Comparative religion

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Comparative religion is the branch of the study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices, themes, and impacts (including migration) of the world's religions. In general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as ethics, metaphysics, and the nature and forms of salvation. Studying such material facilitates a broadened and more sophisticated understanding of human beliefs and practices regarding the sacred, numinous, spiritual, and divine. [1]


In the field of comparative religion, a common geographical classification [2] of the main world religions distinguishes groups such as Middle Eastern religions (including Iranian religions), Indian religions, East Asian religions, African religions, American religions, Oceanic religions, and classical Hellenistic religions. [2]

There also exists various sociological classifications of religious movements.


A statue of Ibn Hazm, father of modern comparative religious studies, in Cordoba Spain. Monumento a Ibn Hazm.jpg
A statue of Ibn Hazm, father of modern comparative religious studies, in Córdoba Spain.

Al-Biruni and Ibn Hazm of the Islamic Golden Age compared the study of religious pluralism and their works have been significant in the fields of theology and philosophy. [3] [4] [5] [6] Social scientists in the 19th century took a strong interest in comparative and "primitive" religion through the work of Max Müller, Edward Burnett Tylor, William Robertson Smith, James George Frazer, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Rudolf Otto. [7] Nicholas de Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, says that

The comparative study of religions is an academic discipline which has been developed within Christian theology faculties, and it has a tendency to force widely differing phenomena into a kind of strait-jacket cut to a Christian pattern. The problem is not only that other 'religions' may have little or nothing to say about questions which are of burning importance for Christianity, but that they may not even see themselves as religions in precisely the same way in which Christianity sees itself as a religion. [8]

Geographical classification

According to Charles Joseph Adams, in the field of comparative religion, a common geographical classification discerns [2] the main world religions as follows: [2]

  1. Middle Eastern religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and a variety of ancient cults;
  2. East Asian religions, the religious communities of China, Japan, and Korea, and consisting of Confucianism, Daoism, the various schools of Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) Buddhism, and Shintō;
  3. Indian religions, including early Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism, and sometimes also the Theravada (“Way of the Elders”) Buddhism and the Hindu- and Buddhist-inspired religions of South and Southeast Asia;
  4. African religions, the ancient belief systems of the various indigenous peoples of Africa, excluding ancient Egyptian religion, which is considered to belong to the ancient Middle East;
  5. American religions, the beliefs and practices of the various Indigenous peoples of the two American continents;
  6. Oceanic religions, the religious systems of the peoples of the Pacific islands, Australia, and New Zealand; and
  7. Classical religions of ancient Greece and Rome and their Hellenistic descendants.

Middle Eastern religions

Abrahamic or Western Asian religions

In the study of comparative religion, the category of Abrahamic religions consists of the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which claim Abraham (Hebrew Avraham אַבְרָהָם; Arabic Ibrahim إبراهيم ) as a part of their sacred history. Smaller religions such as Bahá'í Faith that fit this description are sometimes included but are often omitted. [9]

The original belief in the God of Abraham eventually became strictly monotheistic present-day Rabbinic Judaism. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. Jews hold that the Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, they also believe in a supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. [10]

Christians believe that Christianity is the fulfillment and continuation of the Jewish Old Testament. Christians believe that Jesus (Hebrew Yeshua יֵשׁוּעַ) is the awaited Messiah (Christ) foretold in the Old Testament prophecies, and believe in subsequent New Testament scripture. [11] Christians in general believe in that Jesus is the incarnation or Son of God. Their creeds generally hold in common that the incarnation, ministry, suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection of Jesus was for the salvation of mankind. [12]

Islam believes the present Christian and Jewish scriptures have been corrupted over time and are no longer the original divine revelations as given to the Jewish people and to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. For Muslims, the Quran is the final, complete revelation from God (Arabic الله Allah ), who believe it to have been revealed to Muhammad alone, who is believed by Muslims to be the final prophet of Islam, and the Khatam an-Nabiyyin , meaning the last of the prophets ever sent by Allah ("seal of the prophets").

Based on the Muslim figure of the Mahdī, the ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imām of the Twelve Imams, Ali Muhammad Shirazi, later known as Bab, created the Bábí movement out of the belief that he was the gate to the Twelfth Imām. This signaled a break with Islam and started a new religious system, Bábism. However, in the 1860s a split occurred after which the vast majority of Bábís who considered Mirza Husayn `Ali or Bahá'u'lláh to be Báb's spiritual successor founded the Bahá'í Movement, while the minority who followed Subh-i-Azal came to be called Azalis. [13] The Bahá'í division eventually became a full-fledged religion of its own, the Bahá'í Faith. In comparison to the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the number of adherents for Bahai faith and other minor Abrahamic religions are not very significant.

Out of the three major Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism are the two religions that diverge the most in theology and practice.

