Comparative religion

Comparative religion is the branch of the study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of the world's religions. In general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as ethics, metaphysics, and the nature and forms of salvation. Studying such material is meant to give one a broadened and more sophisticated understanding of human beliefs and practices regarding the sacred, numinous, spiritual, and divine.[1]

In the field of comparative religion, a common geographical classification[2] of the main world religions includes Middle Eastern religions (including Iranian religions), Indian religions, East Asian religions, African religions, American religions, Oceanic religions, and classical Hellenistic religions.[2]


Social scientists in the 19th century took a strong interest in comparative and "primitive" religion through the work of Max Müller, Edward Burnett Tylor, William Robertson Smith, James George Frazer, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Rudolf Otto.[3]

Nicholas de Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, says that

The comparative study of religions is an academic discipline which has been developed within Christian theology faculties, and it has a tendency to force widely differing phenomena into a kind of strait-jacket cut to a Christian pattern. The problem is not only that other 'religions' may have little or nothing to say about questions which are of burning importance for Christianity, but that they may not even see themselves as religions in precisely the same way in which Christianity sees itself as a religion.[4]

Geographical classification

According to Charles Joseph Adams, in the field of comparative religion, a common geographical classification discerns[2] the main world religions as follows:[2]

  1. Middle Eastern religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and a variety of ancient cults;
  2. East Asian religions, the religious communities of China, Japan, and Korea, and consisting of Confucianism, Daoism, the various schools of Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) Buddhism, and Shintō;
  3. Indian religions, including early Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism, and sometimes also the Theravada (“Way of the Elders”) Buddhism and the Hindu- and Buddhist-inspired religions of South and Southeast Asia;
  4. African religions, the ancient belief systems of the various indigenous peoples of Africa, excluding ancient Egyptian religion, which is considered to belong to the ancient Middle East;
  5. American religions, the beliefs and practices of the various Indigenous peoples of the two American continents;
  6. Oceanic religions, the religious systems of the peoples of the Pacific islands, Australia, and New Zealand; and
  7. Classical religions of ancient Greece and Rome and their Hellenistic descendants.

Middle Eastern religions

Abrahamic or Western Asian religions

In the study of comparative religion, the category of Abrahamic religions consists of the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which claim Abraham (Hebrew Avraham אַבְרָהָם; Arabic Ibrahim إبراهيم ) as a part of their sacred history. Smaller religions such as Bahá'í Faith that fit this description are sometimes included but are often omitted.[5]

The original belief in the One God of Abraham eventually became strictly monotheistic present-day Rabbinic Judaism. Christians believe that Christianity is the fulfillment and continuation of the Jewish Old Testament. Christians believe that Jesus (Hebrew Yeshua יֵשׁוּעַ) is the Messiah (Christ) foretold in the Old Testament prophecy, and believe in subsequent New Testament revelations based on the divine authority of Jesus in Christian belief (as the Incarnation of God). Islam believes the present Christian and Jewish scriptures have been corrupted over time and are no longer the original divine revelations as given to the Jewish people and to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. For Muslims, the Qur'an is the final, complete revelation from God (Arabic الله Allah), who believe it to have been revealed to Muhammad alone, who is believed by Muslims to be the final prophet of Islam, and the Khatam an-Nabiyyin, meaning the last of the prophets ever sent by Allah ("seal of the prophets"). Based on the Muslim figure of the Mahdī, the ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imām of the Twelve Imams, Ali Muhammad Shirazi, later known as Bab, created the Bábí movement out of the belief that he was the gate to the Twelfth Imām. This signaled a break with Islam and started a new religious system, Bábism. However, in the 1860s a split occurred after which the vast majority of Bábís who considered Mirza Husayn `Ali or Bahá'u'lláh to be Báb's spiritual successor founded the Bahá'í Movement, while the minority who followed Subh-i-Azal came to be called Azalis.[6] The Bahá'í division eventually became a full-fledged religion of its own, the Bahá'í Faith. In comparison to the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the number of adherents for Bahai faith and other minor Abrahamic religions are not very significant.

Out of the three major Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism are the two religions that diverge the most in theology and practice.

