What is the oldest known religion in the world?

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Hinduism is probably the oldest formal religion in the world. However, animism was the first religion and is much older than Hinduism.
One thing that researchers agree upon is that mankind has always believed in a Higher Power. Archaeology has shown that no ancient society ever existed that did not believe in the supernatural. (See:Can you show me that God exists?)

Based upon a massive worldwide study of the most ancient inscriptions and the earliest levels of civilization, Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt (in his twelve-volume Der Ursprung Der Gottesidee) concluded that the original belief was monotheistic; a belief in One God (see footnote 1, below). It was a simple belief in the Creator (Dyeus Pater; Sky-Father) with no imagery of any kind. It gave way relatively quickly to polytheism and idolatry, but its traces could still be seen by the careful researcher, just as (for example) Proto-Indo European has left indelible marks within the later languages. Other traditions also are traceable worldwide, such as the religious significance of the number seven, and the immortality of the soul.

The process by which the awareness of One God gave way to a belief in many gods, has been described by Scandinavian researchers (see footnote 2) as splitting ("Gottespaltung"): the people gradually viewed God's attributes of truth, righteousness, fertility etc., as separate from Him, and afterwards personified and worshiped the attributes themselves, until God was largely forgotten.

According to Jewish tradition also, (Rashi commentary, Genesis 4:26), monotheism is more ancient than polytheism. Maimonides (see footnote 3, below) describes the process by which polytheism began: "A couple of centuries after the Creation, mankind made a great mistake. They said that since God had created the stars and spheres and placed them on high, accordingly it is fitting for people to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. They perceived this to be the will of God, that people should magnify and honor the stars. They began to praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would (according to their false conception) be indirectly honoring God too."
It was the original belief which Abraham reinstated through his teaching of ethical monotheism.
Footnotes:
1) Albright, "From the Stone Age," p.170; and J.A. Wilson, "The Culture of Ancient Egypt," p.129. Also Baron, "A Social and Religious History," vol. I, p.44 and 311. Also James Meek, "Hebrew Origins," p.188, quoting Langdon, Lagrange and John Ross. Also Martin Nilsson, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaften, 2nd ed., p.61, 141, 220 and 394.
2) G. W. Anderson, in "The Old Testament and Modern Study," p.287. Also Friedrich Baethgen, in Beitraege zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, p.288. Also Pallotino, "The Etruscans," p. 158 and 167.
3) See the full quote from Maimonides, in: "How did polytheism start?"
Followers of religions with a creation story often say that they came first, since the world began when their god or gods created the world. But animism was probably the first religion. This is a primitive religion, which sprang up independently in many areas of the world, but in most countries has mainly been replaced by more formal religion. In animism, spirits are considered to inhabit familiar objects in the landscape. For example, Australian aboriginal beliefs may have begun up to 60,000 years ago.
Answers from various contributors:

Oldest Known Religion:

Religion goes back at least as far as human civilizations. Nobody knows what the first religion was. The Egyptians predate the Jews, The Mesopotamians predate them. The Chinese predate them...

Religions with a creation story often claim to be the oldest, since the world began with that creation and with the god or gods of that religion.

Hinduism: Since Sanskrit is the oldest written language, as far as religion being written down, and as far as organized religion is concerned, it would be Hinduism. It is said that when Rama appeared, according to our calendar, was a million or so years ago (not sure of the exact date, but it's a long time!) And Krishna, God himself according to the Vedic scriptures, appeared here 5,000 years ago. Buddha, about 500 B.C., Jesus, about 2,000 years ago. If you go through the different religious book and study this question deeply, you will find out that Hinduism is the oldest religion of the world. There are no dates and facts, but its history is about more than 50000 thousands years ago.

Additional input from our users:
  • Others say that animism would be the oldest known type of religion. This is a primitive religion, which sprang up independently in many areas of the world, but in most countries has mainly been replaced by more formal religion.
  • Remnants of animal worship survived in Judaism and Christianity. Satan was a serpent; Jehovah, like Osiris, was worshiped as a bull; Christ was the lamb of God, and the Holy Ghost appeared in the form of a dove. However, these are only symbols of the worshiped object, and are not worshiped in themselves.

  • The Egyptian religion can also be considered the oldest religion. Its origins date back beyond 3000 BCE.

  • First off, this is a very general question. Religion comes from "religare," which is to bind, or have union with, etc. so humans throughout our history have been seeking this union. Yoga, in Sanskrit, means union. This longing for connection to God, to worship God, is innate in most all human beings.

  • Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all Abrahamic religions. Abraham dates back to 1800 BC.

  • This also depends on religion - my personal belief is Judaism, since Adam and Eve, and then through Noah. Many people don't believe that nature or sex worship, solar worship, or worship of elements or forces of nature are technically religions. Most such people believe that a polytheistic worship of gods that represent the values of the people was the first religion (gone from today's world).

  • From a Biblical perspective, undoubtedly many of the religions of the world are very ancient, and no doubt included what is known today as various 'animistic' elements. Such worship is, according to the Biblical view, the worship of the creature rather than the Creator who made the particular object, whether it be the sun, or a tree etc. It would be akin to us worshiping and adoring a technological invention, instead of praising the inventor, as we know that everything has a maker. In the same way the Bible records these religions as a degeneration from the original monotheism we find in the beginning. The Bible also records the first type of religious ceremony in Genesis 3:3-6 where Cain and Abel both made offerings unto the Lord, the Creator of all. According to the Biblical view, all other religions would have come after this time and developed from it, essentially as creations of man. Genesis 4:3-5 (King James Version)
"And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell."

