This article lists historical figures credited with founding religions or religious philosophies or people who first codified older known religious traditions. It also lists those who have founded a specific major denomination within a larger religion.
In many cases, one can regard a religion as a continuous tradition extending to prehistoric times without a specific founder (Hinduism, which is a synthesis of the Vedic religion, the shramanic movement, and Indian folk religion; animism), or with legendary founding-figures whose historicity has been widely questioned (such Rishabha). This notwithstanding, many historical expressions of such religions will still have founders. Religion often develops by means of schism and reform (motivated by theological speculation), and it becomes a matter of judgement at what point such a schism or reform should be considered the "foundation" of a new religious tradition. For example, Martin Luther and John Wesley worked for reforms but their efforts failed to influence the whole Church and the end result was a new tradition within Christianity.
Chronologically, foundations of religious traditions may sub-divide into:
- the Axial Age, with foundations to Hinduism, Zorastrianism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism and with the earliest known major founding figures such as Zoroaster, Confucius, and Buddha.
- Hellenism to Late Antiquity, with foundations of classical religious traditions and schools such as various sects of Early Christianity, Stoicism, Gnosticism.
- the medieval to early modern period, with the rise of Islam, the Bhakti movement, Zen Buddhism, and the Protestant Reformation.
- new religious movements, since c. 1800.
Ancient (before AD 500)
- See culture hero for legendary founders of doubtful historicity.
|Name||Religious tradition founded||Ethnicity||Life of founder|
|Naram-Sin of Akkad||first known ruler to impose an imperial cult||Akkadian||22nd century BC (short chronology)|
|Ur-Nammu||built the Ziggurat of Ur to Nanna||Sumerian||21st century BC (short chronology)|
|Akhenaten||Atenism||Egyptian||14th century BC (conventional Egyptian chronology)|
|Parshva||The penultimate (23rd) Tirthankara in Jainism||Indian||877–777 BC|
|Zoroaster||composed the gathas foundational to Zoroastrianism||Central Iranian/Airya||c. 10th to 6th century BC[n 1]|
|Numa Pompilius||Roman king who codified and organized the Roman religion||Italic of the Sabellian Sabine tribe||717 BC – 673 BC|
|Laozi||Taoism||Chinese||6th century BC|
|Nebuchadnezzar II||built the Etemenanki, established Marduk as the patron deity of Babylon||Babylonian
(southern dialect of Akkadian)
|6th century BC|
|Mahavira||The final Tirthankara in Jainism||Indian||599–527 BC|
|Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha||Buddhism||Indian||c. 5th century BC|
|Confucius||Confucianism||Chinese||551 BC – 479 BC|
|Pythagoras||Pythagoreanism||Greek, born on Samos||fl. 520 BC|
|Mozi||Mohism||Chinese||470 BC – 390 BC|
|Ezra HaSofer||established Second Temple Judaism||Judean, Levite tribal
through Aaronic line
|fl. 459 BC[n 2]|
|Epicurus||Epicureanism||Greek, born on Samos||fl. 307 BC|
|Zeno of Citium||Stoicism||possibly Phoenician,
albeit a Greek national
|333 BC – 264 BC|
|Pharnavaz I of Iberia||Armazi||Georgian||326 BC - 234 BC|
|Patanjali||Raja Yoga (part of Hinduism)||Indian||2nd century BC|
|Jesus||Christianity||Judean, Davidic line||c. 5-4 BC - c. 33 AD|
|Paul the Apostle||Pauline Christianity||Judean, albeit a Roman citizen||1st century AD|
|James the Just||Jewish Christianity||Judean||1st century AD|
|Judah haNasi||Talmudic Rabbinical Judaism||Judean, Davidic line||2nd century AD|
|Marcion of Sinope||Marcionism||Pontic Greek||110–160|
|Plotinus||Neoplatonism||may have been of Roman,
Greek, or Hellenized Egyptian
ancestry; Roman citizen
|Mani||Manichaeism||Persian Western Iranian/Airya||216–276|
|Arius[n 3]||Arianism[n 4]||possibly Berber,
born in Libya; hellenophone
|Pelagius[n 3]||Pelagianism[n 5]||British, possibly Irish; fluent in Greek and Latin||354–430|
|Nestorius[n 3]||Nestorianism[n 6]||Romaniote (Byzantine hellenophone)||386–451|
|Eutyches||Monophysitism[n 7]||born in Constantinople||380–456|
Medieval to Early Modern (500–1800 AD)
New religious movements (post-1800)
- "Controversy over Zaraθuštra's date has been an embarrassment of long standing to Zoroastrian studies. If anything approaching a consensus exists, it is that he lived ca. 1000 BCE give or take a century or so, though reputable scholars have proposed dates as widely apart as ca. 1750 BCE and '258 years before Alexander.'" (Encyclopædia Iranica)
- historicity disputed but widely considered plausible. Gosta W. Ahlstrom argues the inconsistencies of the biblical tradition are insufficient to say that Ezra, with his central position as the 'father of Judaism' in the Jewish tradition, has been a later literary invention. (The History of Ancient Palestine, Fortress Press, p.888)
- The teaching of the traditional "founding father" of a "heresy" is may well have differed greatly from the contents of the heresy as generally understood. For references see following notes.
