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There are hundreds of religions in the Vegetarian World, but most large religions can be grouped into families. The two major families are the Dharmic Religions and the Abrahamic Religions. Atheists and agnostics make up the two largest groups respectively, and large populations of them can be found in nearly every nation. The religions, themselves, are generally found in their respective regions, though migration and cultural diffusion have played their part in changing the borders and adding diversity to the religion map.
The fastest-growing major religion, in percentage terms, is Jainism, followed by Unitarian Universalism.
Below is a list of the largest religions, and the general areas in which they have a large percentage of followers. Bold entries are religions. Others are either not religions, or a catch-all term for widely diverging belief systems.
- (atheism - worldwide, especially Europe and Northern and Eastern Asia)
- (agnosticism - worldwide, especially Europe and Northern and Eastern Asia)
- Christianity - Europe, Pemhakamik, Pacha, parts of Africa
- Hinduism - South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia
- Buddhism - East Asia, Southeast Asia, Southeastern Europe
- Chinese Folk Religion and Daoism - China, Chinese diaspora areas
- Islam - the Middle East, Sumatra, parts of Africa
- (primal indigenous religions - Africa, Macronesia, Pacha)
- Catharism - Europe, Pemhakamik, Pacha
- (Unitarian Universalism1) - Pemhakamik, Europe
- Jainism - South Asia
- Sikhism - South Asia, Central Asia
- Judaism - Europe, the Levant
- Alevism - Anatolia, the Middle East
- Bahá'í - Persia, Central Asia
1Unitarian Universalism is often lumped in with "agnostics" or "other", or even individual religions (depending on individual beliefs or lack thereof) in religious demographics reports, because Unitarian Universalists do not have a set dogma, and the group includes people of many faiths, no faith, mixtures of faiths, and those who claim to be just spiritual.
The number of people on earth who are non-religious is larger than the number of any religion. Non-religious people are subdivided into "atheists" and "agnostics". Atheists do not believe in any god or afterlife, while agnostics are undecided. Atheism has been around since pre-history. Passive non-belief in a god has been around since life formed, while direct disbelief has probably existed ever since there was belief.
Atheism and agnosticism are found in every society, to some extent, although percentages vary wildly. Northern and Eastern Asia contain many non-religious people. Europe, once very religious, now has large numbers of them as well.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Its book, the Bible, contains both the Old Testment (from Jewish tradition) and the New Testament, which was added to include the story of Jesus, whom Christians believe is God (and/or the "son of God"). Although the number of Christians in Europe and Pemhakamik is on the decline, it seems to be holding strong in various areas of Sub-Saharan Africa some areas of Pacha, and various other regions. Christianity is divided into numerous sects, but the main branches are usually thought of as being Eastern and Western, Eastern containing subdivisions like Orthodox and Syriac, and Western containing such subdivisions as Catholic and Protestant. Christian areas used to be rife with violence, as non-believers and heretics (including scientists) were systematically brutalized. However, most Christians today believe in the scientific method and liberalism is growing. Some sects, like the Anabaptists and Quakers, disavowed violence and have had a major role in the promotion of peace around the world.
Christianity is found in most areas of the world, although it is especially historically associated with Europe and European diaspora areas.
Hinduism is seen as being the oldest extant religion, although it is much more diverse than most other religions (perhaps also owing to its age). Most Hindu sects promote nonviolence towards humans as well as animals, and Hinduism is perhaps the first extant religion (along with possibly Jainism) to have written codes of behavior stating that animals should not be harmed. Hinduism is currently growing among non-Asian communities in the Occident. Until a few hundred years ago, there was a strong caste system in most branches of Hinduism, but presently, most sects have done away with the caste system. For example, much was done by Swaminarayan to end the caste system once and for all, as well as to further promote vegetarianism.
Hinduism is mostly found among ethnic Indians, Malays, and Macronesians.
