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A Brief History of World Religions

By Yann, published on 08/08/2019 We Love Prof - AU > Academia > History > Taking a Trip Around the World to Learn About Distinct Faiths

“Religion is one tree with many branches. As branches, you may say, religions are many, but as a tree, religion is only one.” -Mahatma Gandhi

With more than 84% of the 7.3 billion inhabitants on planet earth claiming to identify with a religious group, people from all types of faith find comfort in the teachings, traditions, and practices of their distinct faith.

Christians form the largest religious group in terms of followers with over 2.3 billion adherents. 

Nevertheless, it is essential to mention that other major world religions such as Islam and Hinduism each boast more than one billion followers each. Also, Buddhists have over 500 million adherents, which count for 6.9% of the world’s current population.

Therefore, with so many people who look to a supreme being for guidance, even if secular countries, it is highly recommended to learn more about other religious cultures to increase compassion, tolerance, and unity in modern society. Get ready for an informative ride through world religions!

Learning More About Christianity

By boasting the most followers in the world, Christianity has affected and influenced significant parts of modern society in many distinct countries in continents such as North America, South America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.

Nevertheless, how, where, and why did Christianity begin? 

Christianity is a religion entirely based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, the origins of Christianity began with Jesus and his apostles. Nevertheless, it is essential to state that only after the death of Jesus did the Christian congregation begin to flourish and grow in number. Jesus’ apostles and disciples bravely defended the truth and preached to people of all nations about the good news found in the Ancient Scrolls or Holy Writings.

The Christian congregation was established in the first century and faced much opposition from other Jewish leaders. 

While the “originator” of Christianity, Jesus, was born in Bethlehem, his teachings originate from the word of God.  

While there are many distinct denominations of Christianity, the overwhelming majority of Christians claim to be Catholic. The over 1.332 billion Catholics in the world believe in such things as the Bible being the infallible word of God, Jesus Christ being God’s son, water baptism being a form of salvation and the trinity.

There are distinct characteristics associated with Christianity that make it unique from other world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. For example, popular Christian iconography includes the cross and the Christian fish. Also, significant figures of Christianity include the Pope and Martin Luther, among others.

Christians also strive to follow the teachings recorded in the Bible, which is their holy book and most published piece of literature of all time. 

Since there are many sects of Christianity, the sacred spaces change. For example, Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants worship in churches. Jehovah’s Witnesses attend meetings at a Kingdom Hall.

The Christian faith has many beliefs, traditions, and customs recorded in the Bible that can be examined by individuals no matter their background or upbringing.

Understanding the Muslim Faith

Islamic faith Muslims are devoted to their system of beliefs. (Source: pixabay)

According to many statistics, researchers believe that Islam will surpass Christianity and become the most practised religion in the world by 207o.

Nevertheless, how was the Islamic faith originated? 

Historians who have much experience studying religion have found that Islam originates from the cities of Medina and Mecca at the start of the 7th century CE. Islam started approximately 600 years after Christianity and is the youngest of all major religions practised today.

Muslims view prophets such as Jesus, David, Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Adam as the originators of Islam. 

Muhammad is an essential figure of Islam and “originator” since he was the one who claims to have received the angelic vision which encouraged him to write the Qur’an. By far the most important of all Islamic holy books, the Qur’an is viewed as the preexistent words of Allah transmitted to Muhammad.

Allah is the Arabic word for god; therefore, Allah is the supreme being of the entire universe and it is a term that has been used for centuries. 

It is essential to mention that Islam appeals to many individuals since they view it as a path to attain complete peace through submission of the divine will. The following characteristics greatly summarise the core beliefs of Islam:

  • Faith in one God (Allah),
  • Trust in the Angels,
  • Frequent use of holy books such as the Torah and most importantly the Qur’an,
  • Belief in all the prophets sent by a supreme being such as Abraham, Moses, Jacob, etc.,
  • Strong knowledge in the day of judgement and life after death.

The previously mentioned doctrines are fundamental beliefs exercised by all Muslims. Nevertheless, other principles, such as the five pillars of Islam, guide Muslim’s lifestyle.

What are they? 

The following are the five pillars of Islam that every devout Muslim should apply to experience a more happy life:

  • Shahadah, 
  • Salat, 
  • Zakah, 
  • Sawm, 
  • Hajj. 

Along with a strong core of beliefs, Muslims have familiar aspects associated with their faith that can be observed in all countries around the world.

Such as? 

Muslims have the star and crescent as their most recognised piece of iconography that can be observed all over the world. Also, those of Islamic faith worship in Mosques. Their most important holy book is the Qur’an followed by the Torah and Zabur.

Learning more about Islam, Muhammad, and the Qur’an helps all types of individuals become more familiar with an intriguing faith that is professed worldwide.

Discovering the Basic Concepts of Hinduism

the world's oldest faith Hinduism is a monotheistic religion with a lot of distinct doctrines. (Source: pixabay)

Predominantly practised in countries such as India, Nepal, Mauritius, and some parts of Indonesia, Hinduism is the third largest religion in terms of followers.

According to recent estimates, there are more than one billion Hindus on earth today making up over 15% of the world’s population. 

