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From Muslims in Europe to evangelical Christians in Africa, it is religious believers who are shaping the early 21st Century. Charismatic movements are sweeping throughout the Southern Hemisphere, while high birth rates among immigrants are provoking soul-seeking in the historically Christian West. For this List, FP looks at the fast-growing faiths that are upending the old world order.



Growth rate*: 1.84 percent

Adherents: 1.3 billion

Behind the trend: High birthrates in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe

Areas to watch: The world’s largest Muslim populations are in fast-growing countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and Iran. Islam also happens to be the fastest growing religion in Europe, where an influx of Muslim immigrants from North Africa, Turkey, and South Asia has sent shock waves into a mostly Christian and secular population whose birthrates have stagnated. The “Muslim question” has empowered anti-immigrant parties in France, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, while sparking a fierce debate over the place of women in Islam and symbols of faith like the Muslim head scarf.

Moshe Milner/GPO/Newsmakers

The Bahai Faith*

Growth rate: 1.70 percent

Adherents: 7.7 million

Behind the trend: High birthrates in India

Areas to watch: Bahais are spread throughout the world, but a good chunk—around 1.8 million—live in India. The Bahai faith was founded in 1863 in Iran by Bahá’u’lláh, who claimed to be the latest in a line of prophets stretching from Abraham to Jesus Christ to Mohammed. The world headquarters of the Bahai faith are in Haifa, Israel. Today, Bahais often suffer persecution elsewhere in the Middle East, especially in Iran.



Growth rate: 1.62 percent

Adherents: 25.8 million

Behind the trend: High birthrates in India

Areas to watch: Thousands of Sikhs were killed during the bloody partition between Pakistan and India in 1947, and at least 3,000 Sikhs were killed by Hindu mobs in New Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by a pair of Sikh extremists in 1984. Today, Sikhs are prospering. The prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is Sikh. Over 90 percent of the world’s Sikhs live in India; of those, a large majority are concentrated in the northern Indian state of Punjab. Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States host growing Sikh minorities of several hundred thousand people each. In several isolated incidents after 9/11, turban-wearing Sikh men in Britain and the United States were mistaken for Muslims and attacked.

AFP/Getty Images


Growth rate: 1.57 percent

Adherents: 5.9 million

Behind the trend: High birthrates in India

Areas to watch: Jains are a small but relatively powerful minority in India, making up about half of one percent of the population. They tend to be concentrated in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Outside of India, some of the largest concentrations of Jains are in Leicester, UK; Mombasa, Kenya; and major cities in the United States.

Mario Tama/Getty Images


Growth rate: 1.52 percent

Adherents: 870 million

Behind the trend: Surprise! High birthrates in India

Areas to watch: Most of the world’s Hindus live in India, and, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Significant Hindu minorities also live in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Since the 1960s, Hindus have become a growing presence in the United States, with as many as 1.5 million generally well-off adherents spread across the continent and prevalent in Texas, New Jersey, and Ohio. There are also several hundred thousand Hindus in the United Kingdom and South Africa, and there is a small Hindu minority in Russia, where its presence has aroused controversy in the Russian Orthodox Church.



Growth rate: 1.38 percent

Adherents: 2.2 billion

Behind the trend: High birthrates and conversions in the global South

Areas to watch: Pentecostal movements in Latin America, Africa, China, and India. The fastest-growing individual church in the world is Misión Carismática Internacional in Colombia; the Pentecostal denomination began in 1983 in Bogotá and now boasts 150,000 members. Then there’s Orissa Baptist Evangelical Crusade in India, which reports some 670,000 adherents. And in China, tens of millions of Christians practice their faith under the watchful eye of a very suspicious—and often hostile—Chinese government.

*Growth rates over the period from 2000 to 2005; all figures from the nondenominational World Christian Database, a project of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

*The entry on the Bahai faith was revised to reflect the concerns of readers. Originally, the item was entitled "Bahaism," and described the religion as "an offshoot of Islam." Additionally, the sentence on Israel was clarified to better reflect the fact that Bahais are treated well in that country, but face discrimination elsewhere in the Middle East.

Corto Maltese
21/02/2009 23:40