All Shapes and Sizes: Types of Religions


There is a wide range of religions in the world.  No one really knows their exact number,[1]  and yet each one of them has its own unique, defining traits.

Given this rich and overwhelming diversity, it would be impossible for all religions to coincide in every area and for us to have a full understanding of them.  For these reasons, I think it is useful to classify religions according to some more manageable categories.[2]

If we take into account their central beliefs, for example, we may easily identify four mayor types  of religions.[3]

  1. Religions that do not have a well-articulated notion of God, interact with the mystery and power of nature, and believe that there is a great spirit or force that impacts life in its many facets, may be designated as naturalistic or super-naturalistic. Take, for instance, the ideologies and practices of the Eskimo tribes, the sedentary and nomadic groups in the South Pacific islands, and the diverse ethnic societies in Africa and North, Central, and South America.  Their meaningful interaction with the elements is remarkable.
  1. Religions that believe that all forms of life on the earth and the sky have higher powers dwelling in them and that they are responsible for everything in life are called animistic. Taking for granted that everything in the cosmos has a “soul,” pre-historic religions or hunting-and-gathering societies in very remote parts of the world today fall under this rubric.  Think also of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Africa before the European colonization, and the religious communities of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
  1. Religions that put God aside and, adopting some form of spirituality, focus on ideas that can identify and stimulate  the potential humans have to improve themselves are usually labeled as abstract idealistic. Buddhism and Confucianism are good examples of this.  Such is their emphasis on self-help that many experts argue that they are not religions but moral philosophies with religious overtones. 
  1. In closing, religions that claim that their beliefs and practices come directly from God – typically in the form of revelation – are theistic or deistic. They may believe in one, true, unique supreme being or power (monotheistic), such as in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  They may also be devoted to many (polytheistic), like the practitioners of  Hinduism do. The human role is repressed or minimized to give God the absolute spotlight.

In addition to these four mayor types, religions may be classified according to other criteria, sometimes to designate experiences and groups outside of religious institutions.[4] Depending on the number of followers and how spread out they are, religions are presented as either world religions,[5] indigenous-local religions, or new religions.[6]

Out of historical interests, one might think of dead or living religions as well.  Consider, for instance, pre-historic religions, Greco-Roman mystery religions or the Mayas, Aztecs or Incas, who are no longer in our midst, or whose beliefs might have partially survived in other religious traditions.

Other criteria may include geographical location or origin, number of adepts, whether religions have local or universal appeal or not, or even the type of concept of the deity that originated them.  They may or may not have sacred texts, emphasize esoteric worship acts or ethic, seek to convert people or they may even believe that you have to be born into a religion to be part of it.  In other words, the systems of classification are as diverse as the approaches to study them through these systems.  To make the most of our investigation, we need to keep our options and minds open, especially as new religious groups emerge and the old ones struggle to recreate themselves.


[1] Part of the problem is that estimates confuse religions with sub-groups or denomination.

[2] See my ; ; ;

[3] Perhaps influenced by a biased understanding of Christianity, in the past many scholars used to classify religions based on the criterion as to whether they were true or false.  Fortunately, this is no longer a legitimate approach because of its judgmental nature and the lack of the neutral, objective, attitude that must characterize any scientific inquiry.

[4] Although some experts add civil religions as representing another type of religion, to me this is a phrase that, in reality, refers to political groups with some religious characteristics.  Consider, for instance, the radical views of Communism, Patriotism, and Capitalism and those who see these as “sacred.”

[5] From the oldest to most recent, for example, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

[6] Scientology, for example.




About amartinez

Dr. Aquiles E. Martinez is Professor of Religion (Biblical Studies) and Coordinator of the Religion and Philosophy Programs at Reinhardt University. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, Dr. Martinez has dedicated a good part of his life to equip pastors and church leaders in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States, with the appropriate skills, knowledge, and experiences so they can serve their communities effectively. In addition to his many books, articles, and essays published in English and Spanish, Dr. Martinez has served several churches and the global community as an effort to help people develop significant relationships with God and their neighbors, especially with marginalized communities.
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34 Responses to All Shapes and Sizes: Types of Religions

  1. Angela Yi says:

    With a wide range of religions around the world. It is hard to know the exact numbers and the beliefs people believe in or what people study. I think the four major types of religion is pretty spot on. For the first one, there is a belief that there is great spirit or force that impacts their lives. Then the second type talks about the indigenous people who hunted and gathered supplies in order to survive. The third type if religion talks about putting God aside and focusing on improving ourselves. The last major religion, is the most common for people and that is the practice and beliefs come directly from God and they believe in one, true God.

