes me curious how the figures of Vishnu and Shiva are more known than Brahma.

I enjoyed this video and how easy it is to understand. Religion and it's details can be a little difficult to remember but this video simplified it. He reminds me of John Green!

This video helped me better understand Hinduism and simplified it, but still covered the important aspects and point of Hinduism.

For me Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion.

I didn't know much about Hinduism before watching this video,and after watching it I learned a lot more.

The interesting fact about Hinduism is that a polytheistic religion. Few people in India worship animals such as tiger, elephant, and cow. There are few who worship bird (peacock), devotees consider peacock as vehicle of Hindu god Krishna.

I like the fact that Hinduism is not so dogmatic but instead just wants to arrive at truth.

Jainism Introduction

The Jain Faith in History
The Jain religion originated more than twenty-five hundred years ago in India. It developed a path of renunciation and purification designed to liberate one from the shackles of karma, allowing one to enter into a state of eternal liberation from rebirth, or kevala, which is roughly equivalent to the Buddhist concept of nirvana. The primary method of attaining this ultimate state requires a careful observance of nonviolent behavior. Jainism emphasizes nonviolence, or ahimsa, as the only true path that leads to liberation and prescribes following scrupulous rules for the protection of life in all forms.1

The origins of Jainism are somewhat difficult to trace. The tradition holds that twenty-four great teachers, or Tirthankaras, established the foundations of the Jain faith. The most recent of these teachers, Vardhamana Mahavira (also known as the Jina) most probably lived during the time of the Buddha. Recent scholarship suggests that the Buddha lived in the fourth century BCE. However, the traditional stories of Mahavira indicate that he was born into a family that followed the religious teachings of Parsvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara, who possibly taught during the eighth century BCE. Because virtually no archaeological ruins can be found in India for the period from 1500 to 300 BCE, exact dates cannot be determined. However, the first excavations of northern India during the Hellenistic era (ca. 300 BCE) include statues of Jain images. Furthermore, the earliest Buddhist texts discuss Jainism in some detail, suggesting that it was a well-established tradition even before the time of the Buddha.

The records of Strabo (64 BCE to 23 CE), the Greek geographer, describe two prevailing styles of religiosity in India at the time of Alexander (ca. 330 BCE), as recorded by Megasthenes (350–290 BCE): the Brahmanical traditions, later described by the Persians as “Hindu,” and the Sramanical traditions, which include Buddhism and Jainism.2 The Brahmanical traditions emphasize the Vedas, ritual, and the authority of a priestly caste. The Sramanical traditions do not accept the Vedas, advocate meditation rather than ritual, and look to monks and nuns for religious authority. Buddhism sent out missionaries from India who established Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia, Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia, and Vajrayana Buddhism in Central Asia. Buddhism flourished in India until the tenth century, when its influence waned.

Jainism did not establish a missionary tradition but cultivated a strong laity. Like Buddhism, it began in Northeast India but, possibly because of drought in the third century BCE, many Jains moved to the southern kingdoms of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as well to the western parts of India now known as Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. Eventually, two sects of Jainism arose: the Digambaras, primarily found in central and southern India, and the Svetambaras, who live primarily in western India. The two groups agree on the foundational Jain principles of karma and nonviolence. However, they differ on their biographical accounts of Mahavira, accept different texts as authentically canonical, and hold divergent views on renouncing clothing and on the potential spiritual status of women. The Svetambaras, whose name means “white clad,” contend that monks and nuns can achieve the highest levels of spirituality without renouncing their clothing. They also believe that women hold the potential to achieve the state of liberation, or kevala. The Digambaras, whose name means “sky clad,” hold that all clothing must ultimately be renounced and that, because only men are allowed to take this ultimate vow of renunciation, a woman must be reborn as a man to achieve kevala. These traditions arose in geographic isolation from one another and developed into distinct schools by the early centuries of the common era.

The Acaranga Sutra (ca. 400 BCE), a text used extensively by the Svetambaras, is the oldest surviving Jain manual, describing the rules proclaimed by Mahavira to be followed by his monks and nuns. One thinker, Umasvati, who probably lived in the fourth century CE, developed a philosophical approach to Jainism that both Svetambaras and Digambaras accept. In a text known as the Tattvartha Sutra, or Aphorisms on the Meaning of Reality, he succinctly outlines the Jain world-view, describing karma, cosmology, ethics, and the levels of spiritual attainment (gunasthana). Later philosophers, including Haribhadra (ca. 750 CE) and Hemacandra (ca. 1150 CE) of the Svetambara tradition and Jinasena (ca. 820 CE) and Virasena (ca. 800 CE) of the Digambara tradition, developed an extensive literary corpus that includes stories, epics, philosophical treatises, and poetry. During the Mogal period, Jinacandrasuri II (1541–1613), the leader of the Kharatara Gaccha (a subdivision of the Svetambara sect) achieved great influence at the court of Akbar, convincing the emperor to protect Jain pilgrimage places. Akbar even prohibited animal slaughter for one week per year under Jinacandrasuri’s urging. In contemporary times, Jain have become very influential in the areas of publishing, law, and business. They continue to work at integrating their philosophy of nonviolence into the daily life of India.

The Jain community has also participated in an extensive diaspora, with several tens of thousands living in various parts of the world. Jain business families settled in East Africa several decades ago. After Indian independence, some Jains settled in Great Britain, with a great influx from East Africa during the expulsion of all South Asians from Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin. In Kobe, Japan, Jains participate in the diamond trade. Jains began migrating to North America after the changes in immigration law in 1965, inspired by the Civil Rights movement. These new immigrants have built temples and organized several networks and organizations for maintaining Jain identity, including the Jaina Associations in North America (JAINA), which sponsors semiyearly conventions. These gatherings have included presentations pertaining to current issues, such as environmentalism.3

Jainism and Environmentalism
The common concerns between Jainism and environmentalism can be found in a mutual sensitivity toward living things, a recognition of the inter-connectedness of life-forms, and support of programs that educate others to respect and protect living systems. For the Jains, this approach is anchored in a cosmology that views the world in terms of a cosmic woman whose body contains countless life souls (jiva) that reincarnate repeatedly until the rare attainment of spiritual liberation (kevala). The primary means to attain freedom requires the active nonharming of living beings, which disperses the karmas that keep one bound. Jains adhere to the vows of nonviolence to purify their karma and advance toward the higher states of spiritual attainment (gunasthana). For Jain laypeople, this generally means keeping to a vegetarian diet and pursuing livelihoods deemed to inflict a minimum of harm. For Jain monks and nuns, this means the need to avoid doing harm to all forms of life, including bugs and microorganisms (nigoda).

Contemporary environmental thinkers in the developed world, particularly within the last decade of the twentieth century, have come to emphasize the interconnectedness of life as the foundation for developing an environmental ethic. On the policy level, the Endangered Species Act of the United States extends protection to even the smallest aspect of life, emphasizing the microphase as the key to ecosystem protection. Taking a different approach, Norway has developed a comprehensive approach to assess the impact of one action on the broader network of relationships within a given biome.4 Both approaches grapple with the age-old problem of how to balance the needs of the one and the many when working toward the highest good.

Drawing from her own relationships with trees, ecologist Stephanie Kaza has proposed an approach to the natural world that engenders feelings of tenderness, respect, and protection. She writes:

The relationship between person and tree, arising over and over again in many different contexts and with various individuals, is one subset of all human-nonhuman relationships… . I want to know, What does it actually mean to be in a relationship with a tree? Acknowledgment of and participation in relationships with trees, coyotes, mountains, and rivers is central to the philosophy of deep ecology… . In the course of studying mountains and rivers in depth, one sees them explode into all the phenomena that support their existence—clouds, stones, people walking, animals crawling, the earth shaking.5

By participating in the close observation of individual life processes, in this case using the tree as a starting point, one begins to see the network of relationships that enlivens all forms of consciousness. By gaining intimacy with a small part of the whole, concern for the larger ecosystem arises. Each piece, no matter how small, contributes to the whole. To disrupt the chain of life at any link can result in dire consequences, as seen in the release of radioactivity in Chernobyl, the great industrial accident in Bhopal, the depletion of the ozone layer over the polar caps, and the extinction of various species of plants and animals.

As seen in the above example from Stephanie Kaza, an important impetus for environmental activism comes from the close observance and consequent appreciation of the external world. As our ecosystem becomes impoverished, humans take notice and respond. Ultimately, this concern for nature can be seen as a form of self-preservation, as the earth is the only context for human flourishing. Similarly, according to the Acaranga Sutra, Mahavira was moved when he observed nature at close range, noticing that even the simplest piece of a meadow teems with life:

Thoroughly knowing the earth-bodies and water-bodies and fire-bodies and wind-bodies, the lichens, seeds, and sprouts, he comprehended that they are, if narrowly inspected, imbued with life… .6

In a contemporary echo of this realization, James Laidlaw records the conversion moment of a woman who subsequently decided to become a Jain nun:

the decision came one morning when she walked into the kitchen. There was a cockroach in the middle of the floor, “and I just looked at it and suddenly I thought, ‘Why should I stay in this world where there is just suffering and death and rebirth?”’ 7

Seeing the life and spirit of a lowly insect inspired this woman to pursue a lifelong commitment of harmlessness to all beings. Benevolence to souls other than one’s own leads to self-purification and the transcendence of worldly entanglements. The ethics of nonviolence as developed by the Jains looks simultaneously inward and outward. The only path for saving one’s own soul requires the protection of all other possible souls.

