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Lesser known religions are vital pieces of the puzzle

Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism are lesser known mainstream religions

In January we started an intentional journey to learn about world religions. Over the last eight months we have looked at Judaism, Christianity, Baha'i, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

According to global statistics, there are another six religions classified as mainstream – Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. Admittedly, I knew very little about them as they are much less popular in the west, and even less well known in Bermuda specifically. However, I believe they are still an important part of this puzzle we are trying to piece together.

Here is a brief overview of these remaining six belief systems to conclude our series on world religions.

Confucianism and Taoism

Although considered separate religions, Confucianism and Taoism are often coupled together because, along with Buddhism, they trace their origins back to ancient Chinese folklore.

Confucianism is named after the Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius or K’ung Fu-tzu. He lived from 551 to 479 BCE and is regarded as one of the most influential philosophers in the history of China.

There is much debate over whether Confucianism is indeed a religion or more of a philosophy. In Confucianism there are no gods, as such Confucius is regarded as a spiritual leader rather than a god. His ideas on morality and ethics were recorded by his followers in several books, the most widely used being the Lunyu.

Confucianism is perhaps best understood as an ethical guide for living. The popular principle of “The Golden Rule” is attributed to Confucius, which implores humanity to treat others as one would want to be treated.

Similarly, Taoism (also spelled Daoism) is another school of thought with Chinese origin. It has been connected to the philosopher Lao Tzu, who is the author of the Tao Te Ching. His teachings instruct believers on living in harmony with nature.

One of the main principles of the philosophy is the belief in the balance of opposing forces, referred to as yin and yang. These forces, much like light and dark or hot and cold, are both required to bring harmony to the universe. This principle of yin and yang demonstrates that everything is interconnected, and nothing can exist on its own.

Taoism does not acknowledge the existence of a god in the same way that Abrahamic religions do, but instead asserts that there is a cosmic force or energy which connects all things. This energy force is called the Tao.

Taoism, along with Confucianism and Buddhism, became well known in the eighth century however during the Communist takeover in 1959, Taoism and Confucianism were banned. This caused a decline in the practice of both philosophies and their subsequent global awareness.

Collectively, the two faiths have about six million followers worldwide.


Shinto or Shintoism is a religion that originated in Japan and is considered its indigenous religion. Shintoism is a polytheistic faith, with no founder, sacred texts, or fixed dogma. However, its beliefs and philosophies have been preserved through Japanese culture.

The word Shinto means “the way of the kami”. Kami are superior energies that Shintoism honour. They may be natural objects, honourable human beings or gods and goddesses; however, all kami are believed to reveal truth and guidance to humanity.

Shinto is observed in the social life of the Japanese people and connects closely with their value system. It incorporates the worship of ancestors and nature spirits in both animate and inanimate things.

Shintoism was so deeply entrenched in Japanese culture that it became the state religion of Japan in the late 19th century and remained so until 1945. Over time, Buddhist influences deeply permeated the culture and many in the country identify as Buddhist as well. However, Shintoism remains a huge part of Japanese history and tradition even for those who don’t subscribe to the faith.

Today Shintoism accounts for 0.05 per cent of the world’s population, which is approximately four million people.


Jainism is an ancient religion which originates in Eastern India and is still very much an integral part of Indian culture. The word Jain is derived from the “Jin” which means the one victorious over the self and the external world.

Jainism teaches that the path to enlightenment is through non-violence and encourages its followers to avoid causing harm to living things – including plants and animals – as much as possible.

Jainism does not believe in the existence of a single, all-powerful deity. They do however believe that it is possible for one’s soul, through the cycle of death and rebirth, to achieve perfection. These souls are referred to as Jinas. Jains honour 24 Jinas as spiritual leaders who achieved enlightenment; these leaders are revered but not worshipped.

Today most followers of Jainism – approximately four million worldwide – live in India.


Sikhism is another Indian religion that originated in the Punjab region towards the end of the 15th century. The word “Sikh” means student, as such a Sikh remains a student for life. It is a practical religion, and its followers are practical people. Their emphasis is on creating a successful life while remaining attuned to an awareness of God.

Sikhs believe in one omnipresent, formless God who is the creator of the universe. The name most widely used for God by Sikhs is Waheguru and means “wondrous enlightener”.

Sikhism rejects all distinctions based on colour, race, social class, or national origin. The core values of Sikhism are derived from three equally important tenets: an honest living, sharing with others what God and life have given, and living life fully with an awareness of the divine within each of us.

Today there are still approximately 23 million people who identify with the Sikh faith. The majority are in India, but there are also followers across Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.


Zoroastrianism is perhaps the least known of all the 12 major world religions. It was established in the 6th century BCE by the Persian prophet Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra. It is a monotheistic religion that acknowledges Ahura Mazda as the supreme deity and creator of everything in the universe.

Religious scholars argue that Zoroastrianism may be the world’s first monotheistic faith and one of the oldest religions in existence. Zoroastrian concepts include the idea of a single god, heaven, hell, and a day of judgment. Some say that these ideas may have influenced some of the more mainstream Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The religion was prevalent in the ancient Persian dynasties until the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century AD. The Muslim conquest led to the rise of Islam in the Middle East and decline of the Zoroastrian religion in the region.

Despite the decline, the religion has not been forgotten. Many became familiar with Zoroastrianism through the work of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, in his 1883 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Today there are only about 200,000 people who still identify with the faith.

This exercise was done with the intention to learn about world religions but to also practise tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs. While we live in a society that is largely dominated by monotheistic religion, there are so many people – even here in Bermuda – whose beliefs may differ from our own.

The beauty of humanity is most certainly found in our varied differences. Difference of religion and faith often cause separation and tension between us yet, through a willingness to learn coupled with immense respect, religion does not have to be a divisive part of our existence.

I hope this series of educational articles has proven valuable to you as we practise progressive religious and spiritual inclusion in our community.

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Published September 17, 2022 at 8:06 am (Updated September 17, 2022 at 8:06 am)

Lesser known religions are vital pieces of the puzzle

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