The historical interaction of Islam and Judaism started in the 7th century CE with the origin and spread of Islam. There are many common aspects between Islam and Judaism, and as Islam developed, it gradually became the major religion closest to Judaism. As opposed to Christianity, which originated from interaction between ancient Greek, Roman, and Hebrew cultures, Judaism is very similar to Islam in its fundamental religious outlook, structure, jurisprudence and practice. [14] There are many traditions within Islam originating from traditions within the Hebrew Bible or from post-biblical Jewish traditions. These practices are known collectively as the Isra'iliyat . [15]

The historical interaction between Christianity and Islam connects fundamental ideas in Christianity with similar ones in Islam. Islam accepts many aspects of Christianity as part of its faith with some differences in interpretation and rejects other aspects. Islam believes the Quran is the final revelation from God and a completion of all previous revelations, including the Bible. Notable comparative religion figures include Ibn Hazm, Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik.

Iranian religions

Several important religions and religious movements originated in Greater Iran, that is, among speakers of various Iranian languages. They include Mithraism, Ætsæg Din, Yazdanism, Ahl-e Haqq, Zurvanism, Mandaeism, Manichaeism, and Mazdakism.

Indian religions

The Rig Veda is one of the oldest Vedic texts. Shown here is a Rig Veda manuscript in Devanagari, early nineteenth century. Rigveda MS2097.jpg
The Rig Veda is one of the oldest Vedic texts. Shown here is a Rig Veda manuscript in Devanagari, early nineteenth century.

In comparative religion, Indian religions consists of all the religions that originated in South Asia. Certain scholars claimed that Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] with origins perhaps as far back as to the prehistoric times, [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] or 5000 years. [33] So "the kinship of the religions of India stems from the fact that Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs look back to Hinduism as their common mother." [34]

Al-Biruni deeply studied the Vedic religions and through his works essential details about pre-11th century India's religions and cultures were found. Adi Shankaracharya was an early 8th century philosopher and theologian [35] who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. [36] [37] [note 1] Gautama Buddha is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism. Most Hindus believe the Buddha accepted and incorporated many tenets of Hinduism in his doctrine, however, Buddhists disagree and state there was no such thing as Hinduism at the time of Buddha. Prominent modern Hindu reformers such as Mahatma Gandhi [38] and Vivekananda [39] acknowledge Buddhist influence. Gandhi, like Hindus himself did not believe Buddha established a non-Hindu tradition. He writes, "I do not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate from Hinduism." [40]

East Asian or Taoic religions

The Chinese character depicting Tao, the central concept in Taoism Tao.svg
The Chinese character depicting Tao , the central concept in Taoism

A Taoic religion is a religion, or religious philosophy, that focuses on the East Asian concept of Tao ("The Way"). This forms a large group of eastern religions including Taoism, Confucianism, Jeung San Do, Shintoism, I-Kuan Tao, Chondogyo, and Chen Tao. In large parts of East Asia, Buddhism has taken on some taoic features.

Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. It is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered and is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. The flow of Ch'i , as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the universal order of Tao. Following the Tao is also associated with a "proper" attitude, morality and lifestyle. This is intimately tied to the complex concept of De , or literally "virtue" or "power." De is the active expression of Tao.

Taoism and Ch'an Buddhism for centuries had a mutual influence on each other in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. These influences were inherited by Zen Buddhism when Ch'an Buddhism arrived in Japan and adapted as Zen Buddhism.

Comparing traditions

Bahá'í Faith









Paganism and Neopaganism




See also


  1. Modern scholarship places Shankara in the earlier part of the 8th century CE (c. 700–750). [37] Earlier generations of scholars proposed 788–820 CE. [37] Other proposals are 686–718 CE,[ citation needed ] 44 BCE,[ citation needed ] or as early as 509–477 BCE.

Related Research Articles

History of religion Historical development of religion

The history of religion refers to the written record of human religious feelings, thoughts, and ideas. This period of religious history begins with the invention of writing about 5,220 years ago. The prehistory of religion involves the study of religious beliefs that existed prior to the advent of written records. One can also study comparative religious chronology through a timeline of religion. Writing played a major role in standardizing religious texts regardless of time or location, and making easier the memorization of prayers and divine rules. A small part of the Bible involves the collation of oral texts handed down over the centuries.

Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

Religious conversion is the adoption of a set of beliefs identified with one particular religious denomination to the exclusion of others. Thus "religious conversion" would describe the abandoning of adherence to one denomination and affiliating with another. This might be from one to another denomination within the same religion, for example, from Baptist to Catholic Christianity or from Sunni Islam to Shi’a Islam. In some cases, religious conversion "marks a transformation of religious identity and is symbolized by special rituals".

Outline of religion Overview of and topical guide to religion

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to religion:

Universalism is the philosophical and theological concept that some ideas have universal application or applicability.

