7

Some ancient religions, like the one of the Romans and the Ancient Greek, used to have a rather large number of followers, but are now 'extinct', i.e. they aren't practiced anymore (though there are some attempts to revive them). Most of the time, followers are converted to another religion (e.g. Christianity) but it could also be that the population is slowly becoming atheistic.

According to the answers to this question, the Ancient Greek religion 'survived' until the 9th century AD, but I think it's likely that there are religions which were practiced until more recent times (but not anymore).

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    I suspect you'll find a great number of charismatic cults; Jonestown comes to mind, or the group of star worshippers who committed mass suicide around the turn of the century. Moving out of the charismatic cults, perhaps the Amana? – Mark C. Wallace Feb 11 '18 at 18:46
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    @MarkCWallace Do you mean Heaven's Gate? – Spencer Feb 11 '18 at 19:00
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    For actual religions that aren't offshoots of surviving religions, Tangata Manu, suppressed in the 1860's, is a candidate. – Spencer Feb 11 '18 at 19:20
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    It's hard to draw the line at what is a religion, sect, schism etc. Luckily there is an xkcd for this question: xkcd.com/1095 – Nathan Cooper Feb 13 '18 at 7:39
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    The comments in response to answers indicate that this question is far from clear. What is a religion? what is the difference between two ecclesiologies of the same religion? two sects? Two different religions that each claim to be distinct? I suspect it is impossible to answer objectively. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 18 '18 at 11:30
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That's impossible to answer. Religions come and go even today. Several indigenous tribes in remote jungles will disappear within a couple of years. With them, their religion. Other religions or newer variations of religions simply never become main stream. Those native tribal and sprouting religions with very few adherents are also religions.

Political convictions can change into religions as well. For example communism is effectively dead, as a political system. Still plenty of people who adhere to it, and refuse to debate it. That comes very close to becoming a religion. (I don't say that communism is good or bad, this is just an example). Will New Age become a mainstream religion or fade away? Too early to say. Druidism was practically eradicated by the Romans. But it fairly recently got a new life. Same for some forms of paganism. So, even religions that became extinct can come back.

In Holland we had Lou de Palingboer. Translated in English: Lou the Eel seller. He claimed to be Christ reincarnated and had some following. After his death in 1968 the movement disappeared. Since 1968 many other religions/sects/cults came and went.

With regard to the ancient Greek religion, I had a very funny experience. Long time ago I worked for a travel agency in Bangkok when my boss called me in his office. "What do you know about Greek mythology?" he asked. Well, the basics, I assume. "Find out what you can about Poseidon and Cape Sounion, then."

It appeared we had a very rich Thai lady who had a dream. In it Poseidon told her to make a sacrifice in his temple. She went to many travel agencies who couldn't help her. (They were polite enough not to mention visiting a doctor rather than a travel agent.) So I dug into it. That was when the Internet was in its infancy. Little to be found, text only. No Google, no Yahoo. But I pulled it off, and we could satisfy her request. I think it was one of the strangest tours I ever worked on.

To relate this story to the question: this lady was Thai. Animism is normal in Thai culture. One's superstition is someone else religion. We had (and have) plenty of PM's who won't do anything unless their soothsayers approves. The lady wasn't into Greek mythology at all. She knew who Poseidon was. That's about it. But she took that dream very serious. I wouldn't say that counts as revival of an ancient religion, but these things happen.

Another reason why this question is so difficult to answer.

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    Modern Druids (ADF) are quite explicit that there is no continuity with ancient Druids. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 20 '18 at 10:23
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It's very difficult to say as there could be just one adherent practising in secret. Romuva still exists, but I don't know if it's an unbroken tradition. Lithuania was officially Christian in 1387 (although the conversion wasn't completed until the 17th century) and then atheistic in the 1940s.1

Then there is Trollkyrka that was still used as late as 1735.

There are also the case of cup and ring marks, but while they probably originally was religious it morphed into folk magic. Sacrifices of fat in them faded away, some was still in use in the 1940s while coins was still sacrificed in the early 1970s.

2

Other answers have noted the difficulties. I"m going to draw an arbitrary distinction between a charismatic cult and a religion. (yes, that distinction is difficult, which is why I'm calling the distinction "arbitrary"). If we exclude charismatic cults, then I'd hazard that the last religion to become extinct are the Amana

I strongly suspect that there are later candidates, but I'm not aware of any .

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    But that is a version of Christianity so it's not an independent religion. – liftarn Feb 12 '18 at 14:01
  • If you're going to consider all the sects of Christianity to be part of one religion, then please clarify that in the question. Few of those sects will admit that the others are part of the same religion. I'm not even sure how to ask the revised question - Perhaps What is the most recently practiced religion for which no worshipers or sects remain?"?? – Mark C. Wallace Feb 12 '18 at 20:05
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    @liftarn: does that matter? Protestants don't recognize Catholics. Catholics don't recognize Protestants. And Southern Baptists don't recognize each other in Hooters. ;-) – Jos Feb 15 '18 at 0:30
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    @Jos But it's still conflicts within the same religion. As the question put it "another religion (e.g. Christianity)". – liftarn Feb 15 '18 at 8:47

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