In part one of our blog to try and understand how major religions spread around the world we saw how the growth of Christianity was mainly down to influence of key political and social leaders. It was not a demand from a disgruntled mass populace complaining about inequalities. It grew because influential people from the elite of society made it so, either as a direct order to loyal subjects or more basic pressures.
The Growth in Small Societies
In part one we learned the importance of missionaries from the 16th Century spreading the word of religion in the same breath as offering trading deals and opportunities. It was common for such missionaries to trade trinkets to gain followers.
The missionaries found it was much easier to convert small societies and cultures than large towns. It was a sound strategy as missionaries forged important relationships with village chiefs or officials that would influence their people. This political religious structure was much faster in spreading the word then any missionary could possibly travel by boat. Small communities take more notice how the people of the neighboring village are behaving and take a greater interest in something new.
Does Inequality Matter?
In many debates about the reasons of growth for religion, inequality often is cited as a major reason for a people to take on board a new religion. But this line of thought is rather confusing as it a rather a chicken or egg line of reasoning.
The University of Bristol in the United Kingdom recently undertook a study by their top anthropologists to find out if inequality was a major factor for people of poverty to turn to religion. Their conclusion was actually the very reverse, and the instances of communities turning to a new religion came about more often in a period of prosperity.
These findings by the University of Bristol suggest that social divisions and the beliefs in different religions might be far more complicated that was ever thought before. In the modern word the spread of a certain type of religion is further complicated by new forms of social and traditional media.
So trying understanding what the real call to action factors are when trying to convert a community to a new ideology or religion are now more important than they ever were. And a great more in-depth study needs to be carried out on this critical question.
As for the growth of future or existing religions it is very much guesswork. The traditional religions as we know them that exist, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism now share 80% of the world’s population and the main growth area for new communities to take up religion is with unbelievers or converters.
Devout religious people will always cite belief in what their religion is founded on, but as for the majority of people who call themselves religious, they follow more simple reasons. That is why all those thousands of years ago people would easily convert from one religion to another, but is that still true?