List of founders of religious traditions  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

This article lists historical figures credited with founding religions or religious philosophies or people who first codified older known religious traditions. It also lists those who have founded a specific major denomination within a larger religion.

In many cases, one can regard a religion as a continuous tradition extending to prehistoric times without a specific founder (Vedic Religion precursor of Hinduism, folk religion, animism), or with legendary founding-figures whose historicity cannot be established (such as Abraham, Lord Rishabha). This notwithstanding, the various historical denominations of such religions will still have founders, such as St. Peter and St. Paul (who formed what is now known as Pauline Christianity), Nestorius (who codified Nestorianism), or Martin Luther (who taught Lutheranism) — all exemplifying denominations of Christianity. Religion often develops by means of schism and reform (motivated either by revelation or by theological speculation), and it becomes a matter of subjective judgement at what point such a schism or reform assumes the quality of a "foundation" of a new religion.

Chronologically, foundations of religious traditions may sub-divide into:

  1. the Axial Age, with the earliest known major founding figures such as Zoroaster, Moses, Confucius, and Buddha.
  2. Hellenism to Late Antiquity, with foundations of classical religious traditions and schools such as various sects of Early Christianity, Stoicism, Gnosticism.
  3. the medieval to early modern period, with the rise of Islam, classical (Pauranic) Hinduism, the Bhakti movement and the Protestant Reformation.
  4. new religious movements, since ca. 1800.


Ancient (before 500 AD)

Name Religious tradition founded Date
En-hedu-ana Priestess of Inanna, earliest author of religious scripture known by name. 23rd century BC (short chronology)
Naram-Suen of Akkad first known ruler to impose an imperial cult 22nd century BC (short chronology)
Ur-Nammu built the Ziggurat of Ur to Nanna 21st century BC (short chronology)
Ahmose I established quasi-monotheistic worship of Amun-Ra as the Egyptian state religion 16th century BC (conventional Egyptian chronology)
Akhenaten Atenism 14th century BC (conventional Egyptian chronology)
Moses Judaism<ref name="Jestice2004p603">Jestice 2004, p. 603.</ref> Early Iron Age, flourished probably ca. 1200s BC
Various Rishis composed the hymns of the Rigveda foundational to historical Vedic religion, precursor of Hinduism collected c. 1000 BC<ref name="Melton2003p195">Melton 2003, p. 195.</ref>
Solomon Israelite king who built the first Temple in Jerusalem to Yahweh. 10th century BC (Solomon's historicity is uncertain, see also Tel Dan Stele)
Parshva The penultimate (23rd) Tirthankara in Jainism 9th c. BC
Zoroaster composed the gathas foundational to Zoroastrianism c. 7th c. BC<ref name="Melton2003p191">Melton 2003, p. 191.</ref><ref>"Controversy over Zaraθuštra's date has been an embarrassment of long standing to Zoroastrian studies. If anything approaching a consensus exists, it is that he lived ca. 1000 BCE give or take a century or so, though reputable scholars have proposed dates as widely apart as ca.1750 BCE and '258 years before Alexander.'" (Encyclopædia Iranica)</ref>
Numa Pompilius Roman king who codified and organized the Roman religion 717 BC - 673 BC
Laozi Taoism 7th c. BC
Nebuchadnezzar II built the Etemenanki, established Marduk as the patron deity of Babylon 6th c. BC
Mahavira The final Tirthankara in Jainism 6th c. BC
Confucius Confucianism 551 BC - 479 BC
Pythagoras Pythagoreanism 520 BC
Mozi Mohism 470 BC - 390 BC
Ezra established post-exilic Judaism in the Second Temple<ref name="Brueggemann2002p75">Brueggemann 2002, pp. 75, 144.</ref> 459 BC<ref>historicity disputed but widely considered plausible. Gosta W. Ahlstrom argues the inconsistencies of the biblical tradition are insufficient to say that Ezra, with his central position as the 'father of Judaism' in the Jewish tradition, has been a later literary invention. (The History of Ancient Palestine, Fortress Press, p.888)</ref>
Leucippus Atomism 440 BC
Siddhārtha Gautama Buddhism ca. 5th c. BC
Plato Platonic realism 427 BC - 347 BC
Epicurus Epicureanism 307 BC
Zeno of Citium Stoicism 333 BC - 264 BC
Patanjali Raja Yoga 2nd century BC
John the Baptist Mandeanism, Christianity 5 BC - 24 AD
Jesus of Nazareth Christianity ca. 6 BC - 27 AD
Paul of Tarsus and Simon Peter Pauline Christianity, Roman Catholic succession
James the Just Jewish Christianity 1st century
Judah haNasi Talmudic Judaism 2nd century
Nagarjuna Madhyamaka 150 - 250
Plotinus Neoplatonism 205 - 270
Marcion of Sinope Marcionism 110 - 160
Mani Manichaeism 210 - 276
Arius Arianism 250 - 336
Pelagius Pelagianism 354 - 430
Nestorius Nestorianism 386 - 451
Eutyches Monophysitism 380 - 456

