Religion 101

Religion 101


Buddhist Demographics & Denominations (Part One)

posted by Reed Hall

Having previously looked at the demographics and “denominations” (major branches, movements, divisions) of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, we turn now to Buddhism. And, just as the other four of the “Big Five” among the world’s major religions are by no means homogeneous and uniform in content but instead heterogeneous and diverse, so is this also the case with Buddhism.

While Buddhism is ranked as the fourth largest major world religion (after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, in descending order), specific numbers reliably reflecting the precise number of Buddhists in the world today are tricky to come up with for a number of reasons. Perhaps foremost among such reasons is the the fact that, in some countries, it is possible to be a practicing Buddhist while also actively observing other faiths simultaneously.

In China, for example, one can be a Buddhist, a Confucian, and a Taoist, all at the same time (and without any inconsistency or self-contradiction). In Japan, one can likewise quite happily be an adherent of both Buddhism and Shinto simultaneously. This sort of thing can happen because Buddhism and the other religions of East Asia tend not to be viewed as being mutually exclusive; rather, they tend to be seen as complementary, rather than as contradictory, religious traditions.

However, such freewheeling mixing and matching of multiple religious commitments can wreak havoc for pollsters attempting to sort out just how many actual Buddhists there are in the world. If an individual self-identifies in a religious survey as both Shinto and Buddhist, or as Taoist and Confucian as well as Buddhist, how is that individual to be counted or classified, without skewing the totals?

Taking such complicating factors into account, estimates regarding the actual total world Buddhist population vary greatly, ranging anywhere from around 350 million to upwards of a billion. Most conservative estimates seem to hover around a number on the lower end of that range, however — perhaps somewhere around 500 million (about 7% of the total world population) is not too far from the mark, and still keeps Buddhism in its number four slot among world religions as ranked by size.

And that, in a nutshell, is what the global picture of the total Buddhist populace worldwide adds up to (give or take perhaps a hundred million, or so).

Domestically, by contrast, Buddhism today remains a tiny minority religion within the United States. American Buddhists account for only 0.7% of the total U.S. adult population.

So, that’s the big picture, with regard to Buddhism generally. Now, what happens when we put Buddhism under the microscope, and zoom in on it? How does Buddhism subdivide into multiple major branches, sects and schools, or “denominations”?

(To be continued, in Part Two.)

 

 

 



Advertisement
Comments Post the First Comment »
post a comment

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

On Teaching About Judaism (Part Six)
Specifically Christian newcomers to the study of Judaism frequently puzzle over  why -- as they themselves often put it -- Jews "don't believe in Jesus." The reality is simply that the entire Jewish concept of who and what a Messiah actually is (or does) is just nothing like what Christians them

posted 4:45:00pm Jun. 29, 2013 | read full post »

On Teaching About Judaism (Part Five)
Aside from the several other frequent areas of confusion which sometimes puzzle newcomers to the study of Judaism (areas which I've been discussing in my last several blog entries), there is yet another hazy area that is often uniquely puzzling to specifically Christian newcomers: why, as they thems

posted 10:01:32pm Jun. 27, 2013 | read full post »

On Teaching About Judaism (Part Four)
As discussed in previous blog entries, a fairly sizable percentage of the American public seems to know surprisingly little about many of the basics of Judaism. In my own world religions courses, some students begin the semester with no real knowledge of the Jewish faith, and may even harbor some fa

posted 9:16:07pm Jun. 25, 2013 | read full post »

On Teaching About Judaism (Part Three)
As discussed in previous blog entries, a fairly sizable percentage of the American public seems to know surprisingly little about the basics of Judaism. In my own world religions courses, some students begin the semester with no real knowledge of the Jewish faith, and may even harbor some fairly com

posted 6:27:16pm Jun. 22, 2013 | read full post »

Midsummer (Litha)/Yule 2013
Tomorrow (Friday, June 21, 2013) is the date of the summer solstice within the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, by contrast, tomorrow will be the date of the winter solstice. Solstices have long been observed as important seasonal festivals in many traditional cultures. Accordingl

posted 5:05:38pm Jun. 20, 2013 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.