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Introduction to religious diversity:
The variety of religious beliefs worldwide, and
how people and religious groups handle it.

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Overview of religious diversity:

According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many tens of thousands of faith groups (denominations, traditions, etc.). 34,000 separate Christian faith groups have been identified worldwide. 1

These tens of thousands of religions and faith groups teach very different theological beliefs about:

In addition to the theological teachings of a religion, there are also the teachings by religions on specific topics, like:

Such diversity of religious beliefs naturally raises the question of where religious truth is to be found. To many believers, absolute religious truth is of paramount importance. To some, doubting the validity the teachings of one's faith group is considered a serious sin.

Most believers appear to regard their their own denomination or faith group as possessing the fullness of religious truth. They view other faith groups and religions as teaching at least some error. From a logical point of view, this is clearly irrational. The probability that a given person's religious group possesses the only perfectly true belief system from among many tens of thousands of belief systems active in the world, is very close to zero. However, many people beleive exactly that. Some are even willing to ride airplanes into buildings in order to promote their beliefs.

Others consider all but their own religion to be in serious error and sometimes to be in opposition to the truth. Within some fundamentalist and other evangelical Christianity denominations, other religions are sometimes referred to as being led by Satan or by some of his demons.

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Ways of looking at other religious beliefs:

There are at least four specific ways by which one can view other beliefs, denominations and religions:

bullet Extreme Particularism: This is the belief that one's own faith group, alone, possesses all of the truth, often as revealed by God. Other faith groups and religions worship demons and are led by Satan. Few, if any, of their members will be saved.

bulletExclusivism: One's own group possesses the full truth as God revealed it to them. Other religious groups are in serious error, and place the latter's members in grave peril regarding salvation.

In recent years, some theologians have objected to the term "exclusivism" because of its negative connotation. They prefer the term "particularism" Within Christianity, this belief system takes two main forms:
bullet Agnostic Particularism: Salvation is attained through belief in Christ alone as Lord and Savior. However, it may be possible for those who have not heard of Christianity, the Gospel or Jesus Christ to avoid Hell and be saved and attain Heaven after death.
bullet Traditional Particularism: Salvation is attained only through an explicit knowledge and faith in Christ. The vast majority of humans -- even those who have never heard of Jesus, Christianity, or the Gospel message -- will spend eternity being tortured in Hell

bullet Inclusivism: One's own group possesses the truth; other religious groups contain parts of the truth. The latter's believers are less likely to be saved.

bullet Pluralism: All group's beliefs and practices are valid, when interpreted within their own culture. Salvation is for all.

Speaking very generally, within most of the world's main religions:

bullet The liberal/progressive wing accepts pluralism,

bullet The conservative wing teaches inclusivism, and

bullet The very conservative wing believes in exclusivism, and

bullet The fundamentalist wing teaches extreme particularism.
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Meanings of "religious pluralism:"

Unfortunately, the term "religious pluralism" has multiple, largely unrelated, meanings. It can refer to :

  • The belief that the teachings of two or more religions may conflict, but be equally valid within their own culture. This is the meaning that we generally use in this web site.

  • The belief that truth exists both in one's own religion and in other religions as well.

  • A synonym of Perennialism: the concept that different religions may have claims that seem to be very different, but actually are based on a single, universal truth.

  • A synonym of Ecumenism and Ecumenicalism: promoting cooperation and understanding either among different religions or among faith groups within a single religion.

  • A synonym of religious diversity: that there exists a variety of religious beliefs in a given country or geographic area. Thus, religious pluralism in North America -- in the sense of the U.S. and Canada being religiously diverse -- is a statement of fact.

An alternate way of looking at religious diversity from a personal viewponit:

A person's religious affiliation is often an accident of birth, as shown by this thought-provoking image donated by Global Caring Ethics:

Community 2000 Trust image 3

If a person is born in Saudi Arabia, they would almost certainly hold very conservative Muslim beliefs in adulthood; in Alabama: conservative Protestant Christian; in Thailand: Buddhist; in much New England and Europe: secular. One's religious beliefs can be the result of pure chance. If a stork is blown off course by a wind while delivering babies, the baby might well grow up into a very different religion.

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Reference used in the above essay:

The hyperlink below was used to prepare the above essay, but is not necessarily still valid today.

  1. book cover image David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book

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Home page Religious Information > Reaction to diversity > here

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Copyright 2001 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-AUG-07
Latest update and review: 2014-AUG-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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