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According to Wikipedia, Approximately 32% of the World’s population, or about 2.4 billion people, are Christians.  About 1 billion of these are Roman Catholic, the largest single religion on the planet, with Muslims (Islam) close behind at 23%.

Religions in the United States

This information comes from J Gordon Melton’s book, “The Encyclopaedia of American Religions”, McGrath Publishing, NC, USA 1978.  This two volume set provides details on some 1200 churches throughout the USA.  He defines three types of religious bodies:

  • Primary religious bodies (churches)
  • Secondary religious bodies (which serve the primary)
  • Tertiary, which try to change the primary

Characteristics of a church are:

  • Seek loyalty of its members
  • Size (must have at least two congregations, one of which must have more than 2000 members)
  • Faith
  • Usually, they hope to grow and expand their congregation

Major Religious Currents

Theism – considers the universe to be the work of a personal God behaving towards His creation as a Father would towards his children, eg Judaism and Christianity.

Pantheism – considers God to be an impersonal Intelligence which is behind everything that was, is and will be. God, the creative intelligence, is ever present and therefore not removed from all that is created. Sees God as an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent cause.

Monotheism – belief in the existence of a sole God, usually a personal one, creator of both visible and invisible worlds. The Divinity is not considered distinct from the creation. Akhenaten founded the first monotheistic religion based on the sun.

Polytheism – based on a belief in several gods, each one having a special role to play in creation. Early civilisations had religions of this type, eg Greek and Roman religions with Mars, Venus, Aphrodite, etc.

Monism – consider the visible universe to be a coherent and organised whole which can be reduced to a single invisible Principle called God. They consider the Deity to be the only object worthy of interest, and pay little attention to the material world. Oriental religions are often of this type.

Dualism – belief in a benevolent God who is constantly opposed by a malevolent entity (eg Satan). eg Zoroastrianism.

Pluralism – see God not as a unique Principle but a collection of principles each having equal importance. Does not consider a single cause to have created the universe, but several distinct causes which, when combined, gave rise to the world. So the soul, consciousness and existence are seen as three separate independent factors which united to express God.

Deism – consider a sole God who created the world, was separate from it, and the left the world to its own devices. Deists are more interested in the creation than the creator. Believe that all results come from the action of natural law.

Religious Organisations in the USA

I am going to use the classifications of religions from Gordon Melton’s book as a table of contents for religious movements.  Although primarily USA focused, and slightly dated, the coverage is excellent including New Age religions.