  • Even before this religious ceremony of the offering of the sacrifice, it is recorded that Adam had a form of open fellowship with God as He had spoken to him and received and understood God's instructions. This simple understanding and fellowship between persons, which in a sense transcends all religious practice as man meets personally with His maker, is what is restored to a degree when a person becomes a "new creation" in Christ and receives the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. This requires no religious ceremony, can occur anywhere and anytime, and is open to everyone who wishes to worship "in Spirit and in truth." It also has the assurance that everything has already been done and completed through the finished work of Jesus Christ, not through any amount of religious works which the devotee can do.

  • Worship of Animals and Plants - In the infancy of the world animals were deified and adored, and trees and plants were regarded as sentient beings and received the homage of man. Nearly every animal has been an object of worship. This worship flourished for ages in Egypt and India. In Egypt the worship of the bull (Apis) was associated with that of Osiris (Serapis). The cow is still considered sacred in India. Serpent worship has existed in every part of the world.

  • Australian aboriginal religion began about 60,000 years ago. The age of ancient religions predate Christianity's claim of a young earth.

  • According to AFROL.com:

    "Archaeologists have discovered what seems to be remains of the world's earliest religious worship site in the remote Ngamiland region of Botswana. Here, our ancestors performed advanced rituals, worshiping the python some 70,000 years ago. The sensational discovery strengthens Africa's position as the cradle of modern man. ... While, up until now, scholars have largely held that man's first rituals were carried out over 40,000 years ago in Europe, it now appears that they were wrong about both the time and place. Associate Professor Sheila Coulson, from the Oslo University, however claims to have proof that modern humans started performing advanced rituals in Africa 70,000 years ago. She discovered mankind's oldest known ritual in Botswana.'

  • No doubt it's Islam. The first man also the the first prophet was Adam on the Earth, Adam(Peace be upon him) taught that Allah is the name of the God and follow the commands of Allah was the religion.

  • Vedic Hinduism and Zoroastrianism are considered the oldest organized religions.

  • I would place Hinduism as the first known religion, although it is not strictly a religion in the formal sense of the word, but a spiritual Tradition.

    The origins of Hindu tradition have been traced as far as the ancient Vedic civilization (2nd and 1st millenia BCE up to 6th Century BCE) and ancient Indus Valley civilization (c3,000- 1500 BC) although there are archaeological indications that strongly suggest such spiritual Traditions whether Hinduism or not existed long before that - into pre-history

  • I'm sure neolithic man and even earlier Species of Mankind had their form of Ritualistic Worship or Traditions. It's possible we might never discover the first true religion and still others may wish to express their points of view or further this question based on their knowledge or expertise on the subject.

  • The practice of seeking and sharing (or hoarding) scarce resources, or alternately, practices and traditions that strengthened clan loyalty.

  • The oldest documented religion still in existence today is a form of paganism, believing in a god and goddess, it is over 40,000 years old, and was once practiced everywhere, though loosely, by Native Americans, Celts, and ancient Romans and tribal Africans. However, it is not as strong because of conviction and genocide by the catholic church.

  • The oldest known religion is shamanism, examples of this date back to when Neanderthals still accompanied us on the planet. The wisest and usually the oldest of a tribe would be appointed the Shaman. Responsible for guidance and medical treatment the Shaman defined religious rites and practices for his tribe. This is only one step away from the family unit which is usually not described as a religious group. Shamanism is found in the all parts of the world. An interesting note, a tribe that was expelled due to religious persecution from Egypt, migrated west and carried their religious practices and some Egyptian traditions with them, they still practice that same religion to this day in Mali. The Dogon? worship Ama, a god who came down on an ark and a wave of fire and landed in a storm who came from the Star Sirrus B, a star that is too far for the naked eye to see, yet they know exactly where it is using a special tool and information given to them by their god more than a thousand years ago.

  • This is easy to answer, Sumerians have the oldest KNOWN religion.Known is the key point, Sumerians have the OLDEST form of communication that told about their religion. Therefore, Sumerians have the oldest KNOWN religion.

  • Animism is believed to be the oldest religion on earth. Animism has been practised by Australian aborigines for at least sixty thousand years. There is also early evidence of animism in European cave art.

  • One thing that researchers agree upon is that mankind has always believed in a Higher Power. Archaeology has shown that no ancient society ever existed that did not believe in the supernatural.
    Based upon a massive worldwide study of the most ancient inscriptions and the earliest levels of civilization, Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt (in his twelve-volume Der Ursprung Der Gottesidee) concluded that the original belief was monotheistic (see note 1, below). It was a simple belief in the Creator (Sky-Father) with no imagery of any kind. It gave way relatively quickly to polytheism and idolatry.
Notes: 1) Albright, "From the Stone Age," p.170; and J.A. Wilson, "The Culture of Ancient Egypt," p.129.
Also Baron, "A Social and Religious History," vol. I, p.44 and 311.
Also James Meek, "Hebrew Origins," p.188, quoting Langdon, Lagrange and John Ross.
Also Martin Nilsson, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaften, 2nd ed., p.61, 141, 220 and 394.
Another Answer from our community:

Some say that Islam, in its general sense, is the oldest religion as it started by universe creation.

Some say that Hinduism is the oldest religion (that evoloved from Sanatan Dharma- eternal religion).
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