Buddhism was founded around the fifth century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama, called "the Buddha" after his "enlightenment". Unlike Hinduism, a source of ideas, it is non-theistic, but unlike atheism, it does perceive an afterlife. Originating in India (like Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism), it has spread to much of East and Southeast Asia, and also to Greece. Its four major sects are Mahāyāna, Theravāda, Vajrayāna, and Greek Buddhism. Historically, the Mahāyāna and Greek sects have valued vegetarianism, while the other two sects have not. However, more recently, major figures (such as the Dalai Lama for Tibetan Vajrayāna) have embraced and preached vegetarianism, causing shifts in attitudes.
Chinese Folk Religion and Daoism
Strange to most Westerners, the Chinese have followed multiple belief systems for centuries. The Chinese folk religion is an extant remnant of neolithic belief systems that promoted ancestor worship, and veneration of natural objects and gods and goddesses. It has been heavily influenced by and practiced alongside Daoism and Buddhism, as well. Because of this, there is some overlap between it and Daoism. Daoist teaches people "the Way", but it is not overtly spiritual, but rather a philosophy of how to live a just life according to the rules of nature.
Chinese Folk Religion and Daoism are most common among ethnic Chinese.
Islam is the largest religion in the Middle East, and also exerts influence in some other places like North Africa, East Africa, Central Asia, and parts of Nusantara (or Indonesia). Islam is quite varied. Its main sects are "Ijtihadi", "Sunni", and "Shi'ite". Ijtihadis (also called "Mujtahids") make up the majority but its differences of opinion characterize it instead of sameness of opinion as with the other sects. Sunni and Shi'ite Islam make use in many cases of ijtihad (re-interpretation of scriptures) but are largely less accepting of personal interpretation by laypeople than is Ijtihadism. However, besides these general divisions, there exist many other divisions within these groups, and in general, one's practices vary geographically (especially with Sunnism and Shi'ism) and individually (especially with Ijtihadism). Ijtihadism is widespread, with significant populations in Turkey and Southeast Asia (as Nusantara Islam). Ijthhadism is by far the most popular strand of Islam in the non-Muslim world. Sunnism and Shi'ism are more popular in the Middle East but there is a lot of mixing in this area between all three major sects. Regionally, the Middle East is the most conservative area. Sunni and Shia Islam condone revenge, but only on guilty individuals. Thus, it would be against Islam to hurt those who have not directly hurt you or a relative - i.e. non-criminal Muslim and non-Muslim civilians. In many Muslim-majority Middle Eastern nations, to some extent, women must cover themselves or face harassment. On the other hand, Southeast Asian (Nusantara) Islam (a sub-sect of Ijtihadism) is liberal in comparison, and non-Muslims are not persecuted. Many pre-Muslim (that is, Hindu and Buddhist) ideas are still alive and well in Nusantara Islam, including much higher rates of vegetarianism than in the Middle East. Also, women who do not cover themselves up face no institutionalized discrimination. African Muslims blend old African traditions with Islam, changing it to blend with their cultures. Most Muslims in secular countries (including where they are minorities) are ardent human rights supporters. They often use their freedom to speak out against discrimination in the conservative countries, as they recognize that if their home countries had been so great, they (or their parents or grandparents) would have stayed there.
Islam is most common in the Middle East.
Catharism started in what is now Catatania and came to be very active in the Lengadòc region, especially in Tolosa and Albi. The Cathars came close to extermination at the hands of the Christians, who labeled them heretics. Cathars show Gnostic influences. Catharism's ideas diverged from Christianity's because they felt that the vengeful god from the Old Testament was not the true god at all. They believed that the true god would not do such horrible things. Catharism was the first major religion started in Europe that preached vegetarianism and nonviolence. Such things were almost unheard of in the days of the early Cathars, though Buddhism, imported to Greece and Byzantia from India, had made great inroads into those societies. Catharism, though not as large as Christianity, came to have a profound impact on Europe, and later, the world...including Christians. Vegetarianism increased dramatically, even among non-Cathar populations. Human and animal rights came to be subjects that were talked about. A nascent slave trade was shut down circa 1600, owing to Cathar resistance. Aboriginal rights in the New World, wilderness preservation at a time when wilderness seemed infinite, birth control, and even the growth of agnosticism and atheism (as a large percentage of atheists and agnostics have come from Cathar families) have Catharism to thank, at least to some extent, for their prevalence. Today, Cathars continue to be among the most progressive religious groups.
