Demographics of Buddhism

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Methodological issues

Two major sources for religious statistics are

  1. adherents.com
  2. David Barrett, main editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, its rolling update the World Christian Database and the religious statistics tables in the Britannica Book of the Year

Both of these say the main definition they work with is self-definition: what do people say they are?[1] In fact, neither appears to stick to this definition consistently. For example, the website has a category it calls Chinese traditional religion, and Barrett has a corresponding one previously called Chinese folk-religionists, now renamed Chinese Universists. This very variation in names, quite apart from the explanations given ([3]), suggests this is not a matter of self-identification. Neither of the above sources seems to make clear what these people would actually call themselves. (Remarks in Stark, Triumph of Christianity, Harper, 2011, page 389, seem to suggest they would claim to have no religion.) Their religion is a mixture of elements from various traditions, including Buddhism, and a number of other sources describe them as belonging to more than one religion at once. Most of the larger figures for world Buddhist population listed below include them.

Another case where Barrett seems to depart from this principle is his category of New Religions. It seems from his explanations and statistics that most of the people in this category would actually call themselves Muslims or Buddhists. (The website seems to count them as such.)

A more practical point is that religious oppression makes it hard to tell what people would identify themselves as if free to do so. This produces a very large uncertainty in estimates for China, as well as smaller uncertainties for other countries.

It should be borne in mind that such self-definition is not the same thing as either belief or practice, nor do those agree. In fact, it is perfectly normal for people's beliefs to be inconsistent with each other and with their behaviour: "congruence" is rare ([4]).

Estimates of world Buddhist population

The following are excluded from these listings:

  1. wikis, blogs and similar informal sources
  2. sources more than 25 years old
  3. explicit duplicates: where one source explicitly cites another as its source, only one is included
  4. estimates superseded by more recent revisions (new editions etc.)

Otherwise, no distinction is made between "reliable" and "unreliable" sources.

Statements about different sources

  • most estimates between 200 million and 300 million: Oxtoby & Amore, World Religions: Eastern Traditions, Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2010, page 181/4th edition, 2014, 86/Oxtoby & Segal, Concise Introduction to World Religions, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2012, page 376
  • 200,000,000 to 500,000,000: [5] [it's not entirely clear that this belongs in this subsection rather than the next]
  • some estimates no more than 200,000,000, others as many as 600,000,000, average 400,000,000: Maguire, Essential Buddhism, Atria Books, New York, 2001, page 1
  • some estimates 200,000,000; others closer to 1/3 of the human race: Farrington, History of Religion, Chancellor/Hamlyn, 1998, page 91
  • digest of surveys 5 to 7 % of world population: Stanford, 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know: Religion, Quercus, 2010, page 203
  • estimates vary from 230,000,000 to 500,000,000, with most around 350,000,000: [6]
  • estimates vary from 350,000,000 to 1,500,000,000: [7]
  • calculated 230,000,000 (though other sources come to speak of 1,691,000,000): [8]
  • "official" figure 327,000,000; some estimates nearer to 600,000,000: Penney, Buddhism, Heinemann, revised edition 1995 [9]
  • "official" statistics 230,000,000; other sources 500,000,000, while others 1,600,000,000: [10]
  • nearly all encyclopaedias and almanacs around 500,000,000: [11]
  • 200,000,000 to 500,000,000, but generally agreed 350,000,000; [12] [this source claims to be based on adherents.com, but differs from it somewhat: see above]
  • estimates range from 350,000,000 to over 1,000,000,000, with most conservative estimates around 500,000,000: [13]
  • estimates vary from 350,000,000 to 1,600,000,000: Engelmajer, Buddhism, McGraw-Hill/Hodder & Stoughton, 2013, page 5
  • most scholars estimate the world Buddhist population as around 480,000,000: Understanding the Religions of the World, ed Deming, Wiley Blackwell, 2015, page 63.