Jainism offers a worldview that in many ways seems readily compatible with core values associated with environmental activism. While both uphold the protection of life, the underlying motives governing the Jain faith and those governing environmental activism do differ. First, as various authors in this book will point out, the telos or goal of Jainism lies beyond all worldly concerns. The Jain observances of nonviolence, for instance, are not ultimately performed for the sake of protecting the individual uniqueness of any given life-form for its own sake. The reason for the protection of life is for self-benefit, stemming from a desire to avoid accruing a karmic debt that will result in later retribution against oneself. The result may be the same a life might be spared. However, this is a by-product of a desire to protect and purify oneself through the avoidance of doing harm. In the case of some environmental activists, aggressive, direct action might be undertaken to interfere with and stop the destruction of a natural habitat in a way that might be seen as violent, such as the monkey-wrenching techniques used by EarthFirst!8 This would not be acceptable to a Jain.

In this volume the following questions will be posed: How does traditional Jain cosmology, and its consequent ethics, view the natural world? Is this worldview compatible with contemporary ecological theory? How might a Jain ethical system respond to the challenges of making decisions regarding such issues as the development of dams, the proliferation of automobiles, overcrowding due to overpopulation, and the protection of individual animal species? Can there be a Jain environmental activism that stems from a traditional concern for self-purification that simultaneously responds to the contemporary dilemma of ecosystem degradation?

In the chapters that follow, this topic will be pursued from a variety of perspectives. The voices included in this volume reflect a wide spectrum of approaches. Several scholars born and trained in the West take a critical look at the real prospects for Jain advocacy of environmental protection. Jain scholars from India, on the other hand, see actual solutions in Jain philosophy for correcting ecological imbalances through a reconsideration of lifestyle and active application of ahimsa. Perhaps the closest analogue to environmental activism within historical Jainism can be found in the tradition of animal protection, as found in the many hundreds, if not thousands, of shelters, or pinjrapoles, located in and near Jain communities in western India.9 Modern initiatives, some of which are mentioned in this book, include tree-planting prgrams at pilgrimage sites. Dr. Michael Fox of the Humane Society and the Center for Respect of Life and Environment has re-energized an animal shelter inspired by Jain values in South India.10 By combining the ancient practice of animal protection with considered reflections on how traditional Jain observances of non-violence might counter the excesses of the modern, industrialized, consumer-oriented lifestyle, the Jain faith might provide a new voice for the development of ecofriendly behaviors.

Overview of the Volume
The book has been divided into four sections, followed by an appendix and a bibliography. The first section examines Jain theories about the nature of the universe, which then provide the context for developing an ecological interpretation of the tradition. The second section raises some challenges to the possibility of developing an ecofriendly Jain ethic. The third section, written by Jain practitioners, asserts that Jainism, with its emphasis on nonviolence (ahimsa), is inherently sensitive to and practically responsive to environmental needs. The fourth section discusses the adaptation of ecological ideas among select members of the contemporary Jain community, largely among its diaspora adherents.

In the first chapter, Nathmal Tatia, who passed away shortly after the conference on Jainism and ecology took place in the summer of 1998, suggests that virtually all the religious traditions of the world “contain aspects that are not anthropocentric” and then introduces key aspects of Jain philosophy. Noting that neither Jainism nor Buddhism contains a creating or controlling God, he emphasizes compassion as the key for the protection of life. Tatia suggests that the Jain advocacy of vegetarianism and protection of animals provide a possible remedy for the current ecological crisis. He provides a synoptic view of how the application of traditional Jain ethics can help one enact environmentalist values.

Philosopher John Koller probes the Jain theory of many-sidedness (anekanta) as an antidote to the one-theory approach that drives the development machine and has led to environmental degradation. Jains traditionally seek to understand any situation from as many angles as possible, as exemplified in the famous story of the six blind men and the elephant. One feels the tail and “sees” a snake. Another feels the ear and “sees” a fan, and so forth. Each can claim a “truth,” but no one, at least before the experience of kevala, can claim to see totality. By utilizing a multiple-perspective approach to environmental issues, Koller suggests that Jains will be better equipped to cope with such ethical dilemmas as the use and abuse of trees and oceans.

Kristi Wiley begins her chapter with an assessment of the discipline of environmental ethics as it has evolved in Western academia. Noting the shift from anthropocentrism to biocentrism, Wiley sees some commonalities between the moral considerations of Jainism and systems ecologists. Her careful interpretation of indigenous Jain biology and elemental theory lists in detail the karmic effects of negative interactions with one’s environment. She makes the important distinction between beings with consciousness (samjni) and those without consciousness (asamjni), which provides some basis for using plants and the elements as resources for human sustenance. Wiley also emphasizes the central role played by the nuns and monks who serve as the conscience of the Jain tradition, advocating protection for even those beings who lack awareness, such as plants and the living bodies contained within earth, water, fire, and air.

The second section poses challenges to the conventional assumption that Jainism by its very nature contains all the precepts of environmentalism. It begins with an essay by John Cort, who suggests that a great deal of work needs to be accomplished before the Jain tradition can honestly claim to be ecofriendly. Noting that the environmental crisis is a recent development, he suggests that environmental thought and activism might help inform how Jains define and realize their commitment to ahimsa. In particular, he discusses the Jain “value of wellbeing” as providing a counterbalance to the Jain emphasis on liberation, noting that “Jain ethics … are highly context-sensitive” and hence adaptable according to time and place. He compares and contrasts ecofeminism and the role of women in Jainism, and suggests that social ecology must be taken into consideration, noting that the project to reforest Jain pilgrimage sites has had a negative effect on low-caste herders whose livestock have become restricted from foraging. Acknowledging the long history of Jainism as a social catalyst, Cort looks forward to the development of a “distinctive Jain environmental ethic.”

Paul Dundas suggests that in the history of Jainism some attitudes toward nature may have been less than ecofriendly. He describes the dualistic and pluralistic nature of Jain philosophy, which divides the world into living and nonliving entities, with each living entity (jiva) responsible for its own fate. Dundas states that within this worldview nature in and of itself has no “autonomous value.” Value lies in the human application of nonviolence to attain, as noted earlier in this introduction, the release of all karma and the eventual severance from all materiality, including “nature.” To apply purely monastic values to the issue of ecological degradation simply does not work, argues Dundas, citing various ethical tales about elephant-eating ascetics, brutal horse tamers, and well diggers, each of which seems to contain, at best, an ambiguous environmental ethic. He cautions that one must exert care in attempting to match a “traditional soteriological path” to “fit the requirements of a modern, ultimately secular, Western-driven agenda.”

My own chapter suggests that the Jain community could benefit from examining its worldview and ethics in light of some contemporary theorists in the area of religion and ecology, specifically Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, and David Abram. Each of these three has highlighted the dynamic aspects of living processes, displaying a sen-sitivity to life somewhat similar to that found in Jainism. David Abram has emphasized in particular the role of the senses in determining and defining reality, taking an approach comparable to the empiricism emphasized in Umasvati’s Tattvartha Sutra, the Buddhist Abhidharma schools, and the Hindu schools of Samkhya and Yoga. The Jain worldview that sees the universe, from earth-bodies to human beings, as suffused with life accords with the thought of Thomas Berry, who has stated that the world is a “communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” Furthermore, the Jain assertion that even the earth itself feels our presence is strikingly resonant with the observations of Brian Swimme. The pan-psychic vision of Jainism is compared and contrasted with contemporary Western scientific and philosophical insights, with the suggestion that these two fields be brought into closer dialogue with one another.

Padmanabh S. Jaini, one of the world’s leading scholars of Jainism, summarizes fundamental Jain teachings and then seeks to explore how Jainism might respond to key issues of development and economics. The current drive toward industrialization and consumerism in India violates many essential Jain precepts, particularly non-possession (aparigraha). By examining traditional lifestyles and occupations, as well as Jain attitudes toward wealth in general, Jaini suggests that a balanced approach to development can be pursued.

In the third section of the book, Jain practitioners suggest that Jainism already has developed a working environmental ethics. As such, this section represents an emic, or insider’s, view of Jainism. It includes three essays that might fit more within the genre of a sermon than an academic paper, but which nonetheless make an important contribution to this emerging discourse. These chapters point to new directions to be taken within the practice of Jainism, grounded in the earlier tradition.

Sadhvi Shilapi, a prominent Jain nun, raises up the voice of Mahavira, the great Jain Tirthankara of twenty-five hundred years ago, to suggest how Jains can and should respond to the problems of industrialization, population growth, and human exploitation of nonhuman life-forms. Quoting from the Acaranga Sutra, the oldest text of the Svetambara Jain tradition, she suggests that Mahavira’s sensitivity to plants and the elements themselves can serve to inform the Jain response to resource limitations. She also emphasizes the need for tree planting in rural areas of India, an initiative taken by her own religious community, Veerayatan, in Bihar.

Bhagchandra Jain consults a wide range of Jain literature from both the Svetambara and Digambara schools to compile a masterful argument for the respect of all life-forms. He notes the extensive literature within Jainism devoted to forest protection and emphasizes the ecological aspects of behavior recommended for Jain laypersons.