Many Wikipedia articles on religious topics are not yet listed on this page. If you cannot find the topic you are interested in on this page, it still may already exist; you can try to find it using the "Search" box. If you find that it exists, you can edit this page to add a link to it.

Proselytism is the act or fact of religious conversion, and it also includes actions which invite such conversion. The English-language word proselytize derives from the Greek language prefix προσ- and the verb ἔρχομαι in the form of προσήλυτος. Historically, in the Koine Greek Septuagint and New Testament, the word "proselyte" denoted a Gentile who was considering conversion to Judaism. Though the word "proselytism" originally referred to converting to Judaism, it now implies an attempt of any religion or religious individuals to convert people to their beliefs, or any attempt to convert people to a different point of view, religious or not.

Christianity and other religions Christianitys relationship with other world religions, and the differences and similarities.

Christianity and other religions documents Christianity's relationship with other world religions, and the differences and similarities.

The world's principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups, although this is not a uniform practice. This theory began in the 18th century with the goal of recognizing the relative levels of civility in societies.

Interfaith dialogue Positive interaction of different religious people

Interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions or beliefs to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs.

In the field of comparative religion, many scholars, academics, religious figures have looked at the relationships between Hinduism and other religions.

Eastern religions Religions that originated in East, South and Southeast Asia

The Eastern religions are the religions that originated in East, South and Southeast Asia and thus have dissimilarities with Western religions. This includes the East Asian religions, Indian religions as well as animistic indigenous religions.

Asia is the largest and most populous continent and the birthplace of many religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. All major religious traditions are practiced in the region and new forms are constantly emerging. Asia is noted for its diversity of culture. Islam and Hinduism are the largest religions in Asia with approx. 1.2 billion adherents each.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are called Abrahamic religions because they all accept the tradition of the God that revealed himself to Abraham. The theological traditions of all Abrahamic religions are thus to some extent influenced by the depiction of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, and by the story of Abraham, acclaimed as the Father of monotheism in the history of Judaism.

A holy city is a city important to the history or faith of a specific religion. Such cities may also contain at least one headquarters complex which constitutes a major destination of human traffic, or pilgrimage to the city, especially for major ceremonies and observances. A holy city is a symbolic city, representing attributes beyond its natural characteristics. Marketing experts have suggested that holy cities may be the oldest brands, and more specifically, place brands because they have value added via the perception of religious adherents.

Religion in India Different types of Religions in the modern nation of India

Religion in India is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. The preamble of Indian constitution states that India is a secular state. There is separation of the state and religion, such as religious instructions cannot be imparted at public schools and political parties cannot ask for votes during elections in the name of religion. The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four of the world's major religions; namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India practices Hinduism, 14.2% adheres to Islam, 2.3% adheres to Christianity, 1.7% adheres to Sikhism, 0.7% adheres to Buddhism and 0.4% adheres to Jainism. Zoroastrianism, Sanamahism and Judaism also have an ancient history in India, and each has several thousands of Indian adherents. India has the largest population of people adhering to Zoroastrianism and Bahá'í Faith in the world, even though these religions initially grew in Persia. Throughout India's history, religion has been an important part of the country's culture. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are both established in the country by the law and custom; the Constitution of India has declared the right to freedom of religion to be a fundamental right.

The study of women and religion typically examines the role of women within particular religious faiths, and religious doctrines relating to gender, gender roles, and particular women in religious history. Most religions elevate the status of men over women, have stricter sanctions against women, and require them to be submissive. While there has been changes towards equality, religions overall still lag the rest of society in addressing gender issues. There are fundamentalists within every religion who actively resist change. There is often a dualism within a religion that exalts women on the one hand, while demanding more rigorous displays of devotion on the other. This leads some feminists to see religion as the last barrier for female emancipation.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to theology:

Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. It is contrasted by the idea of multiple religious belonging and polytheism, respectively.


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  20. P. 72 Multicultural Clients By Sybil M. Lassiter
  21. P. 15 Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation By Ian Stevenson
  22. P. 6 Hinduism By Sue Penney
  23. P. 22 The Best Guide to Eastern Philosophy and Religion By Diane Morgan
  24. P. 212 Alternative Religions By Stephen Hunt
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  37. “owes on eternal debt of gratitude to that great teacher,”Mahatma Gandhi and Buddhism Y.P. Anand An Encounter with Buddhism Archived 10 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  38. He is the ideal Karma-Yogi, acting entirely without motive, and the history of humanity shows him to have been the greatest man ever born; beyond compare the greatest combination of heart and brain that ever existed, the greatest soul-power that has ever been manifested. Essay, Ideal Karma Yogi
  39. P. 17 Gandhi By Ronald Terchek

Further reading