Home culture 180,000 Years of Religion Charted on a “Histomap” in 1943

180,000 Years of Religion Charted on a “Histomap” in 1943

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180,000 Years of Religion Charted on a “Histomap” in 1943

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For many, even most of us mod­erns, the cen­tral reli­gious choice is a sim­ple one: adhere to the belief sys­tem in which you grew up, or stop adher­ing to it. But if you sur­vey the vari­ety of reli­gions in the world, the sit­u­a­tion no longer seems quite so bina­ry; if you then add the vari­ety of reli­gions that have exist­ed through­out human his­to­ry, it starts look­ing down­right kalei­do­scop­ic. Or rather, it looks some­thing like the faint­ly psy­che­del­ic but also infor­ma­tion-rich His­tom­ap of Reli­gion above, cre­at­ed in 1943 by chemist John B. Sparks, whom we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his orig­i­nal His­tom­ap depict­ing 4,000 Years of World His­to­ry and his sub­se­quent His­tom­ap of Evo­lu­tion.

The Use­fulCharts video below explains Sparks’ His­tom­ap of Reli­gion in detail, but it also cites his His­tom­ap of Evo­lu­tion, an exam­ple of how his world­view fails to align with cur­rent per­cep­tions of these sub­jects. Even the new­er His­tom­ap of Reli­gion is by now more than 80 years old, dur­ing which time schol­ar­ship in reli­gion and relat­ed fields has made cer­tain dis­cov­er­ies and clar­i­fi­ca­tions that nec­es­sar­i­ly go unre­flect­ed in Sparks’ work. But if you bear this in mind while look­ing at the His­tom­ap of Reli­gion, you can still gain a new and use­ful per­spec­tive on how the beliefs that mankind has held high­est have changed and inter­min­gled over the mil­len­nia.

The chart begins in pre­his­to­ry, divid­ing the then-extant faiths into the cat­e­gories “mag­ic and fetishism,” “tabu and totemism,” “ances­tor wor­ship,” “trib­al gods and divine kings,” “pro­pi­ti­a­tion of nature spir­its,” and “fer­til­i­ty cults.” Though Sparks’ infor­ma­tion may on the whole be “based on the­o­ries about the ori­gins of reli­gion which have now been either reject­ed or at least seri­ous­ly revised,” explains Use­fulCharts cre­ator Matt Bak­er, “the gen­er­al ideas expressed by these six types are still some­what valid.” The expan­sion and con­trac­tion of adher­ence to these types of ear­ly reli­gion through time are reflect­ed by changes in the width of the col­ored columns that rep­re­sent them. Fol­low these columns down­ward through his­to­ry, and new, more famil­iar reli­gions emerge: Tao­ism, Judaism, Hin­duism, Bud­dhism, Chris­tian­i­ty both Catholic and Protes­tant.

There­after come oth­er move­ments and fig­ures per­haps not imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able as reli­gious in nature: “human­ism,” for exam­ple, whose rep­re­sen­ta­tives include Shake­speare and Rousseau. Lat­er, the ideas of Russ­ian intel­lec­tu­als Vis­sar­i­on Belin­sky and Alexan­der Herzen branch off to become, after about a cen­tu­ry, the “cor­rupt phi­los­o­phy” of com­mu­nism, with its “God-less pro­pa­gan­da” sup­port­ing a “police state aimed at world dom­i­na­tion.” Bak­er objects that, if Sparks counts com­mu­nism as a reli­gion, then sure­ly he should count cap­i­tal­ism as a reli­gion as well. This is a fair-enough point, though behold this dense chart of “cults, faiths, and eth­i­cal philoso­phies” long enough, and you’ll start to won­der if every­thing human­i­ty has ever done isn’t, in some sense, ulti­mate­ly reli­gious in nature.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC — 2000 AD)

The Tree of Lan­guages Illus­trat­ed in a Big, Beau­ti­ful Info­graph­ic

Joseph Priest­ley Visu­al­izes His­to­ry & Great His­tor­i­cal Fig­ures with Two of the Most Influ­en­tial Info­graph­ics Ever (1769)

4000 Years of His­to­ry Dis­played in a 5‑Foot-Long “His­tom­ap” (Ear­ly Info­graph­ic) From 1931

10 Mil­lion Years of Evo­lu­tion Visu­al­ized in an Ele­gant, 5‑Foot Long Info­graph­ic from 1931

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.



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