Growth of religion

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Growth of religion may be measured by:


Bahá'í Faith[edit]

World religions statistics place the Bahá'í Faith around 0.1% of the world population in recent years.[1][2] The World Christian Encyclopedia estimated only 7.1 million Bahá'ís in the world in 2000, representing 218 countries,[2] and its evolution to the World Christian Database (WCD) estimated 7.3 million in 2010[3] while accredited through the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). However the WCD stated: "The Baha'i Faith is the only religion to have grown faster in every United Nations region over the past 100 years than the general population; Baha'i(sic) was thus the fastest-growing religion between 1910 and 2010, growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region."[4] This source's only documented flaw was to consistently have a higher estimate of Christians than in other cross-national data sets.[5]

From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman empires of the 19th century the Bahá'í Faith was able to gain converts elsewhere in Asia, Europe, and North America by the early 20th century. John Esslemont performed the first review of the worldwide progress of the religion in 1919.[6] `Abdu'l-Bahá, son of the founder of the religion, then set goals for the community through his Tablets of the Divine Plan shortly before his death. Shoghi Effendi then initiated systematic pioneering efforts which brought the religion to almost every country and territory of the world and converts from more than 2000 tribes and peoples. There were serious setbacks in the Soviet Union[7][8] where Bahá'í communities in 38 cities across Soviet territories ceased to exist. However plans continued building to 1953 when the Bahá'ís initiated a Ten Year Crusade after plans had focused on Latin America and Europe after WWII. That last stage was largely towards parts of Africa.[9][10] Wide-scale growth in the religion across Sub-Saharan Africa particularly was observed to begin in 1950s and extend in the 1960s.[11] There was diplomatic pressure from northern arab countries against this development that was eventually overcome.[12] Starting in the 1980s with Perestroyka the Bahá'ís began to re-organize across the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. While sometimes failing to meet official minimums for recognitions as a religion, communities of Bahá'ís do exist from Poland to Mongolia. The worldwide progress was such that the Encyclopedia Britannica (2002) identified the religion as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity.[13] It has established Bahá'í Houses of Worship by continental region and been the object of interest and support of diverse non-Bahá'í notable people from Leo Tolstoy[14] to Khalil Gibran[15] to Mohandas K. Gandhi[16] to Desmond Tutu.[17] See List of Bahá'ís for a list of notable Bahá'ís.

ARDA/WCD statistics place the Bahá'í Faith as currently the largest religious minority in Iran[18] (despite significant persecution and the overall Iranian diaspora), Panama,[19] and Belize;[20] the second largest international religion in Bolivia,[21] Zambia,[22] and Papua New Guinea;[23] and the third largest international religion in Chad[24] and Kenya.[25]

A Bahá'í published survey reported 4.74 million Bahá'ís in 1987.[26] Bahá'í sources since 1991 usually estimate the worldwide Bahá'í population to be "above 5 million".[27][28]


Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha, who lived and taught in northeastern India in the 5th century BC. The majority of Buddhists live in Asia; Europe and North America also have populations exceeding 1 million.[29] According to scholars of religious demographics, there are between 200 million and 600 million Buddhists,[30] with 350–550 million the most widely accepted estimate.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] Due to the syncretic nature of religious beliefs in East Asia, however, some believe the Buddhist population exceeds 1 billion.[37][38][39] According to Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, "The Buddhist worldview and key rituals impact the whole of Chinese culture, including many Chinese who claim to be agnostic or atheist. In this 'wider' definition it is approximate to speak of 1 billion Buddhists."[32]

Buddhism is being recognized as the fastest growing religion in Western societies both in terms of new converts and more so in terms of friends of Buddhism, who seek to study and practice various aspects of Buddhism.[40][41]

One estimate ranks Buddhism among the fastest growing religions in the United States and in many Western European countries.[42] The Australian Bureau of Statistics through statistical analysis held Buddhism to be the fastest growing spiritual tradition/religion in Australia in terms of percentage gain with a growth of 79.1% for the period 1996 to 2001 (200,000→358,000).[43] Buddhism is the fastest-growing religion in England's jails, with the number of followers rising eightfold over the past decade.[44] A traditional belief among its majority Chinese population, Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in Macau.[45]


According to a 2005 paper submitted to a meeting of the American Political Science Association, most of this growth has occurred in non-Western countries and concludes the Pentecostalism movement is the fastest growing religion worldwide.[46]