Different figures for different meanings

  • over 360,000,000 "core Buddhists"; 1,280,000,000 "wider Buddhists": [14] Sharing Jesus Effectively in the Buddhist World By David Lim, Steve Spaulding, Paul H. De Neui, William Carey Library Publishers, Pasadena, 2005, page 5
  • 494,881,000 "core Buddhists"; 1,000,000,000 "wider Buddhists": Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, pages 34, 36

Ranges of values

  • 150,000,000 to 500,000,000: Shambhala Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, 1994 (translated from German original published 1986), page 50, cited at [15]
  • 230,000,000 to 500,000,000: [16] Ritzer, Globalization, John Wiley and Sons, 2009, page 251
  • 230,000,000 to 1,691,000,000: [17]
  • 350,000,000 to 500,000,000: [18]
  • 350,000,000 to 1,600,000,000: [19]
  • 400,000,000 to 1,500,000,000: US State Department, cited in Understanding the Religions of the World, ed Deming, Wiley Blackwell, 2015, page 63
  • 500,000,000 to 700,000,000, including those who also follow other religions: Irons, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Checkmark, 2008, page xxi
  • 600,000,000 to 700,000,000: Price, Sacred Scriptures of the World's Religions, Continuum, 2010, page 53
  • 680,400,000 to 953,000,000: [20]
  • 1,193,900,416 to 1,595,485,458: [21]

