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  • The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050

Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World’s Population

Table of contents.

  • Chapter 1: Main Factors Driving Population Growth
  • Chapter 2: Population Projections by Religious Group
  • Religiously Unaffiliated
  • Adherents of Folk Religions
  • Other Religions
  • Chapter 3: Population Projections by Region
  • Asia-Pacific
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Middle East-North Africa
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • North America
  • Appendix A: Methodology


The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 …

  • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
  • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
  • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
  • In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
  • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

These are among the global religious trends highlighted in new demographic projections by the Pew Research Center. The projections take into account the current size and geographic distribution of the world’s major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion.

 Projected Change in Global Population

As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population.

Islam Growing Fastest

If current demographic trends continue, however, Islam will nearly catch up by the middle of the 21st century. Between 2010 and 2050, the world’s total population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion, a 35% increase. 1 Over that same period, Muslims – a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates – are projected to increase by 73%. The number of Christians also is projected to rise, but more slowly, at about the same rate (35%) as the global population overall.

As a result, according to the Pew Research projections, by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history. 2

With the exception of Buddhists, all of the world’s major religious groups are poised for at least some growth in absolute numbers in the coming decades. The global Buddhist population is expected to be fairly stable because of low fertility rates and aging populations in countries such as China, Thailand and Japan.

Worldwide, the Hindu population is projected to rise by 34%, from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion, roughly keeping pace with overall population growth. Jews, the smallest religious group for which separate projections were made, are expected to grow 16%, from a little less than 14 million in 2010 to 16.1 million worldwide in 2050.

Size and Projected Growth of Major Religious Groups

Adherents of various folk religions – including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions – are projected to increase by 11%, from 405 million to nearly 450 million.

And all other religions combined – an umbrella category that includes Baha’is, Jains, Sikhs, Taoists and many smaller faiths – are projected to increase 6%, from a total of approximately 58 million to more than 61 million over the same period. 3

While growing in absolute size, however, folk religions, Judaism and “other religions” (the umbrella category considered as a whole) will not keep pace with global population growth. Each of these groups is projected to make up a smaller percentage of the world’s population in 2050 than it did in 2010. 4

Projected Change in the Unaffiliated Population, 2010-2050

Similarly, the religiously unaffiliated population is projected to shrink as a percentage of the global population, even though it will increase in absolute number. In 2010, censuses and surveys indicate, there were about 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. 5 By 2050, the unaffiliated population is expected to exceed 1.2 billion. But, as a share of all the people in the world, those with no religious affiliation are projected to decline from 16% in 2010 to 13% by the middle of this century.

At the same time, however, the unaffiliated are expected to continue to increase as a share of the population in much of Europe and North America. In the United States, for example, the unaffiliated are projected to grow from an estimated 16% of the total population (including children) in 2010 to 26% in 2050.

As the example of the unaffiliated shows, there will be vivid geographic differences in patterns of religious growth in the coming decades. One of the main determinants of that future growth is where each group is geographically concentrated today. Religions with many adherents in developing countries – where birth rates are high, and infant mortality rates generally have been falling – are likely to grow quickly. Much of the worldwide growth of Islam and Christianity, for example, is expected to take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s religiously unaffiliated population, by contrast, is heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan.

Total Fertility Rate by Religion, 2010-2015

Globally, Muslims have the highest fertility rate, an average of 3.1 children per woman – well above replacement level (2.1), the minimum typically needed to maintain a stable population. 6 Christians are second, at 2.7 children per woman. Hindu fertility (2.4) is similar to the global average (2.5). Worldwide, Jewish fertility (2.3 children per woman) also is above replacement level. All the other groups have fertility levels too low to sustain their populations: folk religions (1.8 children per woman), other religions (1.7), the unaffiliated (1.7) and Buddhists (1.6).

Age Distribution of Religious Groups, 2010

Another important determinant of growth is the current age distribution of each religious group – whether its adherents are predominantly young, with their prime childbearing years still ahead, or older and largely past their childbearing years.

In 2010, more than a quarter of the world’s total population (27%) was under the age of 15. But an even higher percentage of Muslims (34%) and Hindus (30%) were younger than 15, while the share of Christians under 15 matched the global average (27%). These bulging youth populations are among the reasons that Muslims are projected to grow faster than the world’s overall population and that Hindus and Christians are projected to roughly keep pace with worldwide population growth.

All the remaining groups have smaller-than-average youth populations, and many of them have disproportionately large numbers of adherents over the age of 59. For example, 11% of the world’s population was at least 60 years old in 2010. But fully 20% of Jews around the world are 60 or older, as are 15% of Buddhists, 14% of Christians, 14% of adherents of other religions (taken as a whole), 13% of the unaffiliated and 11% of adherents of folk religions. By contrast, just 7% of Muslims and 8% of Hindus are in this oldest age category.

Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050

In addition to fertility rates and age distributions, religious switching is likely to play a role in the growth of religious groups. But conversion patterns are complex and varied. In some countries, it is fairly common for adults to leave their childhood religion and switch to another faith. In others, changes in religious identity are rare, legally cumbersome or even illegal.

The Pew Research Center projections attempt to incorporate patterns in religious switching in 70 countries where surveys provide information on the number of people who say they no longer belong to the religious group in which they were raised. In the projection model, all directions of switching are possible, and they may be partially offsetting. In the United States, for example, surveys find that some people who were raised with no religious affiliation have switched to become Christians, while some who grew up as Christians have switched to become unaffiliated. These types of patterns are projected to continue as future generations come of age. (For more details on how and where switching was modeled, see the Methodology . For alternative growth scenarios involving either switching in additional countries or no switching at all, see Chapter 1 .)

Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. (See chart above.)

Impact of Migration on Population Projections, by Region

All told, the unaffiliated are expected to add 97 million people and lose 36 million via switching, for a net gain of 61 million by 2050. Modest net gains through switching also are expected for Muslims (3 million), adherents of folk religions (3 million) and members of other religions (2 million). Jews are expected to experience a net loss of about 300,000 people due to switching, while Buddhists are expected to lose nearly 3 million.

International migration is another factor that will influence the projected size of religious groups in various regions and countries.

Forecasting future migration patterns is difficult, because migration is often linked to government policies and international events that can change quickly. For this reason, many population projections do not include migration in their models. But working with researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, the Pew Research Center has developed an innovative way of using data on past migration patterns to estimate the religious composition of migrant flows in the decades ahead. (For details on how the projections were made, see Chapter 1 .)

The impact of migration can be seen in the examples shown in the graph at the right, which compares projection scenarios with and without migration in the regions where it will have the greatest impact. In Europe, for instance, the Muslim share of the population is expected to increase from 5.9% in 2010 to 10.2% in 2050 when migration is taken into account along with other demographic factors that are driving population change, such as fertility rates and age. Without migration, the Muslim share of Europe’s population in 2050 is projected to be nearly two percentage points lower (8.4%). In North America, the Hindu share of the population is expected to nearly double in the decades ahead, from 0.7% in 2010 to 1.3% in 2050, when migration is included in the projection models. Without migration, the Hindu share of the region’s population would remain about the same (0.8%).

In the Middle East and North Africa, the continued migration of Christians into the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) is expected to offset the exodus of Christians from other countries in the region. 7 If migration were not factored into the 2050 projections, the estimated Christian share of the region’s population would drop below 3%. With migration factored in, however, the estimated Christian share is expected to be just above 3% (down from nearly 4% in 2010).

Beyond the Year 2050

Long-Term Projections of Christian and Muslim Shares of World’s Population

This report describes how the global religious landscape would change if current demographic trends continue. With each passing year, however, there is a chance that unforeseen events – war, famine, disease, technological innovation, political upheaval, etc. – will alter the size of one religious group or another. Owing to the difficulty of peering more than a few decades into the future, the projections stop at 2050.

Readers may wonder, though, what would happen to the population trajectories highlighted in this report if they were projected into the second half of this century. Given the rapid projected increase from 2010 to 2050 in the Muslim share of the world’s population, would Muslims eventually outnumber Christians? And, if so, when?

The answer depends on continuation of the trends described in Chapter 1. If the main projection model is extended beyond 2050, the Muslim share of the world’s population would equal the Christian share, at roughly 32% each, around 2070. After that, the number of Muslims would exceed the number of Christians, but both religious groups would grow, roughly in tandem, as shown in the graph above. By the year 2100, about 1% more of the world’s population would be Muslim (35%) than Christian (34%).

The projected growth of Muslims and Christians would be driven largely by the continued expansion of Africa’s population. Due to the heavy concentration of Christians and Muslims in this high-fertility region, both groups would increase as a percentage of the global population. Combined, the world’s two largest religious groups would make up more than two-thirds of the global population in 2100 (69%), up from 61% in 2050 and 55% in 2010.

It bears repeating, however, that many factors could alter these trajectories. For example, if a large share of China’s population were to switch to Christianity (as discussed in this  sidebar ), that shift alone could bolster Christianity’s current position as the world’s most populous religion. Or if disaffiliation were to become common in countries with large Muslim populations – as it is now in some countries with large Christian populations – that trend could slow or reverse the increase in Muslim numbers.

Projected Annual Growth Rate of Country Populations, 2010-2050

Regional and Country-Level Projections

In addition to making projections at the global level, this report projects religious change in 198 countries and territories with at least 100,000 people as of 2010, covering 99.9% of the world’s population. Population estimates for an additional 36 countries and territories are included in regional and global totals throughout the report. The report also divides the world into six major regions and looks at how each region’s religious composition is likely to change from 2010 to 2050, assuming that current patterns in migration and other demographic trends continue. 8

Due largely to high fertility, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to experience the fastest overall growth, rising from 12% of the world’s population in 2010 to about 20% in 2050. The Middle East-North Africa region also is expected to grow faster than the world as a whole, edging up from 5% of the global population in 2010 to 6% in 2050. Ongoing growth in both regions will fuel global increases in the Muslim population. In addition, sub-Saharan Africa’s Christian population is expected to double, from 517 million in 2010 to 1.1 billion in 2050. The share of the world’s Christians living in sub-Saharan Africa will rise from 24% in 2010 to 38% in 2050.

Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to have a declining share of the world’s population (53% in 2050, compared with 59% in 2010). This will be reflected in the slower growth of religions heavily concentrated in the region, including Buddhism and Chinese folk religions, as well as slower growth of Asia’s large unaffiliated population. One exception is Hindus, who are overwhelmingly concentrated in India, where the population is younger and fertility rates are higher than in China or Japan. As previously mentioned, Hindus are projected to roughly keep pace with global population growth. India’s large Muslim population also is poised for rapid growth. Although India will continue to have a Hindu majority, by 2050 it is projected to have the world’s largest Muslim population, surpassing Indonesia.

