Introduction to the world's oldest religions

What do Hindus believe?

Although many religions claim that their teachings are unchanging for entire eras, spiritual traditions have come and gone over the centuries, just as empires have. While ancient beliefs such as Manichaeism, Mithraism, and Tengrianism have all but disappeared, some of the oldest religions and rituals still exist. Knowing the history of these religions can help you make your own travel map of places of religious significance. Below you will find information about cultures and the oldest religious practices in the world.

Hinduism (founded around the 15th to 5th century B.C.)

Hinduism, despite having no single organisation or clearly defined belief system, brings together many people, known as Hindus, who follow common values and traditions. One of the main aspects of this religion is the belief in sacred texts known as the Vedas, written between the 15th and 5th centuries B.C. in the Indian subcontinent. The Vedas are considered the oldest sources of Hinduism's teachings and serve as the foundation of its beliefs. Over time, Hinduism has become a flexible and diverse tradition, able to adapt to various changes and developments. Today, there are approximately one billion people in the world who practice Hinduism.

Zoroastrianism (10th to 5th century B.C.)

The ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, also known as Mazdayasna, begins in the Indo-Iranian tradition and dates back to the 2nd millennium BC. It was formed on the basis of the teachings of Zarathustra, a prophet and reformer who, according to various historical sources, lived somewhere between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C. It is important to note that the exact dates of his life are controversial among historians.

Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on many aspects of the Abrahamic religions and was the state religion of several Persian empires until the arrival of the Muslims in the seventh century B.C. In spite of this conquest, Zoroastrianism has continued to exist in some areas of Iran, India, and Iraq to the present day. According to some estimates, about 200,000 people adhere to it.


It is interesting to note that three particular religious traditions of the Kurds - Yazidism, Goranism and Ishik Alevitism - are united under the general term Yazdanism or "cult of angels". They have a peculiar combination of Islam with Hurrian and Zoroastrian antecedents. These creeds combine the teachings of the Abrahamic prophets with the concept of reincarnation and the belief in seven "angels" protecting the world from evil. These creeds are imbued with the beautiful and wise expressions of Zoroastrianism, making them as old, if not older, than the Zoroastrian faith itself.

Judaism (9th to 5th centuries B.C.)

It is important to note that Judaism, the basis of all Abrahamic religions and one of the oldest monotheistic cults, originated in antiquity in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, originally appearing in the Levant around the 9th century C.E. This religion evolved over time from the worship of a polytheistic state god to the worship of the one "true" God described in the Bible. In the sixth century C.E., Judaism took its present form. It is currently practised by approximately 11-14 million people. However, its successors, Christianity (1st century C.E.) and Islam (7th century C.E.), have become the most widespread religions in the world, with a total of 3.8 billion adherents.

What do Jainists believe?

Jainism (8th to 2nd centuries B.C.)

Jainism, once the dominant religion in the Indian subcontinent until the emergence of reformed Hinduism in the 7th century C.E., has rather obscure origins. Its followers profess a belief in tirthankaras, omniscient preachers of the Jain path who are noted for their asceticism and self-discipline. The last two tirthankaras, well-known historical figures are Parshvanatha (8th century C.E.) and Mahavira (599 - 527 B.C.). However, archaeological evidence for the existence of Jainism dates back only to the second century B.C. It is estimated that the number of Jains in the world is about six to seven million.

Confucianism (6th to 5th centuries B.C.)

Like Buddhism, Confucianism has its founder, the Chinese politician, teacher, and philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Confucius himself claimed to be carrying on a tradition from a distant golden age.

Although Confucianism is the most humanistic and less supernatural of all the teachings listed, it still incorporates elements of the supernatural world (such as Heaven, the Almighty, and divination) inspired by Chinese folk traditions. Since its teachings were collected in the Analects a generation or two after Confucius' death, Confucianism has gone through various periods of popularity and unpopularity in China, remaining one of the leading influences on modern Chinese folk religion. The number of strict Confucians is variously estimated at around six million.

Buddhism (6th to 5th centuries B.C.)

Unlike many other religions, Buddhism has a relatively clear history: its beginning is linked to one man, Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha. He lived in the north of the Indian subcontinent, probably in modern-day Nepal, sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries C.E. and founded and led his own monastic order, one of many sects known as shramanas that existed in the region at the time. His teachings began to be systematised shortly after his death, and to this day are followed by at least 400 million people, although there is considerable diversity in the interpretation and practice of Buddhism.

Taoism (6th to 4th century B.C.)

Taoism has its roots in a text attributed to the mythical Lao-tzu, who is said to have lived at the same time as Confucius. This text, known as the Tao De Jing, has the oldest known edition, which dates back to the fourth century B.C.. The religion evolved from traditional Chinese folk religion, referring to masters and teachings that existed long before its formal establishment. These include the godlike Yellow Emperor, who is said to have ruled from 2697-2597 B.C., and the I Ching, a system of divination dating from 1150 B.C. Currently, it is estimated that about 170 million Chinese people identify themselves as Taoists, and about 12 million believers follow it consistently.

What do Shintoists believe?

Shintoism (3rd century B.C. to 8th century C.E.)

Although Shintoism was not officially recognised until 712 B.C. in response to contact with mainland religions such as Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, it is a direct continuation of the animistic folk religion of Yayoi. The culture of this religion spread from northern Kyushu to the rest of Japan from the third century C.E. onwards. Shintoism now represents the basis of ancient Japanese mythology, with a strong influence from Buddhism, and is appealed to by the vast majority of the Japanese population (although only a small number regard it as an organised religion). Japan has many wonderful festivals such as Kanda Matsuri, the Awa Dance Festival, and many other religious traditions.

A note on methodology

The approach to determining the age of religion depends on how we define religion. All spiritual systems have their roots in beliefs going back thousands of years. The main differences between them lie in their codification, their general unity and the age of their broader precepts.

Animistic and shamanic traditions are not included here, nor are modern revivals of ancient religions such as Neopaganism or Mexicayotl. Both of these traditions have long been eradicated and may differ significantly from their original concepts.

Neither takes into account atheism, which, despite not admitting to being organised, has been around since at least the sixth century B.C. However, it is unfair to exclude these ancient religions from the discussion or to disregard their religious stereotypes.

Questions and Answers

Q: Which religions are considered to be the oldest in the world?
A: Some of the oldest religions in the world include Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Yazdanism, Judaism, Jainism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism. All of them have thousands of years of history and influence on the development of human culture and civilisation.

Q: What are the main features of the oldest religions?
A: The world's oldest religions are often based on mythology, rites, rituals and beliefs that reflect ancient societies' worldviews and ideas about nature, the cosmos, gods and human destiny.

Q: What achievements and contributions to the development of culture and civilisation have the oldest religions made?
A: The world's oldest religions have made significant contributions to the cultural, ethical and philosophical foundations of various civilisations. They have contributed to the development of art, literature, morals and social norms, as well as influenced political and social institutions.


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