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Many "Worlds" in One

Many "Worlds" in One


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

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Many "Worlds" In One

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Welcome to this tutorial on many worlds in one. In this tutorial, we're going to be taking a look at the geographic distribution of the world's religions.

It's important to keep in mind that the world is certainly diverse. Any region of the world that we talk about is going to have all different world religions. But we can still make some general statements. We can talk about tendencies in different parts of the world when it comes to where different religions are located.

We can say that the Americas are predominantly Christian. North America tends to be a little more Protestant. South America tends to be a little more Catholic. But by and large, the Americas have a very large representation of Christians.

Moving on over to Africa, the northern part of Africa is predominantly Muslim because of the proximity of North Africa to the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam. South Africa-- remember, there's that big Sahara Desert that separates North Africa from South Africa-- South Africa still has a lot of tribal religions. It has a lot of Christianity. Of course, South Africa, colonized by Protestants. And there's still a great deal of Islam even in the South of Africa.

Moving over to Europe. Europe is Christian in its background, but we normally think about Europe having more secularism than with Christianity in America. The northern part of Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, tend to be Protestant. Great Britain tends to be Protestant. The southern part of Europe tends to be Catholic. When we get over to Eastern Europe, there's a greater extent of Christian orthodoxy and also Islam, for example in Turkey.

The Middle East, as we said, is predominantly Muslim because Islam began there. But even in the Middle East, there's a Christian minority and a minority of tribal religions. Moving over to Asia. Of course, in Asia, Asian religions-- Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism. Except for Indonesia. Indonesia is primarily Muslim. In fact, it has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Whenever we make these statements, we have to keep in mind that there are some caveats. What does it mean to belong to a religious tradition? Does it mean that you were born in that tradition? Does it mean that you actively practice that religion? Does it mean that you believe in the tenets of that faith? Or does it mean that you actually belong to a religious organization? Depending on what questions religious scholars ask, they're going to get a very different picture of who belongs to a tradition.

And the other question is, how can these scholars get reliable data? In the United States, for example, the federal government can't really ask questions about religion on the census. So census data is not really going to help religious scholars very much. So they have to make phone calls or have surveys or things of that nature, and use statistical samples.

Let's take a brief look at the United Nations. The countries of the United Nations are geographically diverse, representing all different parts of the world. But the policies of the United Nations are still influenced by the member states. When it comes to religion, the United Nations tends to break down into two blocks. The Western democracies break down into one block, and the Muslim countries and the developing world break down into a second block.

This can really be seen in anti-defamation legislation. The UN doesn't pass binding legislation usually. They usually pass resolutions that encourage countries to act in a certain way. Some of the developing world countries and the Muslim countries were pushing for anti-defamation legislation to keep things like the Danish cartoons that were depicting the prophet Muhammad, to keep these incidences of defamation from happening. The Muslim countries in the developing world tended to just see this as a practical measure that would increase religious harmony, while the Western democracies tended to see it as anti-blasphemy legislation, and they viewed it as an infringement on religious freedom and freedom of expression.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on many worlds in one. We said that the geographic regions of the world are not homogeneous, but that we can still identify certain tendencies when it comes to the distribution of world religions. We talked about the Americas as predominantly Christian, North Africa as predominantly Muslim, and South Africa as a blend of tribal Christian and Muslim populations. We said that Europe is also historically Christian, but has a greater secular influence.

We talked about the Middle East as predominantly Muslim and Asia as a mix of Asian religions, with the exception of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim. We also discussed the United Nations and the tension that exists in the United Nations when it comes to religious issues because of the tendency of the United Nations to break down into blocks composed of the Western democracies on one hand and the Muslim and developing world on the other hand. Anti-defamation legislation is a good example of this split within the United Nations.

We just have one vocabulary term. Secularism-- the state of being secular or nonreligious; the practice of any organization or group that actively rejects the use of religion and its structure, goals, purpose, or organization.

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.