The remaining geographic regions also will contain declining shares of the world’s population: Europe is projected to go from 11% to 8%, Latin American and the Caribbean from 9% to 8%, and North America from 5% to a little less than 5%.

Europe is the only region where the total population is projected to decline. Europe’s Christian population is expected to shrink by about 100 million people in the coming decades, dropping from 553 million to 454 million. While Christians will remain the largest religious group in Europe, they are projected to drop from three-quarters of the population to less than two-thirds. By 2050, nearly a quarter of Europeans (23%) are expected to have no religious affiliation, and Muslims will make up about 10% of the region’s population, up from 5.9% in 2010. Over the same period, the number of Hindus in Europe is expected to roughly double, from a little under 1.4 million (0.2% of Europe’s population) to nearly 2.7 million (o.4%), mainly as a result of immigration. Buddhists appear headed for similarly rapid growth in Europe – a projected rise from 1.4 million to 2.5 million.

Religious Composition of the United States, 2010-2050

In North America , Muslims and followers of “other religions” are the fastest-growing religious groups. In the United States, for example, the share of the population that belongs to other religions is projected to more than double – albeit from a very small base – rising from 0.6% to 1.5%. 9 Christians are projected to decline from 78% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 66% in 2050, while the unaffiliated are expected to rise from 16% to 26%. And by the middle of the 21st century, the United States is likely to have more Muslims (2.1% of the population) than people who identify with the Jewish faith (1.4%). 10

In Latin America and the Caribbean , Christians will remain the largest religious group, making up 89% of the population in 2050, down slightly from 90% in 2010. Latin America’s religiously unaffiliated population is projected to grow both in absolute number and percentage terms, rising from about 45 million people (8%) in 2010 to 65 million (9%) in 2050. 11

Changing Religious Majorities

Several countries are projected to have a different religious majority in 2050 than they did in 2010. The number of countries with Christian majorities is expected to decline from 159 to 151, as Christians are projected to drop below 50% of the population in Australia, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom.

Countries That Will No Longer Have a Christian Majority in 2050

Muslims in 2050 are expected to make up more than 50% of the population in 51 countries, two more than in 2010, as both the Republic of Macedonia and Nigeria are projected to gain Muslim majorities. But Nigeria also will continue to have a very large Christian population. Indeed, Nigeria is projected to have the third-largest Christian population in the world by 2050, after the United States and Brazil.

As of 2050, the largest religious group in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands is expected to be the unaffiliated.

About These Projections

While many people have offered predictions about the future of religion, these are the first formal demographic projections using data on age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching for multiple religious groups around the world. Demographers at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, gathered the input data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, an effort that has taken six years and will continue.

The projections cover eight major groups: Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, adherents of folk religions, adherents of other religions and the unaffiliated (see Appendix C: Defining the Religious Groups). Because censuses and surveys in many countries do not provide information on religious subgroups – such as Sunni and Shia Muslims or Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians – the projections are for each religious group as a whole. Data on subgroups of the unaffiliated are also unavailable in many countries. As a result, separate projections are not possible for atheists or agnostics.

The projection model was developed in collaboration with researchers in the Age and Cohort Change Project at IIASA, who are world leaders in population projections methodology. The model uses an advanced version of the cohort-component method typically employed by demographers to forecast population growth. It starts with a population of baseline age groups, or cohorts, divided by sex and religion. Each cohort is projected into the future by adding likely gains (immigrants and people switching in) and by subtracting likely losses (deaths, emigrants and people switching out) year by year. The youngest cohorts, ages 0-4, are created by applying age-specific fertility rates to each female cohort in the childbearing years (ages 15-49), with children inheriting the mother’s religion. For more details, see the Methodology . 12

In the process of gathering input data and developing the projection model, the Pew Research Center previously published reports on the current size and geographic distribution of major religious groups, including Muslims (2009), Christians (2011) and several other faiths (2012). An initial set of projections for one religious group, Muslims, was published in 2011, although it did not attempt to take religious switching into account.

Some social theorists have suggested that as countries develop economically, more of their inhabitants will move away from religious affiliation. While that has been the general experience in some parts of the world, notably Europe, it is not yet clear whether it is a universal pattern. 13 In any case, the projections in this report are not based on theories about economic development leading to secularization.

Rather, the projections extend the recently observed patterns of religious switching in all countries for which sufficient data are available (70 countries in all). In addition, the projections reflect the United Nations’ expectation that in countries with high fertility rates, those rates gradually will decline in coming decades, alongside rising female educational attainment. And the projections assume that people gradually are living longer in most countries. These and other key input data and assumptions are explained in detail in Chapter 1 and the Methodology ( Appendix A ).

Since religious change has never previously been projected on this scale, some cautionary words are in order. Population projections are estimates built on current population data and assumptions about demographic trends, such as declining birth rates and rising life expectancies in particular countries. The projections are what will occur if the current data are accurate and current trends continue. But many events – scientific discoveries, armed conflicts, social movements, political upheavals, natural disasters and changing economic conditions, to name just a few – can shift demographic trends in unforeseen ways. That is why the projections are limited to a 40-year time frame, and subsequent chapters of this report try to give a sense of how much difference it could make if key assumptions were different.

For example, China’s 1.3 billion people (as of 2010) loom very large in global trends. At present, about 5% of China’s population is estimated to be Christian, and more than 50% is religiously unaffiliated. Because reliable figures on religious switching in China are not available, the projections do not contain any forecast for conversions in the world’s most populous country. But if Christianity expands in China in the decades to come – as some experts predict – then by 2050, the global numbers of Christians may be higher than projected, and the decline in the percentage of the world’s population that is religiously unaffiliated may be even sharper. (For more details on the possible impact of religious switching in China, see Chapter 1 .)

Finally, readers should bear in mind that within every major religious group, there is a spectrum of belief and practice. The projections are based on the number of people who self-identify with each religious group, regardless of their level of observance. What it means to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish or a member of any other faith may vary from person to person, country to country, and decade to decade.


These population projections were produced by the Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. Funding for the Global Religious Futures project comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

Many staff members in the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life project contributed to this effort. Conrad Hackett was the lead researcher and primary author of this report. Alan Cooperman served as lead editor. Anne Shi and Juan Carlos Esparza Ochoa made major contributions to data collection, storage and analysis. Bill Webster created the graphics and Stacy Rosenberg and Ben Wormald oversaw development of the interactive data presentations and the Global Religious Futures website. Sandra Stencel, Greg Smith, Michael Lipka and Aleksandra Sandstrom provided editorial assistance. The report was number-checked by Shi, Esparza Ochoa, Claire Gecewicz and Angelina Theodorou.

Several researchers in the Age and Cohort Change project of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis collaborated on the projections, providing invaluable expertise on advanced (“multistate”) population modeling and standardization of input data. Marcin Stonawski wrote the cutting-edge software used for these projections and led the collection and analysis of European data. Michaela Potančoková standardized the fertility data. Vegard Skirbekk coordinated IIASA’s research contributions. Additionally, Guy Abel at the Vienna Institute of Demography helped construct the country-level migration flow data used in the projections.

Over the past six years, a number of former Pew Research Center staff members also played critical roles in producing the population projections. Phillip Connor prepared the migration input data, wrote descriptions of migration results and methods, and helped write the chapters on each religious group and geographic region. Noble Kuriakose was involved in nearly all stages of the project and helped draft the chapter on demographic factors and the Methodology. Former intern Joseph Naylor helped design maps, and David McClendon, another former intern, helped research global patterns of religious switching. The original concept for this study was developed by Luis Lugo, former director of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life project, with assistance from former senior researcher Brian J. Grim and visiting senior research fellow Mehtab Karim.

Others at the Pew Research Center who provided editorial or research guidance include Michael Dimock, Claudia Deane, Scott Keeter, Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn. Communications support was provided by Katherine Ritchey and Russ Oates.

We also received very helpful advice and feedback on portions of this report from Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute; Roger Finke, Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, The Pennsylvania State University; Carl Haub, Senior Demographer, Population Reference Bureau; Todd Johnson, Associate Professor of Global Christianity and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary; Ariela Keysar, Associate Research Professor and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, Trinity College; Chaeyoon Lim, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Arland Thornton, Research Professor in the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan; Jenny Trinitapoli, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Demography and Religious Studies, The Pennsylvania State University; David Voas, Professor of Population Studies and Acting Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex; Robert Wuthnow, Andlinger Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University; and Fenggang Yang, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society, Purdue University.

While the data collection and projection methodology were guided by our consultants and advisers, the Pew Research Center is solely responsible for the interpretation and reporting of the data.

Roadmap to the Report

The remainder of this report details the projections from multiple angles. The first chapter looks at the demographic factors that shape the projections, including sections on fertility rates, life expectancy, age structure, religious switching and migration. The next chapter details projections by religious group, with separate sections on Christians, Muslims, the religiously unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, adherents of folk or traditional religions, members of “other religions” (consolidated into a single group) and Jews. A final chapter takes a region-by-region look at the projections, including separate sections on Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and sub-Saharan Africa.