The historical interaction of Islam and Judaism started in the 7th century CE with the origin and spread of Islam. There are many common aspects between Islam and Judaism, and as Islam developed, it gradually became the major religion closest to Judaism. As opposed to Christianity, which originated from interaction between ancient Greek, Roman, and Hebrew cultures, Judaism is very similar to Islam in its fundamental religious outlook, structure, jurisprudence and practice.[7] There are many traditions within Islam originating from traditions within the Hebrew Bible or from post-biblical Jewish traditions. These practices are known collectively as the Isra'iliyat.[8]

The historical interaction between Christianity and Islam connects fundamental ideas in Christianity with similar ones in Islam. Islam accepts many aspects of Christianity as part of its faith – with some differences in interpretation – and rejects other aspects. Islam believes the Qur'an is the final revelation from God and a completion of all previous revelations, including the Bible.

Iranian religions

Several important religions and religious movements originated in Greater Iran, that is, among speakers of various Iranian languages. They include Mithraism, Ætsæg Din, Yazdanism, Ahl-e Haqq, Zurvanism, Mandaeism, Manichaeism, and Mazdakism.

Indian religions

Rigveda MS2097
The Rig Veda is one of the oldest Vedic texts. Shown here is a Rig Veda manuscript in Devanagari, early nineteenth century.

Most scholars believe that Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20] with origins perhaps as far back as to the prehistoric times,[21][22][23][24][25] or 5000 years.[26] So "the kinship of the religions of India stems from the fact that Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs look back to Hinduism as their common mother."[27]

Gautama Buddha is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism. Most Hindus believe the Buddha accepted and incorporated many tenets of Hinduism in his doctrine, however, Buddhists disagree and state there was no such thing as Hinduism at the time of Buddha and in fact, "Indeed, it absorbed so many Buddhist traits that it is virtually impossible to distinguish the latter in medieval and later Hinduism."[28] Prominent Hindu reformers such as Mahatma Gandhi[29] and Vivekananda[30] acknowledge Buddhist influence. Gandhi, like Hindus himself did not believe Buddha established a non-Hindu tradition. He writes, "I do not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate from Hinduism."[31] Zoroastrianism too is an Indian religion and its founder, Zarathushtra Spitama, was a Kashmiri Pandit born in Kashmir. Yungdrung Bon is another Indian religion and its founder, Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, was born in Dardistan.

East Asian or Taoic religions

The Chinese character depicting Tao, the central concept in Taoism

A Taoic religion is a religion, or religious philosophy, that focuses on the East Asian concept of Tao ("The Way"). This forms a large group of religions including Taoism, Confucianism, Jeung San Do, Shintoism, I-Kuan Tao, Chondogyo, and Chen Tao. In large parts of East Asia, Buddhism has taken on some taoic features.

Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. It is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered and is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. The flow of Ch'i, as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the universal order of Tao. Following the Tao is also associated with a "proper" attitude, morality and lifestyle. This is intimately tied to the complex concept of De, or literally "virtue" or "power." De is the active expression of Tao.

Taoism and Ch'an Buddhism for centuries had a mutual influence on each other in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. These influences were inherited by Zen Buddhism when Ch'an Buddhism arrived in Japan and adapted as Zen Buddhism.

