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Thematic Essay On Belief Systems Table

What is religion and belief?

Belief is a state of the mind when we consider something true even though we are not 100% sure or able to prove it. Everybody has beliefs about life and the world they experience. Mutually supportive beliefs may form belief systems, which may be religious, philosophical or ideological.
Religions are belief systems that relate humanity to spirituality. The following definition from Wikipedia provides a good overview of the many dimensions of religion:
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. […] Many religions have organised behaviours, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural), and/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. However, there are examples of religions for which some or many of these aspects of structure, belief, or practices are absent.1

Beliefs in the spiritual dimension of life have existed since time immemorial. Many human societies have left us historical evidence of their systems of belief, whether it was worship of the sun, of gods and goddesses, knowledge of good and evil or of the sacred. Stonehenge, the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, Uluru at Alice Springs, the Bahá'í Gardens of Haifa, Fujiyama, the sacred mountain of Japan, Kaaba in Saudi Arabia or the Golden Temple in Amritsar all bear testament to the human experience of spirituality, which may be an objective reality or a result of the human yearning for an explanation of the meaning of life and our role in the world.
In the simplest sense, religion describes "the relationship of human beings to what they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual or divine".2 It is usually accompanied by a set of organised practices which foster a community of people who share that faith. As discussed above, belief is a broader term and it also includes "commitments which deny a dimension of existence beyond this world".3

Religions and other belief systems in our environment have an influence on our identity, regardless of whether we consider ourselves religious or spiritual or not. At the same time, other parts of our identity, our history, our approach to other religions and groups considered "different" will influence how we interpret that religion or belief system.

Question: What religions are practised in your country?

Religions and related social and cultural structures have played an important part in human history. As mental structures, they influence the way we perceive the world around us and the values we accept or reject. As social structures, they provide a supporting network and a sense of belonging. In many cases, religions have become the basis of power structures and have become intertwined with it. History, remote and recent, is full of examples of "theocratic" states, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or other. The separation between state and religion is still recent and only partly applied: there are official state religions in Europe and de facto state religions. In most cases this does not pose a particular problem as long as it is tempered by values of tolerance.

Statistics on religion or belief adherents can never be very accurate, considering the dynamic nature of this pattern as well as the fact that many people among us live in contexts where freedom of religion and belief is not enjoyed. The statistics below are, therefore, intended to exemplify the diversity of the global picture. The figures indicate the estimated number of adherents of the largest religions4:

African Traditional and Diasporic:100 million
Baha'i:7 million
Buddhism:376 million
Cao Dai:4 million
Chinese traditional religion:394 million
Christianity:2.1 billion
Hinduism:900 million
Islam:1.5 billion
Jainism:4.2 million
Judaism:14 million
Neo-Paganism:1 million
Primal-indigenous (tribal religionists, ethnic religionists, or animists):300 million
Rastafarianism:600 thousand
Shinto:4 million
Sikhism:23 milllion
Spiritism:15 million
Tenrikyo:2 million
Unitarian-Universalism:800 thousand
Zoroastrianism:2.6 million

The number of secular, non-religious, agnostic and atheists is estimated at 1.1 billion.

Question: Which religions are missing in this list?

Different religions and beliefs have long existed in the European region as well. In some historical periods, Europe has provided refuge to persecuted religious groups and allowed a diversity of religions and beliefs to flourish. At other times, however, European countries have fallen prey to fanaticism and been engrossed in "religious wars", such as the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 that led to the slaughter of one-third of the continent's population.
The misuse, or abuse, of religious arguments has led to the justification of painful conflicts and wars, persecutions and intolerance. Regardless of how we understand these historical legacies, a wide range of religions and beliefs exist in Europe and they have and continue to have an impact on our societies. In this way, religion and belief are important factors to consider in relation to young people and youth work because, directly or indirectly, they have an impact on young people's identity and sense of belonging.

Freedom of religion or belief in human rights instruments

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18

This was later confirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as in several regional binding human rights documents, such as the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (Article 8) or the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 9).
The UN Human Rights Committee emphasises that this freedom is "far-reaching and profound", that it "encompasses freedom of thought on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief, whether manifested individually or in community with others", that the freedom for conscience should be equal to that for religion and belief and that protection is for "theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief".5 Accordingly, any serious belief or conviction – whether a person is Sikh, against hunting, pacifist, Mormon, vegan or ideologically driven by activism against climate change – can be protected within this right.

