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ETpro's avatar

Which religion has the most sectarianism?

Asked by ETpro (34428points) March 5th, 2013

All the major religions that I can think of have more than one sect, each espousing its own interpretation of how worship should be conducted, perhaps how the creation unfolded, and what eschatology they believe in.

Buddhism has a limited number of major branches; Theravada (Tantric Buddhism), Mahāyāna, Zen, Pure Land, Tendai and Nichiren. But Theravada (Hīnayāna) alone is further split into some 20 interpretations. There’s Vajrayāna, which includes Tibetan Buddhism and the Japanese Shingon school. Tantric Buddhism boasts numerous sects. And within any one school, differences appear nation to nation and even within one nation, where cultures and tribal histories diverge from one locale to the next.

And don’t even get me started on Hinduism with its huge panoply of gods and goddesses. Major manifestations include; Mahadevi, Durga, Saraswati, Shri-Lakshmi, Parvati, Kali, Mahavidya, Sita, Radha, and Matrikas. But does any other religion match Christianity for sectarianism? Which brand has the greatest choice of flavors?

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30 Answers

Seek's avatar


I’m tempted to copypasta the WoT that is the Wikipedia list of Christian denominations. These number in the thousands.

From the article:
As there are reported to be approximately 41,000 Christian denominations, many of which cannot be verified to be significant, only those denominations with Wikipedia articles will be listed in order to ensure that all entries on this list are notable and verifiable.

gailcalled's avatar

MIlo here; The worship of me is simple and single-sect.

rojo's avatar

@gailcalled Would we call ourselves cat-licks?

LuckyGuy's avatar

And every one of those sects thinks theirs is the right one. Sad.

SamandMax's avatar

Yeah I have to agree with @Seek_Kolinahr. I used to think, in my much younger and more ignorant youth (I’m still somewhat ignorant in terms of understanding religion), that Islam was a widely sectarian religion, but it’s not. Christianity by far and away has more denominations than I can care to think up off the top of head. Roman Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Orthodox, Unorthodox etc etc etc.
And apparently they all believe in the same one God.

Clever stuff :/

And to think that the First Crusade was lost because the denominations – the so few that there were in Islam – were too busy bickering over various disagreements to deal with the Crusading forces that went and stomped all over them. It wasn’t until after that that they finally got their heads together and proceeded to kick Crusader butt several times over.

@LuckyGuy yes…isn’t it. It’s even cleverer that it’s between themselves as well as everyone else.

Seek's avatar

I tried to screenshot the page and highlight the One True Religion that I grew up with, then ask everyone to find the people who were going to Heaven.

The image was over 65 MB and I couldn’t find a site to host it. Ha ha.

SamandMax's avatar

Jesus H, that’s one heck of a big file for an image!

KNOWITALL's avatar

Baptist has got to be one of them.

The Baptist World Alliance reports more than 41 million members in more than 150,000 congregations.[6] In 2002, there were over 100 million Baptists and Baptistic group members worldwide and over 33 million in North America.[4] The largest Baptist association is the Southern Baptist Convention, with the membership of associated churches totaling more than 16 million.[5]

@LuckyGuy I wouldn’t say that we all think we’re the right one at all. I converted at age 17 based on my own personal feelings about being raised Southern Baptist and Fundamental Baptist, and today I still wouldn’t argue that Catholicism is the ‘right’ religion, just because it was for me personally. A lot of it is comfort with doctrine and worship services.

whitenoise's avatar

The religion of the God of Abraham.

Not only the most, but also the most fiercely divided.

Followers of Cathol versus Protestants, versus Jews, versus Shia, versus Sunni, versus Suffi.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@KNOWITALL but Baptists are a sect of Christianity.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@uberbatman True, but alas still extremely different in doctrine and every way imaginable.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@KNOWITALL OK, I guess there are some exceptions. I’ll temper my comment a little bit.
And almost every one of them thinks their religion is the right one.

I find it very interesting when a sect or religion says they were the chosen people.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@LuckyGuy Well there are always exceptions, that’s why I try not to generalize.

I have heard a few people say that in my lifetime, but I never would…lol Most people say that the Jews are the chosen people, even my Southern Baptist mother. She even joined Jews for Jesus on fb and everything.

mazingerz88's avatar

Which brand has the greatest choice of flavors? I’m going to go full throttle here. I don’t care who I offend or if any religious extremist put a curse on me. But the straight, bold and ruthless answer is…Ben & Jerry’s.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

Well if you want to talk religion and flavours I personally think the LDS have got the win for me having the most disgusting varieties.

