Many say there are two things you’re not supposed to talk about in the world of business a – politics and religion. But whatever your faith (or lack thereof) or your political leaning, these two topics affect everyone in the world. In a country like the United States, we find people that follow all of the major religions and many of the lesser known ones as well. The four biggest religions in the world are: Christianity (2 billion followers), Islam (1.5 billion), Hinduism (1 billion) and Buddhism (500 million). These religions have their main regions of impact (i.e. Hinduism in South Asia, Christianity in the Western world), but adherents to all of these faiths (and others) can be found on all the continents – well, maybe not Antarctica.
And while some religions have fallen by the wayside and cease to be practiced, there are still monuments and artifacts to remind us of their former prominence. Consider the Pantheon which was built to serve as a temple to all the gods and goddesses worshipped in ancient Rome; or the Temple of the Jaguar in present-day Guatemala which was built by the Mayans to serve as host for their spiritual rituals. The Karnak Temple Complex in Egypt is the largest known religious site in the world. Comprised of temples, chapels, pylons and more, Karnak was built for the Earth goddess Mut and her son Mondu.
The four major world religions all have their own prominent landmarks as well. The Hindus have the Karni Mata temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan, India. A visit to the temple will find 20,000 rats living there. According to local legend, Karni Mata, the 14th Century incarnation of Hindu goddess Durga incarnated her dead son and the region’s storytellers as rats. The Hindus and the Buddhists share the history of Angkor Wat, a temple in Cambodia. Built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th Century, it was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. In the 13th Century however, Angkor Wat gradually migrated from a Hindu landmark to one for Theravada Buddhist, which continues to this present day.
The Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state inside of Rome. It is relatively small in size, roughly 100 acres, and its permanent population is just over 800 people. Established in 1929, it is ruled by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). There have been 266 Popes since the first in 32 A.D. (i.e. St. Peter), but they haven’t always resided in Rome. There have been many other regions that have hosted the Papacy, such as Avignon, France from 1309 to 1376 to name but just one location. After returning to Rome from Avignon, the Papacy has resided there since the late 1300s.
One of the most reverent religious landmarks in the world that embraces multiple histories is the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Roman paganism have all been known to use the Temple Mount for religious purposes. Judaism regards the Temple Mount as the place where God chose the Divine Presence, from here is where the world expanded into its present form and God used dust to create the first man. Sunni Muslims consider the Mount the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to Heaven. However, the Mount is not the holiest place to Muslims; that would be Mecca (located in Saudi Arabia) which is the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of the composition of the Quran. Thirteen million Muslims visit Mecca every year.
This is just a sprinkling of the foundations of some of our world’s great religions. The history of mankind is amazing, and alongside it for much of the way has been religion. We could delve much further into specific aspects and intricacies of religion and geography, but for now, we’ll stay with this very brief introduction to a few items of history. Religious travel can be enlightening and rewarding, not to mention educational. Religion has such great and vast meanings to so many people, to better understand the timeline is to better understand others. And a good way to do that is to look at the geography, dispersion and landmarks that are integral to religion.