1 Liturgical Family (Western)
  • Old Catholic movement.  Origins around 303 AD, and now about 30 separate churches in the USA.  Officially split from Eastern Orthodox in 1054 AD.
  • Anglican, which began in the 16th Century when Henry VIII disagreed with the pope over marriage and money matters.  Also known as the Church of England, and about 9 types of Anglican churches in USA.
2 Eastern Liturgical
  • Eastern Orthodox.  Chiefly from the Mediterranean regions.  About 30 church types, including Russian, Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, Syrian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, etc.
3 Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox
  • Nestorians (after monk Nestorius, 428 AD, patriarch of Constantinople at the time)
  • Monophysites.  5th century AD origin – Armenian and Syrian.
  • Copts – once the church in Egypt.  Decline in popularity since 451 AD.  In Ethiopia since 4 AD.
4 Lutheran.  16th Century, based on teaching of Martin Luther.  15 church types in USA.
  • Apostolic Lutherans – from Lapland, Sweden
5 Reformed Presbyterian Family – based on John Calvin, Geneva 1540’s.  Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregational types.  Especially popular in Scotland.
  • 9 church types in USA.
6 Liberal – 13 types in USA.  Unitarianism, universalism, infidelism.  Influencers include William Ellery Channing, Ralpha Waldo Emmerson, Theodore Parker.
  • Atheism, eg Karl Marx, Percy Byssche Shelley (poet), Bertrand Russell, AJ Ayer, Aldous Huxley, Madalyn Murray O’Hair current leading US Atheist leader.
7 Pietiest-Methodist.  Pietist was a 17th century reaction to Protestantism.
  • Moravian – John Huss 1369 – 1415 (Roman Catholic priest)
  • Methodism – John Wesley, 1703 – 1791.   Black and German types.
8 Holiness and related churches.  Primary focus is perfection.
  • General Eldership, John Winebrumner, 1830.
  • Church of God
  • Wesleyan Church
  • Faith Mission Church
  • Salvation Army, William Booth 1878
  • American Rescue Workers
  • Volunteers of america
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Undenominational Church of God
  • Missionary Methodist
  • Emmanuel Association
  • + many other types
9 Pentecostal Family.  Known for speaking in tongues (Glossolalia).  Zenoglossia is talking in a foreign language previously unknown to the person – rare, but has been documented (explanations unknown).
  • 25 holiness-Pentecostal churches, especially large in Santiago and Sao Paulo, South America.
  • two experience churches.  The three experiences are Justification (born again, recognising Jesus as saviour), Sanctification (second blessing, permanently holy – which is not a requirement in two experience church), Baptism of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues).
  • Assemblies of God
10 Free Churches
  • Mennites – Menno Simon 1496-1561, Dutch
  • Amish.  Jacob Amman, part of Mennonite church, split 1632.
  • Brethren.  1708, Alexander Mack.
  • Quakers – George Fox 1624 – 1691.
11 Baptist.  Second largest church in US after Catholics.  Free church.  History not clear, some claiming link to John the Baptist, or Men of Munster 1522.
  • Calvinist – missionary Baptists
  • Calvinist Anti-Mission Baptists
  • Seventh Day, 1617.  John Trask, UK.
  • Christadelphian – 1844, Dr John Thomas
12 Independant Fundamentalist
  • Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby 1820
  • Fundamentalism – 1910
  • Grace Gospel Movement
13 Adventist – William Miller, 1840’s.  Believe in the end of the world, second coming, and the chosen ones.  The Great Disappointment occurred in 1844, when the expected end of the world didn’t happen!
  • 7th Day Adventist – Mrs Ellen G White, 1860, after the Great Disappointment.
  • Church of God
  • Sacred Name Movement (YHWH)
  • Jehovas Witness (1931):  one of Charles Taze Russell’s (1852 – 1916) bible student groups.
14 Latter Day Saints Family
  • Jospeh Smith, 1830.  Utah Mormons.
  • Several other orders, including some polygamy practicing groups
15 Communal Family (Communes)
  • Hutterites, 1528.  Many splinter groups.
  • 13 types formed after 1961.
16 Metaphysical Family.  New thought groups.   Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, 1802 – 1866, a clock-maker from Belfast, Maine.   Interest in magnetism, after Franz Anton Mesmer (hence mesmerism), Austrian Physicist.