ETpro's avatar

Thanks everyone. Great answer points to all. I’ve got some sort of sore throat and cough going on, so I’m knocked out on cold meds and a diazepam to sleep. Hopefully I can participate more meaningfully tomorrow.

ebasboy's avatar

I think Christian sects from early centuries were caused by varying applications and interpretations to the word of God and ofcourse by compromise of certain cultural activities. This kind of variation brought some denominations to birth in the race to justification. But of current age, we still have the same factors in play, not rulling out some tactics of fame and wealth.

Our failure to address issues arising in the church in good faith will continue to outspread sects because people are fond of stand alone justifications. Most Christian sects tend to be proclaiming the same God, but they differ in principle though the principle is pre determined in the the word of God. We like being “teachers” and “spiritual fathers.” These titles do not come with our choice but by actions/principle.

mattbrowne's avatar

Christianity. If you factor in violence, Islam.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Violence is a whole separate question. Islam was founded by a violent warrior leader. Christianity certainly had its bloodthirsty phase too. Perhaps that had to do with the contributions to its growth made by the Roman warrior/emperor Constantine.

whitenoise's avatar


“Islam was founded by a violent warrior leader” misses some nuance, I’d say.

ETpro's avatar

@whitenoise I don’t suppose that Muḥammad ibn `Abd Allāh was more violent a leader than other secular or religious leaders of his day, but he did unite Arabia into a single religious polity by force of arms. To be fair, the Meccan tribes started it. He and the followers he attracted at Medina finished it. But I do not think you need to delve into nuance to fairly say that he compares more closely with Constantine than with Jesus, who definitely was not a military leader.

whitenoise's avatar

I know and agree with your latter statement. He was a military leader. He was ruthless as well, but I feel he wasn’t a violent leader compared to other leaders of his time.

The ironic part is that a lot of what we now perceive as violent and discriminatory rules of Islam were introduced as fairer and more forgiving / protective rules in his time.

“Conservatives are those that fiercely defend the values of the liberals of their past.”

ETpro's avatar

@whitenoise I’d agree that’s what the word “conservative” is supposed to mean. But it certainly doesn’t apply to hose labeling themselves as conservatives in the USA today.

whitenoise's avatar

In any case, at the moment I believe that we have enough conservatives as it is…

There needs to be a balance between innovation and “destroying our collective wisdom and heritage”. Right now, a lot of the useful rules and dogmas from our past could benefit from some reevaluation, though.

ETpro's avatar

@whitenoise We’re in total agreement on that.

mattbrowne's avatar

@whitenoise – But the Prophet’s successors were definitely both ruthless and violent. Islamic imperialism spread in almost all directions immediately. The bloodshed was enormous. It was about spreading a religion by sword. Persia lost a lot of its original culture. Christians in North Africa became second-class citizens. A good examples are the Copts. In Europe, Islamic conquest was only stopped at the battle of Tours in northern France. Christian Sicily came under Islamic rule. The crusades were horrible too, but they were actually a reaction to Islamic imperialism which was therefore halted for some time – yet, only to be resumed later by the Muslim Ottomans who almost conquered Vienna. And whenever Muslims ruled, followers of other religions were second-class citizens. They essentially established an apartheid system. This includes Moorish Iberia. There was no real tolerance.

Everything changed with the scientific and industrial revolution. Now it was the Christian West who became imperialists. But this was mostly done in the name of nationalism, not Christianity. First the French conquered Egypt, then the British Empire took it from them.

What we see in Mali and Nigeria and Afghanistan today is basically the revival of the Islamic imperial tradition that was created when Muhammad died in 732 CE. Fundamentalist Islam was created before the Golden Islamic Age and its goal is to establish a global caliphate based on dark ages versions of the Sharia, which makes it “legal” for fundamentalist Sunnis to kill liberal Sunni, Shiites, Bahai, Alevits who resist. For this reason Islamic sectarianism (which is the topic of this thread) remains violent today. Christians seem to have learned from the terrible period between 1618 and 1648. Christian sectarianism exists and there are lots of conflicts. But they are fought by using words, not swords.

whitenoise's avatar

@mattbrowne there is much truth in what you say.

Many of the people where I live will actually agree with you.

I wish I felt more at ease to discuss the topic further, but the mere fact that a lot of what you say is true, stops me.

mattbrowne's avatar

@whitenoise – You see, all the millions of modern tolerant Muslims acknowledge this too. They don’t want to go back. They also see valuable lessons in history. They want a modern peaceful Islam. Like the people in Southern Mali for example. Or the Muslims who made the Egyptian revolution happen. They are outraged that this revolution was hijacked by intolerant Muslims who call themselves the Muslim Brotherhood. But the existence of these millions of modern Muslims should encourage us. We should work with them to create a better world. They want to end violent sectarianism with Muslims killing Muslims.

whitenoise's avatar

Partially the reason that I am where I am. I believe in the existence of the modern Muslim that seeks to put meaning to ‘Salam’.

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