How many original religions?

Take Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions, they all derive from each other. I am sure Judaism itself stems from some other previous religion.

I am guessing that in the end, they will all end up in some flavor of primitive animism in prehistory but that’s not as far as I want to go.

So let’s say that first apparition in written history as an original religion and not as an offshoot of some other earlier religion is enough to call it original. and count those.

Counting the branches that emerge from the fog of prehistory, if you will.

How many original religions then? Any of them still in practice or have they all evolved into something else?
ETA: I am hoping there is a GQ answer to this. If this is the matter of debate, let’s just list the sides and not get into the debate itself.

According to Islam there was only one original religion that began with Adam and Eve. It was called al-din al-hanif (the primordial religion). Islam identifies itself with that, and believes that all the prophets of the Qur’an and Bible were sent to re-establish this primordial religion after people had corrupted the latest install.

Hinduism and Shinto are both original religions that are still practised.

You can stretch this as far as you want your definitions to go.

Every tribal culture had a religion of some sort, and this has probably been true for most of the existence of homo sapiens and possibly some other species. How they trace to one another will always be unknown.

In modern times there have been cults of various sizes from two people to millions. Are they original or derivative? That would depend on your definitions.

A loose definition of original would probably allow for millions of religions. How small you make that number is going to be personal choice for definition, along with scholarship that’s probably never been done.

What makes one religion an offshoot of another? It’s not as simple as saying Christianity started as an offshoot of Judaism. Modern rabbinical Judaism and Christianity both developed out of the gallimaufry of Temple-based Judaism, Essene mysticism, gnosticism, mystery religions, Greek philosophy, etc. that was found in Palestine.

Islam developed out of a similar setting in which Judaism, Christianity, and pagan religions were all present, but none can be said to be the direct forebear of Islam. Mohammad wasn’t an apostate Jew or Christian, and despite what Jack Chick claims, you can’t call Islam just a modified version of moon-worship, either. Mohammad claimed his revelation came direct from God via the angel Gabriel, and it corresponds in some areas to Jewish or Christian doctrine, but differs from each as well.

If I started a new religion, I doubt I could avoid incorporating elements of other religions if I tried. How would you decide if Smitheeism is a new religion or just an offshoot of something else?

If you want to pick “sides” then the Abrahamic guys, the polytheists, ancestor worshippers and animists make the starting line up. Zoroastrians and Buddhists make the subs bench.

It would be very difficult to count. Take for instance the ancient Canaanites. The god Baal is variously called Hadad, Chemosh, Dagon, Moab, (Yahweh,) etc. The goddess Astarte was also known as Asherah, Athirat, Elat, Qudshu, etc.

But these weren’t necessarily different names for the same god. Simply, tribes that come in frequent with other tribes tend to form similar deities, though they probably practiced their religions as independent faiths. Many tribes of the native Americans of the region that the US covers believed in the Great Spirit, but these were again probably all worshiped as separate and unrelated religions.

In the case of Hunduism, there’s evidence that the religion has swallowed several other religions into its rather flexible scheme of deities. Where Buddhism and it were initially separate and competitive, within modern Hinduism, Buddha is a viable deity. Modern Hinduism is quite probably composed of three or four separate religions. Ancient Greek faith has some evidence of an earlier religion that was swallowed or that the religion transmogrified, as well. Cronus, father of Zeus, was quite possibly a Grecian equivalent of El. El was the main god of the Canaanites. As the Baal/Hadad took over the religion of the Canaanites, Zeus took over the religion of the Greeks. The Romans took much of the Greek view of the otherworld and incorporated it into their own mythology.

Only popular conception really separates Grecian, Roman, and Canaanite religions from one another. If you would consider Moabites, Midianites, etc. to be no different from any other Canaanite religion or you consider the Lakota and the Hopi to both be the same religion, it’s possibly a bit odd to separate Grecian, Roman, and Canaanite religions from one another.

And if you consider the Moabites and the Midianites to have had the same religion, it’s silly to say that the Israelites had a different religion, even though they eventually got rid of most of the gods besides El/Yahweh.

