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Table of Contents
Article
Function and significance
Principles of classification
Normative
Geographical
Ethnographic-linguistic
Philosophical
Morphological
Phenomenological
Other principles
Conclusion
Worldwide religious adherents
Religious adherents in the United States
Additional Reading
Citations
ARTICLE

from the Encyclopdia Britannica


classification of religions, the attempt to systematize and bring order to a vast range of knowledge about
religious beliefs, practices, and institutions. It has been the goal of students of religion for many centuries but
especially so with the increased knowledge of the worlds religions and the advent of modern methods of
scientific inquiry in the last two centuries.

The classification of religions involves: (1) the effort to establish groupings among historical religious
communities having certain elements in common or (2) the attempt to categorize similar religious phenomena to reveal the structure
of religious experience as a whole.

Function and significance


The many schemes suggested for classifying religious communities and religious phenomena all have one purpose in common: to
bring order, system, and intelligibility to the vast range of knowledge about human religious experience. Classification is basic to all
science as a preliminary step in reducing data to manageable proportions and in moving toward a systematic understanding of a
subject matter. Like the zoologist who must distinguish and describe the various orders of animal life as an indispensable stage in
the broad attempt to understand the character of such life as a whole, the student of religion also must use the tool of classification
in his outreach toward a scientific account of human religious experience. The growth of scientific interest in religion in Western
universities since the 19th century has compelled most leading students of religion to discuss the problem of classification or to
develop classifications of their own.
The difficulty of classifying religions is accounted for by the immensity of religious diversity that history exhibits. As far as scholars
have discovered, there has never existed any people, anywhere, at any time, who were not in some sense religious. The individual
who embarks upon the arduous task of trying to understand religion as a whole confronts an almost inconceivably huge and
bewilderingly variegated host of phenomena from every locale and every era. Empirically, what is called religion includes the
mythologies of the preliterate peoples on the one hand and the abstruse speculations of the most advanced religious philosophy on
the other. Historically, religion, both ancient and modern, embraces both primitive religious practices and the aesthetically and
symbolically refined worship of the more technologically progressive and literate human communities. The student of religion does
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not lack material for his studies; his problem is rather to discover principles that will help him to avoid the confusion of too much
information. Classification is precisely the appeal to such principles; it is a device for making the otherwise unmanageable wealth of
religious phenomena intelligible and orderly.
The endeavour to group religions with common characteristics or to discover types of religions and religious
phenomena belongs to the systematizing stage of religious study. According to Max Mller,
All real science rests on classification and only in case we cannot succeed in classifying the various
dialects of faith, shall we have to confess that a science of religion is really an impossibility.

Principles of classification
The criteria employed for the classification of religions are far too numerous to catalogue completely.
Virtually every scholar who has considered the matter has evidenced a certain amount of originality in his
view of the interrelationships among religious forms. Thus, only some of the more important principles of classification will be
discussed.

Normative
Perhaps the most common division of religionsand in many ways the most unsatisfactorydistinguishes true religion from false
religion. Such classifications may be discovered in the thought of most major religious groups and are the natural, perhaps
inevitable, result of the need to defend particular perspectives against challengers or rivals. Normative classifications, however, have
no scientific value, because they are arbitrary and subjective, inasmuch as there is no agreed method for selecting the criteria by
which such judgments should be made. But because living religions always feel the need of apologetics (systematic intellectual
defenses), normative classifications continue to exist.
Many examples of normative classification might be given. The early Church Fathers (e.g., St. Clement of
Alexandria, 2nd century ce) explained that Christianitys Hellenistic (Greco-Roman culture) rivals were the
creations of fallen angels, imperfect plagiarisms of the true religion, or the outcome of divine condescension
that took into account the weaknesses of men. The greatest medieval philosopher and theologian, St.
Thomas Aquinas, distinguished natural religion, or that kind of religious truth discoverable by unaided
reason, from revealed religion, or religion resting upon divine truth, which he identified exclusively with
Christianity. In the 16th century Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, forthrightly labelled the religious
views of Muslims, Jews, and Roman Catholic Christians to be false and held the view that the gospel of Christianity understood from
the viewpoint of justification by grace through faith was the true standard. In Islam, religions are classified into three groups: the
wholly true, the partially true, and the wholly false, corresponding with Islam, the Peoples of the Book (Jews, Christians, and
Zoroastrians), and polytheism. The classification is of particular interest because, being based in the Qurn, (the Islamic holy book),
it is an integral part of Islamic teaching, and also because it has legal implications for Muslim treatment of followers of other religions.
Although scientific approaches to religion in the 19th century discouraged use of normative categories, elements of normative
judgment were, nonetheless, hidden in certain of the new scientific classifications that had emerged. Many evolutionary schemes
developed by anthropologists and other scholars, for example, ranked religions according to their places on a scale of development
from the simplest to the most sophisticated, thus expressing an implicit judgment on the religious forms discussed. Such schemes
more or less clearly assume the superiority of the religions that were ranked higher (i.e., later and more complex); or, conversely,
they serve as a subtle attack on all religion by demonstrating that its origins lie in some of humanitys basest superstitions, believed
to come from an early, crude stage. A normative element is also indicated in classification schemes that preserve theological
distinctions, such as that between natural and revealed religion. In short, the normative factor still has an important place in the
classification of religions and will doubtless always have, since it is extraordinarily difficult to draw precise lines between disciplines
primarily devoted to the normative exposition of religion, such as theology and philosophy of religion, and disciplines devoted to its

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description (phenomenology of religion) or scientific study (e.g., anthropology of religion, sociology of religion, or psychology of
religion).