This freedom in international law was historically focused on the religious liberty of minority communities. Today, laws securing freedom of religion and belief are no longer focused on the need to maintain the status quo in order not to undermine regional security, but spotlight a number of concerns including non-discrimination, equality and dignity. Championing this freedom has societal as well as individualist rationales, allowing people the scope to (openly) seek, (vigorously) discuss and (freely) uphold the beliefs that they choose, alone or along with others. Achieving an enabling environment for this freedom requires not only non-interference on the grounds of religion or belief by the state but positive measures to be taken to achieve and maintain such an environment in society at large. In practice, this should include, for example, the possibility to make available places of worship or to provide moral and religious education.

Question: Are you a member of any religious community? How did you get involved?

As with all other human rights, this freedom does not "trump" other freedoms and it sometimes finds itself in tension with other human rights, such as freedom of opinion and expression and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex or sexual orientation. This is reflected for example in the way Article 9 of the European Convention on Human rights is structured: there is an absolute protection of the right to religious belief, conscience and thought, but the manifestations only enjoy a qualified protection in so far as they do not violate other human rights.


European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Article 9
1.  Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom,
either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2.  Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic
society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Freedom of religion and belief – including freedom to change religion – is essential to all of us, in our search for meaning, our full development, our identity and our expression as members of a community or communities. Whether we have a firm religion or belief, whether we are undecided, or even if we do not really care much for religion or belief, this freedom matters to people and the societies they build.

Are there any communities in your country that do not enjoy the same level of freedom of religion and belief as others?

Challenges to and violations of the freedom of religion or belief

Throughout religious history, many religious and societal features have been embedded in the environment where a particular religion was practised, and they are reflected in culture and politics. Many pieces of literature, poetry, art and music, dress codes and ways of organising life together have been drawn from religions. Religion has made a strong imprint on culture, which can be seen, for example, on holy days, at feasts, in marriage ceremonies, burial practices, pilgrimages, the wearing of religious symbols (e.g. jewellery or dress codes), or in physical alterations to the body, such as male circumcision.
The influence of religions may become even stronger when nations adopt a state religion or religious ideology. In such situations, religion and religious arguments may become confused with the political, economic or social reasoning.

The extent to which freedom of thought, conscience and religion allow distinctive practices of a community of believers to diverge from those of the rest of the society is often debated within the human rights community. Examples of this include attitudes towards women in religious leadership positions, traditional ceremonies involving children, laws surrounding marriage, divorce or burial, prohibition on the depiction of divine beings or other religious figures, and so on.

In such contexts, the human rights bodies would criticise harmful practices, regardless of whether they were traditionally condoned by particular cultures, nations or religions. Such criticism is not an attack on culture, nationality or religion but an attempt to strike a balance between the right to one's religions and belief and other human rights, since several of these practices can result in serious human rights abuse. Harmful traditional practices include female genital mutilation, son-preference (which can manifest itself in sex-selective abortion, failing to care for newborn girls, discrimination in education in favour of sons, discrimination in nutrition), arranged or forced marriages, marriage of children, dowry-related crimes and crimes justified by "honour", exclusion or limitation of some rights of non-adherents to a more powerful religious group in a given community, segregation according to religious lines, and so on. Such practices disproportionately affect women and children: invoking tradition is used to justify discrimination on the basis of gender and age. Furthermore, in several cases, situations which, from a human rights perspective, are a violation of human dignity, remain unrecognised, taboo and unpunished. Few of these practices are based on religious precepts; the fact that they are deeply anchored in culture and tradition do not make ending them any easier. Changes have to come through legislative change, education and empowerment.
Throughout history, religions have played a crucial role in imposing limitations on human action in order to protect the physical and psychological integrity or dignity of other people. Yet, even though religious philosophies have contributed to the development of a conscience of human rights and dignity, the human rights related to religion and belief are no more exempt from the tensions and contradictions that are present in human rights instruments, than are other rights. As seen in the case of harmful traditional practices, sometimes convictions or beliefs are used to justify outright physical harm with severe health consequences.

Question: Are there religious practices in your community/ies that you consider harmful?

Discrimination and intolerance
on grounds of religion or belief

Religious intolerance can be observed at different levels: among adherents of the same religion (intra-religious intolerance); between one religion or religious attitude and another, manifesting itself in various forms of conflicts between persons and groups of persons (inter-religious intolerance); in the form of confrontational atheism or confrontational theism, which are intolerant of free choice and practice of other religions or belief commitments; or in the form of anti-secularism. Religious intolerance is often confused with xenophobia and other forms of discrimination; sometimes it is also used to justify discrimination.
Most human rights violations related to freedom of religion and belief are also related to freedom from discrimination. Discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief is contrary to human rights but it is nonetheless experienced daily by many people across Europe. The fact that religion and belief are often confused with culture, nationality and ethnicity makes it more complicated but also more painful on an individual level: you may be discriminated against on the grounds of religious affiliation even if you happen not to believe in the religion you are associated with.