  • This overall projection (9.3 billion in 2050) matches the “medium variant” forecast in the United Nations Population Division’s World Population Prospects, 2010 revision. A recent update from the United Nations has a somewhat higher estimate, 9.55 billion. The U.N. does not make projections for religious groups. ↩
  • Christianity began about six centuries before Islam, a head start that helps explain why some scholars believe that, in the past, Christians always have been more numerous than Muslims around the world. The Pew Research Center consulted several scholars on this historical question. Todd M. Johnson, co-editor of the “Atlas of Global Christianity,” and Houssain Kettani, author of independent estimates of the growth of Islam, contend that the number of Christians always has exceeded the number of Muslims. But some other experts, including Oxford University demographer David Coleman and Columbia University historian Richard W. Bulliet, say it is possible that Muslims may have outnumbered Christians globally sometime between 1000 and 1600 C.E., as Muslim populations expanded and Christian populations were decimated by the Black Death in Europe. All of the experts acknowledged that estimates of the size of religious groups in the Middle Ages are fraught with uncertainty. ↩
  • Although some faiths in the “other religions” category have millions of adherents around the world, censuses and surveys in many countries do not measure them specifically. Because of the scarcity of census and survey data, Pew Research has not projected the size of individual religions within this category. Estimates of the global size of these faiths generally come from other sources, such as the religious groups themselves. By far the largest of these groups is Sikhs, who numbered about 25 million in 2010, according to the World Religion Database. Estimates from other sources on the size of additional groups in this category can be found in the sidebar in Chapter 2. ↩
  • Jews make up such a small share of the global population, however, that the projected decline is not visible when percentages are rounded to one decimal place. Jews comprised 0.20% of the world’s population in 2010 and are projected to comprise 0.17% in 2050. Both figures are rounded to 0.2% (two-tenths of 1%) in the charts and tables in this report. ↩
  • In many countries, censuses and demographic surveys do not enumerate atheists and agnostics as distinct populations, so it is not possible to reliably estimate the global size of these subgroups within the broad category of the religiously unaffiliated. ↩
  • The standard measure of fertility in this report is the Total Fertility Rate. In countries with low infant and child mortality rates, a Total Fertility Rate close to 2.1 children per woman is sufficient for each generation to replace itself. Replacement-level fertility is higher in countries with elevated mortality rates. For more information on how fertility shapes population growth, see Chapter 1 . ↩
  • Most immigrants come to GCC countries as temporary workers. These projections model a dynamic migrant population in GCC countries, in which some migrants leave as others arrive and, over time, there are net gains in the size of the foreign-born population within each GCC country. ↩
  • The assumptions and trends used in these projections are discussed in Chapter 1 and in the Methodology section ( Appendix A ). ↩
  • As noted above, the “other religions” category includes many groups – such as Baha’is, Sikhs and Wiccans – that cannot be projected separately due to lack of data on their fertility rates, age structure and other demographic characteristics. ↩
  • People who identify their religion as Jewish in surveys are projected to decline from an estimated 1.8% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 1.4% in 2050. These figures, however, do not include “cultural” or “ethnic” Jews – people who have Jewish ancestry but do not describe their present religion as Jewish. A 2013 Pew Research survey found that more than one-in-five U.S. Jewish adults (22%) say they are atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but consider themselves Jewish aside from religion and have at least one Jewish parent. For the purposes of the religious group projections in this report, people who identify their religion as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular are categorized as unaffiliated . To avoid double-counting, they are not included in the Jewish population. If the projected Jewish numbers were expanded to include cultural or ethnic Jews, it is possible that the size of the more broadly defined Jewish population might be greater than the projected number of U.S. Muslims in 2050. ↩
  • The global projections are for Christians as a whole and do not attempt to calculate separate growth trajectories for subgroups such as Catholics and Protestants. However, other studies by the Pew Research Center show that Catholics have been declining and Protestants have been rising as a percentage of the population in some Latin American countries. See the Pew Research Center’s 2014 report “ Religion in Latin America .” ↩
  • How accurate have population projections using the cohort-component method been in the past? An overview of how previous projections for general populations compare with actual population trends is provided in the National Research Council’s 2000 book “Beyond Six Billion: Forecasting the World’s Population,” population . ↩
  • For example, there is little evidence of economic development leading to religious disaffiliation in Muslim-majority countries. In Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation remains nearly universal despite rapid social and economic change. And in China, religious affiliation – though very difficult to measure – may be rising along with economic development. ↩

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Religion in Quarantine: The Future of Religion in a Post-Pandemic World

In the last six months, scholars have learned important lessons about the challenges that religious groups in the United States face, the ways they adapt, and the ways that they respond to new constraints created during the Covid-19 pandemic. Religious leaders who had been resistant to technology just months ago are now readily embracing the internet.

Since the middle of March 2020, churches and temples have moved their services online, as Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom play host to dozens of religious experiments each weekend. Jews preparing for Passover created virtual Seder meals with socially distanced family members. Christian priests and pastors rethought traditional Easter celebrations and how to enact core rituals online. Muslims wrestled with the implications of forced physical distancing during Ramadan and how the upcoming Haj would need to be online, mediated events. As someone who has studied how religious communities respond to technology for two and a half decades, I quickly realized these innovations marked a unique and important moment for contemporary religion.

What would religiosity look like if social distancing became the “new normal”? Would expressions of faith need to become increasingly technologically mediated to protect the vulnerable? Would religious leaders accept this shift and willingly adapt?

essay on the religion of the future

The result of these questions and conversations with other scholars of religion online is now published as an eBook called Religion in Quarantine: The Future of Religion in a Post-Pandemic World .

To create this book, Texas A&M University Religious Studies faculty and students explored the shifts in religious practice within Jewish, Muslim, and Christian contexts, primarily within the first three and a half months of the pandemic. By combining reflections from our spiritual journeys in our respective religious communities, along with research on how the pandemic affected the way we investigate religion both in current times and how we will in the future, a number of common themes emerged. This eBook reports eight lessons drawn from this research.

Visit to check out the new eBook.

Heidi Campbell

Heidi A. Campbell is professor of communication and Presidential Impact Fellow at Texas A&M University. She is also director of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies. Her research focuses on technology, religion and digital culture, with emphasis on Jewish, Muslim and Christian media negotiations. She is coeditor of Routledge’s Religion and Digital Culture book series the Journal of Religion, Media & Digital Culture , and author of over 100 articles and books including When Religion Meets New Media (2010), Networked Theology (2016) and Digital Creatives and the Rethinking Religious Authority in Digital Culture (2020).

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What is the future of religion?

Rory Cellan-Jones talks to Iza Hussin and Paul Seabright about recent trends in world religions, the interplay between politics and religion, and the economics of religion.

essay on the religion of the future

This episode unpacks the widespread belief that religion is in decline and explores why this view is mistaken. Leading experts discuss the intersection between religion and politics, the rivalry within and between religions, and how wider socioeconomic trends are both impacted by and impacting religious movements. 

This episode is hosted by Rory Cellan-Jones (former technology correspondent for the BBC), and features guest experts Iza Hussin (University of Cambridge) and Paul Seabright (IAST). 

Listen to this episode on your preferred podcast platform

Season 2 Episode 10 transcript

For more information about the podcast and the work of the institutes, visit our websites at and .

Tweet us with your thoughts at @BennettInst and @IASToulouse

Audio production by Steve Hankey

Associate production by Stella Erker

Visuals by Tiffany Naylor

More information about our guests:

Iza Hussin is Associate Professor of Asian Politics at the University of Cambridge and Mohamed Noah Fellow at Pembroke College. Her research and teaching are in the areas of comparative politics, Islam and Muslim politics, law and society and religion and politics. Her recent book, The Politics of Islamic Law: Local Elites, Colonial Authority and the Making of the Muslim State (University of Chicago Press 2016), explored the construction of Islamic law in colonial India, Malaya and Egypt. She is Editor of the Cambridge University Press series Asian Connections, and a member of the Editorial Boards of the Social Science Research Council’s The Immanent Frame , and of the University of London SOAS Indonesia and the Malay World . She holds a PhD from the University of Washington, an MA from Georgetown University and an AM and AB from Harvard University.

Paul Seabright is a professor of economics at the Toulouse School of Economics and a two-year fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, from 2021 to 2023. He was Director from 2012 to 2021 of the inter-disciplinary  Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse. Paul did his undergraduate and doctoral studies at the University of Oxford. Paul’s current research lies in the intersection of behavioral economics and the economics of organizations, including firms and networks. He is working on a book about the economics of religious rivalry that will be published in March 2024 by Princeton University Press.

Rory Cellan-Jones is a former technology correspondent for the BBC. His 40 years in journalism saw him take a particular interest in the impact of the internet and digital technology on society and business. He has written multiple books, including his latest “Always On” which was published in 2021. @ruskin147

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

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Ross Douthat

Why You Can’t Predict the Future of Religion

Students at Asbury University in Kentucky singing together on campus.

By Ross Douthat

Opinion Columnist

In an 1822 letter to the physician Benjamin Waterhouse, Thomas Jefferson expressed his confidence that traditional Christianity in the young United States was giving way to a more enlightened faith, much like Jefferson’s own in its rejection of the divinity of Jesus Christ. “I trust,” he wrote, “that there is not a young man now living in the U.S. who will not die an Unitarian.”

Less than a year earlier, on “a Sabbath evening in the autumn of 1821” in upstate New York, a young man named Charles Grandison Finney began a multiday interplay of prayer and mystical experience that ‌‌led to a moment when, he wrote later , “it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face … He stood before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to Him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance.”

This experience set Finney on a path that would help bury Jefferson’s confident hypothesis — toward leadership in an age of revivalism, the Second Great Awakening, that forged the form of evangelical Christianity that would bestride 19th-century America and also encouraged a proliferation of novel sects with supernatural beliefs entirely distant from Jefferson’s Enlightenment religion.

That history is worth mentioning for a specific reason and a general one. The specific reason is that a Christian college in rural Kentucky, Asbury University, has just experienced an old-school revival — a multiweek outpouring that has kept students praying and singing in the school chapel from morning to night, drawn tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the country, captured the imagination of the internet and even drawn the attention of The New York Times .

The general reason is that whatever the Asbury Revival’s long-term impact, the history of Finney and Jefferson is a reminder that religious history is shaped as much by sudden irruptions as long trajectories, as much by the mystical and personal as by the institutional and sociological.

Secular experts writing about religion tend to emphasize the deep structural forces shaping practice and belief — the effects of industrialization or the scientific revolution, suburbanization or the birth control pill. Religious intellectuals tend to emphasize theological debates and evangelization strategies. (Should Christians be winsome or combative? Should churches adapt to liberal modernity or resist its blandishments?)

These analytical tools are always important; the sociological doesn’t disappear just because the mystical has suddenly arrived. In last weekend’s column , for instance, I suggested a link between the apparent crisis in teenage mental health and the decline of organized Christianity, and this week my colleague Ruth Graham, reporting from Asbury, notes that accounts of healing at the revival are “overwhelmingly about mental health, trauma and disillusionment.” Nor, in the shadow of the numinous, does strategy cease to matter: The encounter on the road to Damascus created Paul the Apostle, but his career thereafter was all organizing, preaching, letter-writing and shoe (or sandal) leather.

But the experiences themselves remain irreducibly unpredictable. Why Asbury? Why Saul of Tarsus? Why Charles Grandison Finney?

A unique religious culture exists across the Mountain West because one of Finney’s upstate New York contemporaries believed he received a revelation from the angel Moroni. Arguably the most important movement within global Christianity today exists because of a revival that began with an African-American preacher and his followers praying together in a shabby part of Los Angeles in 1906. And I can quote you chapter and verse on the reasonability of theism , but in the causal chain of history I’m a Christian because two thousand years ago a motley group of provincials in Roman Palestine believed they’d seen their teacher heal the sick and raise the dead and then rise transfigured from the grave — and then because, two millenniums later, as a child in suburban Connecticut, I watched my own parents fall to the floor and speak in tongues.

Whether these experiences correspond to ultimate reality will not be argued here. My points are about observation and expectation.