Satish Kumar, founder and educational director of Schumacher College in England, relates the concept of ecology to the simple lifestyle observed by his own mother, which included strict vegetarianism, pilgrimages to sacred mountains, constant observance of barefootedness, minimalization of possessions, conservation of water, and close adherence to an ethical code grounded in nonviolence.

In the concluding section, Anne Vallely examines the tensions between traditional and contemporary Jainism, particularly in its current globalized form. She notes the trend by some Jains to identify themselves as ecofriendly. She then examines what she terms to be a newly emerging sociocentric ecological worldview within the Jain community. Diaspora Jains, particularly in North America, have brought about a distinctive form of Jainism that emphasizes “the values of vegetarianism, animal welfare, meditation, and active promotion of interfaith activities.” Though the inspiration of each of these can be seen as having its roots in Jain thought and practice, they are being played out in a far more public arena than that traditionally observed by the inward Jain ascetics.

The volume concludes with an appendix, The Jain Declaration on Nature, prepared by L. M. Singhvi, a member of the Indian Parliament and former high commissioner from India to the United Kingdom. This was originally published as a small booklet in 1992. This document has helped stimulate the discussion of environmental values in the Jain community worldwide and serves as an example of what Anne Vallely refers to as the newly emerging sociocentric expression of Jainism.

Contemporary Theorists of Jain Ecology
The interface between Jainism and ecology remains a complex issue, and it is important to recognize some of the pioneers in this emerging discussion. Though he was not able to participate in the Harvard conference, the work and commitment of Michael Tobias must be acknowledged. Tobias, who received his doctorate in the history of consciousness, has worked for several decades as a writer and filmmaker dedicated to environmental causes. In 1988 he released the film “Ahimsa,” which elegantly portrays several Jain leaders and extols the religion as the great champion of animal rights and nonviolent living. He wrote a book titled Life Force: The World of Jainism that serves as a written companion to the film, and he contributed the chapter on Jainism to Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim’s Worldviews and Ecology.11 Though not trained as a scholar of Jainism, Tobias nonetheless recognized a commonality between his own environmental interests and the Jain worldview. He remains a sought-after speaker within the extensive network of Jain conferences and proclaims himself to be a Jain.

The work of Satish Kumar, both with his journal Resurgence and the curriculum that he has developed at Schumacher College, indicates his willingness to blend together social activism and a Jain-inspired commitment to nonviolence. Kumar left the life of a traditional Jain monk to join the land redistribution movement of Vinobha Bhave (1895–1982), and later journeyed as a peace activist on foot from Delhi to Moscow to Paris in an attempt to stop nuclear proliferation in the 1960s.12 He has most recently joined forces with Dr. Atul K. Shah to produce the journal Jain Spirit: Advancing Jainism into the Future, which is published six times each year and distributed internationally. Each issue includes articles and photo essays that reinforce an eco-friendly view. Most of the articles in the “Environment” section of the magazine are by environmental activists such as David Ehrenfield, Joyce D’Silva, and Donella Meadows and serve more to educate Jains about contemporary trends in the field of ecology than to articulate a distinctly Jain vision of environmentalism. Kumar has attempted a synthesis of spirituality and activism, inspired in part by his childhood and young adult years as a monk in Acarya Tulsi’s Svetambaras Terapanthi movement, which includes ten special vows that were formulated in 1949, including “I will always be alert to keeping the environment pollution-free.”

The Advent of Jain Environmentalism
As Anne Vallely notes in her chapter, some modern Jains, particularly in North America, see involvement with environmental causes and animal rights activism as a logical extension of their faith. However, how authentic is this tradition? Is it, as Vallely suggests, a revision of asceticism? Can the observance and advocacy of vegetarianism and ecological sensitivity substitute as a new form of asceticism? Can Jainism truly survive without the living presence of monks and nuns to chide and inspire the more worldly lay community?

In the modern diaspora context, traditional monasticism, rigorously practiced by monks and nuns in India, has not taken root, nor does it seem to be a likely option, given the relatively small numbers of Jains living outside India and the logistical difficulties of providing the donor support sanctioned by the Jain lay community. However, some Jain monastics (and former Jain monastics), such as Muni Sri Chitrabhanu, Acharya Sushil Kumar, Sadhvi Shilapi, and Satish Kumar, have helped promulgate Jain teachings outside of India, and many nuns in training (samanis) from the Terapanthi community have lectured throughout the world. Numerous lay Jains participate in regular practices of fasting and other austerities, particularly the Paryusana fast observed in late August. The many Jain centers and temples throughout North America and the United Kingdom have developed extensive weekend educational programs for children (patsalas), camps, retreats, and web sites to educate their members (and others) about the faith. Many of these activities include mention of the environment from a Jain perspective.

This volume points to the dynamic nature of the Jain faith and its willingness to engage in discussion on this modern social issue. Not unlike nearly any other religious tradition, it remains to be seen if the Jain worldview and ethic can inspire an effective ecological vision. Can Jainism adopt a sociocentric environmental point of view without compromising its core values? Hopefully, this collection of essays will help advance this discussion.

1 For information on the history, philosophy, and practice of Jainism, see Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979) Paul Dundas, The Jains (London: Routledge, 1992) Alan Babb, Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in Jain Ritual Culture (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996) and John E. Cort, Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
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2 The Geography of Strabo, trans. Horace Leonard Jones (New York: Putnam, 1930) 101.
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3 See Marcus Banks, Organizing Jainism in India and England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). See also Peace through Non-Violence: Eighth Biennial Jaina Convention Souvenir Volume (Chicago, Ill.: Federation of Jain Associations in North America, 1995) and Bhuvanendra Kumar, Jainism in America (Mississauga, Ontario: Jain Humanities Press, 1996).
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4 See David Rothenberg, “Individual or Community? Two Approaches to Ecophilosophy in Practice,” in Ecological Prospects: Scientific, Religious, and Aesthetic Perspectives, ed. Christopher Key Chapple (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York, 1994) 83–92.
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5 Stephanie Kaza, The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1993) 10–11.
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6 Acaranga Sutra–12 from Jaina Sutras, Part 1, The Akaranga Sutra. The Kalpa Sutra, trans. Hermann Jacobi (1884 New York: Dover, 1968).
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7 James Laidlaw, Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy, and Society among the Jains (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 157.
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8 See “Earth First! And Global Narratives of Popular Ecological Resistance,” in Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism, ed. Bron Raymond Taylor (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1995) 11–34.
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9 Deryck O. Lodrick, Sacred Cows, Sacred Places: Origins and Survivals of Animal Homes in India (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1981).
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11 Worldviews and Ecology, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1994).
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12 See Satish Kumar’s autobiography, Path without Destination (New York: William Morrow, 1999).
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Copyright © 2002 Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.
Reprinted with permission.

Jainism : An Introduction

Jainism evokes images of monks wearing face-masks to protect insects and mico-organisms from being inhaled. Or of Jains sweeping the ground in front of them to ensure that living creatures are not inadvertently crushed: a practice of non-violence so radical as to defy easy comprehension. Yet for all its apparent exoticism, Jainism is still little understood in the West. What is this mysterious philosophy which originated in the 6th century BCE, whose absolute requirement is vegetarianism, and which now commands a following of four million adherents both in its native India and diaspora communities across the globe?In his welcome new treatment of the Jain religion, Long makes an ancient tradition fully intelligible to the modern reader. Plunging back more than two and a half millennia, to the plains of northern India and the life of a prince who - much like the Buddha - gave up a life of luxury to pursue enlightenment, Long traces the history of the Jain community from founding sage Mahavira to the present day.
He explores asceticism, worship, the life of the Jain layperson, relations between Jainism and other Indic traditions, the Jain philosophy of relativity, and the implications of Jain ideals for the contemporary world. The book presents Jainism in a way that is authentic and engaging to specialists and non-specialists alike.

How OLD Are the Religions?

For the major world religions, the simple answer is: pretty old. Most of them are 2000+ years old.

This bar graph presents the relative ages (in years) of each of the major world faiths. Hinduism is the oldest, with roots stretching back some 4000 years, or more Sikhism is the youngest, being only about 500 years old.

As the chart indicates, among the very oldest religions are Hinduism, Judaism, and (possibly) Zoroastrianism. The roots of Hinduism stretch back at least to India&rsquos Vedic era, and perhaps even further back, into pre-Vedic times (2000 BC, or earlier). The roots of Judaism stretch back to the time of the patriarch Abraham, traditionally dated at around 1800 BC. The precise age of Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia, remains a matter of some controversy conflicting dates suggested for the era of its founding prophet Zoroaster range from the 18th to the 6th centuries BC.

A number of major religions seem to have all gotten their start, in different places around the globe, at roughly the same time: the 6th century BC. Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and possibly Zoroastrianism (if one favors a later rather than an earlier date for Zoroaster) were each born in that religiously creative century. The Tao Te Ching, the foundational text of Taoism, is also traditionally attributed to a 6th-century-BC sage known as Lao Tzu, but more recently scholars have suggested a somewhat later date for its composition.