Comparing traditions

Bahá'í Faith









Paganism and Neopaganism




See also


  1. ^ "Human beings' relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, and divine" Encyclopædia Britannica (online, 2006), cited after "Definitions of Religion". Religion facts.
  2. ^ a b c d Charles Joseph Adams, Classification of religions: geographical, Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Hans Kippenberg, Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age (2001).
  4. ^ Nicholas de Lange, Judaism, Oxford University Press, 1986
  5. ^ Why Abrahamic? Archived 8 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the University of Wisconsin
  6. ^ "But the upshot of the whole matter is, that out of every hundred Bábís probably not more than three or four are Ezelís [sic], all the rest accepting Behá'u'lláh [sic] as the final and most perfect manifestation of the Truth." (Browne (1889) p. 351)
  7. ^ Rabbi David Rosen, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Past and Present Archived 16 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine, November 2003
  8. ^ Rabbi Justin Jaron Lewis, Islam and Judaism Archived 5 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine, October 2001
  9. ^ P. 386 Transcultural Concepts in Nursing Care By Margaret M. Andrews, Joyceen S. Boyle
  10. ^ P. 484 Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions By Wendy Doniger, M. Webster, Merriam-Webster, Inc
  11. ^ P. 285 Communication for Development in the Third World By Srinivas R. Melkote, H. Leslie Steeves
  12. ^ P. xvi The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism By Linda Johnsen
  13. ^ P. 219 Faith, Religion & Theology By Brennan Hill, Paul F. Knitter, William Madges
  14. ^ P. 72 Multicultural Clients By Sybil M. Lassiter
  15. ^ P. 15 Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation By Ian Stevenson
  16. ^ P. 6 Hinduism By Sue Penney
  17. ^ P. 22 The Best Guide to Eastern Philosophy and Religion By Diane Morgan
  18. ^ P. 212 Alternative Religions By Stephen Hunt
  19. ^ P. 35 Common Spirit Common Ground By Michael Strange
  20. ^ P. 72 Canadian and World Politics By John Ruypers, Ruypers, Austin, Carter, Murphy
  21. ^ P. 186 Information Please Almanac, Atlas and Yearbook
  22. ^ P. 6 The World's Great Religions By Yoshiaki Gurney Omura, Selwyn Gurney Champion, Dorothy Short
  23. ^ P. 169 The Encyclopedia of Religion By Mircea Eliade, Charles J. Adams
  24. ^ P. 585 The New Encyclopaedia Britannica By Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc 1987
  25. ^ P. xxv The Complete Idiot's Guide to World Religions By Brandon Toropov, Luke Buckles
  26. ^ P. 22 The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geography By Joseph Gonzalez, Michael D Smith, Thomas E. Sherer
  27. ^ Religions of the World S. Vernon McCasland, Grace E. Cairns, David C. Yu
  28. ^ MLA style: "monasticism." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 14 Aug. 2007 <>.
  29. ^ “owes on eternal debt of gratitude to that great teacher,”Mahatma Gandhi and Buddhism Y.P. Anand An Encounter with Buddhism Archived 10 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ He is the ideal Karma-Yogi, acting entirely without motive, and the history of humanity shows him to have been the greatest man ever born; beyond compare the greatest combination of heart and brain that ever existed, the greatest soul-power that has ever been manifested. Essay, Ideal Karma Yogi
  31. ^ P. 17 Gandhi By Ronald Terchek

Further reading

  • Saso, Michael R. (2015) Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest (MYSHOP): Prayers Without Words. Sino-Asian Institute of America, US. ISBN 978-1624074059.
  • Eastman, Roger (1999) The Ways of Religion: An Introduction to the Major Traditions. Oxford University Press, US; 3 edition. ISBN 978-0-19-511835-3.
  • Momen, Moojan (2009) [Originally published as The Phenomenon of Religion in 1999]. Understanding Religion: A Thematic Approach. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 978-1-85168-599-8.
  • Muhiyaddin, M. A. (1984) A Comparative Study of the Religions of Today. Vantage Press, US. ISBN 978-0533059638.
  • Shaw, Jeffrey M. (2014) Illusions of Freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on Technology and the Human Condition. Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1625640581.
  • Smith, Huston (1991) The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. HarperOne, US; Rev Rep edition. ISBN 978-0062508119.
  • Chopra, R. M. (2015) A Study of Religions, Anuradha Prakashan, New Delhi, ISBN 978-9382339-94-6.

External links

Association for Consciousness Exploration

The Association for Consciousness Exploration LLC (ACE) is an American organization based in Northeastern Ohio which produces events, books, and recorded media in the fields of "magic, mind-sciences, alternative lifestyles, comparative religion/spirituality, entertainment, holistic healing, and related subjects."

Champat Rai Jain

Champat Rai Jain (1867-1942) was an influential Jain writer and comparative religion scholar of the 20th century who contrasted Jainism and Christianity. He visited various European countries to give lectures on Jainism. He was conferred with the title Vidya-Varidhi (lit. Ocean of Wisdom) by Bharata Dharma Mahamandal (The India-Religious Association).

Comparative Religion (Community)

"Comparative Religion" is the 12th episode of the first season of the American comedy television series Community. It aired in the United States on NBC on December 10, 2009.

Comparative religion (disambiguation)

Comparative religion is the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of the worlds religions.

Comparative Religion may also refer to:

Comparative Religion (book), a book by Frank Byron Jevons

"Comparative Religion" (Community), an episode of American comedy television series Community

Comparative theology

Comparative theology is a relatively new discipline within theology, which holds together "comparative" and "theology" in creative tension. It represents a particular type of theological practice committed to deep interreligious learning ("comparative") while staying rooted in a particular religious tradition ("theology"). Moreover, while many of its proponents come from the Christian religious tradition, it can have as a starting point the theology of any religious tradition.