When it comes to the religious future, you should follow the social trends, but also always expect the unexpected — recognizing that every organized faith could disappear tomorrow and some spiritual encounter would resurrect religion soon enough.

If you’re trying to discern what a post-Christian spirituality might become, then what post-Christian seekers are experiencing and what (or whom) they claim to be encountering matters as much as any specific religious label they might claim.

And if you’re imagining a renewal for American Christianity, all the best laid plans — the pastoral strategies, theological debates and long-term trendlines — may matter less than something happening in some obscure place or to some obscure individual, in whose visions an entirely unexpected future might be taking shape.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Ross Douthat has been an Opinion columnist for The Times since 2009. He is the author of several books, most recently, “The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery.” @ DouthatNYT • Facebook

The Future of the Study of Religion

Harvard PhD candidates discuss the future of their field

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Austin Lee Campbell thinks a lot about dying.

No, Campbell doesn’t plan to shuffle off his mortal coil any time soon. A hospital chaplain, Campbell is on emergency call to comfort grieving families and to pray at the bedsides of dying patients as they succumb to terminal illnesses.

A PhD candidate in religion, Campbell believes dying in hospitals is hard, not just because mortality can be tough to face; medical institutions use language that makes dying a win or lose proposition. “We fight a ‘war on cancer’ or a ‘battle against heart disease’,” he says. In our final moments, our focus is on the lost struggle, and we fail to acknowledge the value of a life well-lived. Campbell argues that we need new ways to comfort patients in their final moments.

“What on earth do you tell somebody who is facing death,” Campbell asks, “and, ultimately,  help them to live all the way up to an end that feels meaningful?”

Campbell’s academic research focuses on what makes dying in hospitals and other medical institutions emotionally painful, and suggests that classical and medieval consolation literature contains insight into better ways to console cancer and other terminally ill patients at the end of their lives.

This interdisciplinary approach reflects one direction scholarship in religion is taking, combining the study of faith with research in other disciplines—the classics, economics, environment, gender studies, international relations, literature, and political science—to tackle contemporary issues.

A Changing Focus

Austin Lee Campbell in profile in front of a black background.

As scholars of religion increasingly pursue work outside the typical confines of the field, there’s been an equal surge of interest in the subject from researchers in other disciplines. Since 9/11, students studying business, economics, and politics are keenly interested in learning about world faiths, believing they hold the key to understanding global events. In response, religion departments have to develop courses to meet these needs, experts say.

This interest from inside and outside the discipline is driving the conversation about the future of religious study. “I think one of the things the study of religion has to do is increasingly pay attention to interdisciplinary approaches,” says Anne E. Monius, a professor of South Asian religions and a faculty member of the Committee on the Study of Religion. Religious studies must continue to concentrate on the present world.

Religion doesn’t operate independent of social, cultural, economic, and political concerns, Monius explains, and neither should the discipline that studies it. “Religious studies has to think about the ways in which, in the contemporary world and in history, religion has not operated in a hermetically closed or isolated sphere that is untouched by politics or economy or broader issues of society.”

The connectivity is apparent in her classroom, where Monius teaches “Contemporary Conversations in the Study of Religion.” The spring seminar’s main purpose is to get “students to think about their work and its broader contribution to the study of religion,” Monius says.

Because religious study has already become so interdisciplinary, it’s a challenge to find common topics for her students. “What is popular in ethics might be old hat to someone working in South Asian religion or Muslim studies,” Monius says. As a solution, she focuses on recent award-winning books.

A Greater Role

Professor Anne E. Monius in profile with a black background.

Monius is not alone in her conviction that the study of religion must embody an interdisciplinary approach in order to maintain relevance. Mara Block, a PhD candidate in religion, agrees.

“I think there’s dawning recognition that religion continues to play a role in social and political contexts,” Block says. “That is what I think is exciting and important about the future of the study of religion. There’s this fundamental point that religion shapes social, political, military, and  ethical worlds.”

Block’s research combines the fields of religion and medicine, and delves into the work of psychiatrists and Christian pastoral counselors, who deal with issues of sexuality, including homosexuality, in mid-20th century America, addressing core questions about how medicine, science, and religion shape people’s lives.

Block describes her scholarship as a departure from traditional religious studies, due in part to her use of historical documents and case histories that include those of Presbyterian minister Anton Boisen, the father of clinical pastoral education. Block examines the evolution of therapy’s purpose from the 1950s and 1960s, which ranged from helping homosexuals cope with emotional distress to asking if they could change their sexual orientation.

“What’s really interesting is that Christian pastors take up questions that many people are still interested in today,” Block says. “Many writing in the 1950s and the 1960s asked questions like: What is homosexuality and what causes it? What does it mean to ‘treat’ it? How does it impact religious lives and the religious and sexual identities that they entail?”

Campbell also believes religious studies must continue to be part of the search for answers to modern-day questions.

“I think interdisciplinarity is a valuable part of the study of religion right now, and I think it is only growing,” says Campbell, who plans on teaching after receiving his doctorate.

While a chaplain intern at a Boston hospital in 2009, Campbell noticed the frequent use of military metaphors—such as, the “battle with cancer”—by the medical establishment. He also recalls reading of a pharmaceutical CEO referring to death as a series of preventable diseases. This kind of talk, Campbell contends, reduces life from a series of meaningful experiences to death as an experience without meaning.

Instead of reaching for contemporary counseling guides, Campbell first turned to the early Christian theologian Augustine for answers. Just as battles have winners and losers, Augustine confronted advocates of dualism—the Manichaeans, a religious group who stressed the presence of good and evil, light and dark. Now, Campbell is turning to classical and medieval authors who wrote about facing imminent death. He’s reading Boethius, the sixth-century prisoner condemned to death for treason and author of “The Consolation of Philosophy.”

“I want to know, how can we really live up to an end that we can foresee and is inevitable,” Campbell says. “How do you not throw up your hands in despair? Is it possible, is it desirable?”

It’s not just about hospitals, medicine, and death. Campbell’s research may apply to environmental crisis, too. “It’s a good thing that people prevent unnecessary death,” Campbell says. “But the flip side is, what do you do when it becomes clear the end is near, whether it’s pancreatic cancer or melting ice sheets?”

The Way of the Future

Both Campbell and Block helped organize this year’s “Ways of Knowing” conference, an annual student-run event that promotes interdisciplinary discussion of prevailing assumptions (both within and outside the academy) about the differentiation, organization, authorization, and reproduction of various modes of knowing and acting in relation to religion.

One panel discussion, titled “The Future of the Study of Religion,” addressed trajectories, trends, and challenges facing the academic study of religion, and reflected upon the discipline’s future. The three religion experts on the panel expressed concern about the independence of religion departments, cautioning that programs risk losing their distinctiveness and blending into other humanities departments.

Francis X. Clooney, the Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, and a Catholic priest, believes that people who teach religion must also practice some form of it. “A person who has no religious practice will probably end up in a humanities department, because in some way there has to be a tug of religious identity,” said Clooney. Melding, he argued, was as inevitable “as the melting of the icebergs.”

Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies at Harvard Divinity School, praised the effects of other disciplines on religious studies. “We have an enormous amount we can learn from scholars—literature showing how to read religious text, anthropologists who tell us about human society,” Gyatso said. “It’s all to the good.”

But Gyatso, too, worried about religion departments losing their identity. “I think it would be a shame to lose the distinctive quality of religious studies,” she said.

Ahmed Ragab, the Richard T. Watson Assistant Professor of Science and Religion and faculty organizer of the event, wondered if religious studies programs at some universities are being folded into humanities departments as a cost-saving measure. “The idea that, in abstract, all of these scholars work together is very exciting,” Ragab said. “But the way it happens in many schools is cost-cutting.”

Continuing Evolution

Over the years, the study of religion has evolved. At one time, college and university divinity programs existed solely to prepare students to lead congregations. By the 1970s, however, divinity schools had shifted their focus away from training ministers to teaching religion as “an enduringly important global phenomenon in history and in the present day,” Monius explains.

Mara Block in front of a black background.

By the time she began teaching in the 1990s, Monius says religious education was undergoing another dramatic overhaul, including a rethinking of categories and basic vocabulary. “Since then, there has been greater focus on revisiting classics in the field and colonial-era scholarship, to consider anew what they might have gotten right,” Monius says. “There is also increasing emphasis on the troubling ways in which the categories the field has tried so hard to question—from ‘religion’ to ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Buddhism’—are often heavily politicized.”

Monius suggests that global conflict is making religious studies at universities more important. “After 9/11, nobody—no college dean or chair of any department—thinks religion is not important in the world today,” she says. “Whether they’re thinking about ISIS or ISIL running through Syria or Iraq, there’s no doubt religion is something that’s important for students at any level of university or college life to have some understanding of to be thinking citizens of world.”

As a result, colleges and universities face a challenge when it comes to teaching religion. Students are increasingly taking up religious studies in hopes of gaining a better understanding of politics, economics, and international affairs. To keep up with demand, religious studies programs have to put more effort into developing courses for students in other disciplines.

“We have to shift away from teaching religion exclusively to students who are concentrating in the subject or who are doctoral students,” Monius says. “In fact, we have to think more and more—if a student at Harvard takes only one course in religious studies, what should that course be, what should it look like? Speaking to contemporary events and showing the way religion is deeply enmeshed in politics, economics, sociology, historical structures, that is something the field has to attend to more carefully moving forward.”

Bringing together students from different disciplines presents opportunities—and challenges. Just as each faith is different, so too is each discipline’s methodological language. The goal at Harvard is to transcend such differences and create a common understanding across the departments, Monius says. Politics, economics, and religion, for instance, use different research methodologies. Last year, in an attempt to bridge this gap, Monius leveraged her role as acting director of the Center for the Study of World Religions to convene an interdepartmental conference, a first step in cross-department collaboration.

“Those of us who devote our entire academic lives to the study of religion have to lead the way,” she says.

Photos by Ben Gebo

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The Future of Religion in America Essay

Significance of the church to african-americans, post emancipation black church.

The end of the American Civil War marked the beginning of emancipation of the African-American. During the emancipation era, the African-Americans retreated to the church, which served them as a venue for social, enjoyment and information needs (Johnstone). The church became the venue for various activities and functions including concerts, trade exhibitions, scholarly debates, fine arts, and celebrations in general (Johnstone). This essay will look at the importance of the church to the African-Americans in various aspects.

The Social Center

The church presented the African-American communities with the only place where the African-Americans achieved autonomy and social freedom , away from the whites (Johnstone). In addition, the church provided facilities to carry out social and economic activities (Johnstone). Du Bois declared that the economic collaboration among the Negroes had its roots in the churches where the African-Americans always gathered (Johnstone).

