Types of religions

Goals: Types of Religions
The world’s most populous religions have diverged from three main centers: South
Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East.
Ethnic religions tend to be limited to a single ethnic group; universal religions try to
appeal to all people everywhere.
Types of Religions
Pantheism is the worship of the divine within the world as we see and experience it.
Monotheism is the worship of a single deity; polytheism is the worship of many
Most religions conceptualize the divine as both singular and multiple.
People commonly regard the experience of the sacred as being beyond words.
People who say there is no god are atheists; people who come to no conclusion
about the existence of God are called agnostics.
Eastern & Western
Families of Religions
The most common way of categorizing world religions
is to label as falling under one of the following:
Thinking of the world’s religions as “Eastern” or “Western” religions is a bit
Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism,
Confucianism, Shinto)
ignores the long-standing relationships between these and other religions
Western (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
ignores world religions that do not fall into either category. While most Native,
African, and aboriginal Australian religions are indeed oral (meaning they do not
have written scriptures), they are arguably as different from one another as
Taoism is from Islam or as Buddhism is from Judaism.
Religions that fall outside these categories (for example,
Native American religions or traditional African religions)
are termed tribal, oral, or indigenous religions.
Families of Religions
Ethnic & Universal Religions
We can categorize the world’s religions according to
their intended audience:
Those religions with the greatest number of adherents today spring from three
basic geographic regions:
Ethnic religions are those that have no grand
ambitions to spread outside the ethnic group or
geographic area in which they began. (Hindu, Taoism,
and Judaism would fall toward the ethnic end of the
East Asia (Taoism and Confucianism)
South Asia (Hinduism and Buddhism)
Middle East (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)
However, commerce between these areas has been longstanding. In ancient
times, the religions of India and the Middle East had common linguistic links, and
probably theological ones as well. For example, Buddhism, originally from India,
has been an important presence in East Asia for two thousand years.
Universal religions are eager to transmit their
religious teachings far and wide, believing they have
value for all people everywhere. (Buddhism,
Christianity, and Islam)
Types of Theism
Theistic & Non-Theistic Religions
There are different types of Theism (ways of thinking
about divine reality):
Religions are also categorized in terms of their belief, or
lack of belief, in a supernatural being or beings.
Immanent (with us, near us, around us,
interacting with us)
Some religions disavow any belief in God (such as
Buddhism) and others see God not as a super-person
who makes decisions and acts upon them, but as an
impersonal force that permeates the universe (such as
Taoism) These are sometimes called non-theistic.
Transcendent (beyond us, above us, separate
from us)
When God is understood to be radically immanent, in
everything and inseparable from the world, this is
referred to as pantheism.
Monotheism & Polytheism
Monotheism & Polytheism
The major religions of the West (Judaism, Christianity,
an Islam) all declare themselves monotheistic.
When we look closely, we find that virtually all religions
contain elements of both monotheism and polytheism.
The belief in many gods is called polytheism
For example, Christians recognize only one God, but
that God has three forms (the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit). Catholic and Orthodox Christians direct much
of their prayer and reverence toward innumerable saints
who have a semi-divine status.
The belief in on god is called monotheism
Effin’ Ineffable
Polytheistic religions generally contain an element of
It is not surprising that people
should find words inadequate to
describe God. Whatever else it
may be, God is a big concept, the
largest, most ultimate concept
that human beings can begin to
imagine. The language of paradox
dominates religious expression.
“God is this and also not this”,
“God is both immanent and
The religions of the world agree on one aspect of divine
reality: that it is ineffable.
They recognize the existence of many gods, but see
one in particular as the high god.
People from all religions claim that words are
inadequate to express the mystery of the divine.
Alternatively, polytheistic religions may believe that all
the gods and goddesses in their pantheon are
ultimately part of a single divine reality. This concept is
sometimes called monism.
One may know or experience the divine, but it is not a
knowledge or experience that can be accurately put
into words.
Atheism & Agnosticism
Summary: Types of Religions
South Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East are the three geographical locations
from which the world’s most populous religions have derived.
Universal religions try to appeal to all people everywhere, while ethnic religions tend
to be limited to a single ethnic group.
Agnostics believe they can take no position on whether
or not God exists because the evidence is simply not
there to prove this one way or the other.
The view that sees the divine within this world and coexistive with it is called
Polytheism is the worship of many gods and goddesses; monotheism is the belief
that there is only one God.
Atheists believe there is no God, except in our own
Whether polytheistic or monotheistic, religions then to conceptualize the divine as
both singular and multiple.
Atheism is the denial of the existence of God; agnosticism is the conviction that we
cannot know whether or not God exists.
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