Discrimination and intolerance impact negatively on society as a whole, and particularly on young people who experience it. Such effects include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-segregation
  • Internalised oppression
  • Disengagement from school activities
  • Non-fulfilment of their potential
  • Attraction to violent extremist ideologies
  • School drop-out
  • Health problems / depression6

Religious intolerance is also used to feed hatred in, and to contribute to, armed conflicts, not so much because it is the cause of conflict but because religious belonging is used to draw dividing lines, as armed conflicts in the Balkans and Caucasus demonstrate. The consequences of international terrorism and the "wars on terrorism" have been particularly devastating in Europe and beyond, notably because religious intolerance becomes mixed with xenophobia and racism.
No single social group, religion or community has the monopoly of discrimination. Even though the levels of protection of the freedom of religion and belief vary significantly across the member states of the Council of Europe, religious intolerance and discrimination affects everyone in Europe.

Intolerance and discrimination
against Muslims (Islamophobia)

Of particular concern in several European countries is the rise of Islamophobia, the fear and hatred of Islam, resulting in discrimination against Muslims or people associated with Islam. Islam is the most widespread religion in Europe after Christianity and the majority religion in various member states of the Council of Europe. The hostility towards Islam as a religion and to Muslim people, particularly following the "wars on terror", has revealed deep-rooted prejudices against Muslims in many European societies. With the perception of the religion of Islam as being associated only with terrorism and extremism, Islamophobia has contributed to negative views of Islam and Muslims, wrongly generalising militant religious extremism and ultra-conservatism onto all Muslim countries and Muslim people. This intolerance and stereotyped view of Islam has manifested itself in a number of ways, ranging from verbal or written abuse of Muslim people, discrimination at schools and workplaces, and psychological harassment or pressure, to outright violent attacks on mosques and individuals, especially women who wear headscarves.7 In this context, mass-media has played a role, offering at times representations of Muslim people which were distorted, if not outright stereotyped and defamatory.
Like other victims of discrimination grounded on religious affiliation, discrimination against Muslims may overlap with other forms of discrimination and xenophobia, such as anti-immigrant sentiments, racism and sexism.

Six recurring prejudices about Muslims

All the same:
Muslims are seen as all being much the same as each other, regardless of their nationality, social class and political outlook, and of whether they are observant in their beliefs and practice.
All are motivated by religion: It is thought that the single most important thing about Muslims, in all circumstances, is their religious faith. So, if Muslims engage in violence, for example, it is assumed that this is because their religion advocates violence.
Totally "other": Muslims are seen as totally "other": they are seen as having few if any interests, needs or values in common with people who do not have a Muslim background. 
Culturally and morally inferior: Muslims are seen as culturally and morally inferior and prone to being irrational and violent, intolerant in their treatment of women, contemptuous towards world views different from their own, and hostile and resentful towards "the West" for no good reason.
Threat: Muslims are seen as a security threat, in tacit or open sympathy with international terrorism and bent on the "Islamisation" of the countries where they live.
Co-operation is impossible: As a consequence of the previous five perceptions, it is claimed that there is no possibility of active partnership between Muslims and people with different religious or cultural backgrounds.
Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe and UNESCO.

Anti-Christian sentiments (Christianophobia)

Christianophobia refers to every form of discrimination and intolerance against some or all Christians, the Christian religion, or the practice of Christianity. Like other forms of discrimination based on religion, the perpetrators may be people from other religions – often the majority religions – as much as secular institutions. Hostility against Christians manifests itself in attacks against places of worship, verbal abuse and, particularly in countries where Christians are a minority, restrictions on building and sometimes preserving churches or monasteries.
Particularly worrying is the rise in attacks against Christians in the Middle East. A recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly on this matter calls, amongst other things, for the need to "raise awareness about the need to combat all forms of religious fundamentalism and the manipulation of religious beliefs for political reasons, which are so often the cause of present day terrorism. Education and dialogue are two important tools that could contribute towards the prevention of such evils"8.

Question: Have you ever experienced any bias towards you because of your religion or belief? How did you react?