The American Civil War marked the end of slavery and thus ushered the emancipation era. In this regard, the African-Americans were termed freedmen (Encyclopedia Britannica). However, the freedom was only technical as the African-Americans remained slaves to policies introduced during this period (The Social Studies Help Center). The reconstruction period was therefore another era of suffering for the African-Americans in their social, economic and political life.

State laws known as black codes came into effect in 1866. The codes conferred power on the whites over African-Americans to prevent them from owning land or seeking employment outside their states (The Social Studies Help Center). This forced the African-Americans to work in the lands owned by the whites under crop lien contracts.

Crop lien contracts demanded that the African-Americans work in the farms and earn by getting a share of the harvest at the end of the season (Encyclopedia Britannica). Unfortunately, during harvest, the white people would deduct all the expenses incurred by the African-Americans during the season (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The expenses accrued from using white men’s tools, for food consumed in the course of working or for accommodation in the whites’ homes (Encyclopedia Britannica). The deductions would always be higher than the share of the harvest leaving the African-Americans in debts and thus forcing them to work again to settle such debts. The circle would start all over again (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Consequently, economic or investment groups emerged in the church. The groups aimed at assisting the community members to wade through turbulent financial times. There was particular concern when such times resulted from bereavement of family members as well as the mistreatment in the white farms (Johnstone). The groups provided some compensation, which is comparable to what the modern day insurance companies give to beneficiaries who lose an insured breadwinner (Johnstone).

Education Avenue

The African-American churches invested resources towards quality education for their members. The ministers accomplished the desire for education by building schools alongside churches, with the firm desire of improving the spiritual nourishment of the African-Americans (Johnstone). According to Wade, the whites were diametrically opposed to such church ventures because they knew that the African-Americans would acquire quality education through the churches (Johnstone).

Center for Political Expression

Many African-Americans vied for elective posts and won during reconstruction period (Johnstone). After the end of the Reconstruction period , unfortunately, the whites dominated the political scene again by elbowing out the African-Americans from the posts they occupied previously ( Johnstone) .

This left the African-Americans with no choice but to turn the church into a political platform from which they expressed their political views (Johnstone). In this regard, the church attracted numerous aspiring the African-American political candidates to use the church as a launching pad for their political careers (Johnstone). The ministers supported some African-Americans by inviting them to their churches and soliciting votes for them (Johnstone). Some candidates started as ministers initially.

Secure Haven in a Hostile White World

The events of reconstruction contributed to a loss of dignity by the African-Americans since the laws conferred to them the role of objects of the white people. The segregated African-Americans had no access to quality goods and services as these were a preserve of the white people (Johnstone).

The African-Americans viewed the church as a source of quality politics, quality socialization and quality economic services or initiatives. This raised the dignity of the African-Americans as the church never failed in its role. Further, the African-American church offered psychological shield from the white people (Johnstone).

The Church in America

The church in America is bound to remain strong in the society in the face of concepts like secularization . The rational choice theory and the understanding of what it is that changes in the church prove that religion is steadfast and will stand for ages to come (Johnstone).

When religious members fail to get satisfied in one religious grouping several options offer themselves to such people. One thing is clear, religious people do not abandon religion in absolute terms. Instead, such people move from one religious grouping to another seeking for that unmet need. This vindicates the rational choice theory that several options exist for the rational being and that such a being will choose what is good to them, rationally (Johnstone).

According to Mark Chaves, secularization , as a concept, has been around for quite some time (Johnstone). He elaborates secularization through three levels. Secularization has nothing to do with religion as such. It involves religion as an authority.

Previously, the church used to be the sole or among the few authorities in the society. Secularization has seen the rise of several independent institutions that have stamped their authority in the society. Therefore, religion remains intact but authority spreads to various other institutions (Johnstone).

This type of secularization, called laicization, was quite common in the middle ages especially after the French Revolution (Johnstone). Mark Chaves discuses another aspect of secularization called internal secularization (Johnstone). Internal secularization happens when religious groupings adopt secular doctrines ranging from the arts to science (Johnstone). The acceptance of same sex marriages in some churches is a clear example of internal secularization .

Lastly, Mark Chaves shows that secularization at the individual level takes place too when such an individual sheds a previously held outlook and adopts a new one. For instance, when a religious person decides to see everyone as being a part of the plans of the Supreme Being and embraces all people. Mark Chaves calls this aspect the religious disinvolvement (Johnstone).

Therefore, religion in American remains intact. What changes is authority, processes and personal views but not the church. Religion played a critical role during the reconstruction era and will remain strong to assist its followers in various aspects. It will weather numerous challenges and concepts to stand out for years.

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IvyPanda. (2018, December 23). The Future of Religion in America.

"The Future of Religion in America." IvyPanda , 23 Dec. 2018,

IvyPanda . (2018) 'The Future of Religion in America'. 23 December.

IvyPanda . 2018. "The Future of Religion in America." December 23, 2018.

1. IvyPanda . "The Future of Religion in America." December 23, 2018.


IvyPanda . "The Future of Religion in America." December 23, 2018.

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Review Essay: Roberto Mangabeira Unger, The Religion of the Future

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2015, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

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Richard Polt, Review of The Religion of the Future, by Roberto Mangabeira Unger. Political Theory 43:5 (October 2015): 695-699.

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Contemporary Pragmatism

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Clear View Project

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Posted on May 31, 2015 by Alan Senauke

Buddha and the Future of His Religion by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

essay on the religion of the future

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is the father of modern Buddhism in India, which has taken root among Dalit/ex-untouchable communities who practice the Buddha way because it teaches directly about the nature of suffering and the way to liberation.  Ambedkar’s essay “Buddha and the Future of His Religion” was in the May 1950 Vaishaka issue of the Maha Bodhi Society journal, which had wide distribution among English-speaking Buddhists in Asia and the West.  This provocative piece was written six years before Ambedkar’s conversion in late 1956. 

Thanks to Mangesh Dahiwale, Dh. Manidhamma, and Ven. Bodhidhamma for this hard-to-find text.


By dr. b.r. ambedkar.

Out of the many founders of Religion, there are four whose religions have not only moved the world in the past, but are still having a sway over the vast masses of people. They are Buddha, Jesus, Mahommed and Krishna. A comparison of the personalities of these four and the poses they assumed in propagating their religions reveals certain points of contrast between the Buddha on the one hand and the rest on the other, which are not without significance.

The first point which mark off Buddha from the rest is his self -abnegation. All throughout the Bible, Jesus insist that he is the Son of God and that those who wish to enter the kingdom of God will fail, if they do not recognise him as the Son of God. Mohammed went a step further. Like Jesus he also claimed that he was the messenger of God on earth. But he further insisted that he was the last messenger. On that footing he declared that those who wanted salvation must not only accept that he was a messenger of God, but also accept that he was the last messenger. Krishna went a step beyond both Jesus and Mohammed. He refused to be satisfied with merely being the Son of the God or being the messenger of God; he was not content even with being the last messenger of God. He was not even satisfied with calling himself a God. He claimed that he was ‘ Parameswhar ‘ or as his followers describe him ‘ Devadhideva ,’ God of Gods. Buddha never arrogated to himself any such status. He was born as a son of man and was content to remain a common man and preached his gospel as a common man. He never claimed any supernatural origin or supernatural powers nor did he perform miracles to prove his supernatural powers. The Buddha made a clear distinction between a Margadata and a Mokshadata . Jesus, Mahommed and Krishna claimed for themselves the Mokshadata . The Buddha was satisfied with playing the role of a Margadata .

There is also another distinction between the four religious teachers. Both Jesus and Mohammed claimed that what they taught was the word of God and as a word of God what they taught was infallible and beyond question. Krishna was according to his own assumption a God of Gods and therefore what he taught being a word God, uttered by God, they were original and final and the question of infallibility did not even arise. The Buddha claimed no such infallibility for what he taught. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta He told Ananda that His religion was based on reason and experience and that his followers should not accept his teaching as correct and binding merely because they emanated from Him. Being based on reason and experience they were free to modify or even to abandon any of his teachings if it was found that at a given time and in given circumstances they do not apply. He wished, His religion not to be encumbered with the dead wood of the past. He wanted that it should remain evergreen and serviceable at all times. That is why He gave liberty to his followers to chip and chop as the necessities of the case required. No other religious teacher has shown such courage. They were afraid of permitting repair. As the liberty to repair may be used to demolish the structure they had reared Buddha had no such fear. He was sure of his foundation. He knew that even the most violent iconoclast will not be able to destroy the core of His religion.

Such is the unique position of Buddha. What about his religion? How does it compare with those founded by his rivals?

Let us first compare Buddhism with Hinduism. In the short space available the comparison must be limited to a few important points indeed only to two.

Hinduism is a religion which is not founded on morality. Whatever morality Hinduism has it is not an integral part of it. It is not imbedded in religion. It is a separate force which is sustained by social necessities and not by injunction of Hindu religion. The religion of Buddha is morality. It is imbedded in religion. Buddhist religion is nothing if no morality. It is true that in Buddhism there is no God. In place of God there is morality. What God is to other religions morality is to Buddhism.

It is very seldom recognised that He propounded a most revolutionary meaning of the word ” Dhamma ”. The Vedic meaning of the word ” Dharma ” did not connote morality in any sense of the word. The Dharma as enunciated by the Brahmins and as propounded in the Purvamimansa of Jamini meant nothing more than the performances of certain karmas or to use terminology of the Roman religion observances. Dharma to Brahmins meant keeping up of observances, i.e. Yagans , Yagas and sacrifices to Gods. This was the essence of the Brahmanic or Vedic Religion. It had nothing to do with morality.

The word Dhamma as used by the Buddha, had nothing to do with ritual or observances. In fact he repudiated the Yagas and Yagnas as being essence of religion. In place of Karma he substituted morality as the essence of Dhamma . Although the word Dhamma was used by Brahmanic teachers as well as by the Buddha, the content of both is radically and fundamentally different. In fact, it might be stated that the Buddha was the first teacher in the world who made morality the essence and foundation of religion. Even Krishna as may be seen from Bhagvat Geeta was not able to extricate himself from the old conception of religion being equivalent of rituals and observances. Many people seem to be lured by the doctrine of Nishkam karma other wise called Anasaktiyoga preached by Krishna in the Bhagvat Geeta. It is taken to mean in Boyscout sense of doing good without the expectation of reward. This interpretation of the Nishkam Karma is a complete misunderstanding of what it really means. The word Karma in the phrase Nishkam Karma does not mean, action in the generic sense of the word Karma meaning ‘deed’. It is used in its original sense in which it is used by the Brahmins and Jamini. On the point of observances there is only one point of difference between Jamini and the Bhagvat Geeta. The observance which used to be performed by the Brahmins fell in to two classes:

(i) Nitya Karmas and

(ii) Naimitika Karmas

The Nitya karmas were observances which were enjoined to be performed regularly for which reasons they were called Nitya and as a matter of religious duty, for which there was not to be any expectation of reward. On that account they were also called Nishham Karmas . The other category of Karmas was called Naimitika that is to say they were performed whenever there was occasion, that is, whenever there was a desire to perform them and they were called Kamya Karmas because from their performance some benefit was expected to come. What Krishna condemned in the Bhagvat Geeta was Kamya Karmas . He did not condemn Nishkama Karmas . On the other hand he extolled them. The point to be borne in mind is, even for Krishna religion did not consist of morality. It consisted of Yagnas and Yagas through of the Nishkama Karmas category.

