For legendary figures for which historicity cannot be established, see culture hero.
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 or Dharmic religion, folk religion, animism), or with legendary founding-figures whose historicity has been widely questioned (such Rishabha). This notwithstanding, many historical expressions of such religions will still have founders. Religion often develops by means of schism and reform (motivated by theological speculation), and it becomes a matter of judgement at what point such a schism or reform should be considered the "foundation" of a new religious tradition. For example, Martin Luther and John Wesley worked for reforms but their efforts failed to influence the whole Church and the end result was a new tradition within Christianity.
Chronologically, foundations of religious traditions may sub-divide into:
^"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)
^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)
^ abcThe teaching of the traditional "founding father" of a "heresy" is may well have differed greatly from the contents of the heresy as generally understood. For references see following notes.
^Acc. to Rowan Williams, 'Arianism' was essentially a polemical creation of Athanasius in an attempt to show that the different alternatives to the Nicene Creed collapsed back into some form of Arius' teaching. (Arius, SCM (2001) p.247)
^Pelagius' thought was one sided and an inadequate interpretation of Christianity, but his disciples, Celestius and, to a greater extent, Julian of Eclanum pushed his ideas to extremes.(Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines A & C. Black (1965) p.361) Pelagius himself was declared orthodox by the synod of Diospolis in 415, after repudiating some of Celestius' opinions. (Frend, W.H.C. Saints and Sinners in the Early Church DLT (1985) p.133)
^Nestorius specifically endorsed the repudiation of "Nestorianism" reached at Chalcedon in 451 (Prestige, G.L. Fathers and Heretics SPCK (1963) p.130)
^Monophysitism represents an advanced type of Alexandrian Theology; it emerged in a distinctive form in 433 as a result of the agreement between John of Antioch and Cyril of Alexandria. The exaggerated form held by Eutyches was condemned in 451 by the Council of Chalcedon. In its moderate forms the divergence from orthodoxy may be simply terminological. Alexandrian Theology stressed both divine transcendence and a marked dualism between the material and the spiritual and so tended to nullify the humanity of Christ.(Cross & Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. Monophysitism, Alexandrian Theology)
^The Old Catholic Churches are a grouping of national churches which have broken from Rome at different times: The Church of Utrecht in 1724; German Austrian and Swiss Christians who refused to accept the dogma of papal infallibility as defined in 1870 and received the apostolic succession from Utrecht; these two groups were later some small groups of Slav origin living in the USA (Cross & Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974) arts. Old Catholics; Holland, Christianity in)