Geographical
A common and relatively simple type of classification is based upon the geographical distribution of religious
communities. Those religions found in a single region of the earth are grouped together. Such classifications
are found in many textbooks on comparative religion, and they offer a convenient framework for presenting
religious history. The categories most often used are: (1) Middle Eastern religions, including Judaism,
Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and a variety of ancient cults; (2) East Asian religions, comprising the
religious communities of China, Japan, and Korea, and consisting of Confucianism, Daoism, the various
schools of Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism, and Shint; (3) Indian religions, including early
Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, 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, or the cults of the tribal peoples of Sub-Saharan
Africa, but excluding ancient Egyptian religion, which is considered to belong to the ancient Middle East; (5) American religions,
consisting of the beliefs and practices of the Indian peoples indigenous to the two American continents; (6) Oceanic religionsi.e.,
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. The extent and complexity of a geographical classification is limited only by the
classifiers knowledge of geography and his desire to seek detail and comprehensiveness in his classification scheme. Relatively
crude geographical schemes that distinguish Western religions (usually equivalent to Christianity and Judaism) from Eastern
religions are quite common.
Although religions centred in a particular area often have much in common because of historical or genetic connections,
geographical classifications present obvious inadequacies. Many religions, including some of the greatest historical importance, are
not confined to a single region (e.g., Islam), or do not have their greatest strength in the region of their origins (e.g., Christianity,
Buddhism). Further, a single region or continent may be the dwelling place of many different religious communities and viewpoints
that range from the most archaic to the most sophisticated. At a more profound level, geographical classifications are unacceptable
because they have nothing to do with the essential constitutive elements of religion. The physical location of a religious community
reveals little of the specific religious life of the group. Though useful for some purposes, geographical classifications contribute
minimally to the task of providing a systematic understanding of human religions and religiousness.

Ethnographic-linguistic
Max Mller, often called the Father of the history of religions, stated that Particularly in the early history of the human intellect,
there exists the most intimate relationship between language, religion, and nationality. This insight supplies the basis for a genetic
classification of religions (associating them by descent from a common origin), which Mller believed the most scientific principle
possible. According to this theory, in Asia and Europe dwell three great races, the Turanians (including the Ural-Altaic peoples), the
Semites, and the Aryans, to which correspond three great families of languages. Originally, in some remote prehistory, each of these
races formed a unity, but with the passage of time they split up into a myriad of peoples with a great number of distinct languages.
Through careful investigation, however, the original unity may be discerned, including the unity of religion in each case. Mllers
principal resource in developing the resulting classification of religions was the comparative study of languages, from which he
sought to demonstrate similarities in the names of deities, the existence of common mythologies, the common occurrence of
important terms in religious life, and the likeness of religious ideas and intuitions among the branches of a racial group. His efforts
were most successful in the case of the Semites, whose affinities are easy to demonstrate, and probably least successful in the case
of the Turanian peoples, whose early origins are hypothetical. Mllers greatest contribution to scholarship, however, lay in his study
of Indo-Aryan languages, literatures, and comparative mythology.
Because Mller was a scholar of the first rank and a pioneer in several fields, his ethnographic-linguistic (and genetic) classification
of religions has had much influence and has been widely discussed. The classification has value in exhibiting connections that had
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not been previously observed. Mller (and his followers) discovered affinities existing among the religious perspectives of both the
Indo-Aryan-speaking and Semitic-speaking peoples and set numerous scholars on the path of investigating comparative mythology,
thus contributing in a most direct way to the store of knowledge about religions.
There are, nevertheless, difficulties with the ethnographic-linguistic classification. To begin with, Mllers evidence was incomplete, a
fact that may be overlooked given the state of knowledge in his day. More important is the consideration that peoples of widely
differing cultural development and outlook are found within the same racial or linguistic group. Further, the principle of connection
among race, language, and religion does not take sufficiently into account the historical element or the possibility of developments
that may break this connection, such as the conversion of the Indo-European-speaking peoples of Europewho were viewed as
being not only linguistically, as the Indo-Aryan languages continue to be classified among the Indo-European language family, but
also racially connected to the Indo-Aryan speakersto a Semitic religion, Christianity.
Other scholars have developed the ethnographic classification of religion to a much higher degree than did Mller. The German
scholar Duren J.H. Ward, for example, in The Classification of Religions (1909) accepted the premise of the connection between
race and religion but appealed to a much more detailed scheme of ethnological relationship. He says that religion gets its character
from the people or race who develop or adopt it and further that
the same influences, forces, and isolated circumstances which developed a special race developed at the same time a
special religion, which is a necessary constituent element or part of a race.
In order to study religion in its fullness and to bring out with clarity the historical and genetic connections between religious groups,
the ethnographic element must thus have adequate treatment. Ward devised a comprehensive Ethnographico-historical
Classification of the Human Races to facilitate the Study of Religionsin five divisions. These major divisions were (1) the Oceanic
races, (2) the African races, (3) the American races, (4) the Mongolian races, and (5) the Mediterranean races, each of which has its
own peculiar religion. The largest branch, the Mediterranean races, he subdivided into primeval Semites and primeval Aryans, in
order to demonstrate in turn how the various Semitic, Indo-Aryan, and European races descended from these original stocks.

Philosophical
The past 150 years have also produced several classifications of religion based on speculative and abstract
concepts that serve the purposes of philosophy. The principal example of these is the scheme of Georg
Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a seminal German philosopher, in his famous Lectures on the Philosophy of
Religion (1832). In general, Hegels understanding of religion coincided with his philosophical thought; he
viewed the whole of human history as a vast dialectical movement toward the realization of freedom. The
reality of history, he held, is Spirit, and the story of religion is the process by which Spirittrue to its own
internal logical character and following the dialectical pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis (the
reconciliation of the tension of opposite positions in a new unity that forms the basis of a further tension)
comes to full consciousness of itself. Individual religions thus represent stages in a process of evolution (i.e.,
progressive steps in the unfolding of Spirit) directed toward the great goal at which all history aims.
Hegel classified religions according to the role that they have played in the self-realization of Spirit. The historical religions fall into
three great divisions, corresponding with the stages of the dialectical progression. At the lowest level of development, according to
Hegel, are the religions of nature, or religions based principally upon the immediate consciousness deriving from sense experience.
They include: immediate religion or magic at the lowest level; religions, such as those of China and India plus Buddhism, that
represent a division of consciousness within itself; and others, such as the religions of ancient Persia, Syria, and Egypt, that form a
transition to the next type. At an intermediate level are the religions of spiritual individuality, among which Hegel placed Judaism (the
religion of sublimity), ancient Greek religion (the religion of beauty), and ancient Roman religion (the religion of utility). At the highest
level is absolute religion, or the religion of complete spirituality, which Hegel identified with Christianity. The progression thus
proceeds from human immersed in nature and functioning only at the level of sensual consciousness, to human beings becoming