OTOH, if you want to argue that they were separate, you probably need to separate out the branches of Israelite religion that called their chief god El and those that called him Yahweh. Which one is then the “parent” of Judaism is then hard to say. They were combined with one another when Judah was unified politically. And combined in slightly *different * form in Israel, leading to Samaritanism.

Right there you have given an excellent definition of the concept of al-din al-hanif. It’s sort of the rootstock shared by all of the later religions. The concept is that they are all various formations of the primordial religion.

Taoism references the people of old as examples of how to live right, which–since the Dao De Jing was written in the 6th century BCE, and it’s talking about what was ancient times for then–must have been really ancient, like prehistoric or even Neolithic. Mircea Eliade thinks Taoism derives from Neolithic shamanism.

The site of Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia was a religious and agricultural center founded around 11,000 BCE and abandoned around 8,000 BCE. It covered the Mesolithic and the dawn of the Neolithic, basically. It was the earliest center from which agriculture-- and presumably the religion that went with it-- was diffused.

From what I can tell, you’re talking about a sort of ex post facto claim on everyone else’s religion, like the Europeans sailing across the Atlantic, plomping down a flag, and declaring the new continent property of Europe. Point in fact, when Europeans discovered the Great Spirit, they claimed that it was simply a manifestation of God and proof of the correctness of Christianity. There is certainly no reason to believe that.

Alan Smithee and myself are talking about archaeology. It certainly is fairly likely Islam and all the other Indo-European religions are related and come from the same roots, but to say that al-din al-hanif equates to that is like saying that a stopped watch is accurate when you can point to it and by sheer happenstance it happens to show the right time at that moment. They got lucky. (True, simple cynicism and some knowledge of ancient religion would tell one that there are shared points and that beliefs are rather fluid, so there’s a decent chance that everything is just an evolution of something old, but minus archaeology, that’s just a shot in the dark.)

I think that everything in religion is just an evolution of something old. That’s a good way of putting it.

Can the Wiccans be the skins?

Although it’s possible, it’s hard to imagine a completely made up religion except in relatively recent times-- eg, Scientology. I don’t know how derivative that “religion” is, but I’m assuming it was mostly made up.

And I can’t imagine that we have enough info to give a factual answer to the OP.

Where do the Pre-Columbian American religions fall in that line-up? Surely the Mayan polytheistic pantheon is independent from the Greek lot. Or maybe not?

Not really knowing what I am talking about, I think I would like to bunch all Native Americans religions as one, just as I would like all the early Middle Eastern religions as one. Not because I have reason to doubt their originality but because similar place and similar time giving birth to similar religions just beg for lumping in this lumping mind. Away with splitters.

I would definitely like to see the answer err on the side of underestimating separate origins and being a small number over a detailed fine split of hundreds of questionable (because of age and lack of records) separate origins.

This is sort of like language. We assume that all living languages derive from some common tongue 50k, 100k, or 200k years ago (or maybe even earlier). Same with religion, although we tend to think of pre-civilized peoples as not having orgnanized religions. Still, spiritual beliefs probably trace a continuous line deep into our pre-history.

So, in that sense, maybe they are related, but I think that gets into territory you said in the OP you weren’t interested in. The ancestors of the Maya and Greeks would not have been in contact after about 15k years ago, and probably longer ago than that.

You might try getting a copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell.

It was entirely made up, and I don’t count it as a real religion. If I had to take a fictional religion from a science fiction author, I would go with the Earthseed religion invented by Octavia E. Butler.

I like Bokononism (from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle). But the only difference between Scientology, Mormonism, and Catholicism is age.

Sapo, as I said, you’re free to use any definition you want. But if you’re deciding ahead of time what answer you want to come up with, then none of your definitions mean a thing.

Not to start a debate, but while age is the biggest difference, it’s not the only one. There is no evidence that the founders of the Catholic Church started their church as a deliberate ruse to gain financial benefit from others (not that it hasn’t been used that way since). There is also no evidence that the founders of the Catholic Church were demonstrably crazy within the context of their respective social milieux. There is ample evidence that both of those things are true of L. Ron Hubbard and significant circumstantial evidence that one or both may have been true of Joseph Smith. Of course, age may certainly be one reason for the amount of evidence we have in each case, but the difference is still real.