In Vietnam, the US Department of State estimates that Protestants in Vietnam may have grown 600% over the last decade.[47] In Nigeria, the numbers of Christians has grown from 21.4% in 1953 to 50.8% in 2010.[48] In South Korea, Christianity has grown from 20.7% in 1985 to 29.3% in 2010.[48] However, Protestant Christianity is now seeing a decline in the country due to scandals involving church leadership and an increasing negative outlook at Protestant missionary tactics. As a result, Catholicism and Buddhism have become the fastest growing religions in South Korea.[49] In China, a recent boom in the Christian population has been called one of the "greatest revivals in Christian history". Mainland China now has about 67 million Christians, or about 5% of the total population, despite considerable persecution under Chairman Mao.[48][50] The Christian population in China is expected to reach over 400 million people by 2040, which would give China the highest Christian population of any country.[51][52]

Evangelical Christian denominations are among the fastest growing denominations in some Catholic Christian countries, such as Brazil and France.[53][54] In Brazil, the total number of Protestants jumped from 16.2% in 2000[55] to 22.2% in 2010 (for the first time the percentage of Catholics in Brazil is less than 70%).

The records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints show membership growth every decade since its beginning in the 1830s[56] and is among the top ten largest Christian denominations today.[57]


The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) survey, which involved 50,000 participants, reported that the number of participants in the survey identifying themselves as deists grew at the rate of 717% between 1990 and 2001. If this were generalized to the US population as a whole, it would make deism the fastest-growing religious classification in the US for that period, with the reported total of 49,000 self-identified adherents representing about 0.02% of the US population at the time.[58]


Over 80% of population of Republic of India is regarded to be of Hindus, accounting for about 90% of Hindus worldwide. Their 10-year growth rate is estimated at 20% (based on the period 1991 to 2001), corresponding to a yearly growth close to 2% or a doubling time of about 38 years.[59] However, the percentage of Hindus in the population of India has decreased by 3 percentage points since 1961, dropping from 83.5% in 1961 to 80.5% in 2001.[60]


Islam began in Arabia and from 633AD until the late 10th century it was spread after Arab armies began overtaking Christian lands from Syria to North Africa and Spain,[61] as well as Buddhist/Hindu lands in Central Asia, parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia via military invasions,[62][63][64][65] and conquering wars.[66][67][68] According to some scholars, the Jizya (poll tax) was the most important factor in the mass conversion to Islam, the tax paid by all non-Muslims (Dhimmis) in Islamic empires.[69][70][71][63][72][73] (such as Christians under Ottoman Empire's authority,[74][75] Hindus and Buddhists under regime of Muslim invaders,[67] Coptic Christians under administration of the Muslim Arabs,[70] Zoroastrians living under Muslim's rule in ancient Persia,[71] and also with Jewish communities in the medieval Arab world[76]) However, according to other scholars many converted for a whole host of reasons, the main of which was evangelisation by Muslims, though there were some instances where some were pressured to convert owing to internal conflict and friction between the Christian and Muslim communities, according to historian Philip Jenkins.[77] However John L. Esposito, a scholar on the subject of Islam in "The Oxford History of Islam" states that the spread of Islam "was often peaceful and sometimes even received favourably by Christians".[78] In a 2008 conference on religion at Yale University's The MacMillan Center Initiative on Religion, Politics, and Society which hosted a speech from Hugh Kennedy, he stated forced conversions played little part in the history of the spread of the faith.[79] However, the poll tax known Jizyah may have played a part in converting people over to Islam but as Britannica notes "The rate of taxation and methods of collection varied greatly from province to province and were greatly influenced by local pre-Islamic customs" and there were even cases when Muslims had the tax levied against them, on top of Zakat.[80] Hugh Kennedy has also discussed the Jizyah issue and stated that Muslim governments discouraged conversion but were unable to prevent it.[81]

In 1990, 935 million people were Muslims. According to the BBC, a comprehensive American study concluded in 2009 the number stood at approximately 23% of the world population with 60% of Muslims living in Asia.[82] From 1990 to 2010, the global Muslim population increased at an average annual rate of 2.2%. By 2030 Muslims are projected to represent about 26.4% of the global population (out of a total of 7.9 billion people).[83] Several sources believe that this increase is due primarily to high birth rates.[84][85][86] However according to others including the Guinness Book of World Records, Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion by number of conversions each year: "Although the religion began in Arabia, by 2002 80% of all believers in Islam lived outside the Arab world. In the period 1990–2000, approximately 12.5 million more people converted to Islam than to Christianity".[87] On the other hand in 2010 the Pew Forum stated "Statistical data on conversion to and from Islam are scarce. What little information is available suggests that there is no substantial net gain or loss in the number of Muslims through conversion globally; the number of people who become Muslims through conversion seems to be roughly equal to the number of Muslims who leave the faith. As a result, this report does not include any estimated future rate of conversions as a direct factor in the projections of Muslim population growth"[88] The growth of Islam from 2010 to 2020 has been estimated at 1.70%[83] due to high birthrates in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the World Christian Database as of 2007 Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.[89]