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conscious of themselves in their individuality as distinct from nature, and beyond that to a grand awareness in which the opposition
of individuality and nature is overcome in the realization of Absolute Spirit.
Many criticisms have been offered of Hegels classification. An immediately noticeable shortcoming is the failure to make a place for
Islam, one of the major historical religious communities. The classification is also questionable for its assumption of continuous
development in history. The notion of perpetual progress is not only doubtful in itself but is also compromised as a principle of
classification because of its value implications.
Nevertheless, Hegels scheme was influential and was adapted and modified by a generation of philosophers of religion in the
Idealist tradition. Departure from Hegels scheme, however, may be seen in the works of Otto Pfleiderer, a German theologian of the
19th century. Pfleiderer believed it impossible to achieve a significant grouping of religions unless, as a necessary preliminary
condition, the essence of religion were first isolated and clearly understood. Essence is a philosophical concept, however, not a
historical one. Pfleiderer considered it indispensable to have conceptual clarity about the underlying and underived basis of religion
from which all else in religious life follows. In Die Religion, ihr Wesen und ihre Geschichte (Religion, Its Essence and History),
Pfleiderer held that the essence of religious consciousness exhibits two elements, or moments, perpetually in tension with one
another: one of freedom and one of dependence, with a number of different kinds of relationships between these two. One or the
other may predominate, or they may be mixed in varying degrees.
Pfleiderer derived his classification of religions from the relationships between these basic elements. He distinguished one great
group of religions that exhibits extreme partiality for one over against the other. The religions in which the sense of dependence is
virtually exclusive are those of the ancient Semites, the Egyptians, and the Chinese. Opposite these are the early Indian, Germanic,
and Greek and Roman religions, in which the sense of freedom prevails. The religion of this group may also be seen in a different
way, as nature religions in the less-developed cultures or as culture or humanitarian religions in the more advanced. A second group
of religions exhibits a recognition of both elements of religion, but gives them unequal value. These religions are called supernatural
religions. Among them Zoroastrianism gives more weight to freedom as a factor in its piety, and Brahmanism and Buddhism are
judged to have a stronger sense of dependence. The last group of religions is the monotheistic religions: Islam, Judaism, and
Christianity, which are divided again into two sub-groups, i.e., those that achieve an exact balance of the elements of religion and
those that achieve a blending and merging of the elements. Both Judaism and Islam grant the importance of the two poles of piety,
though there is a slight tendency in Islam toward the element of dependence and in Judaism toward freedom. It is Christianity alone,
he claimed, that accomplishes the blending of the two, realizing both together in their fullness, the one through the other.
The intellectual heritage that lies behind this classification will be immediately apparent. The classification reflects its time (19th
century) and place (western Europe) of conception in the sense that the study of religion was not yet liberated from its ties to the
philosophy of religion and theology.

Morphological
Considerable progress toward more scientific classifications of religions was marked by the emergence of morphological schemes,
which assume that religion in its history has passed through a series of discernible stages of development, each having readily
identifiable characteristics and each constituting an advance beyond the former stage. So essential is the notion of progressive
development to morphological schemes that they might also be called evolutionary classifications. Trends in the comparative study
of religions have retained the interest in morphology but have decisively rejected the almost universal 19th-century assumption of
unitary evolution in the history of religion. The crude expression of evolutionary categories such as the division of religions into lower
and higher or primitive and higher religions has been subjected to especially severe criticism.
The pioneer of morphological classifications was Edward Burnett Tylor, a British anthropologist, whose Primitive Culture (1871) is
among the most influential books ever written in its field. Tylor developed the thesis of animism, a view that the essential element in
all religion is belief in spiritual beings. According to Tylor, the belief arises naturally from elements universal in human experience
(e.g., death, sleep, dreams, trances, and hallucinations) and leads through processes of primitive logic to the belief in a spiritual

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reality distinct from the body and capable of existing independently. In the development of the idea, this reality is identified with the
breath and the life principle; thus arises the belief in the soul, in phantoms, and in ghosts. At a higher stage, the spiritual principle is
attributed to aspects of reality other than human beings, and all things are believed to possess spirits that are their effective and
animating elements; for example, primitive peoples generally believe that spirits cause sickness and control their destinies.
Of immediate interest is the classification of religions drawn from Tylors animistic thesis. Ancestor worship, prevalent in preliterate
societies, is obeisance to the spirits of the dead. Fetishism, the veneration of objects believed to have magical or supernatural
potency, springs from the association of spirits with particular places or things and leads to idolatry, in which the image is viewed as
the symbol of a spiritual being or deity. Totemism, the belief in an association between particular groups of people and certain spirits
that serve as guardians of those people, arises when the entire world is conceived as peopled by spiritual beings. At a still higher
stage, polytheism, the interest in particular deities or spirits disappears and is replaced by concern for a species deity who
represents an entire class of similar spiritual realities. By a variety of means, polytheism may evolve into monotheism, a belief in a
supreme and unique deity. Tylors theory of the nature of religions and the resultant classification were so logical, convincing, and
comprehensive that for a number of years they remained virtually unchallenged.
The morphological classification of religions received more sophisticated expression from Cornelius Petrus Tiele, a 19th-century
Dutch scholar and an important pioneer in the scientific study of religion. His point of departure was a pair of distinctions made by
the philosophers of religion Abraham Kuenen and W.D. Whitney. In the Hibbert Lectures for 1882, National Religions and Universal
Religions, Kuenen had emphasized the difference between religions limited to a particular people and those that have taken root
among many peoples and qualitatively aim at becoming universal. Whitney saw the most marked distinction among religions as
being between race religions (the collective product of the wisdom of a community) and individually founded religions. The first are
the result of natures unconscious working through long periods of time, and the latter are characterized by a high degree of ethical
awareness. Tiele agreed strongly with Whitney in distinguishing between nature and ethical religions. Ethical religion, in Tieles
views, develops out of nature religion,
but the substitution of ethical religions for nature-religions is, as a rule, the result of a revolution; or at least of an
intentional reform.
Each of these categories (i.e., nature or spiritualisticethical) may be further subdivided. At the earliest and lowest stage of spiritual
development was polyzoic religion, about which there is no information but which is based on Tieles theory that early human beings
must have regarded natural phenomena as endowed with life and superhuman magical power. The first known stage of the nature
religions is called polydaemonistic (many spirits) magical religion, which is dominated by animism and characterized by a confused
mythology, a firm faith in magic, and the preeminence of fear above other religious emotions. At a higher stage of nature religions is
therianthropic polytheism, in which the deities are normally of mixed animal and human composition. The highest stage of nature
religion is anthropomorphic polytheism, in which the deities appear in human form but have superhuman powers. These religions
have some ethical elements, but their mythology portrays the deities as indulging in all sorts of shocking acts. None of the
polytheistic religions, thus, was able to raise itself to a truly ethical point of view.
Ethical religions fall into two subcategories. First are the national nomistic (legal) religions that are particularistic, limited to the
horizon of one people only and based upon a sacred law drawn from sacred books. Above them are the universalistic religions,
qualitatively different in kind, aspiring to be accepted by all men, and based upon abstract principles and maxims. In both subtypes,
doctrines and teachings are associated with the careers of distinct personalities who play important roles in their origin and
formation. Tiele found only three examples of this highest type of religion: Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism.
Tieles classification enjoyed a great vogue and influenced many who came after him. Nathan Sderblom, a Swedish archbishop
who devoted much energy to problems of classification, accepted the division of higher religions into two great groups but used a
varied terminology that pointed to some of the characteristics of the two types of religion. In addition to natural religion and revealed
religion, or religions of nature and religions of revelation, Sderblom spoke of culture religions and prophetic religions, of culture
religions and founded religions, and of nature religions and historical religions. The highest expression of the first category is the