  2. Gabrielle McDaniel says:

    (Religion Section 104)
    I found this so interesting because someone who doesn’t know that there are many types of Religion beyond the known could get a glimpse of what different types of Religions look like. Before my Religion class I only knew the basics and didn’t know that Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism were their own types, I just assumed they were types individually themselves. I love this blog article because it shows the different view points through the different types others have. Religion is very broad and diverse and could mean anything to anyone and they believe in many things. Having different types allows you the taste of different view points and through different viewpoints you get a worldview from a new perspective.

  3. Lauri Malinen says:

    Although every religion is unique, there are definitely similarities between many of them. These similarities allow us to form groups, and observe them through that perspective. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have serval similarities due to their belief in one Supreme Being. Religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism resonate with my beliefs, since they put god aside, and focus on providing tools to help individuals live happier, and more meaningful lives. Religions that do not focus on god seem more relatable to me, since there is no blind faith required in order follow that religion. Evidence on the mysteries of life, are based on things we can all experience through our senses. For many people it is easy to believe in a faith driven religion that requires followers to place faith in a god whose existence cannot be proven. For me this leap of faith is too hard to take, since I have always believed that we must all find our own answers in life.

    Lauri Malinen
    Religion 104 section 4

  4. Cecil Comenencia says:

    (Religion 104 040 MC)
    In this blog Dr. Martinez explains that every Religion is unique and not the same. Some religions put God aside and, adopting some form of spirituality, focus ion ideas that can identify and stimulate the potential humans to improve themselves, think of Buddhism and their Karma. Other religions claim that their beliefs and practices come directly from God, think of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Beginning of this course I did know a little bit of these changes because back home, in the Netherlands I have already been exposed to a couple of the different religions like Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This shows that Religion has a very broad and diverse meaning and you have to look at it from different points in order to understand a different religion you have been grew up with, for example Hinduism

  5. Kimberlee Smith says:

    (Religion 104 010 MC)
    This blog post talks about the 4 major types of religions and how much of a wide range they happen to be. There are religions whose main focus may not be on God, because they may not know him, but observing nature’s spirituality and understanding the earth and its surroundings. Others are about putting God to the side and focusing on how to better the human race and enhancing their own spirituality. And there are some whose main focus is on God or the gods and believe that all of their practices come from him. It is interesting to see how all of these different religions interpret what religions mean to them and how they should better themselves spiritually. There are many different types of religions, too many to count. Even though they do seem very spread out, some of them have ideas and practices in common, and maybe even practices they borrow from each other.

  6. Sarah Crawford says:

    (Religion Section 3)
    This blog post definitely puts into perspective the vast quantity of religions and philosophies there are in the world and today’s society. After reviewing the four different categories, i feel that they are pretty spot on as to what religions are based off of. However, i must admit, as i continued reading toward the end of the article, i have not even thought of, much less knew about, the more scares religions that are listed. For example, the Greco-Roman Religion. I have never even heard about it! It was something i had to look up. I feel that this article was a good summarization of the categories of different religions and what they are based on.

  7. Mariama Diallo section 3 says:

    After reading this article I realized that religion really is a window to discovering what is important to a community or individual in the ancient world. The main different forms of religion that has existed highlights how similar and diverse humanity is. From the beginning of time no matter where on the planet a group is,north pole to Africa, they try to figure out about their existence by connecting to something powerful or supernatural. I also find it interesting that each did it through their own unique way, such as the African animist and Asian Buddhist. The fact that there were, and still are so many religions shows why no one religion should impose it self on the rest. I believe people need to learn about all religion for the sake of understanding others.

  8. John Reed says:

    Religion 104 section 3
    Throughout time there have been many types of religions. As the blog shows, it can be broken into four larger groups. But in thinking about it, there has been so many religions. The blog mentions just a few dead religions. In thinking about over the course of human history, all the possible religions we will never know about. Then thinking outside from the blog, what about years from now what will religion be like and the possibility that the religion we believed in is now dead. This really gets you thinking and wondering about religion and how they come in different shapes and sizes and many other factors.