Antisemitism – hostility towards Jews as a religious or minority group often accompanied by social, economic, and political discrimination – is an example of the combination of racism and religious discrimination. Even though the direct targets of antisemitism are Jewish people, the motivation for discrimination and violence is not necessarily based on Judaism as a religion but on Jews as a people.
Reports from human rights organisations regularly state an alarming rise in the number of antisemitic attacks accompanied, in some countries, by the rise of openly antisemitic speech in the political arena. Events include attacks against Jewish schools, "while Jewish pupils were assaulted, harassed, and injured in growing numbers on their way to and from school or in the classroom, including by their classmates. Educators report that the term "Jew" has become a popular swearword among youngsters."9 Rather than being confined to extremist circles, Antisemitism is thus increasingly being mainstreamed.
In its Recommendation No. 9 on the fight against Antisemitism, adopted in 2004, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance recommends, amongst others, member states to ensure that criminal law penalises antisemitic acts such as:
public incitement to violence, hatred, discrimination, public insults, defamation and threats aimed at a person or a grouping of persons on the grounds of their actual or presumed Jewish identity or origin
the public expression, with an antisemitic aim, of an ideology which depreciates or denigrates a grouping of persons on the grounds of their Jewish identity or origin
the public denial, trivialisation, justification or condoning, of the Shoah and of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes committed against persons on the grounds of their Jewish identity or origin
the desecration and profanation, with an antisemitic aim, of Jewish property and monuments
the creation or the leadership of a group which promotes Antisemitism.

Religious intolerance and discrimination is not limited to Antisemitism, Christianophobia or Islamophobia. Among the many forms of discrimination is the non-recognition of some religions and the difference of treatment between them. Religions and systems of belief can thus be banned, persecuted or closely controlled because of their alleged "sectarian" nature or their irrelevance on the grounds of being "insignificant".
It is important to recall that freedom of religion and belief includes the right to change religion and the right not to adhere to, or declare, a religion.

Question: What happens if you decide to adopt a religion different from your family and community?

Despite the growing and widespread manifestations of religious intolerance, it is important to bear in mind that religion and human rights are perfectly compatible and that only a human rights framework can secure freedom of religion and belief for all.
The history of Europe is, indeed, full of examples of violence and barbarity in the name of religion. These acts have been and are being committed by men and women, not commanded by religious precepts, but by people.
Fortunately, the history and the reality of our world is also a living evidence of the optimism of religious diversity: no single society is mono-religious and no single system of thought has ever prevailed, even under the most extreme forms of totalitarianism. Furthermore, the examples of people accepting each other despite religious difference, and often united in diversity, are many more than those of intolerance.

The work of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe, White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue "Living Together as Equals in Dignity" (2008) recognises that a range of religious and secular conceptions of life have enriched the cultural heritage of Europe and notes the importance of inter-religious, intra-religious and other dialogue for the promotion of understanding between different cultures. It also emphasises that the Council of Europe "would remain neutral towards the various religions whilst defending the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the rights and duties of all citizens, and the respective autonomy of state and religions".10
Promoting religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue is also one of the priorities of the Council of Europe's youth policy. A number of events organised under the All Different – All Equal campaign in 2007-2008 developed recommendations and action plans for promoting inter-religious dialogue in European youth work, including the Istanbul Youth Declaration on Inter-Religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work12, and the Kazan Action Plan13. All of these documents stress the crucial role of young people and youth organisations in contributing to the change towards religious tolerance.

The sphere of education may be a platform for tensions of human rights related to religion and belief, as in cases where the educational content has been criticised as limiting the freedom of religion and belief, or in cases where religious symbols used by schools or by students have resulted in conflicts. At the same time, education is also one of the most important spheres of life where stereotypes and prejudices can be counteracted. In this spirit, ODIHR, the Council of Europe and UNESCO published the Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims.14 This document is intended to support teachers, teacher trainers, education policy experts as well as non-governmental organisations active in the field of non-formal education in their work against Islamophobia.

Religion and belief at the European Court of Human Rights

Folgerø and others v. Norway (2007)

Parents successfully appealed to the court in Strasbourg to avoid mandatory religious classes of one particular denomination of Christianity. The court found that the state was in violation of Article 2 of Protocol no. 1, which reads, "No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions".

Lautsi v. Italy (2011)
Ms Lautsi's children attended a state school where all the classrooms had a crucifix on the wall, which she considered contrary to the principle of secularism by which she wished to bring up her children. She complained before the Court that this was in breach of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education).
The Court found no violation; it held in particular that the question of religious symbols in classrooms was, in principle, a matter falling within the margin of appreciation of the state, provided that decisions in that area did not lead to a form of indoctrination and there was nothing to suggest that the authorities were intolerant of pupils who believed in other religions, were non-believers or who held non-religious philosophical convictions.