Individual values

  • 3,000,000: Breuilly, Elizabeth, et al. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions & Festivals. Facts on File Inc.: New York, NY (1997); pg. 10 to 11, cited at [22], which points out this must be a misprint [indeed, the passage quoted says most of the population of various countries are Buddhist]
  • 76,000,000: Lion Encyclopedia of World Religions, 2008, page 119 [this may be a misprint; it appears in a list of 15 numbers for different religious groups; all but 3 seem to be in order of size; the exceptions are Buddhism, with 76 between 394 and 100, and other and none at the end; so 76 may be a misprint for 176, 276 or 376]
  • 147,078,000: Norris & Inglehart, Sacred and Secular, 2nd ed, Cambridge University Press, 2011, page 49 (Table 2.3) [however, it is not clear from the context whether this is actually an estimate of world Buddhist population or just the total population of the 10 countries the authors count as Buddhist]
  • lower limit 150,000,000: Shambhala Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, 1994 (translated from German original published 1986), page 50
  • 200,000,000:
    • unspecified sources cited in Farrington, History of Religion, Chancellor/Hamlyn, 1998, page 91
    • lower limit for most estimates: Oxtoby & Amore, World Religions: Eastern Traditions,Oxford University Press, 2010, page 181/Oxtoby & Segal, Concise Introduction to World Religions, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2012, page 376
    • lower limit of estimates according to: [23]
  • 230,000,000:
    • unspecified sources cited in [24]
    • lower limit [25]
  • 250,000,000:
    • [26]
    • Zickgraf, Laos, Chelsea House, Philadelphia, 1999, page 63, cited at [27]
  • 254,867,450: [28]
  • more than 289,856,000: Stark, Triumph of Christianity, Harper, 2011, page 390 [this figure is arrived at by combining Gallup polls for all major countries except China; the book makes no attempt to estimate the number of Chinese Buddhists to be added]
  • almost 300,000,000: Yenne, 100 Men Who Shaped History, Bluewood, San Francisco, 1994, page 13, cited at [29]
  • 300,000,000:
    • Oxford Reference Encyclopedia, 1998, page 219
    • [30]
    • upper limit for most estimates: Oxtoby & Amore, World Religions: Eastern Traditions,Oxford University Press, 2010, page 181/Oxtoby & Segal, Concise Introduction to World Religions, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2012, page 376
    • The Knowledge Book, National Geographic, 2007, page 290; stated as figure for practising Buddhists
  • over 300,000,000:
    • Rausch & Voss, World Religions, Trinity Press International, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1993, page 81, cited at [31]
    • [32] Bhaskar, Faith & Philosophy of Buddhism (2009) Kalpaz Publications, page 29
    • [33] The Knowledge Book (2009). National Geographic.
  • 303,000,000: Columbia Encyclopedia, 5th edition, 1993, page 387
  • 309,000,000: Cambridge Factfinder, revised edition, 1994, page 401
  • 311,438,016: Faux, New York Public Library Reference Desk, Prentice-Hall, 1993, page 270, cited at [34]
  • 314,939,008: [35]
  • 324,000,000:
  • 327,000,000: unnamed sources cited in [37]
  • 334,000,000: [38]
  • 334,001,984: [39], citing, via a dead link, CIA World Factbook 1997
  • 337,000,000: "The Public Square", in First Things, 70, pages 58-74, cited at [40] via a dead link
  • 338,500,000: Zeman & Kelly, Everything You Need to Know About Geography Homework, Irving Place Press/Scholastic Reference, New York, 1997, page 69, cited at [41]
  • 343,900,000: de Blij & Murphy, Human Geography, 6th edition, Wiley, 1999, page 154
  • 350,000,000:
    • Neusner, World Religions in America, Westminster/John Knox, Louisville, Kentucky, 1994, page 217, cited at [42]
    • "Rise of Buddhism" in Wichita Eagle, 16 October 1999, cited at [43]
    • Esposito et al, Oxford University Press, 2009: Religions of Asia Today, page 166; World Religions Today, page 392
    • lower limit: [44]
    • [45] Meister, Introducing Philosophy of Religion (2009). Routledge, page 6
    • Stanford, 50 Ideas You Realy Need to Know: Religion, Quercus, 2010, page 148
    • O'Callaghan, Compact Guide to World Religions, Lion, 2009, page 141
    • Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page 337
    • Biddulph & Flynn, Wisdom of Buddha, Duncan Baird, 2009, page 6
    • Keown, Buddhist Ethics, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 1: [46]
    • Morgan, Essential Buddhism, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California, 2010, page x; [47]
    • Adam Sutherland, Asian People Who Changed History, Wayland, London, 2013, page 6
    • Norton Anthology of World Religions, 2015, volume 1, page 727
    • Illustrated Guide to Buddhism, pub Southwell, 2011, front flap
    • generally agreed according to [48]
  • more than 350,000,000:
    • Wilkinson, Illustrated Dictionary of Religions, Dorling-Kindersley, 1999, page 55
