Strict Confucianists are said to number about six million. The first and foremost of these is a belief in the Vedas – four texts compiled between the 15th and 5th centuries BCE on the Indian subcontinent, and the faith’s oldest scriptures – which make Hinduism without doubt the oldest religion in existence. Though not codified until 712 CE in response to contact with mainland religions (namely, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism), Shintoism is a direct descendant of the animistic folk religion of the Yayoi, whose culture spread from the north of Kyushu to the rest of Japan from the 3rd century BCE onward. This may make these creeds as old, if not older, as Zoroastrianism. While there will always be people who think that newer is better, many people at least recognize and respect the weight that is given to advice or traditions that have survived for hundreds of years. Unlike most other religions on this list, Buddhism has a fairly clear history: it begins with one man, Siddhartha Gautama, known otherwise as Buddha. The bulk of the human religious experience pre-dates written history. Its followers believe in the tirthankaras, omniscient preachers of the Jain path, whose defining characteristics are marked by asceticism and self-discipline. The first and foremost of these is a belief in the Vedas – four texts compiled between the 15th and 5th centuries BCE on the Indian subcontinent, and the faith’s oldest scriptures – which make Hinduism without doubt the oldest religion in existence. Extremely influential over the development of the Abrahamic tradition, it was the state religion of various Persian empires until the Muslim conquest of the 7th century CE, and survives in parts of Iran, India, and Iraq to this day, reportedly followed by some 200,000 people. Yazdânism: Interestingly enough, three particular Kurdish religious variants (practiced among the Yazidis, Goran, and Ishik Alevis), grouped together under the umbrella neologism Yazdânism (Cult of Angels), have evolved from a mix of Islam and a Hurrian precursor to the Zoroastrian faith. A note on methodology: Before getting into it, it is worth mentioning that determining a religion’s age depends entirely on how one defines what a religion is. Jains are said to number six to seven million worldwide. Based in the northernmost regions of the Indian subcontinent (most likely in present-day Nepal) roughly between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, he was the founder and leader of his own monastic order, one of many sects (known as Śramana) that existed across the region at the time. Which religion came last in the world? The religion morphed into its current form in the 6th century BCE, evolving from the worship of a state god based in a polytheistic worldview into that of a one ‘true’ God, codified in the Bible. Once a dominant religion on the Indian subcontinent (before the rise of reform Hinduism in the 7th century CE), Jainism has fairly obscure origins. Hinduism is often considered to be the oldest of the world religions with a history stretching back over 5,000 years. Yet archeological evidence proving the existence of Jainism only dates back to the second century BCE. Please also opt me in for Exclusive Offers from Beliefnet’s Partners, From time to time you will also receive Special Offers from our partners. It has since evolved into a diverse and flexible tradition, notable, as the scholar Wendy Doniger puts it, for its ability to ‘absorb potentially schismatic developments.’ There are close to one billion Hindus in the world today. Hinduism may not be a unified religion per se, or organized into a distinctive belief system, but Hindus (as they have been identifying themselves for centuries, the result of opposition with other religions) roughly follow the same central traditions, understandable to all the religion’s multifarious adherents. Age gives things a certain level of authority especially when it comes to advice and morals. Today, an estimated 170 million Chinese claim some affiliation with Taoism, with 12 million following it strictly. If, like Buddhism, Confucianism must invariably be traced to one man – in this case, the Chinese politician, teacher, and philosopher Confucius (551 – 479 BCE) – it is worth noting that he himself maintained he was part of a scholarly tradition dating back to an earlier golden age. In Zoroastrian thought, good and evil are strictly divided. It is generally believed that Hinduism is the world's oldest religion. If it is today followed by an estimated 11–14 million people, its two successor faiths – Christianity (1st century CE) and Islam (7th century CE) – are the world’s most popular, with a combined 3.8 billion adherents. All spiritual systems have roots in beliefs dating back millennia – meaning that the main differences between each are found elsewhere: in their codification and general uniformity, and the age of their wider precepts. The religion evolved from a strand of traditional Chinese folk religion, and makes mention of masters and teachings from long before it was codified, including the god-like Yellow Emperor, said to have reigned from 2697 – 2597 BCE, and the I Ching, a divination system dating back to 1150 BCE.


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