Ercep v. Turkey (2011)
This case concerned the refusal by the applicant, a Jehovah's Witness and conscientious objector, to perform military service for reasons of conscience and his successive convictions for that reason.
The Court found a violation of Article 9 and a violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial). It
invited Turkey to enact legislation concerning conscientious objectors and to introduce an alternative form of service.

The Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities also protects religion as an element of the identity of minorities, "The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage" (Article 5) and prohibits forced assimilation.

Youth work and religion and belief

Religion is an issue that many young people deal with in their daily lives at home, in public, at work or at school. Youth work can help to make religious differences a factor of cultural enrichment for young people instead of being a source of confrontation, especially through the lenses of mutual understanding, tolerance and acceptance of difference.

Whether working at a local, regional or international level, youth workers need to be aware of the potential role and influence of religion and belief on the process of any given activity, as well as on the planned objectives of the activity. Accepting diversity is a good starting point; building on diversity as a source of strength is an excellent way to continue. A growing number of youth organisations are actively working in the field of inter-religious dialogue, promoting a dialogue between equals, and being self-critical of their own religious traditions, with the aim of increasing understanding.

Taking into consideration differences of belief and practice within the group, before and during the activity, can contribute to a better atmosphere in the group from the start. Knowing about some of the rituals and practices of different religions can be very useful and important for the good functioning and success of youth events. Consideration of dietary laws, places and times for prayer, the religious calendar and daily practices of different religious groups (e.g. the Sabbath, Friday prayers, Ramadan, Sunday celebrations, holidays) might help the organisers of youth activities provide a respectful and peaceful atmosphere as well as avoid problems of travel and of timing and efficiency of activities. The particularities of the place of the activity and the expectations of the hosting environment are equally important, in order to show respect for the needs of the group participants.
A degree of sensitivity towards religious diversity within the group would create a certain positive and motivating attitude and curiosity towards the religious practices and beliefs of others. This might also help to promote mutual respect and understanding, while helping to overcome any strong prejudices related to religious beliefs and practices.

Question: What importance does religious tolerance have in your work with young people?

There is a large amount of youth work that is faith-based, and there are many faith-based youth organisations. The Council of Europe's youth sector works closely with a variety of international youth organisations that are faith-based and encourages co-operation among them. Study sessions and training activities at the European Youth Centre regularly include organisations such as:

  • Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe
  • European Alliance of YMCAs
  • European Baha'i Youth Council
  • European Fellowship of Christian Youth
  • European Union of Jewish Students
  • Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations
  • International Federation of Catholic Youth Organisations
  • International Movement of Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth Europe
  • International Young Catholic Students – International Movement of Catholic Students
  • Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Co-operation
  • Pax Christi Youth Forum
  • Syndesmos – World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth
  • Syriac Universal Alliance
  • The European Young Women's Christian Association
  • World Student Christian Federation

Some of these organisations got together within the framework of the European Youth Forum and constituted the Faith-Based Group of youth organisations in order to learn about each other, promote diversity and fight discrimination and hatred. Integrated by the European Peer Training Organisation, the European Union of Jewish Students, the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe, the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations, the International Federation of Catholic Youth Organisations, the International Movement of Catholic Students, Pax Christi International and the World Student Christian Federation, the Expert Group produced, in 2008, a Tool Kit on inter-religious dialogue in youth work – Living Faiths Together. The Tool Kit, published by the European Youth Forum, provides information about monotheistic religions and proposes several methodologies and activities to understand and de-construct prejudices and stereotypes related to religion and to promote inter-religious dialogue. The tool kit may be downloaded from the Internet site of the European Youth Forum (www.youthforum.org) or from the site of the co-operating organisations.


