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James Billington

Divided We Grow

The long-awaited second edition of David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia.

World Christian Encyclopedia
edited by David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson
Oxford Univ. Press, 2001
1,699 pp., 2 vols.; $295

The second edition of David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia is one of the richest and most original compilations of human data produced at the turn of the millennium. In two oversized volumes and 1,699 pages of fine print, this work seeks to count the number of human beings in every religion on Earth in the year 2000—and to provide comparative figures back to 1900 and projections to 2025.

This work represents a massive expansion of the single-volume first edition, which appeared in 1982. It states that more than five billion people (85 percent of the world's population) are "religionists," that is, members of one or another of the world's ten thousand distinct religions. Two billion are Christians, 1.18 billion are Muslims, and.8 billion Hindus.

The first volume is devoted largely to Christianity, which has kept pace with the rapid growth in world population but has dramatically changed its shape in the process. In the twentieth century, Christianity became a religion that is practiced everywhere in the inhabited world, but the overall growth of Christian adherents—from 588 million in 1900 to 2,000 million in 2000—has been almost entirely achieved in the world's less developed nations, where the growth over the same period was from 83 million to 1,120 million.

The overall rate of Muslim growth was greater worldwide than that of Christianity. In Africa, however, adherents of Christianity grew by 38 fold and now outnumber Muslims on that continent. (Muslims were three and a half times more numerous than Christians in Africa in 1900 but grew only by tenfold in the twentieth century.)

What emerges most dramatically from the data here presented is the accelerating fragmentation of Christianity, from 20,800 denominations in 1981 to 34,000 just 20 years later. Of the six major groups into which Christianity is ...

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