    • Cambridge Encyclopedia, 4th edition, 2000, page 189
  • 353,000,000: [49]
  • 356,875,000: Smart, Atlas of the World's Religions, Oxford University Press, 1999, page 13
  • 359,000,000: Russell Chandler, Racing toward 2001, cited in The Everything Buddhism Book, 2nd ed, Arnie Kozak, Adams Pub, Avon, Massachusetts, 2011, page 5
  • 360,000,000:
    • [50]
    • Leslie D. Alldritt, Buddhism, Chelsea House, Philadelphia, 2005, page 4
    • [51]
    • [52]
  • over 360,000,000:
    • Penguin Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, 2006, page 208
    • "core Buddhists": [53]
  • 375,000,000: Barnes, How to Pick a Religion, Hodder, 2011, page 5
  • 376,000,000:
    • [54]; includes "fringe" groups
    • [55]
    • New Statesman, 18 April 2011, page 34
    • Claire Cock-Starkey, Seeing the Bigger Picture, Michael O'Mara, London, 2012, page 73
  • 379,000,000: National Geographic, December 2005
  • 382,542,000: Markham & Lohr, World Religions Reader, 3rd ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, pages 302f
  • nearly 400,000,000: Barnes, World Religions, Cartographica, 2007, page 10
  • 400,000,000:
    • Beverley, Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions, 2009, page 49
    • Bowker, Beliefs That Changed the World, Quercus, 2007, page 141
    • Hill, No-Nonsense Guide to Religion, New Internationalist, 2010, page 30
    • TWR, page 100
    • Ganeri, Religions Explained, Henry Hold & Co, Markham, Ontario, 1997, page 44, cited at [56]
    • Listomania, Harper, 2011, page 88
    • Melton & Baumann (ed), Religions of the World, ABC CLIO, Santa Barbara, volume 1, 2002, page 179
    • average estimate: Maguire, Essential Buddhism, Atria Books, New York, 2001, page 1
  • 410,000,000: Cambridge Dictionary of Modern World History, 2017, page 94
  • 418,000,000: Morris, What Do Buddhists Believe?, Granada, 2006, page 7, citing Wikipedia as its source
  • 445,000,000: [57] Prothero, God Is Not One, HarperCollins, 2010
  • 470,000,000: [58]
  • 474,000,000: Around the World, published by Gestalten, Berlin, 2013, page 67
  • 478,164,008: Mandryk, Operation World, 7th ed, 2010, page 2
  • around 480,000,000: most scholars, according to Understanding the Religions of the World, ed Deming, Wiley Blackwell, 2015, page 63
  • 488,000,000: [59]; this includes "fringe" groups
  • 494,881,000 "core Buddhists": Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, page 34
  • 500,000,000:
    • Routledge Encyclopedia of Religious Rites, Rituals, and Festivals, 2nd ed, 2010, page 61
    • Woodhead et al, Religions in the Modern World, 3rd ed, Routledge, 2016, page 74
    • [60]
    • [61]
    • Weeks, Religion in Minutes, Quercus, 2017, page 128
    • upper limit: Shambhala Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, 1994 (translated from German original published 1986), page 50
    • lower limit, including those who also follow other religions: Irons, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Checkmark, 2008, page xxi
    • upper range of estimates according to [62]
  • more than 500,000,000:
    • Oxford Concise Encyclopedia (formerly Macmillan Encyclopedia), 2007 edition, page 153
    • Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions, revised ed, 2010, page 36
    • Dorling Kindersley Religions Book, 2013, page 129
  • 520,302,000: [63]
  • 520,784,000: Britannica Book of the Year 2016, page 262; this excludes "fringe" groups
  • 535,000,000: Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2012, page 5
  • up to 600,000,000: unnamed sources cited in [64]
  • 600,000,000:
    • [65]
    • [66]
    • [67] Landry, Buddha Nature Now, AuthorHouse, 2007, page 13
    • (roughly) Faure, Buddhism, Liana Levi, Paris, 1997, English translation Konecky & Konecky, New York, 1998, page 142, citing International Buddhist Directory, 1985
    • lower limit: Price, Sacred Scriptures of the World's Religions, Continuum, 2010, page 53
  • lower limit 680,400,000: [68]
  • upper limit 700,000,000:
    • including those who also follow other religions: Irons, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Checkmark, 2008, page xxi
    • Price, Sacred Scriptures of the World's Religions, Continuum, 2010, page 53
  • 750,000,000 at conservative estimate: Erricker, Teach Yourself Buddhism in a Week, 2013, page 2
  • more than 760,000,000: SIMNOW World Religions Special Report, SIM, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1998, cited at [69]
  • upper limit 953,000,000: [70]
  • 1,000,000,000:
  • over 1,000,000,000:
    • [75]
    • unnamed sources cited in The Everything Buddhism Book, 2nd ed, Arnie Kozak, Adams Pub, Avon, Massachusetts, 2011, page 5
  • lower limit 1,193,900,416: [76]
  • 1,280,000,000 "wider Buddhists": [77]
  • almost 1,500,000,000: [78]
  • 1,500,000,000:
  • 1,595,485,458:
  • 1,600,000,000:
  • 1,691,000,000:
    • unspecified sources cited in [86]
    • upper limit [87]

