This Is the World’s Largest Religion

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The world’s great religions face a series of challenges unlike any they have seen in the past. According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Composition by Country, 2010-2050 report, for instance, 30% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated. The report also notes that “Christians are projected to decline from 78% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 66% in 2050.” For now, though, Christianity is not only America’s but the world’s largest religion. (Christianity is a major focus in many of the 20 most conservative colleges in America.)

Threats to the religious population outside the United States can be staggering. Falling fertility rates and a growing population of youths who may be less religiously inclined are factors in the decline of organized faith worldwide. Worse, some 41% of nations ban some religious groups. Among them are two of the world’s largest countries by population: Russia and China. 

One extreme example is the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia: The group is considered an “extremist organization” there and has been banned since 2017. On Jan. 18 of this year, one adherent to the faith was given a two-year jail sentence for taking part in religious activities, and according to Radio Free Europe, “dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses have either been convicted of extremism or have been held in pretrial detention.” 

Despite these challenges and others, according to the Pew report, some 6,463,580,000 of the world’s citizens identify with one religion or another, while 1,193,750,000 are “unaffiliated” – defined as “[a]theists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion.”

This groundbreaking study considers the religious composition of 198 countries and how it is likely to change between now and 2050. For instance, the Muslim population is growing rapidly, while the “unaffiliated” category is shrinking (though it is rising in the U.S.).

Pew divided religions into seven categories: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Folk Religion (for instance, traditional religions in Africa, China, and Australia), Other (including Baha’i, Taoism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, etc.), and Jews, with an eighth category for Unaffiliated. (“Other” might also include some thankfully small and obscure groups – like the most terrifying cults in history.)  

Based on Pew’s forecast for 2020, Christianity ranks first worldwide, claiming 2.383 billion people. The largest group of Christians is in sub-Saharan Africa at 650 million, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (585 million), Europe (535 million), Asia-Pacific (320 million), and North America (277 million).

Among the nations with the largest Christian populations are the United States (253 million), Brazil (185 million), Mexico (118 million), the Philippines (102 million), Nigeria (96 million), China (72 million), Ethiopia (62 million), Italy (48 million), South Africa (43 million), Uganda (40 million), Tanzania (39 million), France (37 million), Spain (36 million), and India (34 million).

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