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mysticism of infinity that is characteristic of the higher aspects of Hindu and Buddhist religious experience. The apex of genuine
prophetic religion is reached in the mysticism of personality. All these distinctions mean the same thing, and all are indebted to
Tieles thought. Sderblom, however, sharply disagreed with Tieles thesis of continuous development in the history of religion. In
Sderbloms view, the line between nature religion and prophetic religion is a deep and unbridgeable chasm, a qualitative difference
so enormous that one type could never evolve by natural historical processes into the other. Prophetic religion can be explained only
as a radical and utterly new incursion into history. As Sderblom was a churchman and theologian as well as a distinguished
historian of religion, there is without doubt an element of theological judgment influencing his stand on this matter. Sderblom was
eager to defend the uniqueness of biblical religion, and he believed that his historical and scientific studies provided an objective
basis for asserting not only the uniqueness but also the superiority of Christianity.
Tieles enduring influence may also be seen in the classification of religions advanced by Mircea Eliade, a
Romanian-American scholar who was one of the most prolific contemporary students of religion. Eliade, who
in other respects might be considered among the phenomenologists of religion, was interested in uncovering
the structures or patterns of religious life. The basic division that Eliade recognized is between traditional
religionsincluding primitive religions and the archaic cults of the ancient civilizations of Asia, Europe, and
Americaand historical religions. The distinction is better revealed, however, in the terms cosmic religion
and historical religion. In Eliades estimation, all of traditional religion shares a common outlook upon the
worldchiefly, the deprecation of history and the rejection of profane, mundane time. Religiously, traditional
humans are not interested in the unique and specific but rather exclusively in those things and actions that
repeat and restore transcendental models. Only those things that participate in and reflect the eternal
archetypes or the great pattern of original creation by which cosmos came out of chaos are real in the traditional outlook. The
religious activities of traditional human beings are the recurring attempts to return to the beginning, to the Great Time, to trace again
and renew the process by which the structure and order of the cosmos were established. Traditional religions may, therefore, find the
sacred in any aspect of the world that links man to the archetypes of the time in the beginning; thus, their typical mode of expression
is repetitive. Further, their understanding of history, as far as they are concerned with it at all, is cyclical. The world and what
happens in it are devalued, except as they show forth the eternal pattern of the original creation.
Modern, postarchaic, or historical religions (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam) show markedly other features. They tend to see a
discontinuity between God and the world and to locate the sacred not in the cosmos but somewhere beyond it. Moreover, they hold
to linear views of history, believing it to have a beginning and an end, with a definite goal as its climax, and to be by nature
unrepeatable. Thus, the historical religions are world affirming in the double sense of believing in the reality of the world and of
believing that meaning for human beings is worked out in the historical process. By reason of these views, the historical religions
alone have been monotheistic and exclusivist in their theologies. Although Eliade outstripped his predecessors in delineating the
qualities of traditional religion in particular, much of his thought was anticipated in Sderbloms descriptions of nature religion and
prophetic religion.

Phenomenological
All the principles thus far discussed have had reference to the classification of religions in the sense of establishing groupings
among historical religious communities having certain elements in common. While attempts have been made to classify entire
religions or religious communities, in recent times the interest in classifying entire religions has markedly declined, partly because of
an emerging interest in the phenomenology of religion.