This is one point of contrast between Hinduism and Buddhism. The second point of contrast lies in the fact that the official gospel of Hinduism is inequality. The doctrine of Chaturvarna is the concrete embodiment of this gospel of inequality. On the other hand Buddha stood for equality. He was the greatest opponent of Chaturvarna . He not only preached against it, fought against it, but did everything to uproot it. According to Hinduism neither a Shudra nor a woman could become a teacher of religion nor could they take Sannyasa and reach God. Buddha on the other hand admitted Shudras to the Bhikkhu Sangha He also admitted women to become Bhikkhunis . Why did he do so? Few people seem to realise the importance of this step. The answer is that Buddha wanted to take concrete steps to destroy the gospel of inequality. Hinduism had to make many changes in its doctrines as a result of an attack made by Buddha. It gave up Himsa . It was prepared to give up the doctrine of the infallibility of the Vedas . On the point of the Chaturvarna neither side was prepared to yield. Buddha was not prepared to give up his opposition to the doctrine of Chaturvarna . That is the reason why Brahmanism has so much more hatred and antagonism against Buddhism than it has against Jainism. Hinduism has to recognise the force of the Buddha’s arguments against Chaturvarna . But instead of yielding to its logic Hinduism developed a new philosophic justification for Chaturvarna . This new philosophic justification is to be found in the Bhagvat Geeta. Nobody is able to say for certain what the Bhagavat Geeta teaches. But this much is beyond question that the Bhagvat Geeta upholds the doctrine of Chaturvarna . In fact it appears that this was the main purpose for which it was written. And how does the Bhagvat Geeta justify it? Krishna says that he as God created the system of Chaturvarna and he constructed it on the basis of the theory of Guna — Karma — which means that he prescribed the status and occupation of every individual in accordance with his innate gunas (or qualities). Two things are clear. One is that this theory is new. The old theory was different. According to the old theory the foundation of Chaturvarna was the authority of the Vedas. As the Vedas were infallible so was the system of Chaturvarna on which it rested. The attack of the Buddha on the infallibility of the Vedas had destroyed the validity of this old foundation of Chaturvarna . It is quite natural that Hinduism which was not prepared to give up Chaturvarna and which it regarded as its very soul should attempt to find for it a better foundation which the Bhagvat Geeta proposes to do. But how good is this new justification given by Krishna in the Bhagvat Geeta? To most Hindus it appears to be quite convincing, so convincing that they believe it to be irrefutable. Even to many non-Hindus it appears to be very plausible, very enticing. If the Chaturvarna had depended only on the authority of the Vedas I am sure it would have long disappeared. It is the mischievous and false doctrine of the Bhagvat Geeta which has given this Chaturvarna — which is the parent of the caste-system-apparently a perpetual loss of life. The basic conception of this new doctrine is taken from the Sankhya philosophy. There is nothing original about it. The originality of Krishna lies in applying it to justify Chaturvarna It is in its application that the fallacy lies, Kapila, the author of the Sankhya system held that there is no God, that God is necessary only because matter is believed to be dead. But matter is not dead. It is active. Matter consists of three Gunas : Raj , Tamas and Satva . Prakriti appears to be dead only because the three gunas are in an equilibrium. When the equilibrium is disturbed by one of the gunas becoming dominant over the other two, Prakriti becomes active. This is the sum and substance of the Sankhya philosophy. There can be no quarrel with this theory. It is perhaps true. It may therefore be granted that each individual as a form of Prakriti is made up of the three gunas. It may even be granted that among the three gunas there is a competition for dominance of one over the other. But how could it be granted that a particular guna in a particular individual which at one time -say at the time of his birth-happens to dominate his other gunas will continue to dominate them for all times, till his death? There is no ground for this assumption either in the Sankhya philosophy or in actual experience. Unfortunately neither Hitler nor Mussolini were born when Krishna propounded his theory. Krishna would have found considerable difficulty in explaining how a signboard painter and a bricklayer could become dictators capable of dominating the world. The point of the matter is that the Prakriti of an individual is always changing because the relative position of the guna is always changing. If the gunas are ever changing in their relative position of dominance there can be no permanent and fixed system of classification of men into varnas and no permanent and fixed assignment of occupations. The whole theory of the Bhagvat Geeta therefore falls to the ground. But as I have said the Hindus have become infatuated by its plausibility and its “good look” and have become slaves of it. The result is that Hinduism continues to uphold the Varna system with its gospel of social inequality. These are two of the evils of Hinduism from which Buddhism is free.

Some of those, who believe that only the acceptance of the Gospel of Buddha can save the Hindus are filled with sorrow, because they do not see much prospect of the return or revival of Buddhism in India. I do not share this pessimism.

In the matter of their attitude to their religion, Hindus today fall in to two classes. There are those who hold that, ‘all religions are true including Hindu’ and the leaders of other religions seem to join them in this slogan. There cannot be a thesis more false than the thesis that all religions are true. However this slogan gives the Hindus, who have raised it, the support of the followers of other religions. There are Hindus who have come to realize that there is something wrong with their religion, the only thing is that they are not ready to denounce it openly. This attitude is understandable. Religion is a part of one’s social inheritance. One’s life and dignity and pride are bound up with it. It is not is to abandon one’s religion. Patriotism comes in “My country” right or wrong. “My religion” right or wrong. Instead of abandoning it the Hindus are finding escape in other ways. Some are consoling themselves with the thought that all religions are wrong, so why bother about religion at all. The same feeling of patriotism prevents them from openly embracing Buddhism. Such an attitude can have only one result. Hinduism will lapse and cease to be a force of governing life. There will be void, which will have the effect of disintegrating the Hindu society. Hindus then will be forced to take a more positive attitude. When they do so, they can turn to nothing except Buddhism.

This is not the only ray of hope, there are hopes coming from other quarters also.

There is one question which every religion must answer. What mental and moral relief does it bring to the suppressed and the downtrodden? If it does not, then it is doomed. Does Hinduism give any mental and moral relief to the millions of Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes? It does not. Do Hindus expect these Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes to live under Hinduism which gives them no promise of mental and moral relief? Such an expectation would be an utter futility. Hinduism is floating on a volcano. To- day it appears to be extinct. But it is not. It will become active once these mighty millions have become conscious of their degradation and know that it is largely due to the social philosophy of the Hindu religion. One is reminded of the overthrow of Paganism by Christianity in the Roman Empire. When the masses realized that Paganism could give them no mental and moral relief they gave it up and adopted Christianity. What happened in Rome is sure to happen in India. The Hindu masses when they are enlightened are sure to turn to Buddhism.

So much by way of comparison between Hinduism and Buddhism, how does Buddhism stand in comparison with other non-Hindu Religions? It is impossible to take each of these non-Hindu Religions and compare with Buddhism, in detail. All I can do is to put my conclusions in a summary form. I maintain that:-

(i) That society must have either the sanction of law or the sanction of morality to hold it together. Without either, society is sure to go to pieces.

In all societies, law plays a very small part. It is intended to keep the minority within the range of social discipline. The majority is left and has to be left to sustain its social life by the postulates and sanction of morality. Religion in the sense of morality, must therefore, remain the governing principle in every society.

(ii) That religion as defined in the first proposition must be in accord with science. Religion is bound to lose its respect and therefore becomes the subject of ridicule and thereby not merely loses its force as a governing principle of life, but might in course of time disintegrate and lapse, if it is not in accord with science. In other words, religion if it is to function, must be in accord with reason which is merely another name for science.

(iii) That religion as a code of social morality, must also stand together another test. It is not enough for religion to consist of a moral code, but its moral code must recognise the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity. Unless a religion recognises these three fundamental principles of social life, religion will be doomed.

(iv) That religion must not sanctify or ennoble poverty. Renunciation of riches by those who have it, may be a blessed state, but poverty can never be. To declare poverty to be a blessed state is to pervert religion, to perpetuate vice and crime, to consent to make earth a living hell.

Which religion fulfils these requirements? In considering this question it must be remembered that the days of the Mahatmas are gone and the world cannot have a new Religion. It will have to make its choice from those that exist. The question must therefore be confined to existing religions

It may be that one of the existing religions satisfies one of these tests, some two. Question is – Is there any religion which satisfies all these tests? So far I know, the religion which satisfies all these tests is Buddhism. In other words Buddhism is the only religion which world can have. If the new world– which be it realised is very different from the old-must have a religion- and the new world needs religion far more than the old world did — then it can only be religion of the Buddha.

All this may sound very strange. This is because most of those who have written about Buddha have propagated the idea that the only thing Buddha taught was Ahimsa. This is a great mistake. It is true Buddha taught Ahimsa. I do not want to minimise its importance. For it is a great doctrine. The world cannot be saved unless it follows it. What I wish to emphasize is that Buddha taught many other things besides Ahimsa. He taught as part of his religion, social freedom, intellectual freedom, economic freedom and political freedom. He taught equality, equality not between man and man only, but between man and woman. It would be difficult to find a religious teacher to compare with Buddha, whose teachings embrace so many aspects of the social life of people, whose doctrines are so modern and with main concern to give salvation to man in his life on earth and not to promise it in heaven after he is dead!

How could this ideal of spreading Buddhism be realised? Three steps appear to be quite necessary.

First : To produce a Buddhist Bible.

Second : To make changes in the organisation, aims and objects of the Bhikkhu Sangha .

Third : To set up a world Buddhist Mission.

The production of a Bible of Buddhism is the first and foremost need. The Buddhist literature is a vast literature. It is impossible to expect a person who wants to know the essence of Buddhism to wade through the sea of literature. The greatest advantage which the other religions have over Buddhism is that each has a gospel which every one can carry with him and read wherever he goes. It is a handy thing. Buddhism suffers for not having such a handy gospel. The Indian Dhammapada has failed to perform the function which a gospel is expected to. Every great religion has been built on faith. But faith cannot be assimilated if presented in the form of creeds and abstract dogmas. It needs something on which the imagination can fasten- some myth or epic or gospel- what is called in journalism, a story. The Dhammapada is not fastened around a story. It seeks to build faith on abstract dogmas.