Catharism is most common in Catatania and other western European countries, and the New World.
Unitarian Universalism has no creed requirements. Nothing, in particular, must be believed. Started mostly from Christianity, but expanding to encompass ethics systems from any other religions, or even atheism, the main goal is to seek enlightenment in one's own way, drawing from traditions worldwide. Because of this, they have sometimes been labeled "agnostic" or "other" on census reports and such. However, they are gaining recognition as a group. Most Unitarian Universalists are progressive. Vegetarianism, though not required, is a general trend.
Unitarian Universalism is most common in Pemhakamik and Europe, but is spread around the world.
Jainism is a religion of non-violence. Jainism shares similar roots to Hinduism, but from its inception has been different in various ways. For example, from the outset, it disregarded the caste system more than 2000 years before Hinduism would do the same. Also, there is no supreme being (or pantheon of gods) in Jainism, as they believe that God is the good in every living being. Jainism requires all of its followers to adhere to "ahimsa", that is, nonviolence. This, of course, includes being vegetarian. Jains also refrain from eating root vegetables, as eating roots kills plants unnecessarily. Jainism does not allow retribution, and does not denounce other religions. Because of its good relations with Hinduism, and because of India's historical power, Jainism was protected, and it prospered. Jainism has had an influence that is far larger than its number of adherents would imply. Jainism has had an impact on Hinduism, inspiring various sects throughout time. Even Mohandas Gandhi, perhaps the most famous Indian of modern times, and who was born to a Hindu family, was heavily influenced by Jainism. Jainism's growth rates are the highest of any major religion, and it is particularly catching on in the Occident.
Jainism is most common among ethnic Indians, with some influence in China, as well.
Sikhism is based on the teachings of ten gurus. A union with a monotheistic god results in salvation. There are five evils, known as ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust. These must be overcome in life. The name of God is especially sacred to Sikhs, who meditate on it.
Sikhism is most common in Bactria, Persia, and India.
Judaism is one of the first monotheistic religions, and has heavily inspired Christianity and Islam. The Tanakh and Talmud are Judaism's holy books. The first five books of the Tanakh are the Torah, or "law". Judaism sees Moses as the original teacher, who brought the ten commandments down from Mount Sinai. These commandments were written by God, and are the most important regulating factors of people's lives.
(Some scholars believe there may be a connection between Judaism and the worshipers of Aton from ancient Egypt)
Judaism is the majority religion of Israel and Khazaria, and Jewish minorities can be found across Europe and European diaspora areas.
Alevism is a blending of Shamanism and other local beliefs (of the northwestern Middle East) and Islamic ideas, culminating in a liberal religion or even a secular philosophy, as some call it. A central figure is Ali, who is also the first of twelve Imams in Shia Islam. However, unlike Shia Islam, Alevism has no central authority or authorities, and is left more up to individuals to interpret. Alevism has a liberal and secular nature to it, and so Alevis are often interested in furthering human and animal rights.
Alevism is the majority religion of Turkey, and is a large minority religion in Byzantia, Armenia, Kurdistan, and other nearby areas, with smaller minorities in most Islamic-majority nations.
One could also see that Alevi belief and practice has similarities with Christian and Jewish religions. This is mostly an outcome of where Alevi people lived throughout the history.
Baha'í is a recently formed religion, only starting in the 19th century. In Shiraz, Persia, a man who became known as the Báb (the Gate) attracted many followers, one of which took the name of Bahá'u'lláh and furthered what is now known as the Baha'i faith. The religion, like Islam, is monotheistic. It also teaches the "unity of religion", and in this case is similar to Unitarian Universalism, though Baha'i has certain principles and is not open to free interpretation like Unitarian Universalism. This unity principle decreases friction with neighboring religions.
Baha'í is the largest religion of Persia, has significant minorities in the Bactria and the Middle East, and is growing throughout the world. In the Middle East, it represents the fastest-growing religion in percentage terms.