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion (accessed on 9 July 2012)
2  Religion (2007) Encyclopædia Britannica at: www.britannica.com/eb/article-9063138
3 LindaWoodhead, with Rebecca Catto: "Religion or belief": Identifying issues and priorities. Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2009, p. iii: www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/research/research_report_48__religion_or_belief.pdf
4 Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents: www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html
5 General Comment 22 of the UN Human Rights Committee on Article 18 of the ICCPR
6 OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe, UNESCO, Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, 2011 
7 FAIR (Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism), available at: www.fairuk.org/introduction.htm
8 Recommendation 1957 (2011)  of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe "Violence against Christians in the Middle East"  
9 OSCE-ODIHR and Yad Vashem, Addressing Anti-Semitism: Why and How? A Guide for Educators, 2007
10 Council of Europe, White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue "Living together as equals in dignity", Launched by the Council of Europe Ministers of Foreign Affairs at their 118th Ministerial Session (Strasbourg, 7 May 2008), p. 23, available at: www.coe.int/t/dg4/intercultural/Source/Pub_White_Paper/White%20Paper_final_revised_EN.pdf See also San Marino Declaration of 2007  
11 www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/edc/Source/Pdf/Coordinators/2006_14_CDED_ReligiousDiversity.pdf
12 "Istanbul Youth Declaration on Inter-Religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work", Symposium Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Youth Work, Istanbul, Turkey, 27-31 March 2007: www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/Resources/Documents/2008_Istanbul_Declaration_en.pdf
13 "Kazan Action Plan", International Youth Forum "Intercultural Dialogue and its Religious Dimension", Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation, 30 November  – 4 December 2008: www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/Resources/Documents/2008_Kazan_Action_Plan_en.pdf
14 Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims, OSCE/ODIHR, Council of Europe, UNESCO, 2011: www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/edc/resources

81 entries are listed here. It is simply impossible to list all varieties of religion1 as we as a species have created an almost infinite variety of religious and transcendental ideas. Items in lower case italics are classes of religion and not actual religions. For example, "theism" is any religion that contains god(s), and "polytheism" is a form of theism.