Christianity, of course, is right at about 2000 years old, having gotten started with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (and his apostles, such as Paul) during the 1st century AD. Indeed, our Western (Gregorian, Christian) calendar revolves around the presumed date of the birth of Christ as the axis point which divides all of time and history into two eras, referred to as B.C. (&ldquoBefore Christ&rdquo) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for &ldquoIn the Year of the Lord&rdquo).

As religions go, then, Christianity (at only 2000 years of age) is one of the younger ones. And Islam is even younger still (by about 600 years). Although Muslims point out that the Arabic term islam merely means &ldquosubmission&rdquo to the will of God, and further holds that Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses were among the first such &ldquosubmitters,&rdquo Islam as a distinctive religious movement did not appear on the scene until the prophet Muhammad established it in Arabia in the 7th century AD, making Islam in this sense some 1400 years old.

The precise origin of Shinto, the indigenous traditional religion of Japan, is a bit hazy to date with precision many place its origins at somewhere roughly around perhaps the 8th century AD (or at least that is when written records pertaining to Shinto beliefs and practices first appeared in Japan).

Sikhism, the youngest of the world&rsquos major faiths, was founded in India by Guru Nanak right around 1500 AD.

So, that&rsquos it, at least as far as the major religions are concerned. But what about some of the other, perhaps smaller but nevertheless well-known religions &mdash religions such as Baha&rsquoi, Christian Science, Mormonism, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Wicca, or the Unification Church? How old are they?

For them, the simple answer is: not very old. All of those aforementioned faiths are not only far smaller than the major faiths, but also far younger, each of them having been born as recently as the 19th or 20th centuries.

Baha&rsquoi was founded by Baha&rsquou&rsquollah in Persia in the mid- to late 1800s. Christian Science was founded in Boston by Mary Baker Eddy in the late 1800s. Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith in western New York in the early 1800s. Rastafarianism was founded in Jamaica around 1930. Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in New Jersey in 1953. Wicca is a modern revival or reconstruction of ancient European forms of indigenous paganism, whose varying traditions began to emerge in Britain in the early to mid-1900s. And the Unification Church was founded in South Korea by Sun Myung Moon in 1954.

Most of today&rsquos well-known &ldquoalternative&rdquo religions are of far more recent vintage than the larger, longer-established faiths &mdash which count their own ages in terms of many centuries, even millennia, rather than in mere decades (or at most a couple of centuries).

However, it is perhaps also wise to remember that even the largest and longest-enduring major religions of today must have also started out at one time as small, young &ldquominority religions&rdquo themselves, during their own early formative eras.

Understanding Jains and Jainism| Prof. Padmnabh Jaini

Reflections of Prof. Padmanabh S. Jaini, Professor Emeritus, University of California-Berkeley, on Jainas and Jainism.

JAINISM is a religion, broadly speaking, of “listeners” and teachers, over and above whom are the liberated souls, the ford-makers or Tirthankaras. There was yet another “assembly of listeners” (to borrow a phrase used in one of the edited volumes on Jaina society1), converging in the sweltering heat of Delhi in early June, to listen to Prof. Padmanabh S. Jaini share reflections and insights on Jaina epistemology and the history of the Jaina tradition in India. Jaini was the key resource person at the International Summer School of Jaina Studies (ISSJS) recently held at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Delhi.

The ISSJS was initiated in 2005 as a platform to bring together academics, students and others interested in Jainism and enable them to share the doctrinal and experiential facets of Jainism. The Indian programme was designed to give scholars a course in Jaina tradition through classroom lectures, interactions with the Jaina community and visits to Jaina pilgrim places.
It started with just seven scholars in the year 2005 and the number increased to 28 in 2008, mostly by word of mouth. The ISSJS is also planning to establish research centres in Jaina studies. The first step in this effort is the setting up of the Global Centre for Ahimsa and Indic Research at Parshwanath Vidyapeeth in Varanasi. Organisations collaborating with the ISSJS include the University of Ottawa, the American Institute of Indian Studies and the Shastri Institute of Indo-Canadian Studies. Besides, there are coordinating units or partners in Texas, London, Hawaii and elsewhere.

Jainas have been a minority religious sect for some centuries now. Many would not even know the distinction between Jainas and Hindus on account of the relative obscurity and “silence” on this sect in Indian history and sociological studies. Jainism was one of the original Indian non-theistic traditions besides Buddhism that emphasised individual effort towards self-realisation and ultimate liberation without a god concept. Ahimsa (non-killing), right faith, conduct and knowledge and non-possession (aparigraha) in everyday life takes an individual to that ultimate liberation.

It was founded around the same time as Buddhism (though scholars believe it pre-dated the latter). However, there are relatively few works on Jainas in history when compared with other traditions. And if more and more people, especially in the West, are now turning their attention to Jainism, the credit goes to scholars such as Padmanabh Jaini, Paul Dundas and Peter Flugel.
Although Jaini began his academic career with a study of the Buddhist tradition, it was his work on Jainism (later in his career) that earned him greater worldwide recognition and gave Jaina studies a high profile in the academic community. He is the most respected name among the Jaina community worldwide Jaini’s scholarship is vast and his knowledge of the scriptures in Prakrit and Sanskrit (not to forget Pali) makes him one of the rare scholars of the old tradition who tirelessly update his knowledge and perspective and constantly writes on various aspects of the Jaina tradition.

Jaina taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London before joining the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in the United States. He retired as Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, where he is currently Professor Emeritus. His best known works include The Jaina Path of Purification (1979), Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women (1991), Collected Papers on Jaina Studies (2001), Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies, and several papers in international journals of repute. Philosophy and epistemology (in both Buddhist and Jaina traditions) have been his forte.

However, Jaini wears his scholarship lightly. He spared his precious time for a conversation with the writer outside his tight schedule of daily lecturing. Following are excerpts from that conversation, supplemented by reflections on his approach to the subject and the course and excerpts from his well-attended talk at the India International Centre (IIC) in Delhi on June 6, on “Heavens and Warfare in Buddhism and Jainism” (the latter added on request by the Jaina community).

Jaini’s lectures reflected the importance he gave to comparative analysis of religious or philosophical traditions in their contexts. His knowledge of Western traditions – religious and philosophical – to which he made several allusions, is vast. Pointing out the logical limitations within traditions, he would make us see the Jaina point as reflected in the canons and the post-canonical developments in Jaina thought and remind us at the same time that he was not passing judgment on other traditions. His reasoning for those limitations would make us review and revisit some of those limitations from a purely epistemological or logical perspective and draw our own conclusions. His intense lectures brought home the importance of approaching Jainas as a community through its philosophy.

In one of his earlier writings, Jaini had pointed out that Western scholarship to a large extent had been more devoted to Buddhism and Hinduism than to Jainism. This has had its own impact on research in Jaina studies worldwide. The “history of Western scholarship in Buddhism in particular,” he wrote, “is a long and colourful one, covering a period of more than 150 years… (while) in comparison the history of Jaina studies is brief and uninspired: the main portion of Western scholarship in Jainism was completed during a period of about 60 years beginning toward the end of the last century the scholars of Jainism during this period were interested less in the religion itself than in the linguistic peculiarities of the Prakrit and Apabhramsa in which Jaina works were written. Besides this linguistic interest their religion was approached primarily as a tool for the comparative study of Buddhism….𔄤

H. Jacobi was among the earliest scholars to bring to the notice of the Western scholar the Jaina canonical text Ayaranga Sutta (Acaranga Sutra) in 1882. Incidentally it is one of the earliest publications of the Pali Text Society. And within Jainism, Western scholarship laid more stress on the Svetambara Jaina tradition than on the Digambara tradition.

Jaini said, “There is hardly anyone working on the Digambara tradition in the West. Though scholarship on any area of Jainism is welcome and needed, the Digambara tradition has most certainly been neglected. We also need more research in regional histories of Jainism (such as yours in Tamil Nadu), and much needs to be done particularly in Karnataka, which I hope scholars working on Jaina studies will do. The Jainas suffered a lot in Karnataka (by way of persecution and marginalisation) and I would be happy if some scholar would look into the Jaina – Lingayat conflict in this region.”

He has been critical also about the influx of – or, the intrusion, in a negative sense – money into the situation so far as some sections of the larger Jaina society3 are concerned. “Money,” he says, sadly, “is for two things – either to destroy your enemies or to give you power by giving hope to your friends and associates of some rewards. Businessmen can only see in terms of loss and gain….”

As for the summer school and its relevance, he said “coming to India itself is an educating experience [for those coming from outside India]. Mere classroom lectures and reading texts cannot be of great benefit as living in a place like Dadabari [a Jaina retreat of sorts in Delhi, where the scholars stayed during the course] can. Dadas are not tirthankaras and this place is not something traditional Jaina monks would encourage.

“Unless you see these (subtle) things on your own you do not know too much (about practices in Jaina contemporary society). The idea of seeing the location of the religion and tradition is far more important than book knowledge. The scholars who have come here will also be visiting Jaina pilgrim centres which will add to their knowledge and experience of a tradition.”WAR & DEATH

Jaini’s talk at the IIC seemed appropriate in the context of the Sri Lankan situation at present. He believes that the war may be over in Sri Lanka but the struggle is far from over. But he had started to contemplate on the situation by means of a simple question: “Where do you go when you perish in war? Does a person who dies in war go to heaven?” And, as he said at the talk, this question led him to the Buddhist chronicle of Sri Lanka, the Mahavamsa. But, since Jainas were as eager to know what their texts said about the same question, Jaini included reference to the same question in the Jaina canonical text, Bhagavati Sutra (Vyahapannati, Book VII). World religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Indian Vedic tradition (and Krishna urging Arjuna to fight) speak of the concept of war and of warriors attaining heavenly abode if they are killed in war. What do the Jaina and Buddhist religions have to say to that?

