Famous 20th Century Spiritual & Religious Leaders

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda.
26
Famous As: Indian Monk
Birthdate: January 12, 1863
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Died: July 4, 1902

The founder of the Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Math, Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu monk, philosopher, and spiritual leader. He is credited with introducing the Indian philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the Western world. He is also credited with elevating the status of Hinduism as a major religion in the modern world by raising interfaith awareness.

 2 Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama.
9
Famous As: Spiritual Leader of Tibet
Birthdate: July 6, 1935
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Taktser, Qinghai
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is known for his advocacy for peace in Tibet and has won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He belongs to a lineage of reincarnations of Avalokiteśvara. He fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion and formed a Tibetan government in exile.
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 3 Osho Rajneesh

Osho Rajneesh.
14
Famous As: Spiritual leader and Public speaker, Philosopher
Birthdate: December 11, 1931
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kuchwada, Madhya Pradesh, India
Died: January 19, 1990

Osho Rajneesh was an Indian godman and mystic. Also known as Acharya Rajneesh and Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, he was the founder of the Rajneesh movement. He preached the importance of meditation, mindfulness, celebration,  love, courage, and creativity and called for a more open attitude to human sexuality, because of which he was considered a controversial new religious movement leader. 

 4 Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI.
9
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: April 16, 1927
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Marktl, Germany
Pope Benedict XVI started off as a Hitler Youth member, but a finger injury prevented him from fighting in the German army. In 2005, he became the head of the Catholic Church. The liberal theologian-turned-conservative resigned in 2013, becoming the first pope to do so since the 1400s.

 5 Arlyn Phoenix

Arlyn Phoenix.
4
Birthdate: December 31, 1944
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: The Bronx

Arlyn Phoenix, or Heart Phoenix, is the mother of actor Joaquin Phoenix. Her other son, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose. Her three other children are also actors. She and her first husband were members of the cult The Children of God. She is now a renowned peace activist.

 6 Pope John Paul I

Pope John Paul I.
5
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: October 17, 1912
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Canale d'Agordo, Italy
Died: September 28, 1978
Pope John Paul I, also known as The Smiling Pope and The September Pope, was the shortest-reigning Pope and died 33 days after being made the Pope. He was the first Pope to choose a double name, including the names of his predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.

 7 Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI.
5
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: September 26, 1897
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Concesio
Died: August 6, 1978
Succeeding Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI was elected the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State in June 1963 and continued in his role till his death in August 1978. He reconvened the Second Vatican Council and after its conclusion worked towards implementation of its reforms. He was canonised in 2018 by Pope Francis.
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 8 Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII.
5
Famous As: Pope (1939-1958)
Birthdate: March 2, 1876
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Died: October 9, 1958

Pope Pius XII served as the head of the Catholic Church and the sovereign of the Vatican City from 1939 till 1958. Of the many positions he had held, one was the secretaryship of the Department of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. He is remembered for negotiating the treaty of Reichskonkordat.

 9 Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII.
4
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: November 25, 1881
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, Italy
Died: June 3, 1963

Pope John XXIII served as the Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church from 1958 until his death in 1963. He took many people by surprise when he called the historic Second Vatican Council, which addressed relations between the modern world and the Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII was canonized on 27 April 2014.

 10 David Miscavige

David Miscavige.
10
Famous As: Leader of the Church of Scientology
Birthdate: April 30, 1960
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States

David Miscavige is the current leader of the Church of Scientology. After serving as a deputy to L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church, Miscavige took on the mantle of leadership after the former's demise. Miscavige is credited with establishing the Religious Technology Center to control and supervise the use of texts, symbols, and trademarks of Scientology and Dianetics.

 11 David Koresh

David Koresh.
11
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: August 17, 1959
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Houston, Texas
Died: April 19, 1993
David Koresh was the leader of the religious sect Branch Davidians. The self-proclaimed prophet was accused of rape and child abuse, and also fathered 15 children through various women of the sect. He and over 70 followers died in a fire during the Waco Siege launched by the FBI.

 12 Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
9
Famous As: Spiritual & humanitarian leader
Birthdate: May 13, 1956
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Papanasam, Tamil Nadu, India

It is believed Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had started reciting the Bhagavad Gita by age 4. After graduating in Vedic literature and physics, he propagated Transcendental Meditation with his guru Mahesh Yogi and later established the Art of Living Foundation, which organizes spiritual courses worldwide.

 13 Charles Stanley

Charles Stanley
5
Famous As: Pastor, Radio personality
Birthdate: September 25, 1932
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Dry Fork, Pittsylvania County, Virginia
Pastor of the First Baptist Church Charles Stanley had also established In Touch Ministries. A born-again Christian since age 12, he later gained fame with his show In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley, which was translated into 107 languages. He has also penned countless books on religion.

 14 Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba.
9
Famous As: Spiritual Guru
Birthdate: November 23, 1926
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Puttaparthi
Died: April 24, 2011

Indian guru and philanthropist, Sathya Sai Baba, was both a much-revered and controversial personality. He founded the Sathya Sai Organisation, through which he established a network of free hospitals, clinics, and educational institutions. His devotees believed in his alleged omnipotence and omniscience. His critics have accused him of sexual abuse, money laundering, and fraud.

 15 Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi.
5
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 30, 1879
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Tiruchuzhi, Virudhunagar, India
Died: April 14, 1950

Indian Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi had run away to Arunachala, a sacred mountain in Tamil Nadu, at 16, and had stayed there throughout his life. He propagated vichara, or self-enquiry, as the primary means of self-realization, instead of the study of scriptures as proposed by the Advaita Vedanta philosophy.