The American Religious Identification Survey gives Wicca an average annual growth of 143% for the period 1990 to 2001 (from 8,000 to 134,000 – U.S. data / similar for Canada & Australia).[58][90] According to The Statesman Anne Elizabeth Wynn claims "The two most recent American Religious Identification Surveys declare Wicca, one form of paganism, as the fastest growing spiritual identification in America".[91] The "Free Press Release Distribution Service" claims Wicca is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States as well.[92] Wicca which is largely a Pagan religion is primarily attracting the followers of nature based religions in the Southern United States which is contributing towards its growth.[93]


In terms of absolute numbers, irreligion appears to be increasing (along with secularization generally).[94] Even so, it is decreasing as a percentage of the world population, due primarily to population increases in more religious developing countries outpacing population growth (or decline) in less religious developed countries. (See the geographic distribution of atheism.)

The American Religious Identification Survey gave nonreligious groups the largest gain in terms of absolute numbers: 14.3 million (8.4% of the population) to 29.4 million (14.1% of the population) for the period 1990–2001 in the U.S.[58][90] A 2012 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports, "The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling."[88] A similar pattern has been found in other countries such as Australia, Canada, and Mexico. According to statistics in Canada, the number of "Nones" increased by about 60% between 1985 and 2004.[95] In Australia, census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics give "no religion" the largest gains in absolute numbers over the 15 years from 1991 to 2006, from 2,948,888 (18.2% of the population that answered the question) to 3,706,555 (21.0% of the population that answered the question).[96] According to INEGI, in Mexico, the number of atheists grows annually by 5.2%, while the number of Catholics grows by 1.7%.[97][98] In New Zealand, 39% of the population are irreligious making it largest percentage of total population in Oceania region.[99]

Religious growth[edit]

Data collection[edit]

Statistics on religious adherence are difficult to gather and often contradictory; statistics for the change of religious adherence are even more so, requiring multiple surveys separated by many years using the same data gathering rules. This has only been achieved in rare cases, and then only for a particular country, such as the American Religious Identification Survey[58] in the United States, or census data from Australia (which has included a voluntary religious question since 1911).[100]

Historical growth[edit]

The World Religion Database (WRD) is a peer-reviewed database of international religious statistics based on research conducted at the Institute on Culture, Religion & World Affairs at Boston University. It is published by Brill and is the most comprehensive database of religious demographics available to scholars, providing data for all of the world's countries.[101] Adherence data is largely compiled from census and surveys; the WRD methodology is available online. The database groups adherents into 18 broadly-defined categories: Agnostics, Atheists,[a] Baha'is, Buddhists, Chinese folk-religionists, Christians, Confucianists, Daoists, Ethnoreligionists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, New Religionists, Shintoists, Sikhs, Spiritists, and Zoroastrians. The WRD is edited by demographers Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim.

World Religions by Adherents, 1910–2010
Adherents %Adherents %1910–20102000–2010
Chinese folk religion390,504,00022.2436,258,0006.30.110.16
New religion6,865,0000.463,004,0000.92.240.29
Bahá'í Faith225,0000.07,306,0000.13.541.72
Total Population:
*Rate = average annual growth rate, percent per year indicated
Source: Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds. World Religion Database (Boston, MA: Brill; accessed January 2012)

Future growth[edit]

Projections of future religious adherence are based off assumptions that present trends—total fertility rates, life expectancies, political climate, conversion rates, etc.—will continue into the future. Such forecasts cannot be validated empirically and are contentious, but are useful for comparison. The WRD provides projections up to 2050.

World Religions by Adherents, 2010–2050
Religion20102050Growth %
Adherents %Adherents %2010–2050
Chinese folk religion436,258,0006.3379,459,0004.1−0.35
New religion63,004,0000.959,964,0000.6−0.12
Bahá'í Faith7,306,0000.115,343,0000.21.87
Total Population:
Source: Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds. World Religion Database (Boston, MA: Brill; accessed January 2012)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Atheism and agnosticism are not typically considered religions, but data about the prevalence of irreligion is useful to scholars of religious demography.


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External links[edit]