Speaking of war in these two non-theistic traditions, Jaini said the Mauryan emperor Asoka was the only king in the history of the world who ever apologised for having killed and for war. It was one of the rare occasions where tradition and praxis converged.

The Mahavamsa mentions the war between the Sri Lankan king “Duttha Gamini” Abhaya (101-77 BCE) and the Damila (Tamil) king Elara, where the latter is killed. Apparently, Abhaya ordered the people of his kingdom to pay respects to the fallen Elara by observing silence when they passed the site of his death. Abhaya is filled with remorse that thousands died, and suffers.
Eight Buddhist arhats come to pacify him and absolve him of his wrongdoing (killing in war). Their reasoning, which convinces him, is that he after all killed just one and a half men the rest were “unbelievers” – those with mithya-ditthi (non-Buddhist in the context of the Mahavamsa). They say to him “as for thee thou shall bring glory to Buddha…” and therefore convince him there are no obstacles in his passage to heaven.

According to Jaini, mithya-ditthi should be understood as a term used for one who does not believe in life after death. But in another text of the same tradition, there is a contradiction. Samyukta nikaya – in a dialogue between a “yodha-jiva” (one who made living from fighting) and the Buddha – gives a different meaning for mithya-ditthi. There the Buddha says that a person who kills is reborn in purgatory (avichi), especially if that person kills with the view (mithya-ditthi) that he would go to heaven therefrom. The Mahavamsa obviously gave a different meaning to the term to absolve king Abhaya of his crime of killing.

In the Jaina tradition, Somadeva Suri (10th century ACE) spoke of defensive war, yet was silent on the idea of death in the battlefield.

An opposite view is given in the Bhagavati Sutra (Vyahapannati, Book VII) where nine Malla and nine Lichhavi tribal chiefs of Kasi and Kosala died in a war. Indrabhuti Goyama (Gautama) and Mahavira have a similar dialogue (as in the Mahavamsa) where Mahavira tells Goyama that those who say these warriors shall go to heaven utter a falsehood. According to Mahavira, only two men attained heaven in this war – the archer Varuna of Vaisali who was a samana uvacaka (upasaka, adherent) and had taken the anuvratas (followed the basic tenets of Jainism) and his friend. Varuna had taken a vow to participate in battle only if ordained by the king and to not shoot the first arrow. In the battlefield, a wounded Varuna bowed his hands in veneration of Mahavira and proclaimed that he would henceforth renounce all possessions and give up all forms of violence until his death. He died instantly and went to heaven. His friend, who said he would do the same, was reborn as a human being. IMPORTANCE OF NON-VIOLENCE
Jaini showed the differences between Jainism and Buddhism on violence and killing. It was only after Varuna offered to renounce all (aparigraha) and give up violence of all kind that heaven became accessible to him in the Buddhist text, the killing of one and a half (‘only’) “believers” and thousands of “unbelievers” assured king Abhaya a place in heaven. The importance of non-violence in all Jaina texts is highlighted through this story. These are two traditions that do not believe in a god concept. It is important to see their perspectives on warfare and its rationale.
Jaini’s talk was followed by questions on the inherent contradiction within the Buddhist doctrine on war and himsa. Would Buddha have condoned the same? Jaini urged the audience to understand the context, as he often did in his lectures, with a tinge of humour – that Buddha was after all not available at that time. And that violence is not the “privilege” of one community there have always been enough reasons to go to war in history, but people needed to be reminded as to where they were going if they went ahead with this war.•

Stanford course helps educators develop strategies to teach students about world religions

Religious literacy is essential to understanding major world conflicts, international and domestic policy decisions, and multicultural societies both historically and in the present day. According to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center , most Americans can answer basic questions about the Bible and Christianity, but far fewer can correctly answer questions about Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, and “most do not know what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials.”

How can teachers develop innovative strategies to close this religious knowledge gap? This was the focus of a recent professional development course led by Stanford Global Studies (SGS) and the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET) in the Graduate School of Education.

The three-day workshop, which took place February 7-9, 2020, brought instructors from middle schools, high schools, and community colleges as far as Oregon and Texas to campus to learn about the changing global religious landscape and explore instructional techniques to promote critical thinking in the classroom.

“The best way we can combat a lot of hate in the world and promote tolerance is through education because there’s a lot of ignorance. There are so many similarities between a lot of religions, in terms of practices,” said Chris Kanelopoulos, an eighth grade religious studies teacher at a school in the Bay Area. “People need to step back and understand that everybody has different ways of looking at it, and there is no one right way.”

SGS Executive Director Katherine Kuhns designed the course together with Jovana Knežević, associate director of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, and Dr. Magdalena Gross, a senior research and professional development associate, working in partnership with CSET. The workshop was partially funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI grant program, which supports area/international studies teaching and professional development for educators, among other things.

Teachers from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds attended lectures led by faculty and lecturers from universities across the Bay Area. Harry Odamtten, an associate professor of African and Atlantic history at Santa Clara University, kicked off the course with a talk about African religious traditions, Islam, and the Indigenous West African Church.

Participants also had the opportunity to hear from Professor Abbas Milani, director of the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies, who discussed Iran’s role in the development of major world religions, as well as Nicholas Constantino, a lecturer in the history department at UC Berkeley, who focused on foundations of Confucianism.

Milani highlighted how several religions that first emerged in Persia, such as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, have had a major impact on the formation of many Western religions. Following his talk, he fielded questions about how to approach teaching such a complex and deeply personal subject matter. “You have to tell students that, when it comes to religion, there is a revelation-based, sacred history of religion that is believed by the faithful, and then there is a reason-based, historical view of religion,” he said. Milani believes it is the job of academics to facilitate a respectful dialogue to help students understand both views.

Anna Bigelow, an associate professor of religious studies at Stanford, concluded day two of the course with a lecture on India’s diverse religious landscape.

“You can teach about almost any religion on the planet through South Asia,” Bigelow told the instructors, as she pointed to a colorful map showing the geographic distribution of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist populations in India.

“Above all, whenever I’m teaching about a religious tradition in a particular place and time, or something as broad as South Asian religions, a big concern of mine is to remind students that anything I’m saying is provisional because all of these traditions are incredibly diverse—there is no one Islam, there is no one Hinduism there is no one Jainism there is no one anything,” she emphasized.

After each talk, the teachers participated in pedagogy sessions, where they discussed how to incorporate the content from the lectures into their lesson plans. They also focused on ways to create meaningful group discussion to deepen student learning.

“This course interested me because of the pedagogy component,” said Katie Seltzer, a religion teacher at a high school in Portland, Oregon. “All of the religions I teach have historical documents that we examine, so finding ways to help our students become better scholars, readers, and writers has been really exciting. I’m enjoying that part so far.”

The course was equally enjoyable for those leading the lectures. “I am absolutely humbled by teachers. If there were saints in the world, they would be the closest thing to the saints because teachers do the remarkable job of training the next generation with little thanks,” said Milani. “Having a chance to meet some of these people and share experiences and knowledge is a privilege.”

This workshop is one of several professional development opportunities for instructors offered by SGS and CSET. Two upcoming courses on Slavery in Historical and Contemporary Contexts and History of the Americas: Central America and the Cold War will be offered on April 17 and July 16. For more information, visit the SGS community outreach page.

18 Major World Religions — Study Starters

Religion is a vast subject. Actually, that&rsquos an understatement. Religion touches on everything about the world around us, from the explanations we seek for the creation of the universe and our purpose within to the higher power behind these things to the way we behave, treat one another, and interact with society to the values, laws, and beliefs that govern us. Whether you are a person of faith, a skeptic, or something in between, the concepts of spirituality, organized religion, and morality effect us all. They produce cultural constructs, power dynamics, and historical narratives. They can also produce philosophical innovation, ethical reform, and the advancement of social justice.

Religion Table of Contents

In other words, religion is so diverse and nuanced a subject that it&rsquos nearly impossible to encapsulate all of the world&rsquos major religions in just a few words. But we&rsquore going to try anyway.

This is a study starter, an entry point for understanding the basics of the world&rsquos major religions. We&rsquoll give you the quick low down on the belief systems, theologies, scriptures, and histories of the world&rsquos major religions. Taken together, these brief and sometimes overlapping histories offer a window into human history itself.

Each of these entries is a surface-level look at the religion in question. (Try capturing everything about Buddhism in just 250 words!) We also scratch the surface when it comes to the number of actual religions and denominations, both current and ancient. There&rsquos a lot out there. This is merely an introduction.