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This new trend in studies, which has come to dominate the field, claims its origin in the phenomenological
philosophy of Edmund Husserl, a German JewishLutheran scholar, and has found its greatest exponents in
the Netherlands. Phenomenology of religion has at least two aspects. It is first of all an effort at devising a
taxonomic (classificatory) scheme that will permit the comprehensive cataloging and classifying of religious
phenomena across the lines of religious communities, but it is also a method that aims at revealing the selfinterpretation by religious practicioners of their own religious responses. Phenomenology of religion thus
rejects any overview of religion that would interpret religions development as a whole, confining itself rather
to the phenomena and the unfolding of their meaning for religious people. Phenomenologists are especially
vigorous in repudiating the evolutionary schemes of past scholars, whom they accuse of imposing arbitrary
semiphilosophical concepts in their interpretation of the history of religion. Phenomenologists also have little interest in history for its
own sake, except as a preliminary stage of material gathering for the hermeneutical (criticalinterpretive) task that is to follow.
One of the earliest Dutch phenomenologists, W. Brede Kristensen (18671953), spoke of his work as follows:
Phenomenology of Religion attempts to understand religious phenomena by classifying them into groupswe must
group the phenomena according to characteristics which correspond as far as possible to the essential and typical
elements of religion.
The material with which phenomenology is concerned is all the different types of religious thinking and action, ideas about divinity,
and cultic acts. Kristensens systematic organization of religious phenomena may be seen in the table of contents of his Meaning of
Religion in which he divides his presentation of material into discussions of (1) cosmology, which includes worship of nature in the
form of sky and earth deities, animal worship, totemism, and animism, (2) anthropology, made up of a variety of considerations on
human nature and also on human life and human social associations, (3) cultus, which involves consideration of sacred places,
sacred times, and sacred images, and (4) cultic acts, such as prayer, oaths and curses, and ordeals. Kristensen was not concerned
with the historical development or the description of a particular religion or even a series of religions but rather with grouping the
typical elements of the entire religious life, irrespective of the community in which they might occur.
Probably the best known phenomenologist is Gerardus van der Leeuw, another Dutch scholar. In his Religion in Essence and
Manifestation, van der Leeuw categorized the material of religious life under the following headings: (1) the object of religion, or that
which evokes the religious response, (2) the subject of religion, in which there are three divisions: the sacred person, the sacred
community, and the sacred within human beings, or the soul, (3) object and subject in their reciprocal operation as outward reaction
and inward action, (4) the world, ways to the world, and the goals of the world, and (5) forms, which must take into account religions
and the founders of religions. Van der Leeuw was not interested in grouping religious communities as such but rather in laying out
the types of religious expression. He discussed distinct religions only because religion in the abstract has no existence. He classified
religions according to 12 forms: (1) religion of remoteness and flight (ancient China and 18th-century deism), (2) religion of struggle
(Zoroastrianism), (3) religion of repose, which has no specific historical form but is found in every religion in the form of mysticism,
(4) religion of unrest or theism, which again has no specific form but is found in many religions, (5) dynamic of religions in relation to
other religions (syncretism and missions), (6) dynamic of religions in terms of internal developments (revivals and reformations), (7)
religion of strain and form, the first that van der Leeuw characterizes as one of the great forms of religion (Greece), (8) religion of
infinity and of asceticism (Indian religions but excluding Buddhism), (9) religion of nothingness and compassion (Buddhism), (10)
religion of will and of obedience (Israel), (11) the religion of majesty and humility (Islam), and (12) the religion of love (Christianity).
The above is not a classification of religions as organized systems. Categories 3, 4, 5, and 6 relate to elements found in many if not
all historical religious communities, and the categories from 7 onward are not classifications but attempts to characterize particular
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communities by short phrases that express what van der Leeuw considered to be their essential spirit. The primitive religions of
less-developed peoples are not classified.

Other principles
William James, the American philosopher and psychologist, in his book The Varieties of Religious
Experience, differentiated two types of religion according to the attitude toward lifethe religion of healthymindedness, which minimizes or ignores the evil of existence, and that of morbid-mindedness, which
considers evil as the very essence of life. Max Weber, a German sociologist, distinguished between religions
that express themselves primarily in mythopoeic ways and those that express themselves in rational forms.
The distinction comes very close to that between traditional and historical religions, though its emphasis is
somewhat different.
Nathan Sderblom, in his prolific scholarly career, devised several classifications other than the principal one
discussed above. In his great work on primitive religions, Das Werden des Gottesglaubens (Development of
the Belief in God), Sderblom divided religions into dynamistic, animistic, and theistic types according to the
way primitive peoples apprehend the divine. In other works (Einfhrung in die Religionsgeschichte, or Introduction to the History of
Religion, and Thieles Kompendium der Religionsgeschichte neu bearbeitet, or Tieles Compendium of the History of Religion
Revised) he contended that Christianity is the central point of the entire history of religions and, therefore, classified religions
according to the historical order in which they came into contact with Christianity. Similarly, Albert Schweitzer, the French theologian,
medical missionary, and Nobel laureate, in Christianity and the Religions of the World, grouped religions as rivals or nonrivals of
Christianity. Still another scheme may be seen in Sderbloms Gifford Lectures, The Living God, in which religions were divided
according to their doctrines of the relation between human and divine activity in the achievement of salvation. Thus, among higher
religions there are those in which humanity alone is responsible for salvation (Buddhism), God alone is responsible (the bhakti
movements of India), or God and humanity cooperate (Christianity).
The American sociologist Robert Bellah, having in mind the advances of the social sciences in their understanding of religions, offers
a refurbished and more highly sophisticated version of an evolutionary scheme that he thinks to be the most satisfactory possible in
the present state of scholarly knowledge. He views religion as having passed through five stages, beginning with the primitive and
proceeding through the archaic, the historical, and the early modern to the modern stage. The religious complexes that emerge in
each stage of this evolution have identifiable characteristics that Bellah studies and differentiates according to the following
categories: symbol systems, religious actions, religious organizations, and social implications. Two basic concepts run through
Bellahs classification, providing the instruments for the division of religions along the evolutionary scale. The first is that of the
increasing complexity of symbolization as one moves from the bottom to the top of the scale, and the second is that of increasing
freedom of personality and society from their environing circumstances or, in other words, the growing secularization of the religious
field. Bellahs classification is important because of the wide discussion it has awakened among social scientists.
One may find additional classifications based upon the content of religious ideas, the forms of religious teaching, the nature of
cultus, the character of piety, the nature of the emotional involvement in religion, the character of the good toward which religions
strive, and the relations of religions to the state, to art, to science, and to morality.

