Religions are often classified by their notion of God or gods. The vocabulary that is often used is Monotheism, Polythesim, Pantheism and Nontheism. These pages use this vocabulary but not really as a classification system. Just as the Origin page does not really allow for pantheism, the belief that the universe is identical with divinity which is often a feature the Dharmic religions. This page does not use Monotheism as a category, rather the three schools of religion: Abrahamic, Dharmic and Taoic. The major world religions could be classified as follows:

  • Abrahamic: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
  • Dharmic: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism
  • Taoic: Shinto, Taoism, Caodaism, Chondogyo, Confucianism

Many replace Abrahamic in this list with Monotheistic and include Zoroastrianism, Sikhism and Baha'i in that category. While this is true conceptually there is no clear relationship between Zoroastrianism and the Abrahamic faiths other than the concept of one God. (I have also seen other authors put Zoroastrianism in the list of Dharmic religions.) At this stage I am not committing myself to either caterization. Sikhism is also monotheistic and may have inherited something from Abraham through what some say are its partial Islamic roots. It is more commonly placed with the Dharmic faiths as above. The Baha'i faith is also out of Persia and it emphasizes the unity of all religions. It is generally considered to be an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. The time line shows it originating in 1844. If it were not for its synchronicity with other non-Abrahamic faiths might well fit with the Abrahamic faiths. Caodaism is also monotheistic, but most say that it is a synchronistic system more at home with the Taoic religions.

There are also many religious traditions left out of the above list. It would be hard to make the list complete. Clearly missing are what are called traditional religions by many. These religions are generally have few adherents and no written scriptures. They do not fit here which speaks more to this classification system, and perhaps my scholarship, then their relevance to the topic of religions generally.

Abrahamic Religions

The Abrahamic religions are so called because they can be traced to a common founder; Abraham. These include Judaism, Christianity and Islam. By most reckonings Abraham was born around 2000 BC in Haran which is in present day Iraq.

In the Abrahamic faiths the concept of God is is at once transcendent and immanent. Transcendent in that He is totally other and incompressible yet immanent enough to reveal Himself through the prophets. It is difficult to over emphasize the importance of this self-revelation. In this self-revelation, God reveals His person and the rules for acceptable behavior in society.

Dharmic Religions

The Dharmic religions are said to have originated in the Indian subcontinent and are centered there today. They have spread to other regions around the world, especially Southeast and East Asia. Dharmic religions focus around the concept of Dharma, a Sanskrit word meaning law, duty or fixed decree.

Their concept of God is more remote, perhaps even thought of as a life force. There are some who say that Hinduism is at its root monotheistic yet there is a pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Many Buddhists reject these gods generally. Jainism rejects the idea of a creator deity that could be responsible for the manifestation, creation, or maintenance of this universe. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents (soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion) have always existed. Roughly the Dharmic faiths teach that this world is evil or even an illusion. We are all trapped in a cycle of rebirth until we can escape (by various means) and return to or be absorbed back into God. Because of this there are those who say that Dharmic religions are life denying. Indeed it is a common belief that only those who devote themselves to some form of asceticism have a chance of escaping the cycle of reincarnation.

Taoic Religions

These religions are focused around the concept of Tao ("The Way"), and mainly originate from China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Taoic religions emphasize our responsibilities to society, family or ancestors and "the way" of the universe. Deities, if that is really the correct term, are spirits or exalted ancestors tend to be more important than a single all powerful God. These religions are often syncretistic where concepts from one flow easily into another. Some have had great influence from the other schools mentioned above.


Central to all of these religions is a notion of law or right behavior. That law does not originate within man or society, it is an innate part of creation. Jewish tradition has it that God created Torah first and then the world according to it. The Dharmic religions have the Dharma as central to the functioning of the universe and the Taoic religions emphasize the responsibility to society and the necessity of living the path. A survey of ancient collections of law shows that, were we have complete copies, the earliest ones credit the gods with the origin of the laws or at least the power to make them.