Use it to get started on your religious studies essay, to brush up before an exam on religion and world history, or just to learn more about the world around you. Below are some of the leading spiritual and religious traditions in the world, both past and present:

1. Atheism/Agnosticism

Atheism refers to either the absence of a belief in the existence of deities or to an active belief that deities do not exist. This belief system rejects theology as well as the constructs of organized religion. Use of the term originated in the ancient world and was meant to degrade those who rejected commonly accepted religious precepts. It was first self-applied during the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century France. The French Revolution was driven by the prioritization of human reason over the abstract authority of religion. This prompted a period of skeptical inquiry, one in which atheism became an important cultural, philosophical, and political entity.

Many who characterize themselves as atheists argue that a lack of proof or scientific process prevents the belief in a deity. Some who refer to themselves as secular humanists have developed a code of ethics that exists separate from the worship of a deity. Determining the actual number of &ldquopracticing&rdquo atheists is quite difficult, given the absence of a unifying religious organization. Polling around the world has produced an extremely wide variance, with the largest rates of atheism generally seen in Europe and East Asia.

Closely related is the idea of agnosticism, which doesn&rsquot profess to know whether there is or isn&rsquot a deity. Instead, agnosticism argues that the limits of human reasoning and understanding make the existence of god(s), the origins of the universe, and the possibility of an afterlife all unknowable. Like atheism, the term emerged around the fifth century BCE and was contemplated with particular interest in Indian cultures. It gained more popular modern visibility when coined by English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who in 1869 recognized that incapacity of humans to truly answer questions regarding the divine. To Huxley, and the agnostic and athiest thinkers who followed, theistic or gnostic religions lack scientific basis, and therefore, should be rejected.

2. Bahá&rsquoí

The Bahá&rsquoí faith is essentially a spiritual ideology that teaches the value of all religions, espousing the importance of universal equality and unity. Bahá&rsquou&rsquolláh, the founding figure in the Bahá&rsquoí faith, officially established his ideology in 1863 in Persia (or modern-day Iran). As something of a hybrid of other faiths, Bahá&rsquoí grew out of the tradition of Babism, which itself emerged from an Islamic denomination called Shaykhism. (Today, Babism exists with a few thousand adherents, concentrated largely in Iran, and standing separately from the Islamic ideologies that surround it.) Like Babism, Bahá&rsquoí incorporates some of the teachings of Islam but merges them with some Christian principles. The central governing body of the Bahá&rsquoí faith, a nine-member council called the Universal House of Justice, operates from Haifa, Israel. Today, the Bahá&rsquoí faith has somewhere between five and seven million adherents around the world.

3. Buddhism

Buddhism is both a religion and philosophy. The traditions and beliefs surrounding Buddhism can be traced to the original teachings of Gautama Buddha, a sagely thinker who is believed to have lived between the fourth and sixth centuries BCE. The Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of ancient India, providing the template for a faith based on the ideas of moral rectitude, freedom from material attachment or desire, the achievement of peace and illumination through meditation, and a life dedicated to wisdom, kindness, and compassion. The Buddha&rsquos teachings proliferated widely through much of Asia in the centuries that followed.

Though its scriptures and traditions inform countless subsequent sects and ideologies, Buddhism is largely divided into two branches: Theravada &mdash the goal of which is to achieve freedom from ignorance, material attachment, and anger by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, all in pursuit of a sublime state called Nirvana and Mahayana &mdash the goal of which is aspire to Buddhahood by practicing the Zen principles of self-control, meditation, and expression of the insight of Buddha in your daily life, especially for the benefit of others, all to the end of achieving bodhisattva, or an ongoing cycle of rebirth by which you can continue to enlighten others.

Today, roughly 7% of the world practices some form of Buddhism, making it the fourth largest of the world&rsquos religions, with an estimated 500 million adherents across both the Eastern and Western World.

4. Christianity

Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah (the savior of humanity foretold in the Torah, the primary scriptural doctrine of the Jewish faith). Christian scripture incorporates both the Torah (referred to by Christians as the Old Testament) with the story of Jesus, his teachings, and those of his contemporaneous disciples (the New Testament). These form the Bible, the central text of the Christian faith. Christianity began in Jerusalem as an outgrowth of Judaism that considered Jesus the Christ (meaning &ldquoanointed one&rdquo). This idea and its adherents spread rapidly through ancient Judea around the first century CE, then throughout the ancient world.

Christians believe Jesus successfully met and completed all the requirements of the Old Testament laws, took upon himself the sins of the world during his crucifixion, died, and rose to life again so that those who place their faith in him are forgiven their sins, reconciled to God, and granted grace for daily living. Christians maintain that heaven with God awaits them after bodily death, whereas eternal separation from God in hell awaits those who neither received forgiveness for their sins nor acknowledged Jesus as Lord.

Christianity has seen countless reformation movements, which spawned innumerable sects and offshoot denominations. Far too many forms of practice exist to be named in one place, but the faith&rsquos three largest branches are Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Combined, Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with roughly 2.4 billion adherents, or 33% of the total population. Its impact on the shape of world history and on present-day world culture is incalculable.

5. Confucianism

Confucianism was a dominant form of philosophy and religious orientation in ancient China, one that emerged from the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived 551&ndash479 BCE. Confucius viewed himself as a channel for the theological ideas emerging from the imperial dynasties that came before him. With an emphasis on family and social harmony, Confucianism was a distinctly humanist and even secularist religious ideology. Confucianism had a profound impact on the development of Eastern legal customs and the emergence of a scholar class (and with it, a meritocratic way of governing).

Confucianism would engage in a historic push and pull with the philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism, experiencing ebbs and flows in influence, with high points during the Han (206 BCE to 220 CE), Tang (618&ndash907 CE) and Song (960&ndash1296 CE) Dynasties. As Buddhism became the dominant spiritual force in China, Confucianism declined in practice. And with the emergence of communism and Maoism in the 20th century, the mainstream practice of Confucianism was largely at an end.

However, it remains a foundational ideology and force underlying Asian and Chinese attitudes toward scholarly, legal, and professional pursuits. Indeed, the strong work ethic advocated by Confucianism is seen as a major catalyst for the late 20th century rise of the Asian economies. Today, there are various independent Confucian congregations, but it was only in 2015 that congregation leaders in China gathered together to form the Holy Confucian Church.

6. Druze

Druze refers to an Arabic ethnoreligious group that originated in and still largely inhabits the Mountain of Druze region in southern Syria. Despite a small population of adherents, the Druze nonetheless play an important role in the development of their region (known in historical shorthand as the Levant). The Druze view themselves as the direct descendants of Jethro of Midian, distinguished in Jewish scripture as the father-in-law of Moses. The Druze consider Jethro a &ldquohidden&rdquo prophet, one through whom God spoke to &ldquorevealed prophet&rdquo Moses.

As such, the Druze are considered related to Judaism by marriage. Like their in-laws, the Druze are monotheistic, professing faith in only one God. Druze ideologies are something of a hybrid though, drawing from the cultural teachings of Islam, but also incorporating the wisdom of Greek philosophers, such as Plato, and concepts of reincarnation similar to those in Hindu canon.

Jethro&rsquos status as a hidden prophet is an important conceptual dimension of the Druze culture. Indeed, its present-day scriptures and community remain somewhat insular. The close-knit communities rooted in present day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel have long been subject to persecution, particularly at the hands of Islamic theocracies. This may be one reason that the Druze, while participating actively in the politics and affairs of their home nations, shield their customs and practices from the eyes of outsiders. Today, there are between 800,000 and one million Druze adherents, nearly all of them concentrated in the Middle East.

7. Gnosticism

Gnosticism likely refers not to a single religious orientation but to an &ldquointerreligious phenomenon&rdquo in which various groups across an array of regions evolved to a similar set of beliefs and ideas. A term adapted in modern historical discourse, gnosticism concerns the variety of religious systems and beliefs in the ancient world that emerged from the Judeo-Christian tradition. These belief systems held that emanations from a single God were responsible for the creation of the material world and that, as such, all humans carried the divine spark of God. Gnosticism is dualistic and draws sharp divides between the superior spiritual world and the inferior material world, with the gaining or receiving of special, hidden knowledge (&ldquognosis&rdquo) allowing transcendence from one realm to another. Emerging in the first century CE &mdash in close concert with the emergence of Christianity &mdash gnosticism is perhaps best understand as the intermediary set of ideas shared by portions of the world as Christianity gradually eclipsed Judaism in size and scope.

8. Hinduism

Hinduism is regarded by some as the world&rsquos oldest religion, likely dating back to what is known on the Indian subcontinent as the Vedic age. During this period, 1500&ndash600 BCE, civilization transitioned from tribal and pastoral living into settled and agricultural living. From this emerged social classes, state-entities, and monarchies. The primary texts retelling this period of history are called the Vedas and would significantly inform the so-called Hindu Synthesis.

The Hindu Synthesis was a period of time, roughly 500 BCE to 300 CE, in which the precepts of Hinduism solidified from multiple intertwining strands of Indian spiritual and cultural tradition, emerging from a broad range of philosophies to share a unifying set of concepts. Critical among these concepts is the theme of the Four Purusarthas, or goals, of human life: Dharma (ethics and duties), Artha (prosperity and work), Kama (desires and passions), and Moksha (liberation and salvation). Other important concepts include karma, which asserts a universal relationship between action, intent, and consequences samsara, the Hindu concept of rebirth and a wide range of Yogic practices merging the body, mind, and elements.

