When this column began, each week the top of the page sported artwork featuring symbols of various religions. I was often asked what they meant. This response originally ran in January 1998 and was an annual feature for a few years. A conversation in the newsroom made me realize it hasn’t run in a while, so here is an updated version.
Symbol: The wheel — represents the Eightfold Path
Members worldwide: 506 million as a religion. “Buddhism can play different roles in the lives of different people. For some, Buddhism is a religion. For others, it is a philosophy. Still others practice Buddhism as a mental discipline through which they find themselves and experience inner peace,” said the worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/buddhist-countries.
Members in U.S.: 4,170,000
Members in Louisiana: Less than 1% of the population
Sacred text: Tripitaka is the oldest, but each branch of Buddhism has others.
Basic tenets: It is a religion and philosophic system, founded in India in the 6th century B.C. by Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). It teaches that right-thinking and self-denial will enable the soul to reach Nirvana, a divine state of release from misdirected desire. The basic doctrine is the “Four Noble truths,” and the “Eightfold Noble Path” provides a plan for living.
Symbol: Cross — Where Jesus, God’s son, was killed
Members worldwide: 2.38 billion
Members in U.S.: 230 million in various denominations
Members in Louisiana: 84% of the population
Sacred text: Bible
Basic tenets: Monotheistic religion of those who believe in and follow Jesus believed to be the Messiah or Christ. Jesus is held by Christians to be the son of God and the savior of humanity. Christians hold that Jesus was crucified for mankind’s sins and was brought back to life three days later to reconcile mankind to God. It was founded in the 1st century by Jesus’ disciples and has roots in Judaism.
There are many different folk religions around the globe. A high concentration are in the Asian Pacific.
Symbol: Yin-yang — Taoist symbol of harmony. There are many other folk religions with their own symbols.
Members worldwide: 405 million people
Sacred texts: In China – Tao Te Ching, Analects of Confucius, I Ching. Other folk religions have their own texts.
Basic tenets: Many Asians do not adhere to a single religion. Taoism and Confucianism are two of the better-known Chinese religions. Tao means “the way” and is based on the doctrine of Lao-tse (16 century B.C.). It advocates simplicity and selflessness. Confucianism is ethical teachings from Confucius that emphasize devotion to parents, family and friends, ancestor worship and the maintenance of peace and justice.
Symbol: Om — the sacred syllable
Members worldwide: 1.2 billion, 95% in India
Members in U.S.: it ranked 7th with 2,510,000 adherents in 2020
Louisiana: less than 1% of population
Sacred texts: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharveda
Basic tenets: Variety of beliefs and practices making up the major tradition in India. It has ancient beginnings and innumerable sects. It is characterized by a belief in reincarnation, a supreme being of many forms and natures, and a caste system.
Symbol: Star and Crescent — Crescent represents Turkish or Muslim power
Members worldwide: 1.9 billion
Members in U.S.: 3.45 million Muslims in the United States in 2017.
Members in Louisiana: 216 per 100,000 of population
Sacred text: Quran
Basic tenets: Monotheistic religion in which the supreme deity is Allah. Muslims believe those who repent and submit to God return to a state of sinlessness, and the sinless go to Paradise, a place of physical and spiritual pleasure. Chief prophet and founder is Mohammed.
Symbol: Star of David — On Jewish artifacts in the 7th century B.C. with no known meaning. In the 19th century, it was adapted as a simple sign to represent Judaism.
Members worldwide: 15.2 million
Members in U.S.: 6 million
Members in Louisiana: 14,900
Sacred text: Torah, Talmud
Basic tenets: Jews believe there is only one God, who revealed himself to humanity through the Jews, who consider themselves God’s Chosen, or Holy, People. Legal and ethical norms, rituals and beliefs are revealed in The Torah. Judaism traces its origins to Abraham and was the first of the monotheistic religions.
Sources: worldpopulationreview.com, www.pewresearch.org, ‘Ways We Worship’ by William N. McElrath, The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion, tinyurl.com/4x7xtb4a