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Categorizing Religions

Categorizing Religions


This lesson provides an overview of the major divisions of religion and the broad categories into which they fall.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] One main way of categorizing religions is by dividing them into Western and Eastern religions. Although we do have to take these terms with a grain of salt, which I'll explain in one minute. Generally, by Western religions, people mean Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Sometimes referred to as the religions of Abraham. Or the religions of the book, these three religions share a common body of stories. Although they might vary slightly, depending on which tradition we're talking about. And these religions are generally practiced in the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.

And the Eastern religions are listed on this slide. Hinduism, the oldest religion on the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism, which is related to Hinduism. Hinduism is sort of the ancestor of Buddhism. Which was founded by Siddartha Gautama as a kind of reform of Hinduism. Hinduism and Buddhism both believe in karma and reincarnation.

Confucianism, which is a Chinese religion founded by Kong Fu Zi. And we'll be having another tutorial about Confucianism, and really about all these religions. But we're just running down them quickly right now.

Jainism, which is another Indian religion that practices strict vegetarianism. They believe in a lifestyle of complete non-harm. And Shinto, which is a traditional Japanese religion that involves worshipping at nature shrines.

The reason I say we have to take these with a grain of salt is that, of course, there's eastern forms of Christianity. One can, of course, also practice Hinduism in the west. So we should be aware of not positing a stark division between East and West. But making sure that we realize that these are fluid categories. And down here, of course, these are the in the Indian subcontinent and further east in China and South Asia.

So moving along, we can also classify religions into living and classical religions. The living religions are some of the ones we just mentioned. They're still being practiced today.

But then there are also classical religions like ancient Greek religion and ancient Roman religion that are largely extinct these days. Although there are neo-pagan revivals that try to bring these religions back. Also some Western esoterism. Or traditions of so-called magic that try to bring back Egyptian religion or Babylonian religion. But for all practical intents and purposes, these religions are now dead.

Going on to primal religions. When we talk about primal religions-- we'll be having another video about primal religions-- these are indigenous traditions, native traditions, that are practiced all the way around the world. They're neither Eastern nor Western.

But they have a set of distinct beliefs. Generally we think about a connection to nature, connection to the land. And a close-knit community. And oftentimes, we associate these belief systems with not positing a separate supernatural order, but believing that the sacred lives within human beings and their connections with each other and their connections to the land.

So those are some ways that we can classify religions, how we can categorize them. We just need to keep in mind that these categories are just for convenience. And that they may or may not always apply.

The vocabulary words for this lesson are pantheon, Eastern religion, and Western religion. See you next time.

Terms to Know
Eastern Religion

Any religion originating on or east of the Indian subcontinent.


A group of gods or deities.

Western Religion

Any religion originating in the present-day Middle East, Europe, or the Americas.