  • Unity School of Christianity, 1889
  • Today Church, 1969
  • United Church of Religious Science, 1917
  • and 31 other types
  • Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science, 1821 – 1910.
17 New Age – recognition of psychic powers
  • Swedenborg, 1688.  Showed clairvoyance and other powers
  • Spiritualism.  About 50 types.  Science, Philosophy and Religion of continuous life.  Began in 1843 by Andrew Jackson Davis, building upon work of Swedenborg and Franz Anton Mesmer.   Seance based.
  • Teaching Spiritualism.  Many types, including:  Urantia Foundation (1950, Illinois, 2097 page book); Morse Fellowship, Word Foundation, American Grail Foundation, Light of the Universe.
  • The Universal Link, 1961.  Includes New Age Teachings, formed by Illiana (born 1922) heavily influenced by work of Paramahansa Yogananda.   Other variant groups.
  • Cosmic Awareness (10 types)
  • Theosophy – Founded in 1873 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831 – 1891) and Henry Steele Olcott.  Met Annie Besant in 1887, and joined by Charles W Leadbeater in 1883 (his life marred by allogations of teaching young boys masturbation in 1906, also the abandonment of the movement by Krishnamurti).
  • Alice Bailey – originally Alice La Trobe Bateman, born in 1880.  Met Kuthumi in her teen years, and in 1919 made contact with Djwhal Khul.  Founded the Arcane school in 1923, which splintered after her death in 1949.  The Beacon has been published since 1922 (The Triangle Society founded in 1937).  Also:  School of Esoteric Studies 1950; Meditation Group of the New Age 1950, Arcana Workshops; Aquarian Education Group 1955; School of Light and Realization 1969 (links to Coptic groups).
  • Liberal Catholicism, 1915.  Theosophy attracted old Catholic Bishops, started by James Ingall Wedgewood.
  • I AM Movement.  Founded in 1930’s by Guy and Edna Ballard.  Ballard a mining engineer on Mt Shasta, met St Germain on the slopes.  (Godfrey Ray King was the nome-de-plume of Guy Ballard).   Influenced by Spalding’s Life & Teachings of the Masters of the Far East.  Led on to:  Bridge to Freedom, 1954; Summit Lighthouse 1958 (Elizabeth Claire Prophet); Sacred Society of Eth; Solega 1959; Sactuary of the Masters Presence; Association of Sananda & Sanat Kumara, Thedra 1954; Ruby Focus of Magnificent Consumation, 1960’s; Christs Truth Church & School of Wisdom 1968, Teachings of the Angelic Host within Kingdom of Heaven; Ascended Master Fellowship.
  • 5 or 6 other groups
  • New Angelus.  Lady Elizabeth Carey founded in 1943, based on the Great White Brotherhood.  White Lodge; Oasis Fellowship (Elawa, Malala, Yeban); Bodha Seociety of US; Philo-Polytechnical Centre; Lighted Way; Agni Yoga Society (Prof N Roerich, Helena Roerich, 1920’s), Open Way.
  • Rosicrucians – at least 5 types in the USA.  Roots back to Egypt and the Great White Lodge, the ancient Mediterranean Basin.  CR and the 1400’s book “Discovery of the Most Laudable Order fo the Rosy Cross” (CR is probably a fictional character).  Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, 1868, by Paschal Beverly Randolph; Societas Rosicruciana in America, 1865, Robert Wentworth Little; Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1907, Carl Louisvan Grasshof (Max Heindel), Theosophy related; AMORC, 1915 by H Spencer Lewis (OTO affiliated) who operate a university; Lectorium Rosicrucianum, 1971.
  • Others:  Astara, 1951, Robert & Evelyn Chaney, spiritualists, Evelyn discovered Kuthumi at an early age; Mayan Order; Brotherhood of the White Temple, 1930 by Doreal; Philosophical Research Society, 1934 Manly Palmer Hall; Soulcraft Inc, William Dudley Pelley 1890 – 1965; Church of Light, 1932, LA Elbert Benjamine (links to Brotherhood of Light, and Egypt 2400 BC); Lemurian Fellowship, 1936, Chicago, books include “A Dweller on Two Planets”, “The Sun Rises”, “The Early Dweller Returns”, founded by Robert D Steele; Stelle Group, 1953, a break-off group from the Lemurian Fellowship; Holy Order of Mans, 1961 (Mysterion, Agape, Nous, Sophia); Sabian Assembly.
  • Drug Oriented Groups.  Amanita muscaria, magic mushroom.  Also LSD (1938 by Dr Alber Hofmas, d-lysergic acid diethylamide); Neo-American Church,, 1964, Arthur Kleps; Native American Church, 1906, using Peyote (small dried cactus); Church of the Awakening, 1963, John W Aiken & Louisa Aiken; Church of the Tree of Life, 1971.