  9. Tiffany Blalock says:

    I find this post very interesting. Before being in this class I only knew the basics of a couple different religions other than my own. This article really “stands out” to me because it talks about the different view points in different religions. Knowing these different points of religion allows us to have understanding of what other people believe in. I believe it is good for everyone to know certain aspects of every religion in order to understand other peoples way of thinking.

    Rel 104- Section 2

  10. Natalie Kelly says:

    Rel 104 Sect 4.

    Religion is not the same throughout the world nor is one’s beliefs.
    I didn’t realize how many different religions there are and how each one can be different in its own way yet have similarities in the end. This course has gave me a wide range of how other religions are and what they stand for. There were some things I knew about but not the depths like the language and what certain words meant.

  11. Reanna Whitlow says:

    Religion 104 040
    Religions are must like people they all come in different shapes and sizes. No two religions are exactly the same, which gives people many different options of what to believe in. If all religions were the same, with the same beliefs, principles, and rules.. there would be a lot of people in this world wondering around lost. Some religions focus on god, some focus on nature, some focus on material things, and some focus on oneself. Each religion, even if they focus on the same main thing have different smaller details which makes each and every religion unique to itself. By religions doing this it gives everyone multiple options of what to believe, and even allows people to believe in many different religions if they choose to. Religions as a whole are kinda like a tree, they all start from the root and see but eventually branch out into their own thing.

  12. Madison Reeg says:

    Religion 104 010
    There are so many different religions in the world today because of the different interpretations and beliefs that come along with different religions. Whether the religion be a world religion, indigenous-local religion, or a new religion, there are so many religions that it is impossible to learn about each and every one. Because we can’t learn about each religion in particular, Dr. Martinez categorized central ideas and beliefs that represent the different interpretations of each religion. We are able to categorize all of these religions by their similarities. Whether someone beliefs in a spirit or force, or one true God, there is a religion for each interpretation.

  13. Landon Babay (religion 104 010) says:

    I find it very interesting that there are so many religions, but they are all centered around such similar focal points. All religions believe that there is some sort of almighty power in the world. Some religions are more strict than others, but I find it interesting how so many people can find all of these different beings to believe in. In my opinion, I think that religion is left up to you. If you think that you have a connection with some being that’s not on the earth, then you go ahead and believe in it. That’s why I think there are so many different religions. Does that mean that I believe the next person who says they talked to a new god? No, but I think in the question of your faith, no one has the right to tell you that you’re wrong.

  14. Josh Chupp says:

    Religion 104 #4
    Although there are so many different religions throughout the world, there are certain commonalities we can find among each of them. Each religion believes in the betterment of humankind and that humans have control of the world around them. Each believes in core values that every human should live by (do not murder, steal, lie, you know them). Even though there are so many differences within the major religions of the world, they all intend to make the world a better place. They all have certain principles they believe in and those principles are common beliefs among a vast majority of the world’s population. It comes down to how you manifest those beliefs, and who you affiliate those beliefs with.

  15. Kristen Wengryniuk, REL 104, Section 040 says:

    Because of the overwhelming variations of religion, classifying them into four categories is very helpful. Naturalistic religions are a pure, simplistic form of devotion, with an unclear notion of God. Their meaningful interactions with nature and their relationship with the great spirit provide unique revelations about the world that are not generally achieved in a church pew. Animistic views are similar, but they believe that everything has a soul. These religions foster respect for each other and the world around them. Since abstract idealists do not believe in God, they call humans to help each other, creating a self-help mentality. Instead of asking the Holy for strength, they believe you should rely on yourself and your fellow man. Although this varies greatly from other religions, teaching self-reliance is helpful for any society. On the opposite end of the spectrum is theists or deists, which rely on one absolute God or many to provide for them. In this type of religion, humans are put on the back burner so that there will be more focus on God or the deities. Each region brings its own unique characteristics to society. As the travel becomes more common there is also an increased interaction and subsequent blending of religions as cultures begin to mix more.

