In ancient times the word religion was linked to mythology, but it really has more to do with how the world was created, what exactly a human’s place in this world is, what happens after death, and how you get through this experience and the next life without having to suffer. No matter what the religion, the people who follow it have created a god that reflects their own image and likeness. But which is the oldest religion?

The Oldest Religion—Hinduism

Even though Hinduism is considered the oldest religion on record, it is actually not one single religion. Hinduism is a combination of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism. It was based on the morality of the times and adheres to dharma, karma, and other social norms. Unlike many organized religions it is more open to philosophical and intellectual ideas.


The religion of Hinduism began more than 5,000 years ago. There is a river in northern India called River Indus. At the time it was called the Sindhu. There was an influx of Persians into India and they called the river Hindu. They referred to the land as Hindustan and the people who lived there Hindus. This created the shift from Sindhu to Hinduism.

At one time, it was thought that Hinduism was based on the beliefs of the Aryans who found their way to the Indus Valley Civilization around 2000 BC. This was later attributed to be a myth. The three phases of Hinduism are the ancient times (6500 BCE to 1000 AD), medieval times (1000 to 1800 AD) and the religion as it is followed today, considered the modern period.


The scriptures that make up Hinduism are called “Shastras.” They are a group of spiritual rules that were created by several different sages and saints over the history of its inception. Long before the tenets of this religion were documented, the beliefs were considered heard, of Shruti, and memorized, or Smriti. As time went on, they were written in Sanskrit. Currently the religion follows the Bhagavad Gita, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Upanishads.


The main tenets of Hinduism have to do with reincarnation, dharma, moksha, karma, and idol worship. The ideals of which this religion is based upon is truthfulness, compassion, self-control, non-violence, generosity, fortitude, and purity.

Some of the phrases that help to depict the major truths of Hinduism are bhakti, or devotion, yoga, which means discipline, and dharma, which translates to what is right. There are four stages of human life in Hinduism with the appropriate rituals and rites that go with each stage.

There are two lifelong dharmas in traditional Hinduism: Grihastha Dharma which means domestic religion and Sannyasin Dharma, or ascetic religion. There are four goals of the Grihastha Dharma and they include sensual pleasure, the laws of life, liberation from the cycle of births, and wealth and prosperity.


There are nine beliefs that Hindus adhere to. They are:

  • They believe in one Supreme Being who is the Creator of things and one who unmanifests reality.

  • The Hindu religion follows the “divinity of the four Vedas” which is considered the oldest scripture in the world. They consider this the word of God and the basis of the eternal religion, Sanatana Dharma.

  • It is believed by followers of this religion that the universe goes through many phases of preservation, creation, and dissolution.

  • Karma is one of their main beliefs which has each person being responsible for his or her destiny based on their words, thoughts, and actions.

  • Another strong belief has to do with reincarnation. All beings go through reincarnation until they have resolved their karma and arrive at the point where they have been freed of being born again.

  • It is believed that there are divine beings living in other worlds unseen. Worshipping in the temple, certain rituals, personal devotionals, and sacraments help them work together with these beings.

  • You must become enlightened in order to be familiar with the Transcendent Absolute. The traits required to become enlightened include good conduct, personal discipline, meditation, purification, self-inquiry, pilgrimage, and surrender in God.

  • All Hindus respect life and feel that all life is revered and sacred. This is why they practice to not injure anyone with their words or actions. This is called ahimsa.

  • It is the Hindu belief that there is no religion that is superior to another. They feel that all roads lead to God and that each one is a reflection of God’s light and should be respected and tolerated.

Other Oldest Religions

Although Hinduism is touted the world’s oldest religion, there are others that have been around a long time as well. Judaism, Taoism Buddhism, and Jainism are religions that are still being practiced today. A few older style religions are Zorastrianism, Confucianism, and Pantheism.


This religion is based on the existence of gods and goddesses. Their deities included mother goddesses, water deities, creator deities, and love deities. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Chinese followed this religion during ancient times. Each practiced a little differently, but there was a common thread that brought it all together.



Judaism is still practiced today and has a history that spans more than 4,000 years. This religion believes that there is one God. Followers go by the first five books of the Old Testament and recognize it as the Torah. The tenets of this religion encompass family relationships, criminal justice, social responsibility, and personal values. It is referred to as Halachah.



As an offspring of Hinduism, Buddhism was founded in the 6th century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama, one of the oldest religions. He is referred to as the awakened one. Divided into two groups, Buddhism has a conservative branch called Theravada and a more liberal branch called Mahayana. The tenets include the Four Noble Truths – suffering, the cause of suffering being desire, the end to suffering, and the existence of ending suffering.



Jainism is also from the 6th century BCE. Their main tenet is that every living things has a soul and everything should be done to not cause injury to any life form. There are two groups – the Svetambaras, who wear white clothing, and the Digambaras who wear no clothing at all. The monks that belong to this religion wear pieces of cloth across their mouths so they do not accidentally cause any harm by breathing in.



The origins of Taoism date back to the 3rd or 4th century BCE which is when the main tenets of Taoism were dated. The tenets behind this religion are for followers to live in the flow of everything. Living in accordance of “the way” effortlessly and in conjunction with humility, compassion, and moderation is what is expected of those who live by the Tao.

