Prior to the colonization of the Americas and Africa by the West, it appears somewhat unlikely that Christianity was the largest religion in the world. If I am not mistaken, the majority of the world's Christians (over 90%) lay at this time in Europe.

According to Wikipedia, South Asia and East Asia had much larger populations than Europe. Since South Asia was mostly either Hindu or Buddhist (with Muslims being a very small minority) and East Asia a combination of Confucian/Buddhist/Taoist..etc, does it not follow that one of these was the major religion? If we add Islam into the equation, it is also apparent that Muslims were perhaps the most geographically widespread community on the globe at the time, stretching from Morocco to Kazakhstan to the Malay Archipelago. However, it does not necessarily follow that they were the most populous.

Either way, it appears to me highly unlikely that Christianity was the largest religion in the world at this time. Even a cursory look at the statistics makes this situation improbable.

Christianity according to ChristianityView became the largest religion in the world only in 1900. This is for me more rational, due to the Russian intrusions into deep Siberia in the 16th century and further Christianization of these areas and of course the North and South Americas along with many large chucks of Africa being converted to Christianity. In 1800, the page suggests that Chinese folk-religionists were the largest religious group. I don't know exactly with what evidence this has been suggested but was this true for 1500 also? Can someone verify the data provided by this page?

With all matter aside, it appears that nobody has actually considered this problem more rigorously. It would be extremely interesting if it was to be dealt with.

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    East Asia a combination of Confucian/Buddhist/Taoist..etc, does it not follow that one of these was the major religion? Consider that East Asia's "38%" split 3 ways would each be less than Europe's "15%" being Christian. Then consider that there's also Shintoism in Japan, Shamanism in Mongolia, folk religion in China, and Animism in SE Asia. And then the real problem: religious affiliation is not always clear-cut. There's f.e. no objective way to say how much of Japan is Shinto vs Buddhist. Size of religion, and by extension the comparison thereof, thus hinges upon individual judgement.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 4:01
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    There were many Christians outside of Europe btw.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 4:04
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    That's just flat out wrong. Christians were at least 15% of the ME population in 1500. As late as the early 20th century ME was still over 13% Christian. That 95% Muslim thing is a post-WW2 development, but even today nearly half the countries in Middle East and north Africa are less than 95% Muslim. Hell, even Egypt is less than 95% Muslim - the highest estimate is 94.7% and it's disputed as undercounting Christians.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 4:25
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    I'd question the extent that Hinduism was one single thing by 1500. I'd wager Buddhism.
    – John Dee
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 4:35
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    This question will be difficult (impossible) to answer without a clear definition of how to count adherents to a religion. Many non-monotheist religions are not exclusionary (one can be a devout member of multiple religions).
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 10:45

3 Answers 3


The Taoist, Confucianist and Traditional religions of China (grouped together) were the largest religions by a huge margin, with (guesstimate) 115-125 million followers. Hinduism would be the single largest religion with about (guesstimate) 70-75 million followers. Christianity isn’t far behind at about 65-70 million followers. All these are guesstimates and hypothesised by looking at the population of certain empires at The Wikipedia page on the same. A few honourable mentions are Buddhism, Shintoism and the multiple religions of the Aztec and Incan empires.

However, Islam was the most widely spread religion in the world stretching from Morocco to Malacca.

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    I'm guessing this hasn't been upvoted yet because it lacks sources. But even then there's the additional problem of grouping. Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 17:32
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    Grouping Taoism, Confucianism and Traditional Chinese Folklore together is like grouping Christianity, Islam and Judaism together.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 5:30
  • @Semaphore: Not quite. Chinese religious spirituality is highly syncretistic.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 16:08

The most likely answer is Hindu or Buddhist because the Islamic empire may have been big but they also never took the time to convert the places they took over to their religion

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    This would be a better answer with some numbers, examples and references.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Apr 4, 2019 at 16:18

While not exactly answering the question regarding POPULATION, I've found this good animation created by Business Insider showing religion SPREAD through the years.


If we assume (probably incorrectly) that the spread is proportional to population, then around 1500 with the conquest of the New World, Christianity would be most wide-spread religion.

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    The video is cute but, unfortunately, Business Insider is about as unreliable a news source as one can find, and they do not provide their data source or methodology. Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 5:09

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