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The idea of world religions became a popular way of thinking about the diversity of the world's religious traditions in the latter half of the 20th century. Religious communities were thought of as “world religions” if they were historic religious traditions with a worldwide or nearly worldwide presence/distribution, regardless of their numbers. World religions were regarded as possessing a standardized scripture or set of scriptures (i.e., a sacred canon), a universal message, shared rituals, and a religious clergy. Though most religious traditions are, in fact, far too diverse internally to conform to any simple description, thinking about “world religions” using this template often forced them into a uniform mold.

Moreover, assumptions were made about the difference—an implied cultural superiority—that the major world religions possessed in contrast ...

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