Though no one figure or group is credited with its founding, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world today. Its more than one billion adherents comprise more than 15% of the world&rsquos population.

9. Islam

Islam is a monotheistic religion that &mdash like Christianity and Judaism &mdash traces its roots to the Garden of Eden, Adam, and the prophet Abraham. Islam teaches that Allah is the only God and that Muhammed is his messenger. Islam holds that God spoke to Muhammed through the archangel Gabriel some time around 600 CE, delivering the revelations that would form the Quran. This primary text of the Islamic faith is believed by adherents to contain the exact words of God and therefore provides a full and nonnegotiable blueprint for how to live.

The Quran and the Islamic legal code known as Sharia inform every aspect of life, from ethics and worship to family matters and business dealings. Islam holds that good behavior and adherence will lead to an afterlife in paradise, whereas disregard for Muhammed&rsquos teachings will lead to damnation.

The Islamic faith proliferated rapidly through the Middle East, particularly around the three holiest sites of the faith: Mecca, where an awakened Muhammed made his first pilgrimage Medina, the center of early Islamic faith under Muhammed&rsquos leadership and Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of the ancient world. In the centuries to follow, Islam would simultaneously produce countless wars of succession and a growing sense of spiritual unity within the Arab World. This dichotomy between internal conflict and cultural unity remains a presence in the Islamic faith today. This dichotomy would also give way to a division between the two dominant sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia. Today, Islam is the dominant faith for large swaths of geography, particularly in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and North Africa. With more than 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the second largest religion in the world and the chief spiritual identity for more than 24% of the world&rsquos population.

10. Jainism

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that &mdash according to its adherents &mdash can be traced through a succession of 24 sagely teachers. The first of these teachers is thought to have been Rishabhanatha, who lived millions of years ago. Jainism&rsquos primary tenets are ahiṃs&amacr (nonviolence), anek&amacrntav&amacrda (many-sidedness), aparigraha (nonattachment) and asceticism (abstinence from pleasure). These and other concepts are outlined in the Acaranga Sutra, the oldest of the Jainist scriptures.

As one of the earliest extant religious traditions to emerge from the spiritually fertile Indian subcontinent, Jainism both shares with and diverges from features of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that also emerged there. Like Hindu and Buddhism, Jainism teaches the doctrines of karma, rebirth, and monastic (as opposed to theistic) spiritual practices.

Jainists believe the soul is an ever-changing thing, bound to the body only for a lifetime, which differs from Hindu or Buddhist ideas about the soul as part of an infinite and constant universe. This focus on the corporeal also extends to the Jainist caste system, which, not unlike Hinduism, requires adherents eschew social liberation in favor of spiritual liberation. Today, most of the world&rsquos four to five million Jains reside in India.

11. Judaism

Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic world religions, among the first ethnoreligious groups to move away from idolatry or paganism and toward the recognition of a single deity. Judaism is said to have begun with the figure of Abraham, a man living in the Land of Canaan &mdash a geographical expanse likely encompassing portions of Phoenicia, Philistia, and Israel. In the Tanakh &mdash the body of Jewish scripture which includes a foundational text called The Torah, and later supplemental texts call the Midrash and the Talmud &mdash it is said that God spoke to Abraham and commanded him to recognize the singularity and omnipotence of God. Abraham accepted, becoming the father not just of Judaism but of the various monotheistic (or Abrahamic) religions that followed.

Thus, Abraham is seen not just as the first prophet of Judaism, but also of the Christian and Islamic faiths that sprung from the Judaic tradition. The Jewish faith is based upon a covenant between Abraham and God in which the former renounced idolatry and accepted the latter as the only divine authority. In exchange, God promised to make Abraham&rsquos offspring a &ldquoChosen People.&rdquo This Chosen People would become the Children of Israel, and eventually, the Jewish faith. To seal the covenant, Abraham became the first recipient of the ritualistic circumcision. This circumcision is still performed today on every newborn Jewish male as a symbol of that covenant.

Historians observe that while Abraham almost certainly lived more than 3,000 years ago, literary liberties taken with the scriptures make it impossible to ascertain exactly when he lived. But his influence would loom large in the ancient world, with the rabbinic moral codes of Judaism and its model of ethical monotheism both significantly informing the formulation of law and religion in western civilization. With roughly 14.3 million adherents, practitioners of Judaism comprise about 0.2% of the world&rsquos population.

12. Rastafarianism

Rastafarianism is a newer religious movement that follows in the Abrahamic tradition of monotheism, referring to the singular deity as Jah. Rastafari hold the Christian Bible as their primary scripture but offer an interpretation highly connected to their own political and geographical realities. Centered around early 20th century Jamaica, Rastafarianism emerged as a ethnocultural reaction to British occupation and oppression. This oppression would play a major role in the Afrocentric interpretation of the Bible favored by Rastafari.

In the early 1930s, a movement of Rastafarians espoused that the faithful were living in an African diaspora, scattered from their homelands by colonization and slavery. To be freed from oppression in Western society (or Babylon), many Rastafari believe it necessary to resettle adherents in the African homelands. A figure of central importance in the Rastafarian faith, Haile Selassie rose to the rank of Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. This was considered the germinal moment in the emergence of the modern religious tradition. Selassie was viewed by Rastafari as the Second Coming, a direct descendant of Christ, and the Messiah foretold in the Book of Revelation.

Selassie was seen as the man who would lead the people of Africa, and those living in the diaspora, to freedom and liberation. His 1966 visit to Jamaica would become the pivotal moment in the spread of Rastafari ideas and the resultant political movement for liberation within Jamaica. This visit led to the eventual conversion of Rastafari&rsquos most famous adherent, singer Bob Marley. Marley would help to spread the popular visibility of the faith, as well as its practices of communal gathering, musical expression, preservation of the natural world, and the use of cannabis as a spiritual sacrament. Today, between 700,000 and one million adherents practice Rastafarianism, the majority of them concentrated in Jamaica.

13. Shinto

Shinto is religious tradition native to Japan. Initially an informal collection of beliefs and mythologies, Shinto was less a religion than a distinctly Japanese form of cultural observance. The first recorded use of the term Shinto can be traced to the sixth century CE and is essentially the connective tissue between ancient Japanese customs and modern Japanese life. The primary focus of Shinto is the native belief in kami (spirits) and interaction with them through public shrines.

These shrines are an essential artifact of &mdash and channel for &mdash Shinto observation. More than 80,000 Shinto shrines dot Japan. Traditional Japanese styles of dress, dance, and ritual are also rooted in Shinto customs.

Shinto is unique among religions. As a reflection of Japanese identity, Shinto observance is not necessarily limited to those who view themselves as religious adherents. Roughly 3&ndash4% of the Japanese population identifies as being part of a Shinto sect or congregation. By contrast, in a 2008 survey, roughly 26% of Japanese citizens reported visiting Shinto shrines.

14. Sikhism

Sikhism is a monotheistic faith emerging from and remaining concentrated in the Punjabi region that traverses Northern India and Eastern Pakistan. The Sikh religion came into focus during the late 15th century and draws its tenets of faith, meditation, social justice, and human equality from a scripture called the Guru Granth Sahib.

The first spiritual leader of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, lived from 1469 to 1539 and taught that a good, spiritual life must be intertwined with a secular life well-lived. He called for activity, creativity, fidelity, self-control, and purity. More important than the metaphysical, Guru Nanak argued, is a life in which one enacts the will of God. Guru Nanak was succeeded by a subsequent line of nine gurus, who served as spiritual leaders. The tenth in this line of successors, Guru Gobind Singh, named the scriptures as his successor. This was the end of human authority in the Sikh faith and the emergence of the scriptures as a singular spiritual guide.

Today, the more than 28 million estimated adherents of Sikhism are largely concentrated in India, making it the seventh largest religion in the world.

15. Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is considered one of the world&rsquos oldest religions, and some of its earliest ideas &mdash messianism, posthumous judgment, and the duality of heaven and hell &mdash are believed to have informed the evolution of Judaism, as well as Gnosticism, Christianity, and Islam. Its founding figure, Zoroaster, was an innovative religious thinker and teacher who is believed to have lived between 700 BCE and 500 BCE in Persia (modern-day Iran). Its primary text, the Avesta, combines the Gathas (Zoroaster&rsquos writings) with the Yasna (the scriptural basis of Zoroastrianism). Zoroaster&rsquos influence loomed large in his time and place. In fact, Zoroastrianism was soon adopted as the official state religion of the Persian Empire and remained so for nearly a thousand years.

Zoroaster&rsquos ideas finally fell out of authority after the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century CE. What followed was centuries of persecution and suppression by Muslim conquerors, to the point of almost entirely snuffing out Zoroastrian teachings and practices in the Arabic-speaking world. These practices have seen a small resurgence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with some Iranians and Iraqi Kurdish populations adopting Zoroastrianism as a mode of resistance to theocratic governance.

Today, there are roughly 190,000 Zoroastrians, mostly concentrated in Iran, Iraq, and India.

