Teaching Students About Timeline of World Religions

What is the Timeline of World Religions?

There are approximately 4,300 religions practiced around the world today. A timeline of world religions aims to present those religions chronologically from oldest to newest.

Religious or Spiritual inclinations and practices date back to prehistoric times, before the invention of writing by the ancient Sumerians in around 3500 to 3000 BCE (Before Common Era). Archaeological finds indicate that prehistoric humans practiced spirituality, but much of the evidence is continually debated today – there are a lot of competing theories!

However, due to the invention of writing and the documentation of sacred texts, modern historians have been able to put an approximate date to the beginning of the top 6 major religions of today. We can put them in chronological order, creating a brief timeline of world religions.

2300 BCE to 1500 BCE – Hinduism

There is some debate over the exact starting point of Hinduism, as many of their original scriptures and traditions are not dated. However, scholars estimate that Hinduism was founded in Pakistan between 2300 BCE and 1500 BCE, making this belief system the oldest religion still practiced today.

It is estimated that 900 million people worldwide follow Hinduism, making it the third most popular religion on our timeline of world religions.

The primary sacred texts of Hinduism are called Vedas, a collection of hymns and prayers containing revelations from ancient saints:

  • The Rig Veda
  • The Samaveda
  • Yajurveda
  • Arthavadeda

Hindus believe these texts are sacred truths and transcend all the time. They also worship many gods and goddesses but think that there is one supreme God responsible for the creation of the world and present in all living things, Brahma.

Worship of the Gods, or puja, takes place in a temple called a Mandir. Hindus can go to the Mandir any time, any day, and worship at home. Many Hindus have shrines in their homes dedicated to one or a number of the gods and routinely offer them gifts of flowers and oils.

600 BCE to 500 BCE – Judaism

Judaism began in the Middle East some 4000 years ago, but much like Hinduism, there has been much debate over the actual founding period. Finally, in the 1800s, biblical scholars settled that what we now recognize as the Jewish faith or Judaism, was formed in the 5th century BCE.

Judaism was arguably the first monotheistic religion to surface in our history, meaning they were the first to worship and recognize one God at the center of all things.

It is estimated that around 14 million Jewish people live by their faith and values today. Their religion is not just a belief system but a way of life, law, culture, and tradition.

The Jewish sacred text is called Tanakh. It’s compiled of the same Bible books as the Old Testament but arranged slightly differently. The first five books of the Tanakh are called The Torah, which outlines Jewish law.

It is important to note that, throughout history, Judaism and the Jewish peoples have been subject to persecution and attempts of outright annihilation for their beliefs. The most recent was the infamous Nazi Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews.

After the destruction of their two temples in Jerusalem, Jewish communities came together in local Synagogues to worship their god. As a result, there are 454 synagogues in the UK today.

Their holy day of rest is called Shabbat, which begins on Friday evenings and ends on Saturday evenings. Shabbat is a time for the Jewish community to take a break from tiring labor and remember the biblical story in which their god worked hard for six days creating the world and took a rest on the seventh day. They commonly begin Shabbat with the lighting of candles and recital of blessings.

600 BCE to 400 BCE – Buddhism

Buddhism was founded in India by a spiritual teacher known as “the Buddha” somewhere between the fifth and fourth century BCE, more than 2,500 years ago. His teachings formed the basis of the Buddhist faith’s philosophies, practices, and traditions.

Buddhism, similarly to Hinduism, teaches the importance of reincarnation, the cycle of death, and the soul’s rebirth. They believe this cycle will end only through transcending the self and its wants, meditation, and following Buddhist practice to cleanse the soul.

In Tibetan Buddhism, a leading monk called the Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the original Lama as he agreed to be continuously born again after death to help humanity. There have been 14 Dalai Lamas up to the present day.

1st Century CE – Christianity

Christianity developed from Judaism, and its founding marks the 1st Century of the Common Era. Christianity is formed around the life, death, and teachings of a man named Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples.

There are approximately 2 billion followers of Christianity, the world’s most widely practiced organized religion. The spread of Christianity from its origins to the rest of the planet is considered the most successful religious movement in history.

Similar to Judaism, Christianity is a monotheistic religion. They believe there is one all-powerful God in three forms:

  • The Father
  • The Son
  • The Holy Spirit

The Son, Jesus Christ, is said to be sent from God to save humanity from our sins (bad choices and actions) and bring us closer to God. Christians believe our relationship with God was restored through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The sacred text of Christianity is called The Bible, which is split into the Old and New. The Old Testament is divided into five books and is believed by Christians and Jews to be the sacred word of God. The New Testament focuses on the life, death, and teachings of Jesus.

The Christian calendar has several Saint days and celebrations, the most important of them being Christmas (the birth of Jesus) and Easter (the death and resurrection of Jesus). For Christians, these two events are a time for communities and families to celebrate with each other, give to others and remember Jesus’ sacrifice to save humanity.

Places of Christian worship are familiar in England; they are called Churches. Typically, Christians will gather every Sunday to sing hymns, pray and listen to passages of the Bible read by the local priest.

7th Century CE – Islam

Regarding following, Islam is the second largest religion on our timeline of world religions. Followers of Islam are called Muslims, and there are 1.8 billion practicing Muslims worldwide.

Islam was founded in Mecca, modern-day Saudi Arabia, in the 7th Century, built on the revelations and messages of a prophet named Muhammad. Muslims are also monotheistic and believe God sent Muhammad to spread the teachings of their faith to humanity. An angel visited him while he meditated in a cave and was chosen to spread the sacred word of Allah (God).

The most sacred text in the Islamic faith is called the Koran (Qur’an/Quran). The Koran is written in first person, as if Allah himself wrote it, and is believed to have been written by scribes of Muhammed as Muhammed never learned to read or write.

Muslims hold five basic principles in the Islamic faith essential to their practice and way of life. They are called the Five Pillars.

16th Century CE – Sikhism

Last but not least in our timeline of world religions is Sikhism.

Around 500 years ago, the Sikh faith was founded in Punjab, South Asia, by a man called Guru Nanak. At the time, Hinduism and Islam were the predominant faiths in Asia. Then, guru (meaning teacher) Nanak began preaching something completely new.

There are 25 million Sikhs today, and they believe in one God under whom everyone is equal.

Nine other Gurus followed Nanak and developed faith alongside him. Together, they taught their communities that God resides over them to guide and protect them and emphasized that it is essential to living a good life – the way of doing so is through your actions. The five basic principles of this belief are:

  • Keep God in your mind and heart every day
  • To live an honest existence and work hard
  • To treat everyone equally
  • To be generous to those who are less fortunate
  • To live to serve others

The holy book of Sikhism is called the Guru Granth Sahib. It comprises a collection of teachings from the ten original Gurus of Sikhism and Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim saints. This book is held so sacred in the Sikh faith that it is stored on a pedestal in Sikh places of worship, and followers remove their shoes before stepping near it.

The Sikh place of worship is the Gurdwara, a gateway to the Guru. It is where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept. In the UK, Sikhs go to the Gurdwara on Sundays to worship, listen to scripture, and chant prayers together as a community.

At the end of Sunday service, the community shares a meal called a Langar, where everyone is welcome.

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