Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Geography of Religion

Like all culture, religion has a strong “territorial tie.”  Religions ultimate geographical spread depends the nature of the religion itself.  Proselytic religions, or universalizing religions, aim to convert religious others.  The two primary proselytic religions include Christianity and Islam, Buddhism a humble proselytic third.  Opposed to proselytic religions, orthodox religions have no interest in blending or conquering other religions, Judaism for example.  Even though it is classified under the “patriarch Abraham,” it today has little global influence, overcome by its brother religions Christianity and Islam.

Figure 1. Religious Diffusion

Sprouting from respective cultural hearths (focused geographic area where important innovations are born and from which they spread), religion has diffused across the planet.  Despite the nationalist  American belief that Christianity is an American phenomenon, personified by white Jesus, Christianity and its Abrahamic brothers were born in the middle east and have spread predominantly West, a Western world now converted.  The orthodox religions have diffused little in comparison; Jews remain in the religious state of Israel and Hinduism barely breaking the national borders of India.  The eastern world largely parallels the western world and its Abrahamic religion.  The parent religion of the east, Hinduism, has remained stagnant in terms of location while its subsequent religions, Buddhism and Taoism, spread across the eastern world and have remained dominant.  Within the last century, traces Taoism have even landed in America.  Southern Africa is an anomaly from religious influence as its orthodox indigenous religions, animism or shamanism, still dominate.

Figure 2. Religious Distribution
Figure 2. Religious Distribution

The effect of religion on geographic location is immense, from environmental influence (ecotheology) to the economy and politics to the construction of structures and sacred space.  A concrete example of the effect of religion on space can be seen in the figure below, where meat consumption parallels religion, specifically in Islam’s abstinence from pork.

Figure 3. Meat consumption

Jordan-Bychkov, T. G. (2005). The Geography of Religion The human mosaic (177-209). Macmillan.


  1. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but I have to disagree with you. I don't think Jews have remained in the religious state of Israel. In fact, as we all know, WW2 shed some grim light on the millions of Jews outside of Israel. Also, according to the ever trustworthy internet, the great USofA actually has almost as many Jews as Israel does, which is surprising I will admit. Regardless, I think the study of religion's dispersion is interesting and can say a lot about a religion.

  2. For the Meat Consumption Figure 3, I disagree with the dark dots for isolate pork avoidance. These dots does not contains all the isolate pork avoidance places. For instance, in east Asia inside of the major traditional pork consumption area, there are a lot of places and clusters where the residents are Muslim and they are pork avoidance. But these places and clusters does not show in this figure. I believe this situation also exists in other major traditional pork consumption areas or even significant consumption areas.

  3. It would be interesting to do a study on how colonialism has shaped the eating habits, along with the religious habits, of the countries they inhabit since the two seem to go hand-in-hand.