Medieval to Early Modern (500-1800 AD)

Name Religious tradition founded Date
Mazdak Mazdakism 520s
Bodhidharma Zen 6th century
Muhammad<ref name="Melton2003p187">Melton 2003, p. 187.</ref> Islam 570–632
Songtsän Gampo Tibetan Buddhism 7th century
Padmasambhava Nyingma 8th century
Adi Shankara Advaita Vedanta 9th century
Kūkai Shingon 9th century
Michael I Cerularius Eastern Orthodoxy 11th century
Ad-Darazi Druze 11th century
Basava Lingayatism 12th century
Madhvacharya Dvaita 1238–1317
Sant Mat (group of saints) Bhakti movement 13th to 15th centuries
John Wyclif Lollardry 1320s - 1384
Jan Hus Hussitism 1372–1415
Ramananda Sant Mat Vaishnavism 15th century
Srimanta Sankardeva Mahapuruxiya Dharma 1449–1568
Guru Nanak Dev Sikhism 1469–1539
Baba Sri Chand Udasi 1494–1629
Vallabha Acharya Shuddhadvaita 1479–1531
Martin Luther Lutheranism 1483–1546
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Achintya Bheda Abheda 1486–1534
Henry VIII of England Anglicanism 1491–1547
Conrad Grebel Swiss Brethren, Anabaptism 1498–1526
John Calvin<ref name="Melton2003p67">Melton 2003, p. 67.</ref> Calvinism 1509–1564
Michael Servetus<ref name="Melton2003p128">Melton 2003, p. 128.</ref> Unitarianism 1511? - 1553
John Knox<ref name="Melton2003p69">Melton 2003, p. 69.</ref> Presbyterianism 1510–1572
Akbar the Great Din-i-Ilahi 1542–1605
John Smyth<ref name="Melton2003p102">Melton 2003, p. 102.</ref> Baptist 1570–1612
AvvakumTemplate:Citation needed Russian Orthodox Old Believers 1620–1682
George Fox<ref name="Melton2003p95">Melton 2003, p. 95.</ref> Religious Society of Friends 1624–1691
Philipp Jakob Spener<ref name="Melton2003p73">Melton 2003, p. 73.</ref> Pietism 1635–1705
Baal Shem Tov<ref name="Melton2003p183">Melton 2003, p. 183.</ref> Hasidic Judaism 1698–1760
John Wesley<ref name="Melton2003p75">Melton 2003, p. 75.</ref> Methodism 1703–1791
Ann Lee<ref name="Melton2003p724">Melton 2003, p. 724.</ref> Shakers 1736–1784

New religious movements (post-1800)


