Types Of Religion (and Their Differences Of Beliefs And Ideas)

A classification of the different religious currents and forms of faith, according to various criteria.

The phenomenon of religions is not something homogeneous and easy to understand just by reading one of the sacred texts of a certain religious faith.

The fact that religion has been present since the beginning of the intellectual activity of our species has made the number of beliefs, rituals and customs so great that it is necessary to take into account the different types of religion to understand what this consists of. way of understanding the world. You cannot take the part for the whole.

Below we will see roughly what are the characteristics of these types of religions and how they differ.

Different kinds of religion

Classifying the different religions is not easy, among other things because there is no single criterion to divide them into groups. Furthermore, the entire religious phenomenon is based on interpretations, which means that the absolute truth does not exist when it comes to understanding them (beyond the religious dogma of the most fundamentalist believers).

Non-theistic religions

This type of religion is made up of currents of thought and traditions that are not articulated around the belief in divine beings with their own intelligence and will.

For example, certain branches of Buddhism and Taoism are often considered non-theistic religions. However, there is also the possibility of understanding them as philosophies, even though a broad definition of the concept of religion can include them, since they are based on dogmas and certain traditions and rituals.

Forms of pantheism

Pantheism is based on the idea that the divine and nature are the same, a single unit that cannot be divided. This means that the divine does not exist beyond the natural and vice versa and that, furthermore, there is no metaphysical subject that orders everything that happens in nature, since it is self-sufficient.

In a way, pantheism can be seen as a romantic philosophy through which atheism is viewed.

Theistic religions

This is the most widespread type of religion today, and it is based on the idea that the world has been created or is run by entities with supernatural power that, in addition, act as moral referents.

Theistic religions can be divided into two categories: monotheistic and polytheistic.

1. Monotheistic religions

In this type of religion it is clearly established that there is only one god, which is the entity with the greatest virtue and power. If there are other supernatural entities, they are below that divinity in terms of their power, or they have been created by it.

The three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, belong to this branch, but also others less known, such as Mazdeism (related to the prophet Zarathustra) or Sikhism, well known in India.

2. Dualistic religions

In dualistic religions there are two supernatural entities of the same rank embodying opposite essential principles and fighting each other. This struggle, in turn, explains all the processes that can be verified in nature and in people’s behavior.

An example of this type of religion is Manichaeism.

3. Polytheistic religions

In polytheistic religions there is no god or duality, but several, regardless of their rank or degree of power, that form a pantheon. Hinduism or religions known from antiquity such as Egypt or Greco-Roman culture are examples of this category, as well as the deities of Scandinavian mythology.

Classification by ancestry

The types of religion can also be divided according to criteria that do not have to do with the content of the beliefs on which they are based, but by their geographical origins and the ethnic groups to which they are linked.

Hundreds of categories and subtypes can be included in this classification, but I will include only the widest and most well-known types.

Semitic religions

Also known as Abrahamic religions, they are those that are based on beliefs related to the figure of Abraham and the region of the Fertile Crescent.

Dharmic religions

This category includes the many religions originating in the area of ‚Äč‚ÄčIndia, such as Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism.

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African religions

The diversity of cultures present on the continent where our species appeared is reflected in a great proliferation of different cults, many of which are based on animism, that is, the idea that numerous elements of our environment (whether they are animals, objects or landscapes) contain a spirit and specific intentions. However, animism has also been very present in cultures throughout the planet.

Amerindian religions

This type of religion belongs to the peoples of America prior to colonization. Historically, like the African ones, they have been based on oral tradition, and there is a lot of diversity among them, both due to the relative isolation of these peoples and the rather small size of their communities, which facilitates the appearance of unique characteristics.

Types of religions according to their influence

It is also possible to differentiate types of religions according to the way in which they have transcended their ethnic origins.

Cross-cultural religions

This group of religions contains the most widespread, such as Christianity or Islam, which are not limited to a particular nation or culture.

Indigenous religions

They are very localizable religions in specific areas and closely linked to tribes and family lineages. Of course, this category encompasses very diverse belief systems, but in general all of them are characterized by the attribution of soul, reasoning capacity and clear intention to multiple types of animals, plants and objects, and the absence of sacred texts.

Neo-paganism

They are cults that have been born recently from a recovery of the rituals and basic beliefs of old religions displaced by the dominant ones. Therefore, they try to investigate rituals and doctrines of the past to generate their usual symbols and practices. Wicca, for example, is an example of this group.

New religious movements

This is a category of very diffuse limits that includes forms of religious expression that have appeared recently and that do not respond to the need to recover traditional values, but rather assume their birth in a globalized society.

Beliefs are changing

Although it is possible to create categories to classify the different types of religions, it should not be forgotten that in all cases they are belief systems with little defined limits and that over time they change. A clear example is that of Christianity, based on a series of sacred writings in which a God is described who is sometimes infinitely kind and sometimes terribly cruel, and who sometimes encourages his faithful to behave like saints, and sometimes encourages them to behave as warriors, and that in many regions it has been mixed with beliefs prior to Christianization resulting in syncretic religions. 

The borders that we want to establish between religions are always like any other border: social constructs generated by consensus. The reality of what is embodied in this kind of faith is beyond definition.

Bibliographic references:

  • Artigas, M. (2000). The mind of the universe. 2nd ed.
  • Jaki, SL (1985). The Road of Science and the Ways to God. 3rd ed.

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