East Asian religions

In the study of comparative religion, the East Asian religions or Taoic religions form a subset of the Eastern religions. This group includes Chinese religion overall, which further includes Ancestral Worship, Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Taoism and so-called popular salvationist organisations (such as Yiguandao and Weixinism), as well as elements drawn from Mahayana Buddhism that form the core of Chinese Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism at large. The group also includes Japanese Shintoism and Korean Sindoism (both meaning "Ways of Gods" and identifying the indigenous shamanic religion and ancestor worship of such peoples), which have received influences from Chinese religions throughout the centuries. Chinese salvationist religions have influenced the rise of Korean and Japanese new religions—for instance, respectively, Jeungsanism, and Tenriism; these movements draw upon indigenous traditions but are heavily influenced by Chinese philosophy and theology.

All these religious traditions, more or less, share core Chinese concepts of spirituality, divinity and world order, including Tao 道 ("Way"; pinyin dào, Japanese tō or dō, and Korean do) and Tian 天 ("Heaven"; Japanese ten, and Korean cheon).

Early Chinese philosophies defined the Tao and advocated cultivating the de, "virtue", which arises from the knowledge of such Tao. Some ancient schools merged into traditions with different names or became extinct, such as Mohism (and many others of the Hundred Schools of Thought), which was largely absorbed into Taoism. East Asian religions include many theological stances, including polytheism, nontheism, henotheism, monotheism, pantheism, panentheism and agnosticism. East Asian religions have many Western adherents, though their interpretations may differ significantly from traditional East Asian religious thought and culture.

The place of Taoic religions among major religious groups is comparable to the Abrahamic religions found in Europe and the Western World as well as across the Middle East and the Muslim World and Dharmic religions across South Asia.

Eastern religions

The Eastern religions are the religions that originated in East, South and Southeast Asia and thus have dissimilarities with Western religions. This includes the East Asian religions (Shintoism, Sindoism, Taoism and Confucianism), Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) as well as animistic indigenous religions.This East-West religious distinction, just as with the East-West culture distinction, and the implications that arise from it, is broad and not precise. Furthermore, the geographical distinction has less meaning in the current context of global transculturation.

While many Western observers attempt to distinguish between Eastern philosophies and religions, this is a distinction that does not exist in some Eastern traditions.

Faculty for Comparative Religion

The Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions and Humanism (FVG), located in Wilrijk, Antwerp (Belgium), is an independent Faculty founded in 1980 and recognized in Belgium by Royal Decree (dated 20 June 1980). Its constitution runs as follows: "The objective of the Association is to launch, to organize and to manage at International University Level the comparative study of religions. All present and future members declare solemnly that the FVG will not and never be submitted to any doctrinal system. The most absolute tolerance will bind and lead for all relations between members and all those concerned with the Faculty.

On 15 December 2009, a Royal Decree was signed concerning the new titles of the diplomas. These are a Basic diploma (after 3 years) and an Advanced diploma (after 4 years). The Faculty is also recognized by the Ministry of Social Affairs (10.08.1993) with reference to the Royal Decree of 18 June 1969) as an Educational institution of the third level.

In February 2006, a partnership was signed with the Free University Brussels (VUB). Besides this partnership an agreement was also signed concerning academic knowhow, integration of the library, student follow up, etc. On behalf of the VUB rector B. Van Camp signed and on behalf of the FVG rector Chr. Vonck.

Besides this partnership the FVG keeps bilateral agreements with many universities all over the world, including Korea, Israel, Iran, India and Russia.

Gavin Flood

Gavin Dennis Flood (born 1954) FBA is a British scholar of comparative religion specialising in Shaivism and phenomenology, but with research interests that span South Asian traditions.

From October 2005 through December 2015 he served in the Faculty of Theology University of Oxford and as the Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies which is a Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford. In 2008 Flood was granted the title of Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion from the University of Oxford. In 2014 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences. In November 2015, it was announced that Dr. Flood would become the inaugural Yap Kim Hao Professor of Comparative Religious Studies at Yale-NUS College in Singapore; taking up the position from January 2016. He is a Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, Oxford.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, is a term found in English translations of the Bible that is understood differently among the Abrahamic religions. The term is also used to describe aspects of other religions and belief structures.

