Approximately 4200 Religions Exist Today: A Fact Check For WFLA
You might have seen some version of this meme making the rounds. I found this one at the fountain of facts also known as We Fucking Love Atheism (don’t forget to buy something from their Secular Shop!). One of the claims within the meme is that roughly 4200 religions exist today. So let’s do a quick fact check.
Searching the net for the source of this claim you’ll find that it seems to come from a Wikipedia page entitled, “List of religions and spiritual traditions”. In it we find the following referenced claim, “According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world”. Clicking on the reference we are taken to Adherents.com where we find an important difference in wording to the Wikipedia entry.
Adherents.com is a growing collection of over 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations: references to published membership/adherent statistics and congregation statistics for over 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, ultimate concerns, etc.
You can certainly beef up the number for your Wikipedia entry and meme if you are going to have churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, ultimate concerns and whatever fits into the categories of “etc”, as what you think falls under the term religions. But what you can’t do is honestly claim to have even come close to accurately representing the number of religions found today. For example, under the letter A we see entries counted within the 4200 that are absolutely not religions, such as “agnostic”, “atheism” and “Albanians”.
It’s not surprising that such little research is put into memes. However given how many people share and accept this content as truth, we should at the very least, stick to the facts.