- Acc. to Rowan Williams, 'Arianism' was essentially a polemical creation of Athanasius in an attempt to show that the different alternatives to the Nicene Creed collapsed back into some form of Arius' teaching. (Arius, SCM (2001) p.247)
- Pelagius' thought was one sided and an inadequate interpretation of Christianity, but his disciples, Celestius and, to a greater extent, Julian of Eclanum pushed his ideas to extremes.(Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines A & C. Black (1965) p.361) Pelagius himself was declared orthodox by the synod of Diospolis in 415, after repudiating some of Celestius' opinions. (Frend, W.H.C. Saints and Sinners in the Early Church DLT (1985) p.133)
- Nestorius specifically endorsed the repudiation of "Nestorianism" reached at Chalcedon in 451 (Prestige, G.L. Fathers and Heretics SPCK (1963) p.130)
- Monophysitism represents an advanced type of Alexandrian Theology; it emerged in a distinctive form in 433 as a result of the agreement between John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. The exaggerated form held by Eutyches was condemned in 451 by the Council of Chalcedon. In its moderate forms the divergence from orthodoxy may be simply terminological. Alexandrian Theology stressed both divine transcendence and a marked dualism between the material and the spiritual and so tended to nullify the humanity of Christ.(Cross & Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. Monophysitism, Alexandrian Theology)
- The Old Catholic Churches are a grouping of national churches which have broken from Rome at different times: The Church of Utrecht in 1724; German Austrian and Swiss Christians who refused to accept the dogma of papal infallibility as defined in 1870 and received the apostolic succession from Utrecht; these two groups were later some small groups of Slav origin living in the USA (Cross & Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. Old Catholics; Holland, Christianity in)
- Buddha claimants
- List of deified individuals
- List of religions
- Messiah claimants
- Religious leaders by year
- Timeline of religion
- Fisher, Mary Pat (1997). Living Religions: An Encyclopedia of the World's Faiths. London: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1-86064-148-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. p. 115
- "Parshvanatha". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Bowker, John (2000). "Parsva". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Charpentier, Jarl (1922). "The History of the Jains". The Cambridge History of India 1. Cambridge. p. 153.
- Melton 2003, p. 191.
- "Mahavira." Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2006. Answers.com 28 Nov. 2009. http://www.answers.com/topic/mahavira
- Brueggemann 2002, pp. 75, 144.
- Edwyn Bevan, Stoics and Sceptics
- "Plotinus." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press, 2003.
- "Plotinus." The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press, 1993, 2003.
- Bilolo, M.: La notion de « l’Un » dans les Ennéades de Plotin et dans les Hymnes thébains. Contribution à l’étude des sources égyptiennes du néo-platonisme. In: D. Kessler, R. Schulz (Eds.), "Gedenkschrift für Winfried Barta ḥtp dj n ḥzj" (Münchner Ägyptologische Untersuchungen, Bd. 4), Frankfurt; Berlin; Bern; New York; Paris; Wien: Peter Lang, 1995, pp. 67–91.
- , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Daibhi O Croinin, Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200 (2013), p. 206.
- Melton 2003, p. 67.
- Melton 2003, p. 128.
- Melton 2003, p. 69.
- Melton 2003, p. 102.
- Melton 2003, p. 95.
- Melton 2003, p. 73.
- Melton 2003, p. 183.
- Melton 2003, p. 75.
- Melton 2003, p. 724.
- Melton 2003, p. 992.
- Melton 2003, p. 741.
- Melton 2003, p. 621.
- Melton 2003, p. 637.
- Chryssides 2001, p. 330.
- Melton 2003, p. 451.
- Smith and Prokopy 2003, p. 279-280.
- "Discussion of why Juche is classified as a major world religion". Adherents.com. Retrieved 2008-10-25.
Its promoters describe Juche as simply a secular, ethical philosophy and not a religion. But, from a sociological viewpoint Juche is clearly a religion;
- Baker, Donald L. (2008). Korean Spirituality. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-8248-3257-5 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].;
- Temperman, Jeroen (2005). State-Religion Relationships and Human Rights Law: Towards a Right to Religiously Neutral Governance 8. Leiden: BRILL. p. 145. ISBN 978-90-04-18148-9 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]..
- "Discussion of why Juche is classified as a major world religion". Adherents.com. Retrieved 2008-10-25.
- Beit-Hallahmi 1998, p. 365.
- Melton 2003, p. 1051.
- Beit-Hallahmi 1998, p. 97.
- Melton 2003, p. 1004.
- Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (1998). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions, Sects, and Cults (Revised Edition). Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8239-2586-5 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Brueggemann, Walter (2002). Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0-664-22231-4 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Chryssides, George D. (2001). Historical dictionary of new religious movements. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-4095-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Jestice, Phyllis G. (2004). Holy People of the World: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia (Volume 3). ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 978-1-57607-355-1 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Melton, J. Gordon (2003). Encyclopedia of American Religions (Seventh edition). Farmington Hills, Michigan: The Gale Group, Inc. ISBN 0-7876-6384-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Smith, Christian; Joshua Prokopy (1999). Latin American Religion in Motion. New York, New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-92106-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].