Conclusion
The classification of religions that will withstand all criticism and serve all the purposes of a general science of religions has not been
devised. Each classification presented above has been attacked for its inadequacies or distortions, yet each is useful in bringing to
light certain aspects of religion. Even the crudest and most subjective classifications throw into relief various aspects of religious life
and thus contribute to the cause of understanding. The most fruitful approach for a student of religion appears to be that of
employing a number of diverse classifications, each one for the insight it may yield. Though each may have its shortcomings, each
also offers a positive contribution to the store of knowledge and its systematization. The insistence upon the exclusive validity of any
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single taxonomic effort must be avoided. To confine oneself to a single determined framework of thought about so rich and
variegated a subject as religion is to risk the danger of missing much that is important. Classification should be viewed as a method
and a tool only.
Although a perfect classification lies at present beyond scholars grasp, certain criteria, both positive and negative in nature, may be
suggested for building and judging classifications. First, classifications should not be arbitrary, subjective, or provincial. A first
principle of the scientific method is that objectivity should be pursued to the extent possible and that findings should be capable of
confirmation by other observers. Second, an acceptable classification should deal with the essential and typical in the religious life,
not with the accidental and the unimportant. The contribution to understanding that a classification may make is in direct proportion
to the penetration of the bases of religious life exhibited in its principles of division. A good classification must concern itself with the
fundamentals of religion and with the most typical elements of the units it is seeking to order. Third, a proper classification should be
capable of presenting both that which is common to religious forms of a given type and that which is peculiar or unique to each
member of the type. Thus, no classification should ignore the concrete historical individuality of religious manifestations in favour of
that which is common to them all, nor should it neglect to demonstrate the common factors that are the bases for the very distinction
of types of religious experience, manifestations, and forms. Classification of religions involves both the systematic and the historical
tasks of the general science of religion. Fourth, it is desirable in a classification that it demonstrate the dynamics of religious life both
in the recognition that religions as living systems are constantly changing and in the effort to show, through the categories chosen,
how it is possible for one religious form or manifestation to develop into another. Few errors have been more damaging to the
understanding of religion than that of viewing religious systems as static and fixed, as, in effect, ahistorical. Adequate classifications
should possess the flexibility to come to terms with the flexibility of religion itself. Fifth, a classification must define what exactly is to
be classified. If the purpose is to develop types of religions as a whole, the questions of what constitutes a religion and what
constitutes various individual religions must be asked. Since no historical manifestation of religion is known that has not exhibited an
unvarying process of change, evolution, and development, these questions are far from easily solved. With such criteria in mind, it
should be possible continuously to construct classification schemes that illuminate humanitys religious history.
Charles Joseph Adams
Ed.

Worldwide religious adherents


A list of worldwide religious adherents is provided in the table.
Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas,
Mid-2014
Africa

Asia

Europe

Latin
America

Northern
America

Religionists

1,130,409,000

3,716,413,000

634,018,000

599,974,000

303,081,000

Christians

553,046,000

372,552,000

580,784,000

575,606,000

279,417,000

Roman Catholics

199,125,000

146,234,000

277,068,000

504,971,000

89,298,000

Protestants

209,681,000

93,681,000

94,079,000

62,884,000

62,003,000

Independents

119,783,000

147,535,000

15,082,000

53,960,000

71,855,000

Orthodox

50,533,000

18,748,000

202,831,000

1,104,000

7,770,000

Muslims

473,121,000

1,147,503,000

45,404,000

1,669,000

5,284,000

Sunnis

465,892,000

945,963,000

43,247,000

1,224,000

3,651,000

Shiites

2,817,000

192,170,000

2,125,000

432,000

1,039,000

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Hindus

3,163,000

967,028,000

1,159,000

796,000

1,909,000

Buddhists

274,000

507,766,000

1,865,000

794,000

4,632,000

Mahayanists

261,000

363,160,000

1,167,000

793,000

4,010,000

Theravadins

12,800

128,606,300

196,000

1,900

558,000

Chinese folk-religionists

144,000

449,460,000

565,000

200,000

815,000

Ethnoreligionists

97,718,000

152,630,000

1,169,000

3,792,000

1,269,000

New religionists

216,900

60,786,000

646,000

1,929,200

2,465,300

Sikhs

81,600

23,561,300

582,000

7,700

633,000

Spiritists

3,100

2,200

146,400

13,751,000

252,000

Jews

132,000

6,302,000

1,519,000

457,000

5,608,000

Daoists (Taoists)

8,642,200

12,900

Confucianists

21,300

8,334,000

16,000

500

Bahais

2,381,000

3,603,000

137,000

962,000

593,000

Jains

106,000

5,332,800

19,800

1,500

104,000

Shintoists

2,746,000

8,100

64,900

Zoroastrians

1,100

164,500

5,800

21,900

Nonreligionists

7,820,000

625,842,000

108,795,000

23,448,000

55,155,000

Agnostics

7,181,000

510,568,000

94,076,000

20,423,000

52,886,000

Atheists

639,000

115,274,000

14,719,000

3,025,000

2,269,000

Total population

1,138,229,000

4,342,255,000

742,813,000

623,422,000

358,236,000

Change
Rate (%)

Number of
Countries

Oceania

World

Religionists

31,295,000

6,415,190,000

88.6

1.28

234

Christians

28,534,000

2,389,939,000

33.0

1.26

234

Roman Catholics

9,326,000

1,226,022,000

16.9

1.11

234

Protestants

12,921,000

535,249,000

7.4

1.52

231

Independents

2,035,000

410,250,000

5.7

2.04

231

Orthodox

1,048,000

282,034,000

3.9

0.45

137

Muslims

609,000

1,673,590,000

23.1

1.79

214

Sunnis

502,000

1,460,479,000

20.2

1.80

212

Shiites

104,000

198,687,000

2.7

1.72

148

Hindus

542,000

974,597,000

13.5

1.08

144

Buddhists

620,000

515,951,000

7.1

0.83

152

Mahayanists

459,000

369,850,000

5.1

0.84

142

Theravadins

161,000

129,536,000

1.8

0.78

47

Chinese folk-religionists

108,000

451,292,000

6.2

0.63

120

Ethnoreligionists

394,000

256,972,000

3.5

1.31

146

New religionists

122,400

66,165,800

0.9

0.51

121

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Sikhs

52,400

24,918,000

0.3

1.23

64

Spiritists

8,300

14,163,000

0.2

0.77

59

Jews

124,000

14,142,000

0.2

0.70

147

Daoists (Taoists)

