1. Religion Concepts

*Relation to Culture
*Stabilizing influence/inhibitor of change
*Social Structure

2. Religion Numbers

*World Distribution
*Distribution within country

3. Religion and conflict

*Conflicts between religions
*Shiites vs. Sunnis
*Religion and Science
*Religion and popular culture
*Religion and government

4. References

5. Review Questions

Religion Concepts

Religion is a shared system of beliefs and practices that embodies the spirituality of a culture. Religion of some type is important in all cultures. It is the foundation of myths, rituals, ethics, doctrines and social structure. Religion is the basis for society, even though in technological societies it may not have a physical presence in day to day life, it takes on the form of occupied laws, social taboos and morals.

Tradition has a major role in religion. It is because of tradition that Christians celebrate Christmas, Jews have Hanukkah and the Muslims celebrate Ramadan. Tradition in a religion and/or a society is how beliefs, morals and ethics of a particular group of people passes from one generation to another, as well as from one culture to another.

Religion is a stabilizing influence upon society. It allows the people in one culture to be more uniform, have the same beliefs, morals and understanding of the world. This makes it easier for the people in that culture to get along, but religion can have a negative aspect, too. Religion emphasizes social structure by keeping patterns of behavior in place and resisting outside forces that are contrary to the culture's beliefs. When a foreign belief or idea comes into contact with a very strict religious social structure, it can have a devastating affect upon that society. For example, the people of Ireland could not have a divorce or use contraceptives. These laws, to prevent change, are based on the doctrine of the Catholic religion.

Religion is important to all societies, because of its foundation in social structure, but not all countries treat religion with great importance. When a religion is the center of a society, when it is intertwined into every aspect of public and private life, such as in India, Israel or any Muslim state, it is of Primary Importance to that country. In contrast, when religion has a more subtle undertone and is not the focal point of day to day living, such as in the U.S. and in most European countries, it is of Secondary Importance.

Religion Numbers

The various denominations of Christianity account for about 1/3 of the world's population. This religion is found mostly in the Western Hemisphere and European countries. Christianity is broken into different denominations ñ approximately 60% are Roman Catholic, 25% are protestant and 10% are Orthodox. The second major world religion is Islam, representing approximately 20% of the world's population and it is the fastest growing religion in the world today. The Islamic religion is split between two major denominations, the Sunni (89%) and the Shi'ite (11%). (Rowntree, 2000, p. 23) The third largest religion is Hinduism, comprising 12.5% of the world's population and it is found mostly in India. Hinduism is also polytheistic; worship of many deities. The fourth largest religion is Buddhism at 9% of the world's religion and it is found in Southeast Asia and China. Buddhism was derived from Hinduism some 2,500 years ago. Finally the fifth largest religion is Judaism, which represents 0.5% of the worldís population. Judaism is the parent religion of Christianity and is closely related to Islam. Judaism also lost about 1/3 of its population in World War II.

Just as the world can be divided into regions by religion, so can the U.S. For example, the United States is divided between predominantly Lutherans in the north, Methodists in the middle, Mormons in the west (Utah), French Catholic in New Orleans, Baptist in the south and Spanish Catholic in the southwest.

Religion Problems

Religion conflicts are often linked with inequalities in wealth and is promoted by those in power for their own advancement. Long-standing religious disputes have existed among Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, Catholic and Orthodox (Yugoslavia), Catholics and Protestants (Northern Ireland) and the Shi'ites and Sunnis (Iraq).

The Islamic religion is divided into two groups, The Sunnis and The Shiites. The Sunnis run from the Arab-speaking lands of North Africa to the non-Arab speaking countries of Afghanistan and Indonesia. The Shiites are located in the Middle East, around Iran and Iraq. There is conflict between these two groups. The Shiites want to pass power on within Muhammadís own family, while the Sunnis believe in passing power down through the clergy. The Sunnis emerged victorious and now represent the Islamic religion with great amounts of people.

Religion has been at the center of many controversial topics in the past and the present. Religion and science have had many confrontations in the past 500 years. An example of this would be the dispute between evolution and creationism. Many Christian religions have a strong belief in creationism, but science has proven again and again that there is evidence of evolution. Because of this dispute, in some parts of the United States it is unethical to teach evolution in schools.

There are also underlying disputes between popular culture and religion. The popular culture of a society may say it is "Okay" to do something and this may seem to be wrong within the religious community. Is having premarital sex right or wrong? Popular culture seems to encourage premarital sex, but most religions find it to be immoral.

Another dispute or disagreement, is the impact of religion in government. In some countries, such as the US, there is a separation between government and religion. In other countries, such as Iran, the government is based on religion. This disagreement is based upon society as a whole and the contributing beliefs of that society. This example can also be easily tied to the disagreement between religion and popular culture.

Western and non-western societies now question the usefulness of scientific/rational approaches to provide a guide to living. While attendance at church-sponsored events has been decreasing in many parts of the World, there are signs that more people are turning to religion and that religious differences may once again become the major reason for regional conflicts.


Livingston, James C. "Anatomy of the Sacred: Introduction to Religion". Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1998

Rowntree, Lee "Diversity Amid Globalization". Prentice Hall, Inc. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 2000.

Review Questions

1. The percent of people, following Islamic religion in the world is about: A. 12% B. 20% C. 33% D. 41%

2. Religion is: A. of greatest importance in the technological world B. a desabtilizing influence C. creates change in society D. is one aspect of culture


3. The approximate percentages of the major world religions, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, and Judaism respectively are: A. 23%,20%,11%,1%,.5% B. 23%,19%,14%,7%,2% C. 33%,20%,12.5%,9%,0.5% D. 29%,20%,14%,5%,1%

4. The fastest growing religion in the world is: A. Jainism B. Judaism C. Islam D. Christianity E. Confucianism

5. Religion is: A. defined by a system of beliefs B. the foundation of social structure C. varies in importance among different cultures D. a stabilizing influence upon society E. all of the above

6.Christianity, as a whole, contains about how much of the worldís population? A.1/5 B.1/3 C.2/5 D.2/3.

7. Which religion was derived from Hinduism approximately 2,500 years ago? A.Christianity B.Muslim C.Shinto D.Buddhism E.Confucianism

8.The Islamic religion is split between two major denominations, The Sunni and The: A.Christians B.Jews C.Shi'ites D.Sutans

Submitted by Arron Cleaver on 1-30-96. Update submitted by Brent Conrad on 1-19-96. Update submitted by Joseph Howland on 5-25-97. Update submitted by Carolina Kellenberger 10-11-00. Update submitted by Tom Fisher 4/12/01.