  • The word religion means different things depending on the interpretation. In Latin it is Religio, which means “restraint.” According to Cicero, it is Relegere and means “to repeat and to read again.” But out of all of them, religion probably is the closest to the real meaning, “to show respect for what is sacred.” In today’s society the word religion describes an organized group of practices and beliefs that are based upon a spiritual experience. There has never been a time in history where people have not followed some type of religion.

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  • RyanOct.28 00:57
    Religion is a practice. Whatever you do in life can be religious. Religion instructs you towards the goal or alongside/away from the goal. Your heart usually misses the mark (sins) but our minds know the true target. Losing our identity in whom we think we are is to set aside our pride. Only till we close our eyes is when we can see. Math is truth and even in mathematics there is sacrifice in order to achieve hitting the mark. The most logical solution is to bow and worship something of equal or greater value than ourselves that has sacrificed equally for all of man kind.
  • ray stillSep.8 09:23
    ive been to many sacred sites around the world and studied all the religions and as i was born in england i should be a christian but ive always felt attracted to hinduism it seems to make sense any way the romans brought christianity to england so we should be pagans realy should we follow the religeon of the country we are born in or is it ok to study all of them and choose the one that reflects the way you feel if hindus came to england instead of romans we would all be hindus there can only be one god they cant all have made the world as there is only one world some faiths make you wear silly clothes and masks why when we are born naked . the aryans gave us everything . walk with love . they dont teach you that at school . health and happiness to all living things
  • David StrausserJul.17 14:53
    @Ariel Dev. You're insight is beautiful and well stated. We, as a race on a dying planet, need more knowledge of this sort. We are destroying ourselves, and all the arguing in the world won't help our species. LOVE and be at peace with ALL living things.
  • David StrausserJul.17 14:44
    We need to go back to worshiping nature and all the beauty it holds. We Are destroying our life-source do to greed, power, lust, and short term gain. The ancients had it right. They were in harmony with the world, and respected all of the things created on our once majestic planet. We need to LOVE our world, and all living things on it. We need to LOVE each other, and be at peace with our inner spirit. We can accomplish true harmony and peace, if WE come together, and step off this destructive greed influenced path. LOVE conquers ALL.
  • H NK May.19 18:22
    There are some inaccuracies reported in this article. The oldest "religion" or way of life is Jainism and not Hinduism as defined by this article. Hinduism defined by this article is the authors definition and constitutes an amalgamation of many different ways of life that have been combined. The author is also mixing up Hinduism as a religion and Hinduism as a way of life. For example, there is references to Hinduism as defined by the Gita and the Vedas. the author needs to note that Hinduism is not defined by these. Vedanta school of philosophy is defined by these two and the Brahmasutras. They are the 3 pillars on which advaita Vedanta practiced today is based on. Jainism recorded history is almost twice as far back as the "Hinduism" that has been defined in this article. The 'religion' that has been stated is based on the Aryan civilization around the Indus valley. Please note that many of the tenets of the existing "Hinduism religion" were borrowed by the Aryans from the existing philosophies. For example, the concept of reincarnation was picked from the existing Jainism philosophy. I would suggest a revision of the article so accurately reflects what is factual today. If not, reword to say that its just a thought or opinion that are not based on facts. I am not criticizing the author at all - Just wanting to make sure that it reflects the facts. Given the global audience and seeing some of the comments already posted, I would urge that the clear distinction between Hinduism as a way of life be differentiated from Hinduism as a religion. While religion might be bad, corrupt etc as stated by many in the comments section, the way of life transcends religion dn is practiced by almost all Indians today - be they Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Parsi or any other religion - they are all Indians following the hindu way of life. Would be glad to elaborate and explain - its been a subject of my studies for almost 3 decades.
  • SalimMar.23 09:14
    Very useful and informative article..thanks..
  • Gareth RichardsonMar.12 00:31
    Religion is corrupted and flawed by the interpretation of humanity. Man is the creator of the concepts of good and evil. Our greed is consummate and will never be satisfied. In order to save our species we have to return to nature and live harmoniously/ symbiotically with the very things we strive to control (death, disease, famine, hunger, flood, famine, drought). These are all controls that would if allowed to run their course would return natural balance to earth. Put aside our greedy parasitic ways a forget about petty arguments over religion, they are all man made and not divine.
  • Saksham87Nov.2 07:53
    I like all religions...
  • paul martinOct.18 10:07
    Organized religion is a human invention manifested to control the minds, behavior and materialisms of the masses. Like it's charities offsprings the main benefactors of religious institutions are it's controllers, rabbis, popes, imams,etc. The ideaology of frequent donations to preachers,etc is part of the design to solicit personal gain for the religious benefactors who control religious organizations and the mesmerized, sheepish following of the religious leaders and factions. Religious communes have proven to be isolated scams and sects where their congregations are herded into isolated camps to evade official scrutiny and where demented despots sexually and economicall violate believers with impunity !
  • Ariel DevFeb.8 17:39
    @ : Religion is Religion, Atheism is Atheism, Pantheism is Pantheism and non of these are non of these - If you stay humble, be good to yourself and others whilst keeping an open mind and heart, wisdom will guide you the same way a seed is guided by light and water to blossom into a rose. Best Wishes, Ariel Dev.
  • Anton AgaJun.25 13:01
    @ : Where did you fidn this quote? I like it
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