a reply to: AnteBellum
Start with the 3 biggies. Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
Is this for a school assignment? If it is, try to stick to the formula. This is a broad and non-intuitive way to qualify religion, as "most
successful". Perhaps you could talk about why different religions were made popular in their origins and current state instead, if you want to be
Judaism - The oldest of the monotheisms. Brought together disparate people who were all worshiping lots of different gods or god kings. The message of
one god was powerful in the beginning. It simplified the complex religious processes needed to placate multiple gods. Lots of rules about how to live,
including dietary and financial guidelines.
Christianity - Started as a small, rather weird cult. Made official state religion of Rome by Constantine, who "Romanized" the fledgling religion.
Made god more personal with the introduction of Jesus. Gave the people a real person that they could relate to. Talk about the great schism between
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Mention monasteries, where monks could devote time to art, science, and math. You can talk about the leadership
role the church played in the medieval era - Remember there were those who prayed, those who fought, and those who worked, in that order during
Islam - Gave a finality to the whole monotheism thing. Mohammed is viewed as the final prophet of god. Talk about how he spread Islam through the
Middle East using shrewd diplomacy and military tactics, and how strange this was for an illiterate failed merchant to accomplish. You'll wanna talk
about the hajj (bringing lots of people together for one cause amd connecting with the prophet on a personal level), giving charity to the poor, a
schedule of prayer, etc.
Don't forget Hinduism. Lots and lots of gods, but all representation of one. The rig vedas and Bhagavad Gita were stories that laid down morality and
ethical issues.Talk about reincarnation and karma, and how this translates to the caste system which was and is still unfortunately practiced in
India, keeping people rigidly locked in one station in life. Talk about the various cults and festivals.
From here you can talk about Buddhism and how it split from Hinduism. Think of it as Hinduism light. You'll wanna mention the appeal of asceticism
and the simple life, because this attracted a lot of people from Hinduism. And there's two flavors, The Greater and Lesser Vehicles. Don't forget
how important Nirvana was, escape from the cycle of birth and death, giving up desire was the key.
If you really need more substance, go for the Mesoamerican religions. The Mayans were all about blood and time. They used a combination of religion
and astronomy to predict eclipses and other astronomical events. Talk about how this gave the kings the power to "talk to the gods" if you will and
how this impressed the people.
I'm just assuming this is a paper you have to write, so this is pretty formulaic, but I hope it helps. You will find common themes among the major
religions which helped them go from just one among many to what they are now. I think, if possible, make this your thesis.
Hope this helps, it's some I remembered from college history class.