Growth of religion

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Growth of religion is the spread of religions and the increase of religious adherents around the world. The statistics are commonly measured by the absolute number of adherents, the percentage of the absolute growth per year, and the growth of the number of converts in the world. Studies show that, in terms of percentage and world wide spread, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world.[1][2][3][4]

Growth of religious groups

Bahá'í Faith

World religions statistics place the Bahá'í Faith around 0.1% of the world population in recent years.[5][6] The World Christian Encyclopedia estimated only 7.1 million Bahá'ís in the world in 2000, representing 218 countries,[6] and its evolution to the World Christian Database (WCD) estimated 7.3 million in 2010[7] 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."[8] This source's only documented flaw was to consistently have a higher estimate of Christians than in other cross-national data sets.[9]

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.[10] `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 that 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[11][12] 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.[13][14][15] Wide-scale growth in the religion across Sub-Saharan Africa particularly was observed to begin in the 1950s and extend in the 1960s.[16] There was diplomatic pressure from northern arab countries against this development that was eventually overcome.[17] 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.[18] 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[19] to Khalil Gibran[20] to Mohandas K. Gandhi[21] to Desmond Tutu.[22] 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[23] (despite significant persecution and the overall Iranian diaspora), Panama,[24] and Belize;[25] the second largest international religion in Bolivia,[26] Zambia,[27] and Papua New Guinea;[28] and the third largest international religion in Chad[29] and Kenya.[30] In 2014 the religion was officially recognized in Indonesia[31] and in addition to various countries it is the second largest religion in state of South Carolina - a fact that, despite its small size, got some attention in 2014.[32][33]

A Bahá'í published survey reported 4.74 million Bahá'ís in 1987.[34] Bahá'í sources since 1991 usually estimate the worldwide Bahá'í population at "above 5 million".[35][36]


A lay Buddhist congregation at the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees in Guangzhou, Guangdong. China has the largest number of Buddhists in the world.[37]

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.[38] According to scholars of religious demographics, there are between 488 million,[37] 495 million,[39] and 535 million[40] Buddhists in the world.

According to Johnson and Grim, Buddhism has grown from a total of 138 million adherents in 1910, of which 137 million were in Asia, to 495 million in 2010, of which 487 million are in Asia.[39]

According to them, there was a fast annual growth of Buddhism in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and several Western European countries (1910-2010). More recently (2000-2010), the countries with highest growth rates are Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and some African countries.[41] The Australian Bureau of Statistics, through statistical analysis, held Buddhism to be the fastest-growing spiritual tradition in Australia in terms of percentage gain, with a growth of 79.1% for the period 1996 to 2001 (200,000→358,000).[42]

Public worship ceremony at the Temple of Shennong-Yandi, in Suizhou, Hubei.

Chinese traditional religion

According to a survey of religion in China in the year 2010, the number of people practicing some form of Chinese folk religion is near to 950 millions (70% of the Chinese),[43] of which 173 millions (13%) practice some form of Taoist-defined folk faith.[43] Further in detail, 12 million people have passed some formal initiation into Taoism, or adhere to the official Chinese Taoist Association.[43] Comparing this with other surveys, evidence suggests that nowadays three fifths to four fifths of the Chinese believe in folk religion.[44] This shows a significant growth from the 300-400 million people practicing Chinese traditional religion that were estimated in the 1990s and early 2000s.[45][46]

This growth reverses the rapid decline that Chinese traditional religion faced in the 20th century.[47] Moreover, Chinese religion has also spread throughout the world following the emigration of Chinese populations, with 672,000 adherents in Canada as of 2010.[47]

According to scholars, the rebirth of Chinese traditional religion in China is faster and larger than the spread of other religions in the country, such as Buddhism and Christianity:[48]

Since the 1980s, with the gradual opening of society, folk religion has begun to recover. Especially in the rural areas, the speed and scale of its development are much faster and larger than is the case with Buddhism and Christianity [...] in Zhejiang province, where Christianity is better established than elsewhere, temples of folk religion are usually twenty or even a hundred times as numerous as Christian church buildings.