DescriptionGod(s)?HeritageArea of OriginFoundedFounderAfterlife?Holy Texts?
agnosticismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Belief that (1) God, if it exists, is by nature unknowable and will always be unknowable, or, (2) that the individual being asked cannot conclude if god exists or not for lack of evidence one way or the otherAtheist/monotheistNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalNot definedNone
AmishPeaceful Christian fundamentalist group famous for its rejection of technology and strict adherence to OT and NT lawsMonotheistChristianitySwitzerland1693 CEJakob Ammann and his followers split from the AnabaptistsHeaven or hellThe Bible
ancestor worshipA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Belief that good relations need to be kept with tribal ancestor spirits. Often a form of ShamanismNot definedNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalprehistoricYesNone
animismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. The belief that all objects contain spirits. More a traditional form of belief than a "religion" in the Western senseNot definedNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalprehistoricNot definedNone
AsatrúA modern uptake of Nordic religionPolytheistScandinavian folkloreIceland1972 CEOtherNone
atheismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Either (1) the active and extrinsic disbelief that God exists, or (2) an intrinsic lack of belief due to lack of knowledge about god(s) in local cultureAtheistNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalprehistoricNot definedNone
Aum ShinrikyoDangerous and violent religious community responsible for the 1995 Sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway and other crimes. Eventually they apologized, stopped using the Bible, and formed the more prosaic group called AlephTheistChristianity and Far Eastern religionJapan1984 CEShoko AsaharaYesThe Bible and other
Bahá'í FaithA world religion2,3. Belief that a series of prophets have come from God, and that Bahá'í is the latest religion founded by God. A liberal offshoot of Islam, but persecuted in IranMonotheistShi'a IslamIran18634CEBy Bahá'u'lláhYesWritings of Baha'u'llah and Abdul Baha
Brahma KumariThis group are preparing to rule the world after a coming apocalypse, and embrace many practices which are now called New AgeMonotheistHinduismIndia1930s CELekhraj Kripalani (called Brahma Baba)Writings of founder and leaders
Branch DavidiansApocalyptic suicide cult famed for its dramatic armed fight against authorities in the town of Waco, USA, in 1993TheistChristianityUSA1930 CEBenjamin RodenHeaven or hellThe Bible
BuddhismA world religion2,3,5. The belief that meditation and good living can break the cycle of reincarnation and result in enlightenmentAtheistHinduismIndia1st millennium BCETraditions based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha GautamaReincarnation until escapeMultifaceted
Celtic PaganismModern reconstructions of Celtic paganism form part of the neo-pagan range of religionsNot knownPrehistoricUKprehistoricNone
Chen TaoA series of civilisations on Earth have arisen but destroyed themselves in nuclear war. Each time, some faithful believers were rescued by flying saucers and put back on EarthTheistChristianity and BuddhismTaiwan1996 CEBy Hon Ming ChenYes
Chinese ReligionA varied cultural religion practiced traditionally on a town-by-town and region-by-region basisAtheistPrehistoricChinaprehistoricReincarnation until escapeNone
ChristadelphiansBible-based ChristianityMonotheistChristianityUSA1840s CEBy Dr John ThomasHeaven or hellThe Bible
Christian Apostolic Church In Zion Fundamentalist Anti-science flat-earth Christian cult, who also predicted the End of the World would occur 4 different timesTheistChristianityUSA1895 CEJohn Alexander DowieHeaven or hellThe Bible
ChristianityA world religion2,3. Belief that a single creator god had a son, Jesus Christ, born to a human mother, and that Jesus' crucifixion by the Romans brings salvationMonotheistJudaism6 and paganism7Roman Empire1st-3rd centuryCEMultiple Greek writers. St PaulHeaven or hellThe Bible
Concerned ChristiansFundamentalist Christians active in USA, Israel and Greece who expected the end of the world in year 2000, starting with a nuclear attack on the USA, which they appeared to be trying to instigate themselvesTheistChristianityUSA1980s CEMonte Kim MillerHeaven or hellThe Bible
ConfucianismA world religion8,3. A collection of ethical and moral teachingsAtheistChinese religionChina-551 to 479 BCEBy ConfuciusNone
Dami XuanjiaoA millenarian cult based on the belief that Jesus would return to judge survivors in 1999. Suspected of being on the verge of mass suicide after predictions of the end of the world failed in year 2000TheistChristianitySouth Korea1980s CEYes
deismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Belief in a single creator god who is not "personal" and does not have human emotions, and which many believers say does not interact with the worldMonotheisttheismPrehistoric/universalprehistoricNot definedNone
Divine LightmissionA self-help religious group involving meditation, with few fixed beliefsHard to tellHinduismIndia1960 CEIndian guru Shri Hans Ju MaharajNone
DruidismCeltic religion in prehistoric England. Modern reconstructed Druidism is part of the neo-pagan range of religionsNot known/polytheistPrehistoricUKprehistoricReincarnationNone
DruzeA semi-secretive esoteric religion with features of a Mystery ReligionMonotheistIslamEgypt11th centuryQur'an, Rasa'il al-hikma (Epistles of Wisdom)
dualismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Belief that either (1) There is a good and evil god of equal, or almost-equal power, or (2) there are two gods, such as a male and female oneDualistNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalNot definedMultifaceted
Ebionites1st century Jewish Christians, possibly the earliest form of Christianity to existMonotheistJudaismJudea (now Israel)1st centuryEarly version of the Gospel of Matthew
EckankarNew Age religion, a mix of Sant Mat, Theosophy and ScientologyMonotheistNew AgeUSA1965 CEBy Paul TwitchellReincarnation until escapeShariyat-Ki-Sugmad9
GnosticismThe belief that we must escape from this world, which was created and is ruled by an inferior and unworthy god, and reunite with the true godPolytheistPrehistoricGreeceprehistoric (1st century?)Multifaceted
Hare KrishnaThe embracing of Krishna through correct living, honesty, spiritual life and austerityPolytheistHinduismUSA1966 CEBy A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami PrabhupadaReincarnation until escapeVarious Indian scriptures
HeathenismModern uptake of Nordic religion. Part of the neo-pagan range of religionsPolytheistAsatruScandinaviaNone