The proposed gospel of Buddhism should contain (i) a short life of Buddha (ii) The Chinese Dhammapada (iii) Some of the important Dialogues of Buddha and (iv) Buddhist Ceremonies, birth, initiation, marriage and death. In preparing such a gospel the linguistic side of it must not be neglected. It must make the language in which it is produced live. It must become an incantation instead of being read as narrative or an ethical exposition. Its style must be lucid, moving and must produce an hypnotic effect.

There is a world’s difference between a Hindu Sannyasi and a Buddhist Bhikkhu . A Hindu Sannyasi has nothing to do with the world. He is dead to the world. A Bhikkhu has everything to do with the world. That being so the question arises, what was the purpose for which the Buddha thought of establishing the Bhikkhu Sangha ? What was the necessity for creating a separate society of Bhikkhus ? One purpose was to set up a society which would live up to the Buddhist idea embodied in the principles of Buddhism and serve as a model to the laymen. Buddha knew that it was not possible for a common man to realize the Buddhist ideal. But He also wanted that the common man should know what the ideal was and also wanted there should be placed before the common man a society of men who were bound to practice His ideals. That is why He created the Bhikkhu Sangha and bound it down by the rules of Vinaya . But there were other purpose which He had in his mind when He thought of founding the Sangha . One such purpose was to create a body of intellectuals to give the laymen true and impartial guidance. That is the reason why He prohibited the Bhikkhus from owning property. Ownership of property is one of the greatest obstacles in free thinking and application of free thought. The other purpose of Buddha in founding the Bhikkhu Sangha was to create a society the member of which would be free to do service to the people. That is why He did not want the Bhikkhus to marry.

In the Bhikkhu Sangha of today living up to these ideals?

The answer is emphatically in the negative. It neither guides the people nor does it serve them.

The Bhikkhu Sangha in its present condition can therefore be of no use for the spread of Buddhism. In the first place there are too many Bhikkhus . Of these a very large majority are merely Sadhus and Sannyasis spending their time in meditation or idleness. There is in them neither learning nor service. When the idea of service to suffering humanity comes to one’s mind every one thinks of the Ramakrishna Mission. No one thinks of the Buddhist Sangha. Who should regard service as its pious duty the Sangha or the Mission? There can be no doubt about the answer. Yet the Sangha is a huge army of idlers. We want fewer Bhikkhus and we want Bhikkhus highly educated, Bhikkhu Sangh a must borrow some of the features of the Christian priest-hood particularly the Jesuits. Christianity has spread in Asia through service-educational and medical. This is possible because the Christian priest is not merely versed in religious lore but because he is also versed in Arts and Science. This was really the ideal of the Bhikkhus of olden times. As is well known the Universities of Nalanda and Taxila were run and manned by Bhikkhus . Evidently they must have been very learned men and knew that social service was essential for the propagation of their faith. The Bhikkhus of today must return to the old ideal. The Sangha as is composed cannot render this service to the laity and cannot therefore attract people to itself.

Without a Mission Buddhism can hardly spread. As education requires to be given, religion requires to be propagated. Propagation cannot be undertaken without men and money. Who can supply these? Obviously the countries where Buddhism is a living religion. It is these countries which must find the men and money at least in its initial stages. Will these? There does not seem to be much enthusiasm in these countries for the spread of Buddhism.

On the other hand time seems quite propitious for the spread of Buddhism. There was a time when religion was part of one’s own inheritance. At one time a boy or a girl inherited the religion of his or her parent along with the property of the parent. There was no question of examining the merit and virtues of religion. Sometimes the heir did question, whether the property left by the parents was worth taking. But no heir was there to question whether the religion of his or her parents was worth having. Time seems to have changed. Many person throughout the world have exhibited an unprecedent piece of courage with regard to inheritance of their religion. Many have, as a result of the influence of scientific enquiry, come to the conclusion that religion is an error, which ought to be given up. There are others who, as a result of the Marxian teaching, have come to the conclusion that religion is opium which induces the poor people to submit to the domination of the rich and should be discarded. Whatever be the causes, the fact remains, that people have developed an inquiring mind in respect of religion. And the question whether religion is at all worth having and if so which religion is worth having, are questions which are uppermost in the minds of those who dare to think about this subject. Time has come, what is wanted is will. If the countries which are Buddhist can develop the will to spread Buddhism the task of spreading Buddhism will not be difficult. They must realize that the duty of a Buddhist is not merely to be a good Buddhist, his duty is to spread Buddhism. They must believe that to spread Buddhism is to serve mankind.[1]

[1]: Magazine ‘Maha Bodhi’: Maha Bodhi Society Journal , Culculta; Vaishak Number, Vol. 58 , May 1950.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches Vol.17 , Part 2, Section-I, Article 17. Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai, October 2003.

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Category: Dr. Ambedkar & Dalit Communities , India Tags: Dalit communities , Dr. Ambedkar , Indian Buddhism , Indian caste system

4 Comments on “ Buddha and the Future of His Religion by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar ”

I am a born Buddhist and my belief and practice of it is intrinsic whether I understood the essence of it or not. Dr Ambedkar had all the options to embrace any religion but he embraced Buddhism. This speaks that Buddhism is unparalleled and unique for the simple reason that Dr Ambedkar was a scholar and his embracing Buddhism was based on extensive comparative studies of all religions. Thank you ,,, Baba Saheb,, for reinforcing my faith in Buddhism.

The Buddha was first greatest scientist, first social reformer and upholder of gender equality. He denied Chaturvarna system for its graded inequality . His religion , Dhamma is based on Morality. Morality has first place in Dhamma. It was because of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Buddhism revived again in India and because of him only we came to know about the Buddha and his Dhamma. I am a proud Buddhist now ! Thanks Mr. Mangesh Dahiwale , Dh.Manidhamma and Ven. Bodhi Dhamma for this hard to find text .

It is an essay by which Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar elucidated the fundamentals and basics of Dhamma and depicts about towering personality of the Buddha that how the Blessed one was quite different and specific from other propagators/originators of their religions.

Thank you for sharing precious writing of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

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Thick clouds of smoke emerging from fires below fill the entire sky.

How ‘apocalypse’ became a secular as well as religious idea

essay on the religion of the future

Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science, Middlebury

essay on the religion of the future

Professor of Classics, Middlebury

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The exponential growth of artificial intelligence over the past year has sparked discussions about whether the era of human domination of our planet is drawing to a close. The most dire predictions claim that the machines will take over within five to 10 years .

Fears of AI are not the only things driving public concern about the end of the world. Climate change and pandemic diseases are also well-known threats. Reporting on these challenges and dubbing them a potential “apocalypse” has become common in the media – so common, in fact, that it might go unnoticed, or may simply be written off as hyperbole.

Is the use of the word “apocalypse” in the media significant? Our common interest in how the American public understands apocalyptic threats brought us together to answer this question. One of us is a scholar of the apocalypse in the ancient world , and the other studies press coverage of contemporary concerns .

By tracing what events the media describe as “apocalyptic,” we can gain insight into our changing fears about potential catastrophes. We have found that discussions of the apocalypse unite the ancient and modern, the religious and secular, and the revelatory and the rational. They show how a term with roots in classical Greece and early Christianity helps us articulate our deepest anxieties today.

What is an apocalypse?

Humans have been fascinated by the demise of the world since ancient times. However, the word apocalypse was not intended to convey this preoccupation. In Greek, the verb “apokalyptein” originally meant simply to uncover, or to reveal.

In his dialogue “ Protagoras ,” Plato used this term to describe how a doctor may ask a patient to uncover his body for a medical exam. He also used it metaphorically when he asked an interlocutor to reveal his thoughts.

A black and white engraving showing four horsemen striking people with their swords. Behind them a figure is seated on a throne with people bowing before him.

New Testament authors used the noun “apokalypsis” to refer to the “revelation” of God’s divine plan for the world. In the original Koine Greek version, “apokalypsis” is the first word of the Book of Revelation, which describes not only the impending arrival of a painful inferno for sinners, but also a second coming of Christ that will bring eternal salvation for the faithful.

The apocalypse in the contemporary world

Many American Christians today feel that the day of God’s judgment is just around the corner. In a December 2022 Pew Research Center Survey , 39% of those polled believed they were “living in the end times,” while 10% said that Jesus will “definitely” or “probably” return in their lifetime.

Yet for some believers, the Christian apocalypse is not viewed entirely negatively. Rather, it is a moment that will elevate the righteous and cleanse the world of sinners.

Secular understandings of the word, by contrast, rarely include this redeeming element. An apocalypse is more commonly understood as a cataclysmic, catastrophic event that will irreparably alter our world for the worse. It is something to avoid, not something to await.

What we fear most, decade by decade

Political communications scholars Christopher Wlezien and Stuart Soroka demonstrate in their research that the media are likely to reflect public opinion even more than they direct it or alter it. While their study focused largely on Americans’ views of important policy decisions, their findings, they argue, apply beyond those domains.

If they are correct, we can use discussions of the apocalypse in the media over the past few decades as a barometer of prevailing public concerns.

Following this logic, we collected all articles mentioning the words “apocalypse” or “apocalyptic” from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post between Jan. 1, 1980, and Dec. 31, 2023. After filtering out articles centered on religion and entertainment, there were 9,380 articles that mentioned one or more of four prominent apocalyptic concerns: nuclear war, disease, climate change and AI.

Through the end of the Cold War, fears of nuclear apocalypse predominated not only in the newspaper data we assembled, but also in visual media such as the 1983 post-apocalyptic film “The Day After,” which was watched by as many as 100 million Americans .

By the 1990s, however, articles linking the word apocalypse to climate and disease – in roughly equal measure – had surpassed those focused on nuclear war. By the 2000s, and even more so during the 2010s, newspaper attention had turned squarely in the direction of environmental concerns.

The 2020s disrupted this pattern. COVID-19 caused a spike in articles mentioning the pandemic. There were almost three times as many stories linking disease to the apocalypse in the first four years of this decade compared to the entire 2010s.

In addition, while AI was practically absent from media coverage through 2015, recent technological breakthroughs generated more apocalypse articles touching on AI than on nuclear concerns in 2023 for the first time ever.

What should we fear most?

Do the apocalyptic fears we read about most actually pose the greatest danger to humanity? Some journalists have recently issued warnings that a nuclear war is more plausible than we realize.