16. Traditional African Religions

Countless religious traditions inform the inhabitants of the African continent, each with its own distinct practices and beliefs based on region and ethnicity. Because Africa contains diverse people groups, and their religions remain deeply tied to geography and tribal lands, the continent&rsquos history is a tapestry of distinct spiritual traditions. Many share common threads, including the belief in spirits, respect for the dead, and the importance of the intersection between humanity and nature. Also common: many of these religions rely on oral history and tradition, rather than scriptures. Though Christianity and Islam are today the dominant religious traditions in Africa, informal estimates place the number of adherents to Traditional African Religions at 100 million. The following list &mdash borrowed from Wikipedia &mdash identifies some of the best known or most prominent of these religions:

  • Bushongo mythology (Congo)
  • Lugbara mythology (Congo)
  • Baluba mythology (Congo)
  • Mbuti mythology (Congo)
  • Akamba mythology (Kenya)
  • Lozi mythology (Zambia)
  • Tumbuka mythology (Malawi)
  • Zulu mythology (South Africa)
  • Dinka religion (South Sudan)
  • Hausa animism (Chad, Gabon)
  • Lotuko mythology (South Sudan)
  • Maasai mythology (Kenya, Tanzania, Ouebian)
  • Kalenjin religion(Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania)
  • Dini Ya Msambwa (Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Kenya)
  • San religion (South Africa)
  • Traditional healers of South Africa
  • Manjonjo Healers of Chitungwiza of Zimbabwe
  • Akan religion (Ghana, Ivory Coast)
  • Dahomean religion (Benin, Togo)
  • Efik mythology (Nigeria, Cameroon)
  • Edo religion (Benin kingdom, Nigeria)
  • Hausa animism (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d&rsquoIvoire, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Togo)
  • Odinani (Igbo people, Nigeria)
  • Serer religion (Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania)
  • Yoruba religion (Nigeria, Benin, Togo)
  • West African Vodun (Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria)
  • Dogon religion (Mali)
  • Vodun (Benin)

17. African Diaspora Religions

The European slave trade and the practices of colonization created what is known as the African diaspora. Here, individuals, families, and whole groups were displaced from the communities or tribes they called home on the African continent. The result was the proliferation of innumerable religious groups around the Caribbean, Latin America and the southern United States during the 16th through 18th centuries. Each had its own linguistic, spiritual, and ritualistic customs, generally rooted in their respective histories and their new geographic surroundings. Often, like the traditional African religions they emerged from, these groups shared common threads regarding reverence for the spirits, veneration of the dead, and similar creation mythologies. Though too extensive to name, the following list &mdash borrowed from Wikipedia &mdash identifies the most notable African diaspora religions:

  • Batuque
  • Candomblé
  • Dahomey mythology
  • Haitian mythology
  • Kumina
  • Macumba
  • Mami Wata
  • Obeah
  • Oyotunji
  • Palo
  • Ifa
  • Lucumi
  • Hudu
  • Quimbanda
  • Santería (Lukumi)
  • Umbanda
  • Vodou

18. Indigenous American Religions

Native American religions encompass the broad and diverse set of customs, beliefs, and practices observed by the indigenous populations that thrived in the Americas before the arrival of European colonists. The diversity of customs and beliefs represented here is as diverse as the major population centers, tribes, and small nomadic bands that inhabited the Americas for millennia.

Theologies vary widely, representing a range of monotheistic, polytheistic, and animistic beliefs. Also highly variant are the oral histories, principles, and internal hierarchical structures of these different indigenous groups. Some religions emerged around established kingdoms and settlements &mdash especially in the monarchical societies of pre-Latin America &mdash whereas others emerged around tribes that moved within and between regions. Some common threads include the belief in spirits and a sense of connectivity with nature.

Though many individuals and families descended from these tribes do practice some of the customs of their ancestors, indigenous religious customs have befallen the same broader fate as the Native American peoples. The arrival of Europeans signaled the beginning of a cultural, spiritual, and actual genocide, one that wiped out tribes wholesale through violence, disease, and religious conversion. Some religions would disappear entirely. Other religions are still practiced by dwindling populations, many living on reservations.

Wikipedia identifies a few major native American religions:

  • Earth Lodge religion
  • Indian Shaker religon
  • Longhouse religion
  • Mexicayoti
  • Peyote religion
  • Waashat religion

This is by no means a complete list. It is, by its intent, a concise look at major world religions. Truthfully, this subject defies brevity. Each religion or tradition represented here, and the countless not represented here, offer worlds unto themselves, replete with scriptures, histories, leaders, events, codes of ethics, richly drawn mythologies, and unwavering adherents. You could spend a lifetime studying each of these traditions. Of course, many people do!

But we hope this is a helpful place to start. And if we missed anything, let us know. Hey, even if you&rsquove invented your own religion, tell us about it in the comments section. Lord knows, somebody had to come up with the idea for each of these religions in the first place.

Of course, whatever you believe or don&rsquot, we wish you good luck on your exams. We&rsquove got faith in you!

Jainism 101: Religions in Global History - History

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW INDIA without understanding its religious beliefs and practices, which have a large impact on the personal lives of most Indians and influence public life on a daily basis. Indian religions have deep historical roots that are recollected by contemporary Indians. The ancient culture of South Asia, going back at least 4,500 years, has come down to India primarily in the form of religious texts. The artistic heritage, as well as intellectual and philosophical contributions, has always owed much to religious thought and symbolism. Contacts between India and other cultures have led to the spread of Indian religions throughout the world, resulting in the extensive influence of Indian thought and practice on Southeast and East Asia in ancient times and, more recently, in the diffusion of Indian religions to Europe and North America. Within India, on a day-to-day basis, the vast majority of people engage in ritual actions that are motivated by religious systems that owe much to the past but are continuously evolving. Religion, then, is one of the most important facets of Indian history and contemporary life.

A number of world religions originated in India, and others that started elsewhere found fertile ground for growth there. Devotees of Hinduism, a varied grouping of philosophical and devotional traditions, officially numbered 687.6 million people, or 82 percent of the population in the 1991 census (see table 13, Appendix). Buddhism and Jainism, ancient monastic traditions, have had a major influence on Indian art, philosophy, and society and remain important minority religions in the late twentieth century. Buddhists represented 0.8 percent of the total population while Jains represented 0.4 percent in 1991.

Islam spread from the West throughout South Asia, from the early eighth century, to become the largest minority religion in India. In fact, with 101.5 million Muslims (12.1 percent of the population), India has at least the fourth largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia with 174.3 million, Pakistan with 124 million, and Bangladesh with 103 million some analysts put the number of Indian Muslims even higher--128 million in 1994, which would give India the second largest Muslim population in the world).

Sikhism, which started in Punjab in the sixteenth century, has spread throughout India and the world since the mid-nineteenth century. With nearly 16.3 million adherents, Sikhs represent 1.9 percent of India's population.

Christianity, represented by almost all denominations, traces its history in India back to the time of the apostles and counted 19.6 million members in India in 1991. Judaism and Zoroastrianism, arriving originally with traders and exiles from the West, are represented by small populations, mostly concentrated on India's west coast. A variety of independent tribal religious groups also are lively carriers of unique ethnic traditions.

The listing of the major belief systems only scratches the surface of the remarkable diversity in Indian religious life. The complex doctrines and institutions of the great traditions, preserved through written documents, are divided into numerous schools of thought, sects, and paths of devotion. In many cases, these divisions stem from the teachings of great masters, who arise continually to lead bands of followers with a new revelation or path to salvation. In contemporary India, the migration of large numbers of people to urban centers and the impact of modernization have led to the emergence of new religions, revivals, and reforms within the great traditions that create original bodies of teaching and kinds of practice. In other cases, diversity appears through the integration or acculturation of entire social groups--each with its own vision of the divine--within the world of village farming communities that base their culture on literary and ritual traditions preserved in Sanskrit or in regional languages. The local interaction between great traditions and local forms of worship and belief, based on village, caste, tribal, and linguistic differences, creates a range of ritual forms and mythology that varies widely throughout the country. Within this range of differences, Indian religions have demonstrated for many centuries a considerable degree of tolerance for alternate visions of the divine and of salvation.

Religious tolerance in India finds expression in the definition of the nation as a secular state, within which the government since independence has officially remained separate from any one religion, allowing all forms of belief equal status before the law. In practice it has proven difficult to divide religious affiliation from public life. In states where the majority of the population embrace one religion, the boundary between government and religion becomes permeable in Tamil Nadu, for example, the state government manages Hindu temples, while in Punjab an avowedly Sikh political party usually controls the state assembly. One of the most notable features of Indian politics, particularly since the 1960s, has been the steady growth of militant ideologies that see in only one religious tradition the way toward salvation and demand that public institutions conform to their interpretations of scripture. The vitality of religious fundamentalism and its impact on public life in the form of riots and religion-based political parties have been among the greatest challenges to Indian political institutions in the 1990s.

1. Christianity (2.3 billion followers)

Christianity began over two thousand years ago, and is a faith based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. From its humble beginnings as a tiny sub-group evolved from Judaism, Christianity has grown to become the most popular religion in the world, with followers to be found all across the globe. Christians believe in the existence of one God who sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to save humanity from their iniquity and Hell. Followers believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Crucifixion), his death, and his resurrection were all carried out in service towards granting eternal life and forgiveness to all of those who accept Christ as their personal savior. Even in our modern society, Christianity plays an important and powerful role, not only in terms of religious rituals, but also on a much wider scale. In some degree, it even does so in terms of shaping social and political policies of Christian-dominant nations.

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