  16. Hannah Fuller says:

    This post is spot on about the different forms of religion. It is fascinating how religion has evolved over time. It would be interesting to go back into time to see how those first adopted the ideals of a religion. I find it hard to think in their terms because I have had a strong sense of religion around me for my entire life. I have known God and formed a relationship with Him, so I find it difficult to take myself out of the situation and see with different “glasses.” Introduction to Religion taught by Dr. Martinez helped me to use these “glasses” better than I would have before. Regardless of how religion formed, it has done so much for me. I do not think I could have been able to make it through many parts of my life without it.

  17. Hinton Bolinger says:

    Religion Section 1 104
    It is crazy that you can classify the hundreds of religions on this Earth into four major groups. This has never been more evident to me before attending Dr. Martinez’s religion course. Religion has constantly changed over time but the beliefs of these religions stay true most of the time. Every religion has the same end game concept. The goal is to reach a higher entity and to please whatever God they believe in. Which seems simple, as does classifying each religion into four classes. Even though religion is so much more than this, every religion is unique in its own way. They come in all shapes and sizes.

  18. John Guillen says:

    (REL 104: Section 103)
    There are many religions that have the same idea of having a higher power. People who are animistic believe in the spiritual aspect of life in organic and inorganic things that everything has a soul. You could say that the earth is spiritual to them and believe that all things are sacred. Religion nowadays has somewhat elements of animism. Some religion use elements of animism where it falsely teaches that the spirit in us is really God. We claim to be a god-spirit and falsely lead people to believe that through superstitions and magic we can wash away the bad spirit. When you put God to the side you create your own spirituality, your own vision, and your own righteousness.

  19. Annie Barnes says:

    (Religion 104, Section 4)
    Religion is the response to what that man or woman needs at that time. From Mohammed trying to find the real God, to Jesus being the messiah to millions, religion is the answer to that time and space in humans cry and branches from how relative it is to the era. For example as pointed out in this article Buddhism can come off as more of a philosophical word book than a religion, and others can come of as nature devotees like those in the rainforests of the Americas. In summary religion is mankind’s response for the time and can be taken anyway it seems.

  20. Skyler Baughman says:

    Rel 104 040
    While there are so many different religions, I believe every religion is created as a reformation of another religion. While I maybe biased towards christianity. I do believe that every religion takes the good from each religion and puts a spin on it so, it is unique to that certain religion. We see this with differences between Non Messianic Jews and Christians. So, with all the different religions it is nearly impossible to cypher which one maybe the right one. Unless, you are like myself and feel there is truth to a certain religion.

  21. Aisis Hull says:

    (Religion 104 Section 3)
    Religion comes in wild range of traits. Religion open to all shape, sizes, and color. Like the song called “Jesus Loves Me”it shows that the precept of religion is love. People believe in what they want to believe in religion. Having a spiritual life in religion comes in shapes and sizes.

  22. Madison Arrendale says:

    (Religion 104 sect. #4)

    Considering the wide variations of religion, classifying them into four categories is quite helpful. Each religion is different from one another, however, I believe that each religion was created based on another religion that was already developed. a certain religion takes certain characteristics from another and creates a new religion that fits perfectly into what faith and beliefs that are being applied to it. Now, there are extreme differences between all religions, which makes each one unique. In the end, each individual religion has there own shapes and sizes towards the outlook of the world.

  23. Matthew Corrales says:

    Religion 104 section 4

    This blog was the most interesting to me due to the classification and my realization of the many religions that are in existence today. Being able to classify all of them into just four groups is very helpful in understanding what each religion generally stands for and what their core beliefs are. The group that makes the most sense to me personally is the group that ties with Buddhism and Confucianism. Using the ideas and practices that derive from these religions allow people to morally stable and help them understand the meaning of life and what it is to live a good life. I believe the most important thing in life is figuring out your purpose and I also believe being able to make the right choices is very important.

  24. Curtis Doctor says:

    Religion 104 040
    Section 4

    When it comes to religions there are many different types. There are different religions all over the world and they all view life and see their religion in many different ways. When it comes to different religions I think it is beautiful because people all over the world can connect because of their religion and their beliefs. These different types of religions can show us how everyone views the world and what they believe is valuable to them. Even though there are many different types of religion, I think that they all come back to each other and connect with each other. They all have beliefs and they all are faithful to something in life. They all appreciate something and look up or worship something in or out of life.