That jibes with the perspective of scientists responsible for the Doomsday Clock who track what they think of as the critical threats to human existence. They focus principally on nuclear concerns , followed by climate, biological threats and AI.

It might appear that the use of apocalyptic language to describe these challenges represents an increasing secularization of the concept. For example, the philosopher Giorgio Agamben has argued that the media’s portrayal of COVID-19 as a potentially apocalyptic event reflects the replacement of religion by science . Similarly, the cultural historian Eva Horn has asserted that the contemporary vision of the end of the world is an apocalypse without God .

However, as the Pew poll demonstrates , apocalyptic thinking remains common among American Christians.

The key point is that both religious and secular views of the end of the world make use of the same word. The meaning of “apocalypse” has thus expanded in recent decades from an exclusively religious idea to include other, more human-driven apocalyptic scenarios, such as a “nuclear apocalypse,” a “climate apocalypse,” a “COVID-19 apocalypse” or an “AI apocalypse.”

In short, the reporting of apocalypses in the media does indeed provide a revelation – not of how the world will end but of the ever-increasing ways in which it could end. It also reveals a paradox: that people today often envision the future most vividly when they revive and adapt an ancient word.

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  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Religion and society
  • COVID-19 pandemic

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United Methodists give early approval to measures that could pave new path on LGBTQ+ issues

essay on the religion of the future

  • United Methodist Church General Conference, the denomination's top legislative assembly, is gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina between April 23 - May 3.
  • An unexpected early decision on "regionalization" legislation for the denomination could refashion the church’s global structure.
  • The UMC General Conference will decide on other high-profile business next week to shape the long-term future of the denomination, including whether to remove anti-LGBTQ+ restrictions.

The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly passed key measures Thursday that could refashion the denomination's global structure — and pave the way for greater regional autonomy on LGBTQ+ issues — just days into a two-week-long gathering.

More than 700 delegates from around the world convened this week in Charlotte, North Carolina to decide on legislation expected to shape the long-term future of the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination. A proposal known as “regionalization” is among the highest profile of those decisions — in addition to the possible removal of anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

The largely Nashville-based UMC lost a quarter of its total U.S. churches in recent years due to a splintering over church policy and theology, including dealing with LGBTQ+ rights. The overwhelming approval of key regionalization-related proposals, called petitions, by delegates on Thursday is the first major sign of what many United Methodist leaders hope is a new chapter in the denomination’s life.

“Are you willing to move forward in the spirit of hope and embrace a season of reformation? Are you committed to the revitalization of the United Methodist Church?” said New York bishop Rev. Thomas Bickerton, outgoing president of the UMC Council of Bishops, in an April 23 address to the conference’s opening plenary session.  “We don’t have any time for negative narratives and personal agendas. … Friends, we got work to do.”

Guided by the principle of “decolonization,” regionalization seeks to address a power imbalance between United Methodist regional oversight in the U.S. versus that of other countries — mostly throughout Africa, the Philippines and parts of Europe. Delegates approved on Thursday five of eight key petitions that comprise the regionalization proposal to the UMC General Conference.

The most critical of those five petitions was a constitutional amendment that effectively creates an entirely new system of regional authority worldwide, thereby putting regional bodies in both the U.S. and in other countries on equal footing. The measure passed with 78% of delegates voting in favor, exceeding the necessary two-thirds threshold for a constitutional amendment.

Going forward, that constitutional amendment requires ratification from regional United Methodist bodies, a process that is expected to take a couple of years.

“Worldwide regionalization is the Kairos moment of equity, contextual ministry and simultaneously dismantling the vestiges of colonialism in the structure of the … United Methodist church,” said Filipino delegate Rev. Jonathan Ulanday during a floor debate Thursday morning.

Ulanday is part of a team and represents a region that has long supported the proposal now known as regionalization, which in essence eliminates a regional hierarchy that the Methodist church originally created in 1939 to racially segregate Black clergy and laity in the U.S. from the white population, according to the UMC General Commission on Archives & History .

“We do agree that the current structure of the united Methodist is colonial,” said Zimbabwean delegate Forbes Matonga during a floor debate on Thursday, speaking against regionalization. But Matonga opposed regionalization because it divides the African continent into different regional bodies.

“Politically speaking, this is disintegrating the voice of Africa,” Matonga said.

United Methodists in Africa have perhaps most fiercely debated regionalization, with different groups emerging to support the proposal and another instead supporting the conservative-led movement to leave the UMC, or disaffiliate.

On Thursday at the UMC General Conference, delegates passed other regionalization-related proposals by approving a consent calendar. Among those was a petition clarifying permission for regional church policy on marriage according to local customs and laws.

Ahead of the Charlotte gathering, centrist and progressive United Methodist leaders and advocacy groups supported regionalization. Meanwhile, traditionalist advocacy groups opposed regionalization partly due to its relationship with other efforts to remove anti-LGBTQ+ restrictions.

Pending delegates’ decisions next week on the remaining regionalization-related petitions and proposals to remove anti-LGBTQ+ restrictions, the U.S. church may be able to move in a more LGBTQ-affirming direction while keeping in place stricter policies on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy for more conservative parts of the world.

There was one exception to Thursday’s maneuvers aimed at holding the global denomination together: some regional bodies received permission to exit. Those regional bodies — encompassing Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — have long struggled to leave the denomination despite policies barring disaffiliation for churches outside the U.S. In a compromise to resolve that struggle, 90% of delegates approved a measure granting the bodies autonomy, which will take effect next year.

Russian Bishop Rev. Eduard Khegay expressed gratitude for his many positive experiences in the UMC in an address to delegates following the vote, repeating “Bolshoe Spasibo,” a Russian phrase expressing gratitude.

Khegay added: “On behalf of our delegation from Eurasia, I want to express gratitude for supporting our autonomous status.”

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media @liamsadams.

No Religion-Based Reservations To Muslims Till I Am Alive: PM Modi

The congress had started insulting the constitution from "day one" when it removed drawings of ramayan and mahabharat on the constitution given by br ambedkar, pm modi said..

No Religion-Based Reservations To Muslims Till I Am Alive: PM Modi

PM Modi alleged that first it was BRS which looted Telangana and now it is Congress.

Amid Congress attack that the BJP would change the Constitution and scrap reservations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday asserted that he would not let the quotas of Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs be given to Muslims on the basis of religion.

Training his guns on the Congress, he accused the grand old party of making undivided Andhra Pradesh a "laboratory of appeasement" when it was in power in 2004 and 2009, by giving reservation of BCs to Muslims and also of harbouring "hatred" towards the Constitution since its birth.

Addressing an election rally in Zaheerabad Lok Sabha constituency in Telangana, he said, "As long as Modi is alive, I will not let reservations of Dalits, Adivasis, OBC to be given to Muslims on the basis of religion." When Congress won a record number of MPs and MLAs in undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2004 and 2009, it gave the reservation of backward classes to Muslims, he claimed.

While 26 castes in Telangana have been seeking OBC status for a long time, the Congress did not approve of that but categorised Muslims as OBC "overnight", he said.

The Congress had started insulting the Constitution from "day one" when it removed drawings of Ramayan and Mahabharat on the Constitution given by B R Ambedkar, he said.

In a veiled reference to Rahul Gandhi, the PM said the "grandmother of shehzada" (former PM Indira Gandhi) crushed the Constitution and imposed emergency in the country and jailed lakhs of people in the country.

The first Prime Minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) insulted the Constitution and the second big insult was from "his grandmother" (Indira Gandhi), he alleged.

The father of 'shehzada' (a reference to former PM Rajiv Gandhi) brought a law to scare the newspapers in the country which was opposed by BJP and the media and the move had to be halted, he said.

Recalling that 'shehzada' (Rahul Gandhi) tore off copies of an ordinance brought out by the then UPA government in 2013 in a press conference, he sought to know how the former could talk about safeguarding the Constitution.

The ordinance of the Manmohan Singh government was a decision of the then cabinet which is formed by the Constitution, he said.

The constituent Assembly had decided that there will be no reservation based on religion in the country and that quotas were meant for Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs, he added.

In an apparent reference to Rahul Gandhi, he alleged that an attempt is being made to provide quotas through the backdoor "dishonestly" on the basis of religion to strengthen vote bank.

Describing the Constitution as a 'dharm grandh' (spiritual text) for him to run the government, he recalled that he had bowed while entering into Parliament in 2014 after assuming power.

The "royal family" of Congress was not ready to accept even the party's Constitution and Sitaram Kesri, who was Congress president then, was "locked in a bathroom" and "thrown on the footpath" and the "royal family" occupied the Congress party regardless of the party constitution, he charged.

The first amendment to Constitution was made by the first Prime Minister Nehru.

"They are not concerned about the Constitution. For the royal family, everything is good when power is with them. But, everything is worthless when they lose power," he added.

PM Modi announced that, in his third term in office, the 75 years of Constitution would be celebrated on a grand scale and also taking the "sins" of Congress to every street in the country.

In a veiled attack on Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy, PM Modi alleged that the money collected in the state through "double R (RR) tax" is being channelled to Delhi.

He made these comments while referring to blockbuster Telugu film titled 'RRR', which received global accolades.

Targeting the Congress party over the fake video case, he said the party has started a game of misleading people and creating tension in the society.

The Delhi Police has summoned Revanth Reddy to join its probe on May 1 in connection with Union Home Minister Amit Shah's 'doctored' video being circulated on social media.

Alleging that the Congress would impose 55 per cent inheritance tax if voted to power, PM Modi said when the whole world was economically progressing, India was suffering from policy paralysis under the previous UPA government.

"If Congress comes to power, they will bring inheritance tax. Congress is planning to collect more than half- 55 per cent as tax on inheritance (received from parents)," he claimed.

Taking a dig at the Congress, he said whenever the grand old party is in power, it has five political symbols-- first, false promises; second, vote bank politics, third, supporting mafia and criminals, fourth dynastic politics and fifth is corruption.

PM Modi further alleged that first it was BRS, which looted Telangana and now it is Congress.

Revanth Reddy has repeatedly claimed in his Lok Sabha poll campaign speeches that the BJP would change the Constitution and abolish reservations.

When in opposition, the Congress sought a probe into the 'Kaleshwaram scam' of BRS. But, the party is now sitting on the files of the scam after coming to power, PM Modi alleged.

Similarily, when the BRS was in power, it did not let the probe into the 'cash-for-vote' issue progress, he claimed.

In 2015, Revanth Reddy, who was in TDP then, was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe a nominated MLA to vote for his party's nominee in Telangana Legislative Council polls.

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PM Modi also said the "Indi (INDIA) alliance" is so desperate and disappointed today that it has lost the hope to become the authorised opposition.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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essay on the religion of the future


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