  • Flying Saucer Groups, 1947, 24 June Kenneth Arnold saw 9 bright disks, and many sightings in 1952 in Washington.  Adamski (contactee); Mark Age 1960; Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, George Hunt Williamson, Lake Titicaca & Great White Brotherhood; Star Light Fellowship; Universarium Foundation 1958; Ministry of Universal Wisdom 1953; White Star; Understanding Inc; Aetherius Society 1953 (George King); Solar Light Centre; Unarius; Cosmic Star Temple, etc.
  • Unclassified Groups:  Chirothesian Church of Euth, 1917; Coptic; Church of Scientology, 1952 by Ron Hubbard (Dianetics); Inner Peace Movement, 1964; ECKANKAR, 1965, Master paul Twitchell, 971st Mahanta (Sikh related); Arica Institute, Oscar Ichazo, 1973 (Enneagram related); Essene Centre, 1972, Hot Springs, Arkansas..
  • Magick Family.  Dates back to Knights Templar 1118, Hugh de Payens and Geoffrey de Saint Omer.  Refined by Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, A E Waite.   Kabbalistic roots.  OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis).  Builders of the Adytum, 1920, Paul Case, and in 1943 met Ann Davis who continued the work.
  • Witchcraft.  Concerned with spells and nature.  African (voodoo); Traditional include Covens, Church of Wyccan Rede.
  • Neo-Paganism.  Drawn more to Norse Gods and Isis (rather than spells as in Witchcraft).
  • Satanism – Anton LeVey.  Influenced heavily by Crowley.  7 – 8 types.
18 Jewish Faith.
  • Orthodox Judaism
  • Hasidism
  • Havurat Communites
  • Black Jews
19 Islam – foudned in 622 by Mohammed
  • Black Muslims
  • Orthodox Muslims (Sunni, Shi’a)
  • Sufism – Al-Hasan of Basra, 643-728 was an early practitioner
  • Gurdjieff.  George Ivonovitch Gurdjieff, 1872 – 1949, Russian Sufi teacher (see also Subud below, which was picked up and promoted by J G Bennett, a Gurdjieff student).
  • Baha’ism – Mirza Ali Muhammed, 1819-1850.
20 Eastern.
  • Hinduism:  US Vedanta Society (Sri Ramakrishna, 1836 – 1886); Ananda, Swami Paramananda; Self Realization Fellowship; Self Revelation Church of Absolute Monism (Swami Paramananda related); Temple of Kriya Yoga (Melvin Higgins, student of Yogananda); Prema Dharmasala; Ananda Meditation Retreat, J Donald Walters, 1967 (student of Yogananda).
  • Sivananda, 1887 – 1963:  Integral Yoga Institute (Swami Satchidananda); True World Order (Swami Vishnu Devananda, b 1927), Holy Shankaracharya Order.
  • Siddha Yoga:  Swami Muktananda (met Nityananda at age 15, in 1923); Shree Gurudev Rudrananda Yoga Ashram, 1938 – 1973 (disciple of Nityananda); Dawn Horse Fellowship; Kripolu Yoga Ashram; Krishna Consciousness (AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1896 – 1977); Sai Foundation (Sai Baba); Sri Aurobindo; Sri Chinmy Kumar Ghose; Krishnamurti; Babaji Kriya Yoga Ashram (Yogi SAA Ramaih); Transcendental Meditation (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi); Arunchala (Sri Ramana Maharishi); Ananda Marga, 1955 (Prabhat Ranjan Sanker, b 1921, problem in 1972 with political activism); Tantric; Hanuman Foundation; Kundalini Research Foundation (Krishna Gopi); Swami Kuvalyanananda Foundation (Patanjali based); Sri Ram Ashram, 1967, Swami Abhayandanda); Sri Ma Anandamayi Monateri; Rajneesh.
  • Sikhism – Nanak, 1469 – 1539.
  • Jainism – 6th BC, Vardhaman Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, 599 – 527 BC.
  •  Subud – founded in the 1930’s by an Indonesian Mohammad Subuh Somohadiwidjojol. The central aspect of Subud is the Lathihan Kejiwaan (Spiritual Exercise).
21 Buddhism – Buddha obtained enlightenment in 523 BC, died in 480 BC of dysentry.
  • Theraveda; Japanese Mahayana Buddhism; Zen Buddhism (Bodhidharma, who died in AD 534.   Spread from India to China); Chinese Buddhists, Confucius, 551 BC – 479 BC, including Kwan Yin; Tibetan Buddhism; Western Buddhists.
  • Shinto – 6th century organisation from native folk religions
  • Zoroastrainism – 7th century Persian prophet, Anura Mazda.
22 Unaffiliated
  • Jesus people
  • Gay people
  • Mail-order:  Unviersal Life, and other groups
  • Political/social groups
  • etc.
23 Hawaiian
  • Hoomana Naauoa O Hawaii
  • Church of the Living God
  • Ka Hale Hoano Hou O Ke Akua
  • Kealaokalamalama