What People Believe in Atlas of the World's Great Religions

SPIEGEL presents an atlas of the world's religions -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Eastern faiths as well as religious trends in Germany.

Danish newspaper cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed spark outrage in the Islamic world. Christian fundamentalists in the United States banish Darwin's theory of evolution from the classroom. Cologne is besieged by worshipers wanting to pray with Pope Benedict XVI on World Youth Day. Just a few years ago, not many would have dared to predict this religious revival. The widespread belief was that faith would be shunted to the sidelines, steamrollered by science in an increasingly rational world.

In a new series, SPIEGEL journalists and leading thinkers explore the growing impact of the great religions on culture, politics and society. The following is an accompanying dossier of the those great religions.


There are about 2 billion Christians in the world today. The religion derives its name from Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher, who lived 2000 years ago in the Roman province of Palestine. Jesus' ministry - above all in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee - lasted at most three years. He was crucified around 30 C.E.

Through the ministries of his disciples and their successors, Christianity spread rapidly within the Roman Empire, where the Emperor Constantine decreed it the official state religion around 380. Global colonization by the Christian countries, which always entailed missionary work, made Christianity the world religion with the largest following. Over the course of its history, it has split up into numerous churches and sects.

The Roman Catholic Church is Christianity's largest denomination. With more than 1 billion members, it accounts for more than half of all Christians. In addition, there are nearly half a billion Protestants and Anglicans, and more than 150 million Orthodox Church members. The Catholic Church is rooted in the West and focused around the central and southern part of Europe. But only about one-quarter of all Catholics live in Europe today. Most of them are found in the Southern Hemisphere; in South America and the Philippines, Catholics even account for the majority of the population.

The churches that adhere to the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther are called Lutheran. Those that follow the teachings of the Swiss reformers Calvin and Zwingli are known as Reformed churches. Lutherans are found mainly in Germany and Scandinavia, Reformed churches principally in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Scotland, Hungary, France and North America.

Christianity is, however, facing major changes around the world. The Catholic Church is likely to diminish in strength. While it will remain the most powerful denomination, it is growing more slowly than the global population, and losing many of its members to Protestant and independent churches in Latin America and elsewhere. Catholics still account for 17 percent of the world's population, but that share is expected to shrink to 12 percent by 2035. Christianity is booming in Africa and Asia, in particular, but the new adherents there are increasingly organized in independent communities. Within 40 years, nearly 80 percent of all Catholics may be living in non-Western countries.


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