Heaven's GateApocalyptic suicide cult who combined Biblical eschatology with New Age and ideas about UFOs. All 39 members committed suicide in San Diego, USA in 1997TheistChristianity and New AgeUSA1970s CEMarshall Applewhite and Bonnie NettlesYes
HinduismA world religion2,3. Cultural religion of India which was historically decentralized and disparate and not a single belief system. Western influence made it into a single religion, an identity which Hindus now acceptPolytheistPrehistoricIndiaprehistoricReincarnation until escapeMultifaceted
Hookers For Jesus / The Family Of GodSexually promiscuous group who fell foul of police suspicion. As is often the case, increasing pressure from outside resulted in the group retreating even further into insanity, and they became The Family, predicting the end of the worldTheistChristianityUSA1968 CEDavid BergHeaven or hellThe Bible
HumanismAn organized form of atheism where moral and ethical goodness is emphasizedAtheistThe enlightenmentEuropeThe EnlightenmentEnlightenment thinkersNoneNone
IslamA world religion2,3. Strict monotheism taught by Muhammad, the world's 2nd largest religionMonotheistJudaismSaudi Arabia0610 CEBy MuhammadHeaven or hellQur'an and Hadiths
JainismA world religion2,3. Beliefs include non-violence and equality of all living thingsAtheistPrehistoricIndiaprehistoricReincarnation until escapeMultifaceted
Jedi KnightsA campaign saw many put this down as their religion on the UK census in 2001. Midichlorians exist in all living beings, which create a 'living force' that can be interacted withAnimistScience fictionUK2001 CECampaign for UK CensusSelect fewNone
Jehovah's WitnessesA 140-year-old Christian fundamentalist/literalist organisation famous for preaching that the world is about to end (nowadays - because of the existence of the United Nations)MonotheistChristianityUSA1870s CEBy Charles Taze RussellOtherThe Bible
JudaismA world religion2,3. Organized Judaism emerged from Babylonian writings. Belief that God has a special contract with a Hebrew tribe, involving many specific rules of behaviourMonotheistPrehistoricBabylon (mostly - now Iraq) and Israel1st millennium BCECombination of prehistoric practices which became organized in BabylonYesTanakh and Talmud
MennoniteA Protestant Christian denominationMonotheistChristianityCentral EuropeHeaven or hellThe Bible
MithraismRoman mystery religion that believed that the Son of the Sun was a saviour who was sacrificed for the good of allMonotheistRoman mystery religionsGreece-50 BCE to 50 CEBCEYesNot known
monotheismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Belief in a single creator godTheistNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalNot definedMultifaceted
MysticismThe belief that God is unknowable but accessible, and that doctrinal religion hampers spiritual growthNot definedNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalprehistoricNot definedMultifaceted
Native American ChurchBeliefs vary from tribe to tribe and are sometimes noticeably ChristianMonotheistThe Peyote religionMexico1880s CEBy Quanah ParkerNone
New AgeA disparate and diverse collection of popular beliefs and practicesNot definedCountercultureThe West1850s CEPopular beliefs from the 1850s, attaining identification in the 1960sOtherNone
no religionA form of belief, rather than a specific system. The rise secularisation has seen public and private religion decline throughout the developed worldNot definedNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalNot definedNone
occultismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Normally existing within other belief systems, occult systems concentrate on esoteric meanings in texts, often with magical undertonesNot definedCounterculturePrehistoric/universalNot definedMultifaceted
Order Of The Solar TempleApocalyptic suicide cult, with mass suicides in Switzerland, France and Quebec, in preparation for Jesus' second comingTheistChristianity and New AgeFrance1984 CEJoseph Di Mambro & Luc JouretYesThe Bible and other
PaganismPart of the neo-pagan range of religionsPolytheistCountercultureThe West19th centuryRomantic revival of interest in Celtic, Greek and pre-Christian spiritualitiesYesNone
pantheismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. God is everywhere, and everything, but is not transcendent and may have no distinct consciousnessMonotheistNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalprehistoricNone
PastafarianismA parody religion based on worship of the Flying Spaghetti MonsterMonotheistParodyUSA2005 CEBy Bobby HendersonHeaven or hellGospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
People's TempleApocalyptic suicide cult that imploded, resulting in the deaths of over 600 adults and 276 childrenTheistChristianityUSA1960s CERev. James (Jim) Warren JonesHeaven or hellThe Bible
polytheismA form of belief, rather than a specific system. Belief in multiple gods, often in some form of hierarchyTheistNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalNot definedMultifaceted
Raja YogaAn astika school of Hindu philosophy based around mastering and quieting the mind, involving meditationPolytheistHinduismIndiaThe Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
RastafarianGod (called Jah) fathered a black Jesus; marijuana use in ritualsMonotheistChristianityJamaica1930s CEThe Bible (generally)
RavidassiaSouls are part of the divine and proper living allows us to realize GodMonotheistHinduism and SikhismIndia14th centuryBy the guru RavidassAmritbani Guru Ravidass Ji
Salvation ArmyChristian organisation of evangelists organised along military lines, famous for charity workMonotheistChristianity (Methodist)UK1865 CEBy Methodist minister William BoothHeaven or hellThe Bible
SanteríaA combination of West African, Caribbean beliefs with some elements of Roman CatholicismMonotheistChristianity and West African spiritualityCubaNone
SatanismAn atheist religion that uses dark and evil symbology for self-development and anti-religious purposes - Satan itself is not a real being, just a symbolAtheistAtheismUSA1966 CEBy Anton LaveyNoneWritings of founder and leaders
ScientologyDerived from the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, a series of practices called Dianetics is used to clear minds of alien influences and attain a state of mental perfectionAtheistScience fictionUSA1952 CEBy L. Ron HubbardReincarnationWritings of founder and leaders
ShamanismBelief that Shamans need to keep good relations with tribal ancestor spirits for the good fortune of the whole tribeNot definedNatural thoughtPrehistoric/universalprehistoricYesNone
ShintoA world religion2,3. Official collection of practices in Japan, more cultural than religiousAtheist

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