The number of adherents of the Chinese traditional religion is difficult to count, because:[49]

Chinese rarely use the term "religion" for their popular religious practices, and they also do not utilize vocabulary that they "believe in" gods or truths. Instead they engage in religious acts that assume a vast array of gods and spirits and that also assume the efficacy of these beings in intervening in this world.

The Chinese folk religion is a "diffused religion" rather than "institutional".[49] It is a meaning system of social solidarity and identity, ranging from the kinship systems to the community, the state, and the economy, that serves to integrate Chinese culture.[49]


According to 2011 Pew Research Center survey, there are 2.2 billion Christians around the world in 2010,[50] up from about 600 million in 1910.[50] And according to 2012 Pew Research Center survey if current trends continue, Christianity will remain the world's largest religion by year 2050.[50] By 2050, the Christian population is expected to exceed 3 billion.[50]

According to a 2005 paper submitted to a meeting of the American Political Science Association, most of Christianity's growth has occurred in non-Western countries. The paper concludes that the Pentecostalism movement is the fastest-growing religion worldwide.[51]

The US Department of State estimated in 2005 that Protestants in Vietnam may have grown by 600% over the previous 10 years.[52] In Nigeria, the percentage of Christians has grown from 21.4% in 1953 to 50.8% in 2010.[50] In South Korea, Christianity has grown from 20.7% in 1985 to 29.3% in 2010.[50] In Singapore the percentage of Christians among Singaporeans increased from 12.7% in 1990 to 17.5% in 2010.[53] In recent years, the number of Chinese Christians has increased significantly; Christians were 4 million before 1949 (3 million Catholics and 1 million Protestants), and are reaching 67 million today.[50][54]

Evangelical Christian denominations are among the fastest-growing denominations in some Catholic Christian countries, such as Brazil and France.[55][56] In Brazil, the total number of Protestants jumped from 16.2% in 2000[57] to 22.2% in 2010 (for the first time, the percentage of Catholics in Brazil is less than 70%). These cases don't contribute to a growth of Christianity overall, but rather to a substitution of a brand of Christianity with another one.

According to the records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its membership has grown every decade since its beginning in the 1830s,[58] that it is among the top ten largest Christian denominations in the U.S.,[59] and that it was the fastest growing church in the U.S. in 2012.[60]

A 2015 study found that up to 10.2 million Muslim converted to Christianity.[61]


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.[62]


Ratha Yatra celebration in Russia. In the late 20th century forms of Hinduism have grown indigenous roots in parts of Russia, significantly in Altay where Hinduism is now the religion of 2% of the population.

Hinduism is a growing religion in countries such as Ghana,[63][64] the United States,[65] and others.[specify] According to 2011 census, Hinduism has become fastest-growing religion in Australia since 2006[66] due to migration from India.[67][68] Over 80% of the Republic of India population is Hindu, 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%.[69][70]


The mosque of Dumai, in Riau. Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims in the world.

In 1990, 1.1 billion people were Muslims, while in 2010, 1.6 billion people were Muslims.[2][71] 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.[72] 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).[73] However, according to others, including the 2003 edition of 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. 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 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."[74] The growth of Islam from 2010 to 2020 has been estimated at 1.70%[73] 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 has Islam as the fastest-growing religion in the world.[75]

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the fastest-growing denomination in Islam is Ahmadiyya with a growth rate of 3.25%. However, most of the Muslim population do not regard Ahmadis to be Muslims. Most other sects have a growth rate of less than 3%.[76]

There exist different views among scholars about the spread of Islam. Islam began in Arabia and from 633 AD until the late 10th century it was spread through conquests, far-reaching trade and missionary activity[77][78]

According to Rodney Stark, Islam was spread after military conquests after Arab armies began overtaking Christian regions from Syria to North Africa and Spain,[79] as well as Buddhist and Hindu regions in Central Asia, parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia via military invasions,[80][81][82] traders and Sufi missionaries.[77][83][84][85] 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 - which translated means "protected persons") in Islamic empires[86][87][88][89] (such as Christians under Ottoman Empire's authority,[90][91] Hindus and Buddhists under regime of Muslim invaders,[84] Coptic Christians under administration of the Muslim Arabs,[87] Zoroastrians living under Islamic rule in ancient Persia,[92] and also with Jewish communities in the medieval Arab world[93]) while some scholars acknowledges that Most Muslim rulers in India never consistently collected the jizya (poll tax) from Dhimmis.[84] Under Islamic law, Muslims are required to pay "Zakat" which helps pay for government services including protection from enemies, similar to income tax and other taxes in modern societies; since non-Muslims are not required to pay Zakat, they instead had to pay Jizya if they wanted the same protections the Muslims received.