4,900

8,660,000

0.1

0.48

Confucianists

52,200

8,424,000

0.1

0.56

17

Bahais

118,000

7,794,000

0.1

1.66

224

Jains

3,100

5,567,200

0.1

1.22

19

Shintoists

2,819,000

0.0

0.34

Zoroastrians

2,700

196,000

0.0

0.10

27

Nonreligionists

7,534,000

828,594,000

11.4

0.22

233

Agnostics

6,977,000

692,111,000

9.6

0.30

233

Atheists

557,000

136,483,000

1.9

0.20

223

Total population

38,829,000

7,243,784,000

100.0

1.15

234

Methodology. As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a persons religion is what he or she professes,
confesses, or states that it is. Totals are enumerated for each of the worlds 234 countries, using recent censuses, polls, surveys,
yearbooks, reports, Web sites, literature, and other data. See the World Christian Database (www.worldchristiandatabase.org), the
World Religion Database (www.worldreligiondatabase.org), and the Pew Research Centers Religion and Public Life Project
(www.pewforum.org) for more detail. Religions are ranked in order of worldwide size as of mid-2014.
Continents. These follow current UN demographic terminology, which divides the world into the six major areas shown above. See
United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision (New York: UN, 2013), with populations of all continents, regions,
and countries covering the period 19502100, with 100 variables for every country each year.
Change rate. This column documents the annual change in 2014 (projected from an average annual change from 2000 to 2010) in
worldwide religious and nonreligious adherents. Note that the annual growth of the worlds population was 1.15%.
Countries. The last column enumerates sovereign and nonsovereign countries in which each religion or religious grouping has a
numerically significant and organized following.
Agnostics. Persons professing no religion (unaffiliated), nonbelievers, freethinkers, uninterested, or dereligionized secularists
indifferent to all religion (but who are not atheists). Together with atheists, the nonreligious number 829 million, or 11.4% of the
world population (continuing to decline from a high of 20% in 1970).
Atheists. Persons professing atheism, skepticism, disbelief, or irreligion, including the militantly antireligious (opposed to all
religion). While recent books have outlined the Western philosophical and scientific basis for atheism, the vast majority of atheists
today are found in Asia (primarily Chinese communists).
Buddhists. Adherents of Buddhism; 72% Mahayanists, 25% Theravadins (Hinayanists), 3% Tantrayanists (Lamaists, Tibetans).
Chinese folk-religionists. Followers of a unique complex of beliefs and practices that may include universism (yin/yang cosmology
with dualities earth/heaven, evil/good, darkness/light), ancestor cult, Confucian ethics, divination, festivals, folk religion, goddess
worship, household gods, local deities, mediums, metaphysics, monasteries, neo-Confucianism, popular religion, sacrifices,
shamans, spirit-writing, and Taoist and Buddhist elements.
Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ normally affiliated with churches (church members, with names written on church rolls, usually
total number of baptized persons, including children baptized, dedicated, or undedicated), shown above divided among four major
church traditions. Independents. This term denotes members of Christian churches and networks that regard themselves as
independent of historical, mainstream, organized, institutionalized, confessional, and denominationalist Christianity. It also includes
members of denominations who define themselves as Christians but differ significantly from organized mainstream Christianity
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(e.g., Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses). Protestants. Includes Anglicans. The four traditions do not add up to the total
number of Christians because of doubly affiliated, disaffiliated, and unaffiliated Christians.
Confucianists. Chinese and non-Chinese followers of Confucius and Confucianism, mostly neo-Confucianists in East and
Southeast Asia and Korean Confucianists in Korea.
Ethnoreligionists. Followers of local, tribal, animistic, or shamanistic religions, with members restricted to one ethnic group.
Hindus. Adherents of Hinduism. 68% Vaishnavites, 27% Shaivites, 5% Saktists and neo-Hindus and reform Hindus.
Jews. Adherents of Judaism. For detailed data on "core" Jewish population, see the annual "World Jewish Population, 2012" article
in the American Jewish Committees American Jewish Year Book (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013).
Muslims. Adherents of Islam. 87% Sunnis, 12% Shiites, 1% other schools.
New religionists. Followers of Asian 20th-century neoreligions, neoreligious movements, radical new crisis religions, and
syncretistic mass religions. Also includes other religionists, including quasi-religions, pseudoreligions, parareligions, religious or
mystic systems, and religious and semireligious brotherhoods of numerous varieties.
Total population. UN medium variant figures for mid-2014, as provided in World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.

Religious adherents in the United States


A list of religious adherents in the United States is provided in the table.
Religious Adherents in the United States of America, 19002010
1900

mid-1970

mid-1990

mid-2000

Religionists

74,994,000

98.7

199,421,000

95.0

231,127,000

91.2

250,531,000

88.0

Christians

73,260,000

96.4

191,130,000

91.1

216,161,600

85.3

232,276,300

81.6

Roman Catholics

10,775,000

14.2

48,305,000

23.0

56,500,000

22.3

62,970,000

22.1

Independents

6,650,000

8.8

39,768,000

18.9

51,340,000

20.3

62,816,000

22.1

Protestants

36,600,000

48.2

60,382,000

28.8

62,666,000

24.7

59,221,000

20.8

Orthodox

400,000

0.5

4,395,000

2.1

5,150,000

2.0

5,595,000

2.0

Jews

1,500,000

2.0

5,870,000

2.8

5,535,000

2.2

5,628,000

2.0

Muslims

10,000

0.0

800,000

0.4

3,300,000

1.3

3,747,000

1.3

Sunnis

6,500

0.0

520,000

0.2

2,145,000

0.8

2,440,000

0.9

Shiites

2,000

0.0

160,000

0.1

660,000

0.3

774,000

0.3

Buddhists

30,000

0.0

200,000

0.1

1,880,000

0.7

3,482,000

1.2

Mahayanists

30,000

0.0

190,000

0.1

1,692,000

0.7

3,037,000

1.1

Theravadins

0.0

8,000

0.0

169,000

0.1

398,000

0.1

New religionists

20,000

0.0

1,010,000

0.5

1,685,000

0.7

2,064,000

0.7

Hindus

1,000

0.0

100,000

0.0

750,000

0.3

1,231,000

0.4

Ethnoreligionists

100,000

0.1

70,000

0.0

780,000

0.3

977,000

0.3

Bahais

3,000

0.0

138,000

0.1

600,000

0.2

434,000

0.2

Sikhs

0.0

10,000

0.0

160,000

0.1

239,000

0.1

Spiritists

0.0

0.0

120,000

0.0

194,000

0.1

Chinese folkreligionists

70,000

0.1

90,000

0.0

76,000

0.0

99,600

0.0

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Jains

0.0

3,000

0.0

5,000

0.0

74,000

0.0

Shintoists

0.0

0.0

50,000

0.0

57,500

0.0

Zoroastrians

0.0

0.0

14,400

0.0

16,200

0.0

Daoists (Taoists)