Name Religious tradition founded Life of founder
Raja Ram Mohan Roy Brahmo Samaj 1772–1833
Ghanshyam Pande Swaminarayan 1781–1830
Nakayama Miki Tenrikyo 1798–1887
Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger Old Catholics 1799–1890
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby New Thought 1802–1866
Allan Kardec Spiritism 1804–1869
Joseph Smith, Jr. Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement 1805–1844
Jamgon Kongtrul Rime movement 1813–1899
Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Nuri<ref name="Melton2003p992">Melton 2003, p. 992.</ref> Bahá'í Faith 1817–1892
Báb Bábí Faith 1819–1850
James Springer White Seventh-day Adventist Church 1821–1881
Mary Baker Eddy<ref name="Melton2003p741">Melton 2003, p. 741.</ref> Christian Science 1821–1910
Vallalar Samarasa Sutha Sanmarga Sangam 1823–1874
Swami Dayananda Saraswati Arya Samaj 1824–1883
Ellen G. White<ref name="Melton2003p621">Melton 2003, p. 621.</ref> Seventh-day Adventist Church 1827–1915
Madame Blavatsky Theosophy 1831–1891
Ayya Vaikundar Ayyavazhi 1833–1851
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Ahmadiyya 1835–1908
Guido von List Armanism (Germanic mysticism) 1848–1919
Charles Taze Russell<ref name="Melton2003p637">Melton 2003, p. 637.</ref> Jehovah's Witnesses 1852–1916
Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophy 1861–1925
Swami Vivekananda Ramakrishna Mission 1863–1902
William Irvine<ref>Chryssides 2001, p. 330.</ref> Christian Conventions and Cooneyites 1863–1947
Sri Aurobindo Integral yoga 1872–1950
Aleister Crowley Thelema 1875–1947
Charles Fox Parham Pentecostalism 1873–1929
"Father Divine" International Peace Mission movement ca. 1876 - 1965
Ngô Văn Chiêu Cao Dai 1878–1926
Guy Ballard I AM 1878–1939
Frank Buchman Oxford Group/Moral Re-Armament 1878–1961
Gerald Gardner Wicca 1884–1964
Frank Bruce Robinson Psychiana 1886–1948
Noble Drew Ali Moorish Science Temple 1886–1929
Marcus Garvey Rastafari movement 1887–1940
Ernest Holmes Religious Science 1887–1960
H.H. Sadguru Sadafaldeo Ji Maharaj Vihangam Yoga 1888–1902
Aimee Semple McPherson<ref name="Melton2003p451">Melton 2003, p. 451.</ref> Foursquare Church 1890–1944
Zélio Fernandino de Moraes<ref name="SmithProkopyp279">Smith and Prokopy 2003, p. 279-280.</ref> Umbanda 1891–1975
Ida B. Robinson Mount Sinai Holy Church of America 1891–1946
Wallace Fard Muhammad Nation of Islam 1891 - (disappeared 1934)
Paramahansa Yogananda Self-Realization Fellowship 1893–1952
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada International Society for Krishna Consciousness 1896–1977
Swami Muktananda Siddha Yoga 1908–1982
Ikuro Teshima Makuya 1910–1973
L. Ron Hubbard Church of Scientology 1911–1986
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}}</ref> || 1912–1994 |- |Maharishi Mahesh Yogi || Transcendental Meditation || 1917–2008 |- |Samael Aun Weor || Gnosticism || 1917–1977 |- | Mark L. Prophet || The Summit Lighthouse || 1918–1973 |- | Huynh Phu So || Hoa Hao Buddhism || 1919–1947 |- | Yong (Sun) Myung Moon<ref name="BH98_365">Beit-Hallahmi 1998, p. 365.</ref> || Unification Church || 1920 - |- |Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar || Ananda Marga || 1921–1990 |- |Clarence 13X || The Nation of Gods and Earths || 1922–1969 |- |Mestre Gabriel || União do Vegetal || 1922–1971 |- |Nirmala Srivastava || Sahaja Yoga || 1923 - |- |Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson || Ásatrú || 1924–1993 |- |Sathya Sai Baba || Sathya Sai Organization || 1926 - |- | Anton Szandor LaVey || Church of Satan || 1930–1997 |- | Rajneesh Chandra Mohan<ref name="Melton2003,1051">Melton 2003, p. 1051.</ref> || Osho movement || 1931–1990 |- |Mark Prophet; Elizabeth Clare (Wolf) Prophet<ref name="BH98_97">Beit-Hallahmi 1998, p. 97.</ref> || Church Universal and Triumphant || 1939 - |- |Franklin Jones || Adidam || 1939–2008 |- |Claude Vorilhon || Raëlism || 1946 - |- |Li Hongzhi || Falun Gong || 1951 - |- |Sri Sri Ravi Shankar<ref name="Melton2003,1004">Melton 2003, p. 1004.</ref> || Art of Living Foundation || 1956 - |- |Vissarion || Church of the Last Testament || 1961 - |- |Tamara Siuda || Kemetic Orthodoxy || 1969 - |}

See also

Template:History of religions

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