Estimates given by sources as proportion of world population

  • 5%: [88]
  • over 5%: [89]
  • digest of surveys 5 to 7 % of world population: Stanford, 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know: Religion, Quercus, 2010, page 203
  • 5.7%: Markham, Ian S., (Editor), A World Religions Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers (1996); pg. 356-357, cited at [90]
  • 5.9%: National Geographic Answer Book, 2009, page 233
  • 5.99%: Zeman & Kelly, Everything You Need to Know About Geography Homework, Irving Place Press/Scholastic Reference, New York, 1997, page 69, cited at [91]
  • 6%:
    • [92]
    • Meister, Introducing Philosophy of Religion (2009). Routledge, page 7
    • [93]: 3 dead links
    • Beverley, Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions, 2009, page 49
    • Morgan Essential Buddhism, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California, 2010, page x; [94]
    • [95]
    • Adam Sutherland, Asian People Who Changed History, Wayland, London, 2013, page 6
  • 6-7%: D'Efilippo & Ball, Infographic History of the World, Collins, 2013, page 120
  • 6.7%: Around the World, published by Gestalten, Berlin, 2013, page 67
  • 6.92%: Mandryk, Operation World, 7th ed, 2010, page 2
  • 7%:
    • Woodhead et al, Religions in the Modern World, 3rd ed, Routledge, 2016, page 74
    • [96]; this includes "fringe" groups
    • The World As 100 People, Smith Street Publications, Melbourne, 2016, pages 20f [Note: as the title indicates, this book is about representing the world's population as 100 people; in other words, everything is given in whole number percentages, so this 7% figure is to be understood as the nearest whole number]
  • 7.1%:
    • Britannica Book of the Year 2016, page 262; excludes "fringe" groups
    • CIA World Factbook; NB this source updates its figures live, so you may not find it saying what this page says it says; please feel free to update accordingly
  • 7.2%: Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, page 34
  • 7.8%: Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2013, page 5
  • 8%: Weeks, Religion in Minutes, Quercus, 2017, page 128
  • 22%: [97]
  • Buddhism an important aspect of the lives of about 1/4, according to Understanding the Religions of the World, ed Deming, Wiley Blackwell, 2015, page 63
  • near 1/3: unspecified sources cited in Farrington, History of Religion, Chancellor/Hamlyn, 1998, page 91

Miscellaneous statements

  • Buddhism is one of the three (along with Christianity and Islam) religions that address themselves to all humanity with a large measure of success, both absolute and proportionate, in speading across ethnic boundaries.[2]
  • There are "significantly large communities" of Buddhists in 126 countries.[3]
  • There are as many Buddhists as Protestants.[4]
  • Buddhism is variously listed as 3rd[5] to 6th ([98]) largest religion in the world.
  • The country with the largest number of Buddhists is China:
  • The country with the largest proportion of Buddhists according to different sources:
  • The country with the largest annual proportionate growth in numbers of Buddhists is Qatar, with around 11.5% [8]

Countries with Buddhist majorities:

  • generally agreed: Bhutan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand
  • disagreement between scholarly sources: Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Vietnam
  • claimed by some non-scholarly sources: China, Christmas Island, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan

Divisions

Statistics most often seem to be for three main branches, variously named.

Theravada/Southern:



East Asian/Eastern/Mahayana:



Tibetan/Northern/Lamaist:

  • 6,000,000: Newsweek, Aug. 16, 1999, page 32
  • perhaps 10,000,000 or 20,000,000: HLR, page 370
  • 10,000,000 to 20,000,000: Gethin, page 2
  • 18,200,000: Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2013, page 5
  • 19,516,500: World Almanac and Book of Facts 1998, page 654
  • 20,000,000:
  • 20,040,000: [127]
  • 21,490,000: WCE, volume 1, page 4
  • 28,000,000: Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, page 36



Denominations with over 500,000 adherents (WCE, Volume 2, pages 10f):