Although the exact date of origin is quite challenging to trace back, Hindus can rightfully boast about the fact that their religion is the most ancient in the world with customs dating back more than 4000 years. Many scholars believe that Hinduism originated between 2300 and 1500 BC since it is assumed that Hindu beliefs and traditions were founded in the Indus Valley. The Indus Valley is currently modern-day Pakistan.

However, it is important to state that many devout Hindus argue the origin of their faith since they believe that traditions and customs associated with Hinduism have always existed. 

What makes Hinduism unique is the fact that it is not a single religion but a compilation of many traditions and philosophies. 

There are intriguing periods in Hindu history that have shaped the beliefs and doctrines of worshippers. For example, the Vedic period is marked by the writing of the Vedas, which are ancient Hindu recordings. Also, other noteworthy times include the periods of Epic, Puranic, and Classic.

The four most prevalent denominations of Hinduism include Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. 

Although there are many denominations of Hinduism, the first place of worship remains the same: a temple. Hindus also recognise the Vedas as their holy writings and frequently consult their teachings. Also, since Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, there are many prominent figures such as Sri Ramachandra, Sri Krishna, and Arjuna.

Used in meditation and prayers, the Om is a sound and most recognisable symbol of Hinduism that represents the entire Hindu faith. 

What are some basic Hindu beliefs? 

Hindus strongly believe in the Samsara and Karma, that all followers should achieve Dharma, and that all should possess great respect for all things associated with nature.

Acquiring Knowledge of Buddhism

There are over 500 million proclaimed Buddhists in the world, which encompass 7% of the entire world population. Primarily practised in Sri Lanka and many parts of Southeast Asia, Buddhism is a religion that includes a wide variety of beliefs, traditions, and spiritual practices.

Buddhism is not nearly as ancient as Hinduism; however, its roots have been discovered to go as far back as the latter half of the 6th century.

The teachings of Buddhism originate from Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in 563 B.C.E near the Himalayan foothills and who through his life experiences, realised intriguing aspects of human suffering. Gautama started to observe the fact that all pleasures on earth are transitory and could only mildly mask human pain.

After moments of fasting, near starvation, and eventual meditation Siddhartha Gautama reached Nirvana and finally found the correct answers to human suffering and its permanent release; from this point on he was referred to as the “Buddha.”

Buddha encouraged all of his followers to reach Nirvana and introduced fundamental doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path; dogma that has been followed to this day.

The majority of Buddhist beliefs revolve around the goal of overcoming suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth; mainly by attaining Nirvana or a path of Buddhahood.

Beliefs such as the following Four Noble Truths are deeply entrenched in the teachings of Buddhism:

  • Dukkha: the first noble truth is known as Dukkha and is the truth of suffering,
  • Samudāya: the second noble truth is that of the origin of pain,
  • Nirodha: the third noble truth is known as the cessation of suffering,
  • Magga: the fourth and final truth helps Buddhists on the path to the end of pain.

Other fundamental doctrines that are followed by the most serious of Buddhists include the Eightfold Path, which is not supported in a specific order:

  1. Sammā ditthi,
  2. Sammā san̄kappa,
  3. Sammā vācā,
  4. Sammā kammant,
  5. Sammā ājīva,
  6. Sammā vāyāma,
  7. Sammā sati,
  8. Sammā samādhi.

While its system of beliefs can quickly identify Buddhism, it can also be recognised by its unique characteristics. For example, Buddhists worship in temples, they consult the pali canon as their holy writings, have the Dharma wheel as their identifying symbol, and have recognisable figures in their history such as the Dalai Lama.

Learning more about Buddhism is an intriguing way to discover unique parts of world history and geography.

Investigating the Beliefs of Judaism

world religions The Kippah is worn by Jews to cover their heads. (Source: pixabay)

After analysing the four largest religions on the planet, it is time to focus on a faith that has fewer followers but has left an everlasting impact on the world: Judaism.

With just over 14 million active Jews primarily located in North America, parts of Europe, and Israel, Judaism is the world’s tenth-largest religion and oldest monotheistic religion dating back more than 4000 years.

How did Judaism begin?

Judaism traces all of its origins back to the time when God made a covenant with Abraham and his lineage. God was to make Abraham’s offering a sacred group of people and give them the promised land. Judaism has its roots linked to a place known in ancient times as Canaan.

Although Judaism did not formally begin until the 1st century, its teachings, customs, and traditions are based on the people of “Israel.” The Jewish people have high regard for important men of the past, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophet Moses.

The majority of Jewish beliefs and laws are based on the Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures written by Moses. 

Typical denominations of Judaism include Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanistic, and Messianic. 

Modern-day Jews worship at places known as synagogues which are education and community centres in the neighbourhood for all those of Jewish faith. Also, famous Jewish people include Abraham, Moses, Albert Einstein, and Anne Frank.

Since all religions are identified by some sort of iconography, those of Jewish faith have Menorah and Star of David. 

But what do Jews believe?

Jews believe in only God that is the supreme being who created the entire universe. Also, Judaism is very familial and community-oriented. For example, Jews spend a great deal of time completing things together as a community and families stick together for events such as the Sabbath.

Learning more about distinct world religions is a beautiful experience that opens up a person’s view on how other people live and possess hope for the future.

 

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