0.0

0.0

10,000

0.0

11,400

0.0

Nonreligionists

1,001,000

1.3

10,470,000

5.0

22,212,000

8.8

34,063,000

12.0

Agnostics

1,000,000

1.3

10,270,000

4.9

21,442,000

8.5

32,896,000

11.6

Atheists

1,000

0.0

200,000

0.1

770,000

0.3

1,167,000

0.4

U.S. population

75,995,000

100.0

209,891,000

100.0

253,339,000

100.0

284,594,000

100.0

Annual Change, 20002010


mid-2010

Natural

Conversion

Total

Rate
(%)

Religionists

267,620,000

85.7

2,434,300

725,400

1,708,900

0.66

Christians

248,182,800

79.5

2,256,900

666,200

1,590,700

0.66

Roman Catholics

70,656,000

22.6

611,900

156,700

768,600

1.16

Independents

68,292,000

21.9

610,400

62,800

547,600

0.84

Protestants

58,206,000

18.6

575,400

676,900

101,500

0.17

Orthodox

6,253,000

2.0

54,400

11,400

65,800

1.12

Jews

5,238,000

1.7

54,700

93,700

39,000

0.72

Muslims

4,131,000

1.3

36,400

2,000

38,400

0.98

Sunnis

2,678,000

0.9

22,900

1,000

23,800

0.94

Shiites

885,000

0.3

10,000

500

11,100

1.35

3,979,000

1.3

33,800

15,900

49,700

1.34

Mahayanists

3,439,000

1.1

29,500

10,700

40,200

1.25

Theravadins

481,000

0.2

3,900

4,400

8,300

1.91

New religionists

2,233,000

0.7

20,100

3,200

16,900

0.79

Hindus

1,453,000

0.5

12,000

10,200

22,200

1.67

Ethnoreligionists

1,091,000

0.3

9,500

1,900

11,400

1.11

Bahais

516,000

0.2

4,200

4,000

8,200

1.75

Sikhs

281,000

0.1

2,300

1,900

4,200

1.63

Spiritists

227,000

0.1

1,900

1,400

3,300

1.58

Chinese folkreligionists

109,000

0.0

1,000

100

900

0.91

Jains

85,900

0.0

700

500

1,200

1.50

Shintoists

63,100

0.0

600

600

0.93

Zoroastrians

17,700

0.0

200

200

0.89

Daoists (Taoists)

12,500

0.0

100

100

0.93

Nonreligionists

44,627,000

14.3

331,000

725,400

1,056,400

2.74

43,309,000

13.9

319,600

721,700

1,041,300

2.79

Buddhists

Agnostics

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Atheists
U.S. population

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1,318,000

0.4

11,300

3,800

15,100

1.22

312,247,000

100.0

2,765,000

2,765,000

0.93

Methodology. This table extracts and analyzes a microcosm of the world religion table. It depicts the United States with estimates
at five points in time from 1900 to 2010. Each religions Annual Change for 20002010 is also analyzed by Natural increase (births
minus deaths, plus immigrants minus emigrants) per year and Conversion increase (converts in minus converts out) per year,
which together constitute the Total increase per year. Rate increase is then computed as percentage per year.
Structure. Vertically the table lists major religious categories. The major categories (including nonreligious) in the U.S. are listed
with the largest (Christians) first. Indented names of groups in the "Adherents" column are subcategories of the groups above them
and are also counted in these unindented totals, so they should not be added twice into the column total. Owing to rounding, the
corresponding percentage figures sometimes might not total exactly to 100%. Religions are ranked in order of size in 2010.
Agnostics and atheists (See world table for definitions.) Together (termed "nonreligionists") in 2010 these number 44.6 million, or
14.3% of the total population. This is markedly higher than the 1970 figure of 10.4 million (5%). Note that these figures are lower
than survey results for the "unaffiliated" or "nones," which include large numbers of religionists who are indifferent to or dislike
organized religion.
Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ normally affiliated with churches. (See also the note on Christians below the world religion
table.) The indented lines under "Christians" are ranked by size in 2010 for each of the four major church traditions (Independent,
Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic). Two important subcategories of Christians (potentially from all four traditions) are
Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Evangelicals are mainly Protestant churches, agencies, and individuals who call themselves by
this term (for example, members of the National Association of Evangelicals); these numbered approximately 45 million in mid2010. Pentecostals include classical Pentecostals (such as Assemblies of God), Charismatics (in mainline churches), and
Independent Charismatics (such as African Instituted Churches). Together these numbered approximately 66 million in 2010.
There is some overlap between Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
Jews. Core Jewish population relating to Judaism, excluding ethnically Jewish persons professing a different religion or no religion.
Muslims. 65% Sunnis, 21% Shiites (mainly Iranian immigrants), 14% other schools (including many Black Muslims).
Other categories. Definitions are as given under the world religion table.

ARTICLE

Additional Reading

Two monographs dealing specifically with the classification of religions, each of which offers a survey of previous classifications in
addition to the authors own scheme, are Duren J.H. Ward, The Classification of Religions: Different Methods, Their Advantages and
Disadvantages (1909); and Fred Louis Parrish, The Classification of Religions: Its Relation to the History of Religions (1941),
containing a full survey of classification schemes with brief characterizations of each and the best bibliographical guide for pursuing
the subject in depth. Other books for further study are as follows: P.D. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte,
2 vol. (188789; Eng. trans. of vol. 1, Manual of the Science of Religion, 1891), which includes classification problems at the
beginning of vol. 1; C.P. Tiele, Elements of the Science of Religion, 2 vol. (189799), a classic work by an important scholar on this
subject; and F. Max Mueller, Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873), another classic work. Of more recent origin is Gustav
Mensching, Die Religion: Erscheinungsformen, Strukturtypen und Lebensgesetze (1959), a popular manual of the history of religions
that includes a long section on classification problems.
Charles Joseph Adams
"classification of religions". Encyclopdia Britannica. Britannica Academic.
Encyclopdia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 22 Aug. 2015
<http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/497215/classification-of-religions>.

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