  • Buddhists: 359,982,000
    • Lamaists: 21,490,000
    • Mahayana: 202,233,000
      • Chinese Buddhists: 90,000,000
        • Falun Gong: 30,000,000 [this does not seem to be usually classed as Buddhist]
      • Japanese
        • Nichirenshu: 2,100,000
        • Nara
          • Hossoshu: 600,000
          • Kegon: 700,000
        • Pure Land Buddhists: 4,521,000 [i.e. Jodo]
          • Nishi-Honganji: 7,379,000 [subdivision of Jodo Shinshu]
          • Otani: 8,484,000 [ditto]
          • Shinshu Honganjiha: 7,000,000 [looks like a variant name for next but one above]
          • True Pure Land Buddhists: 14,000,000 [Jodo Shinshu, or Shin for short]
            • Shinshu Otani: 6,000,000 [looks like a variant name for next but two above]
        • Zen
          • Rinzai-shu: 3,000,000 [subdivision of Zen]
          • Soto: 6,409,000 [ditto]
          • Soto-shu: 6,000,000 [alternative name of the above]
        • Shin-nyo En: 2,100,000
        • Shingonshu: 11,000,000
          • Buzan-ha: 1,372,000 [subdivision of Shingon]
          • Chizan-ha: 1,101,000 [ditto]
        • Tendai: 5,000,000
      • Korea
        • Bulgyohwai: 563,000 [seems to be a branch of Soka Gakkai]
        • Chogyejong: 7,001,000 [mainstream Korean Buddhism]
        • Chonghwajong: 712,000 [probably a subdivision of Chogye]
        • Chontaijong: 1,182,000 [subdivision of Chogye]
        • Kwanumjong: 618,000 [ditto]
        • Mitajong: 1,026,000 [apparently the Pure Land subdivision of Chogye]
        • Taigojong: 3,133,000 [Japanese-style Buddhism, with married clergy]
    • Theravada: 136,259,000
      • Neo-Buddhists: 6,000,000 [India]
      • Dhammayut Nikaya: 1,500,000

Listed under New-Religionists, but most, if not all, call themselves Buddhist:

  • Won 550,000
  • Nichiren Shoshu: 1,000,000
  • Reiyukai Kyodan: 3,000,000 [a Nichiren group]
  • Rissho Koseikai: 5,000,000 [ditto]
  • Soka Gakkai: 18,000,000 [formerly part of Nichiren Shoshu]
  • Agonshu: 580,000
  • Gedatsukai: 500,000 [derived from Shingon]
  • Hommon Butsuryu: 500,000
  • Hoa Hao: 2,050,000

Miscellaneous qualitative statements

  • According to Dr Paul Flesher of the University of Wyoming, the most popular form of Buddhism is Pure Land.[9]
  • According to TWR, the two main forms of Mahayana are Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.

References

  1. [1]; Britannica Book of the Year 2010, page 300
  2. Bechert & Gombrich, World of Buddhism, Thames & Hudson, 1984, page 7; David E. Sopher, Geography of Religion, Prentice-Hall, 1967, pages 4, 7
  3. WCE, volume 1, page 3
  4. Esposito et al, Oxford University Press, 2009: Religions of Asia Today, page 166; World Religions Today, page 392
  5. Pastva, Great Religions of the World, St Mary's Press, Christian Brothers Publications, Winnona, Minnesota, 1986, page 87
  6. Russell Ash, The Top 10 of Everything, Dorling-Kindersley, New York, 1997, pages 160f, cited [2]
  7. Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, page 35
  8. Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, page 36
  9. Flesher, Exploring Religions, University of Wyoming
  • Gethin, Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 1998
  • Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 1990
  • HLR: New (Penguin) Handbook of Living Religions, 1997; Penguin reprint 1998
  • MEB: Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2 volumes, 2004; also ebook
  • Shaw, Introduction to Buddhist Meditation, Routledge, 2009
  • TWR: The Times World Religions, 2002
  • WCE: World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, 2001

For earlier edit history see Demographics of Buddhism (older version).

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