Top 10 Influential Religious Figures
Script written by Craig Butler. Religion has played a crucial role in both the everyday lives of individuals and the history of the world. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 influential religious figures. For this list, we’re focusing on people who had a profound impact on religion or religious followers, either as founder, inspiration or influential follower. However, we’ve excluded those figures who are more known as philosophers rather than religious leaders. Special thanks to our user akt for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.com/suggest
Top 10 Influential Religious Figures
Religion has played a crucial role in both the everyday lives of individuals and the history of the world. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 influential religious figures.
For this list, we’re focusing on people who had a profound impact on religion or religious followers, either as founder, inspiration or influential follower. However, we’ve excluded those figures who are more known as philosophers rather than religious leaders.
#10: Joseph Smith, Jr.
This 19th century American religious leader founded the Latter Day Saints movement, whose most famous followers are the Mormons. In 1830, Smith published the Book of Mormon, a translation of a set of golden plates he was said to’ve been shown by an angel, which detailed an ancient Judeo-Christian civilization in America that was visited by Jesus after his resurrection. Thanks to Smith’s teachings, the various churches of the LDS movement have over 15 million followers today.
(1805 - 1844)
#9: Dalai Lama Gendun Drup
Gendun Drup was the first of the Dalai Lamas, a line of holy Buddhist men believed to be a reincarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion. Though they began as mystical leaders, many of the Dalai Lamas have also been considered the heads of the Tibetan government. Gendun Drup himself was a highly regarded monk whose meditations revealed visions from a female guardian spirit. These visions established the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. Drup and the subsequent incarnations have influenced Buddhist thought for centuries.
(1391 - 1474)
#8: Saint Peter
One of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, St. Peter is the rock upon which the Christian church was built and is considered the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. St. Peter and all subsequent Popes have wielded enormous power and authority over all aspects of the Catholic Church. Whether initiating crusades to reclaim land or, as Pope John XXIII famously did, instituting the landmark Vatican II reforms, the heirs of St. Peter have profoundly affected the lives of billions of all faiths.
(? – c. 64)
Though it’s unclear when exactly this ancient Persian prophet lived, what’s more evident is that the concept of monotheism may’ve had its origins with Zoroaster. His teachings emphasized both free will and the importance of good deeds in life, and these ideas influenced Judeo-Christian and Vedic Hindu religions, as well as some Greek philosophers. For a millennium, Zoroastrianism was one of the world’s most powerful religions, though today it has split into two groups, the Parsis and Iranis, which are culturally and linguistically distinct from one another
(between 18th – 6th centuries BC)
#6: Martin Luther
Martin Luther is the seminal figure behind the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century and thus laid the groundwork for what became today’s Protestant churches. Originally a Catholic monk, Luther rebelled against what he saw as corruption and immorality among Catholic Church leaders for their practice of selling indulgences. His famous 95 Theses were a call to action, which set the stage for the eventual reformations within the Catholic Church, and his translation of the Bible into colloquial speech made it accessible to the masses.
(1483 - 1546)
In Hinduism, Krishna is regarded as the eight incarnation of the god Vishnu; his story encompasses centuries, but part of it involves time spent as a flute-playing youth and a human prince. Vishnu’s story includes many exciting adventures, but his teachings had a significant impact on the development of Hinduism through his role in the epic poem the Mahabharata and his well-known message the Bhagavad Gita. Followers of Vishnu also have influenced Buddhism, Jainism, and Ahmadiyya Islam, among other religions, thus affecting billions of followers worldwide.
(c. 3228 BC - 3102 BC)
While the Biblical figure Abraham established the first covenant between God and what became the Jewish people, the later figure of Moses is arguably of even greater significance to Judaism for his role in liberating the Jewish slaves and leading them to the Promised Land. The author of the Torah, Moses is also a major figure in Islam and Christianity. The Ten Commandments, which Moses brought to the people from God, is the basis of western religious belief and has heavily shaped western political thought as well.
(c. 1391 BC - c. 1271 BC)
#3: Siddhārtha Gautama [aka Buddha]
Siddhārtha Gautama was a prince sheltered from life’s problems, who lived for sensual pleasures and luxury. But after discovering the poverty that afflicted his subjects, the prince underwent a transformation, eventually meditating for 49 days until he achieved a state of elevated awareness. This led him to discover the Four Noble Truths, which form the basis of what became Buddhism and – if followed – can lead to peace of mind, or Nirvana. Gautama also promoted the Middle Way, which is a happy median between living to excess and total abstinence.
(c. 563 BC - c. 483 BC)
Considered the last prophet of God by the Muslims, Muhammad was said to have received revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. He shared these revelations in the form of the Qur’an, a sacred text of the Islamic religion that preaches monotheism as a central theme. As a military leader as well as religious figure, Muhammad unified and changed the shape of the Arab world during his lifetime and has made a lasting contribution to the religious lives of billions through the ages.
(c. 570 - 632)
Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- King David (c. 1040 BC - c. 970 BC)
- Mother Teresa (1910 - 1997)
- Desmond Tutu (1931-)
Jesus of Nazareth is considered the Son of God by Christians and an important prophet by the Islamic and Baha’i faith. And today, Christianity is considered the world’s largest religion, with some 2 billion followers. Though he only had a few years with which to preach his gospel of kindness, compassion and mercy before he was betrayed, arrested and crucified, his teachings have profoundly affected religious, political and moral thought over the past two millennia – and are sure to have a considerable continued impact in the future.
(7-2 BC - 30-33 AD)
Do you agree with our choices? What other influential religious figures should we have added to this list? For more enthralling top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.