Islam and other religions

Over the centuries of Islamic history, Muslim rulers, Islamic scholars, and ordinary Muslims have held many different attitudes towards other religions. Attitudes have varied according to time, place and circumstance.

List of Muslim comparative religionists

Muslim comparative religionist is a Muslim scholar or preacher engaged in Islamic comparative religion studies.

This is an incomplete list of notable Muslim comparative religionists.

Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi

Ibn Hazm

Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari

Rahmatullah Kairanawi

Ismail al-Faruqi

Hafiz Muhammad Shariq

Zakir Naik

Ahmad Deedat

Shabir Ally

Muhammad Taqi Usmani

Abul A'la Maududi

René Guénon

Yusuf Estes

Bilal Philips

Jamal Badawi

Amir Hussain Editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Hamza Tzortzis

Harun Yahya

Mattias Gardell

Hans Bertil Mattias Gardell (born 10 August 1959) is a Swedish scholar of comparative religion. He is the current holder of the Nathan Söderblom Chair of Comparative Religion at Uppsala University, Sweden. He is also the first award winner of Jan Myrdals big prize in 2009, and received The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities Award for Distinguished Research in the Humanities, the Royal Gold Medal, in 2003.


Missiology is the area of practical theology that investigates the mandate, message, and mission of the Christian church, especially the nature of missionary work. Missiology is a multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural field of study incorporating theology, anthropology, history, geography, theories and methods of communication, comparative religion, Christian apologetics, education methodology, and interdenominational relations.

Norse Mythology (book)

Norse Mythology is a 2017 book by Neil Gaiman. The book is Gaiman's retelling of several stories from Norse mythology. These stories include the theft of Thor's hammer, the binding of Fenrir and other tales about the Aesir.The book received positive reviews in The New Yorker, Washington Post and The Times. Kirkus Reviews called it "Superb. Just the thing for the literate fantasy lover and the student of comparative religion and mythology alike."


Something that is sacred is dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity or considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspiring awe or reverence among believers. The property is often ascribed to objects (a "sacred artifact" that is venerated and blessed), or places ("sacred ground").

French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden." In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns.

Although there are similarities between the terms "sacred" and "holy" and they are sometimes used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. "Holiness" is generally the term used in relation to persons and relationship, while "sacredness" is used in relation to objects, places, or happenings. Thus a saint may be considered as holy, but would not be viewed as sacred.

Studies in Comparative Religion

Studies in Comparative Religion was a quarterly academic journal published from 1963 to 1987 that contained essays on the spiritual practices and religious symbolism of the world's religions. The journal was notable for the number of prominent Perennialists who contributed to it. It was also notable for being the first English-language journal focused on the subject of traditional studies and comparative religion.

Transylvanian Society of Dracula

The Transylvanian Society of Dracula (TSD) is a cultural-historic, non-profit, non-governmental organization. Its members include Romanian and international scholars, folklorists, historians, esoterists, writers, cultural anthropologists, and individuals interested in comparative religion, magic and mythology. The TSD organizes scholarly activities both in Romania and abroad, as well as tours to sites of TSD interest in Romania.

Some high ranked Romanian members make money out of the touristic activities of the organization, through the Company of Mysterious Journeys tourist agency. Modifications to this agency have occurred since the founder Nicolae Paduraru died. The Halloween 2011 tour, for example, did not include Bran Castle or Curtea Veche -in spite of what was published in their web site-, but it included a beauty pageant. One of the Romanian members of TSD working at the agency was one of the presenters of such pageant.

Western religions

Western religions refers to religions that originated within Western culture, and are thus historically, culturally, and theologically distinct from the Eastern religions. The term Abrahamic religions (Islam, Eastern Christianity and Judaism) is often used instead of using the East and West terminology.

Western culture itself was significantly influenced by the emergence of Christianity and its adoption as the state church of the Roman Empire in the late 4th century and the term "Christendom" largely indicates this intertwined history. Western Christianity was significantly influenced by Hellenistic religion (notably Platonism) as well as the Roman imperial cult. Western Christianity is based on Roman Catholicism (Latin Rite), as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy, from which it was divided by the Great Schism of the 11th century, and further includes all Protestant traditions splitting off Roman Catholicism from the 16th century.

Since the 19th century, Western religion has diversified into numerous new religious movements, including Occultism, Spiritism and diverse forms of Neopaganism.

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