This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions
(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?

China and India are huge religious outliers

Credit: Carrie Osgood

A picture says more than a thousand words, and that goes for this world map as well. This map conveys not just the size but also the distribution of world religions, at both a global and national level.

Strictly speaking it's an infographic rather than a map, but you get the idea. The circles represent countries, their varying sizes reflect population sizes, and the slices in each circle indicate religious affiliation.

The result is both panoramic and detailed. In other words, this is the best, simplest map of world religions ever. Some quick takeaways:

  • Christianity (blue) dominates in the Americas, Europe and the southern half of Africa.
  • Islam (green) is the top religion in a string of countries from northern Africa through the Middle East to Indonesia.
  • India stands out as a huge Hindu bloc (dark orange).
  • Buddhism (light orange) is the majority religion in South East Asia and Japan
  • China is the country with the world's largest 'atheist/agnostic' population (grey) as well as worshippers of 'other' religions (yellow).

The Americas are (mostly) solidly Christian

Which is the least Christian country in the Americas? The answer may surprise you.

Credit: Carrie Osgood

But the map – based on figures from the World Religion Database (behind a paywall) – also allows for some more detailed observations.

  • Yes, the United States is majority Christian, but the atheist/agnostic share of its population alone is bigger than the total population of most other countries, in the Americas and elsewhere. Uruguay has the highest share of atheists/agnostics in the Americas. Other countries with a lot of 'grey' in their pies include Canada, Cuba, Argentina and Chile.
  • All belief systems represented on the scale below are present in the US and Canada. Most other countries in the Americas are more mono-religiously Christian, with 'other' (often syncretic folk religions such as Candomblé in Brazil or Santería in Cuba) the only main alternative.
  • Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago are the only American nations with significant shares of Hindus, as well as the largest share of Muslim populations – and consequently have the lowest share of Christians in the Americas (just under half in the case of Suriname).

Lots of grey area in Europe

The second-biggest religious affiliation in Europe isn't Islam, but 'none'.

Credit: Carrie Osgood

  • Christianity is still the biggest belief system in most European countries, but the atheist/agnostic share is strong in many places, mainly in Western Europe, but especially in the Czech Republic, where it is close to half the total.
  • Islam represents a significant slice (and a large absolute number) in France, Germany and the UK, and is stronger in the Balkans: The majority in Albania, almost half in Bosnia and around a quarter in Serbia (although that probably indicates the de facto independent province of Kosovo).

Islam in the north, Christianity in the south

The map of Africa and is dominated by the world's two largest religions

Credit: Carrie Osgood

  • Israel is the world's only majority-Jewish state (75%, with 18% Muslim). The West Bank, shown separate, also has a significant Jewish presence (20%, with 80% Muslim). Counted as one country, the Jewish majority would drop to around 55%.
  • Strictly Islamic Saudi Arabia, but also some of its neighbors in the Gulf, have significant non-Muslim populations – virtually all guest workers and ex-pats.
  • Nigeria, due to its large population and even split between Islam and Christianity, has more Muslims and more Christians than most other African nations.

Different majorities across Asia

Close neighbors India, Bangladesh and Myanmar each have a different majority religion.

Credit: Carrie Osgood

  • Because countries are sized for population rather than area, some are much bigger or smaller than you'd expect – with some interesting results: There are more Christians in Muslim-majority Indonesia than there are in mainly Christian Australia, for example.
  • Hindus are a minority everywhere outside India, except in Nepal.
  • North Korea is shown as three-quarters atheist/agnostic, but this is debatable, on two counts. In what is often referred to as the last Stalinist state on Earth, religious adherence is probably underreported. And the state-sponsored ideology of 'Juche', although in essence based on materialism, makes some supernatural claims. For instance: despite having died in 1994, Kim Il-sung was declared 'president for eternity' in 1998.
Of course, clarity comes at the cost of detail. The map bands together various Christian and Islamic schools of thought that don't necessarily accept each other as 'true believers'. It includes Judaism (only 15 million adherents, but the older sibling of the two largest religious groups) yet groups Sikhism (27 million) and various other more numerous faiths in with 'others'. And it doesn't make the distinction between atheism ("There is no god") with agnosticism ("There may or may not be a god, we just don't know") *.

And then there's the whole minefield of nuance between those who practice a religion (but may do so out of social coercion rather than personally held belief), and those who believe in something (but don't participate in the rituals of any particular faith). To be fair, that requires more nuance than even a great map like this can probably provide.


This map found here at map infographic designer Carrie Osgood's page. Information based on 2010 figures for religious affiliation.

Strange Maps #967

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.


*: Definitions matter, but definitions vary. The ones above, equating 'atheism' with a rejection of the belief in god and 'agnosticism' as the mere doubting of his existence, may be common, but not necessarily precise. Merriam-Webster defines atheism as "a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods". Many in the atheist community subscribe to this definition, which avoids any specific claims to truth (such as "there is no god").

As one reader clarifies, the difference between 'knowing' there is no god and 'not knowing' there is no god can be expressed by the adjectives 'gnostic' and 'agnostic' (both from the Greek root 'gnosis', i.e. 'knowledge'): "A gnostic atheist is making a truth claim that there is no god and does not believe in a god; an agnostic atheist says there is no proof either way and does not believe in a god. They are both atheists because they both hold the position that they don't believe in any god(s)."

Another reader offers a slightly different take: "The misunderstanding of what the word ('atheist') means to people who actively call themselves (thus) is at the root of a lot of the arguments between believers and non-believers. 'Agnosticism' is the opposite of 'gnosticism', the knowledge of the existence of gods. Most atheists are agnostics, I myself would say I'm an agnostic atheist. As opposed to most believers who would be either gnostic theists or agnostic theists."

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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