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Many "Worlds" in One

Many "Worlds" in One

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson discusses the ways in which religion serves to categorize, divide, and distinguish different parts of the world.

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Source: Music by Jeremiah Jones; “Dreaming” (Schumann)

Video Transcription

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Hello, and welcome.

If you've ever seen a child develop from early infancy to toddlerhood, you might remember the first time that he or she said the number one and really meant it, really believed that everything that could have and does have that label one was truly a unified whole. And even more astounding to witness is when they look at their parents or three or four people, pause, and seem to think for a moment, and then say one. It's truly a moment to behold.

Looking at a map of the world is pretty astounding also. You look at the map and you see that every inch of the Earth is covered with some representation of a religion-- either an indigenous religion that emerged from an area or religion that spread as a result of conquest or colonization or a combination of both. In the next few minutes, we're going to be looking at that, and some of the patterns of the spread of religions around the world, and what it means in terms of the distribution of religious faith around the globe and around the world.

Here you see the global distribution of the religions of the world. The first thing that stands out the dense concentration of each. So there's a close relationship between geography and religion. And as we mentioned before, this is due to origin and expansion or the vitality of indigenous religions as well as their spreading to other regions.

Starting in the east in shades of yellow and orange, the Chinese religions and Buddhism and Hinduism predominate in addition to having a strong Muslim presence, which is not detailed on this map. And to the north, Russia, Orthodox Christianity is very widely spread, though many are non-observant and non-practicing-- not regular churchgoers, in other words. With this map, however, you have to keep in mind that the 14% categorized as nonreligious are not very well represented. We will see this more clearly in a moment. Some of these concentrations on this map are in fact speckled with atheists, agnostics, or otherwise nonreligious.

The next thing that might catch your eyes is the bulk of green representing Islam in the middle. The Middle East is predominantly Muslim. But there are, of course, Jewish and Christian populations as well as some tribal minorities. Islam, like many of the religions, of course, has a long history of conquest with a broad reach. In the 11th century, traders brought the Islamic faith to Indonesia, which is today the largest Muslim country.

And of course, there is all the purple and blue, which represents all the branches of Christianity in the west. This makes up approximately one third of the total world population. As you might be able to see, the Americas are overwhelmingly Christian. The indigenous religions have been overtaken-- too scant, indeed, to represent on a general map such as this.

On this map, Western Europe is also cloaked in Christianity. But this is to a large extent more of a reflection of its history than the situation today. In general, Western Europe is secular in addition to having a majority who are non-practicing. Eastern Europe is also predominantly Christian and generally more practicing than Western Europe. Eastern Europe also has a strong Muslim presence, as does England. However, this fact is not reflected on this general prevailing religions map.

What is clearly presented here is the broad diversity of religious faiths and traditions around the globe and their concentrations according to geography. Yet each individual country has its own particular relationship to a common religion. A distant and secular one, like many countries in Western Europe, or a theocratic like Saudi Arabia, or it might have a national church like the Church of England. Although England in fact has more practicing Muslims than Anglicans.

So how does it all work as one world? Well, institutions of objective rule and justice like the United Nations are supposed to administer this process, maintaining and respecting the religious diversity of its member states while remaining a secular institution operating without preference or nod to religious ideology or belief. This suggests really being between a rock a hard place. For example, when voting on resolutions dealing with anti-defamation of religion, freedom of speech and of the press runs against accusations of religious blasphemy. This is tough. No easy answers.

In the eyes of a child, one. One world. Something to behold.

Notes on “Many ‘Worlds’ in One”



Image of World Religions Pie Chart, Creative Commons,

Image of Prevailing World Religions Map, Creative Commons,

Image of Earth, “Conscience,” Public Domain,

Image of World Flag Map, Public Domain,

Image of United Nations Plaza, Public Domain,

Source: Music by Jeremiah Jones, "Dreaming," (Schuman)

Terms to Know

The state of being secular or non-religious; the practice of any organization or group that actively rejects the use of religion in its structure, goals, purpose, or organization.