  25. Hannah Rooks says:

    Religion 104 Section 3:

    This made me think about the many religions in this world that we will never get the chance of knowing about, but I wish I could. This is such a big, amazing, and diverse world, and I wish in my lifetime that I could discover a portion of the numerous amount of religions that have been carried out on this earth. Humans are so unique and different, and it would be amazing to hear their stories, and know of their religion and how it differs from ours. This blog post just made me realize how much we miss out on when we don’t open our mind to opposition.

  26. Sarah Inman says:

    Religion 104 Section #3
    I think that this blog did a good job at dividing the religions into different categories, because it it true that there are many different types of religions. I think that most of them originated the same way and have the same core values, but over time, they evolved into other things because of the different interpretations by people. For the most part, I just thought that there were only a couple different types like worshipping one God, worshipping no God, worshipping many Gods, or worshiping nature. However, that is not true. I forgot about the dead religions and all that existed during the Mayans and Aztecs time. I have only first hand witnessed religions that worship one God because of where I was raised, so it is interesting for me to learn about all the other religions and what the believe in. I remember back in middle school many students found out that this one girl was atheist, and immediately, they judged her. I don’t think that it was right for her to be judged all because she believed in something different than the majority of people. Overall, I think that this blog along with the others show the differences in all the religions and give reasons of why they’re not the same. So, in that case, I think that looking at things from a different perspective and understanding the meaning behind the variety of religions helps to eliminate judgement.

  27. Jacob Samuels says:

    This talks about how there are countless amounts of religions in today’s world. In fact, it is not know exactly how many regions exist out there. It is proven that they all unique in their own ways. Many regions exist because of different specific reasons. There are some out there that focus on the teachings of their god that they worship. There are also regions that exist that don’t even had a god-like figure. Some of them focus on the spirituality of the individuals that follow their faith. There are many types of religions and many reasons why people feel the need to follow these sets of moral and spiritual guidelines. Whether it is to interact with a greater spirit or whether it is to place a greater impact on the potential of humans.
    (Rel 104 030)

  28. Steve Chavez says:

    I do agree with this blog. I do believe that it does not matter who you are there is always a realign for you. When people think about realign they always think about the mean once that most people are apart off. So if you believe in the same believes as those then go ahead and join them, but if those do not fit you then just look around there are millions of different realign that believe in many different things, and there is always going to be some people that believe in the same things as you so you do not have to worried about being alone there is a realign for any shape and size.
    Religion 104 #4

  29. Brittany wilson sec 4 says:

    There are so many religions in this world it is impossible to understand everyone of them. And new ones are being thought up as i type this. There’s no way anyone could possibly understand all the religions. I believe there is no way for someone to fully understand another religion unless they are apart of it. There’s a spiritual part to it and if your an outsider you will never get. People can study these religions and know why they do this and that but they will never really fully understand what goes on. And with so many out there no one will ever know exactly what different religions have to offer us.

  30. Abby Lyttle says:

    Religion 104 Section 3
    There is so many religions out in the world. Some that we will never hear about. I think the most important religions are the ones that affect our lives. For example, the religions that were mentioned in the article. They are very similar and have very unique characteristics, but still are alike in some aspects. Buddhism and Judaism both helped structure Christianity and, it has affected my life because I am a Christian.

  31. Antonio Robinson says:

    (religion 104 section 3)
    I do think that this blog is accurate in describing how there are many different types of religion. I don’t think that we are able to categorize especially in only 4 categories. I think there are too many different deities or cults and religions. I think there are far too many for any one man to have done enough research to be able to do that. I think poly and mono theistic is as far as we can stretch when it comes to this categorizing religion so broadly.

  32. Joshua Jenkins says:

    (Religion 104 010 MC)
    Every religion has its differences, Whether it be a significant or insignificant difference, we can guarantee differences. All religions are entitled to their views.

  33. Katherine Mejia says:

    Religion 104- sec4
    There are so many different religions, but you can pick things from every religion and realize that they all have similarities. These different religions possibly build off each other and change different aspect of it so it can go more with their own believes and values. Being able to categorize all the religions into 4 major groups, is insane.

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