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.[94] 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".[95] 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.[96] 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.[97] Hugh Kennedy has also discussed the Jizyah issue and stated that Muslim governments discouraged conversion but were unable to prevent it.[98]


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).[62][99] 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".[100][101] The "Free Press Release Distribution Service" claims Wicca is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States as well.[102] Wicca, which is largely a "Pagan" religion primarily attracts followers of nature-based religions in, as an example, the Southeast Valley region of the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area.[103]


In terms of absolute numbers, irreligion appears to be increasing (along with secularization generally).[104] (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.[62][99] 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."[105] 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.[106] 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).[107] According to INEGI, in Mexico, the number of atheists grows annually by 5.2%, while the number of Catholics grows by 1.7%.[108][109] In New Zealand, 39% of the population are irreligious making it largest percentage of total population in Oceania region.[110]

Overall statistics

Data collection

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 particular countries, such as the American Religious Identification Survey[62] in the United States, or census data from Australia (which has included a voluntary religious question since 1911).[111]

Historical growth

The World Religion Database[112] (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.[113] Adherence data is largely compiled from census and surveys.[114] The database groups adherents into 18 broadly-defined categories: Agnostics, Atheists,[lower-alpha 1] 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[115] and Brian J. Grim.[116]

World religious beliefs / Non-beliefs by adherents, 1910–2010
Religion / Irreligion 1910 2010 Rate*
Adherents  % Adherents  % 1910–2010 2000–2010
Christianity 611,810,000 34.8 2,260,440,000 32.8 1.32 1.31
Islam 221,749,000 12.6 1,553,773,000 22.5 1.97 1.86
Hinduism 223,383,000 12.7 948,575,000 13.8 1.46 1.41
Agnosticism 3,369,000 0.2 676,944,000 9.8 5.45 0.32
Chinese folk religion 390,504,000 22.2 436,258,000 6.3 0.11 0.16
Buddhism 138,064,000 7.9 494,881,000 7.2 1.28 0.99
Ethnoreligion 135,074,000 7.7 242,516,000 3.5 0.59 1.06
Atheism 243,000 0.0 136,652,000 2.0 6.54 0.05
New religion 6,865,000 0.4 63,004,000 0.9 2.24 0.29
Sikhism 3,232,000 0.2 23,927,000 0.3 2.02 1.54
Judaism 13,193,000 0.8 14,761,000 0.2 0.11 0.72
Spiritualism 324,000 0.0 13,700,000 0.2 3.82 0.94
Daoism 437,000 0.0 8,429,000 0.1 3.00 1.73
Bahá'í Faith 225,000 0.0 7,306,000 0.1 3.54 1.72
Confucianism 760,000 0.0 6,449,000 0.1 2.16 0.36
Jainism 1,446,000 0.1 5,316,000 0.1 1.31 1.53
Shinto 7,613,000 0.4 2,761,000 0.0 −1.01 0.09
Zoroastrianism 119,000 0.0 197,000 0.0 0.51 0.74
Total Population:
*Rate = average annual growth rate, percent per year indicated

Source: Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim[117]

Future growth

Projections of future religious adherence are based on assumptions that trends, total fertility rates, life expectancy, political climate, conversion rates, secularization, etc will continue. Such forecasts cannot be validated empirically and are contentious, but are useful for comparison.[117][118]

See also


  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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  • Carolyn Chen, Russell Jeung. Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation. NYU Press, 2012. ISBN 0814717365.
  • Miikka Ruokanen, Paulos Zhanzhu Huang. Christianity and Chinese Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011. ISBN 0802865569.
  • Todd M. Johnson, Brian J. Grim. The World's Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
  • Religion on the Move!: New Dynamics of Religious Expansion in a Globalizing World, BRILL, 21-Nov-2012, Afe Adogame, Shobana Shankar, 2012.

External links