 16 Wallace Fard Muhammad

Wallace Fard Muhammad
5
Famous As: American religious leader
Birthdate: February 26, 1877
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Died: 1934 AD

Wallace Fard Muhammad, who flounded the Nation of Islam, or Black Muslim, movement, was born in Mecca but later moved to the U.S. He mostly preached in and around Detroit and even opened the the Temple of Islam. Considered a reincarnation of Allah by his followers, he mysteriously disappeared in 1934.

 17 Anwar al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki
5
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: April 22, 1971
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Las Cruces
Died: September 30, 2011

Al-Qaeda terrorist and Islamic preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, initially a university lecturer, had been involved in a number of terrorist attack plots, including one in which they had planned to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane. American-born Yemeni Awlaki died in a drone strike ordered by Barack Obama in 2011.

 18 Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe.
4
Famous As: Friar
Birthdate: January 8, 1894
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Zdunska Wola, Poland
Died: August 14, 1941

Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar and a Catholic priest. Venerated as Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Maximilian is best remembered for volunteering to die at the death camp of Auschwitz in place of a stranger during World War II. In 1982, Pope John Paul II declared Maximilian Kolbe a martyr of charity.

 19 Ramdev

Ramdev.
21
Famous As: Yoga Guru
Birthdate: December 25, 1965
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Mahendragarh

 20 George Gurdjieff

George Gurdjieff.
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 13, 1866
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Gyumri, Armenia
Died: October 29, 1949

Born to a poet and carpenter, George Gurdjieff grew up reading a lot of science books in his hometown, Kars. He later laid down the concept of The Fourth Way, stating that humans can overcome their state of waking sleep through methods involving a combination of music, dance, and lectures.

 21 Bernice King

Bernice King
5
Famous As: Minister
Birthdate: March 28, 1968
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Bernice King is an American minister best known as the daughter of the popular activist and leader Martin Luther King Jr. Over the years, Barnice King has supported many noble causes for which she has been honored with several awards. In 2009, she was honored at the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Convention for her service to women.

 22 Mata Amritanandamayi

Mata Amritanandamayi.
5
Famous As: Spiritual Leader
Birthdate: September 27, 1953
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Parayakadavu, Alappad Panchayath, Kollam District, (now Kerala), India

 23 Rick Warren

Rick Warren.
5
Birthdate: January 28, 1954
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: San Jose, California, United States

Rick Warren is an American pastor. He is credited with establishing Saddleback Church, one of the largest in the USA, where he serves as the senior pastor. Also an influential author, Warren's bible study book The Purpose Driven Life has sold over 30 million copies, making him one of the bestselling authors in the USA.

 24 Thomas S. Monson

Thomas S. Monson.
5
Birthdate: August 21, 1927
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Thomas S. Monson was an American author and religious leader who served as the president of the Mormon Church from 2008 to 2018. Many adherents of the religion considered him to be a prophet, especially during his presidency. During his career, Monson received several honors, including the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

 25 Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb.
4
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: October 9, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Mūshā, Asyut Governorate, Khedivate of Egypt
Died: August 29, 1966

Sayyid Qutb was an Egyptian educator, author, Islamic theorist, revolutionary, and poet. During the 1950s and 1960s, Qutb was an important member of the Society of the Muslim Brothers. Sayyid Qutb is regarded as the Father of Salafi-Jihadism, a transnational religious-political ideology that forms the basis of several Jihadist organizations, such as Daesh and Al Qaeda.

 26 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
4
Famous As: Founder of Ahmadiyya Sect
Birthdate: February 13, 1835
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Qadian
Died: May 26, 1908

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was an Indian religious leader. He is credited with founding the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is an Islamic revival movement. A prolific author, Ghulam Ahmad wrote over 90 books on various theological, moral, and religious subjects. He continues to be revered as a subordinate prophet by Ahmadi Muslims, which is often debated by mainstream Muslims.

 27 Sun Myung Moon

Sun Myung Moon.
5
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: February 25, 1920
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: North P'yŏng'an, North Korea
Died: September 3, 2012
Sun Myung Moon’s autobiography tells the tale of how at 15, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and asked him to preach about Korean greatness. The founder of the Unification Church and the Tongil conglomerate failed to realize his dream of unifying North and South Korea before dying.

 28 Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais

Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais
5
Famous As: imam
Birthdate: February 10, 1960
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Riyadh

 29 Meir Kahane

Meir Kahane
5
Famous As: Politician, Rabbi, Journalist
Birthdate: August 1, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Brooklyn
Died: November 5, 1990

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Meir Kahane was an Israeli rabbi, best remembered as the founder of the Kach Party. He moved to Israel after being imprisoned for alleged militant activities. Though he acquired a seat in the Israeli parliament, his party was banned for its racist nature.

 30 Ali Khamenei

Ali Khamenei.
5
Famous As: Supreme Leader of Iran
Birthdate: July 17, 1939
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mashhad
Ali Khamenei has been serving as the supreme leader of Iran since 1989 and has previously been its president. He is one of the co-founders of the Islamic Republic Party and led his country during the Iran–Iraq War. His reign has also seen extreme treatment of journalists and protestors.

 31 Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini.
9
Famous As: Led the Famous Iranian Revolution in 1979
Birthdate: September 22, 1902
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Khomeyn, Persia
Died: June 3, 1989
Ayatollah Khomeini, or the Imam Khomeini, became Iran’s first Supreme Leader, after leading the 1979 Iranian Revolution against Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. He founded the Islamic Republic of Iran. He also issued a “fatwa” against novelist Salman Rushdie and supported the hostage takers during the Iran hostage crisis. 

 32 Pope Pius XI

Pope Pius XI.
4
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: May 31, 1857
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Desio, Italy
Died: February 10, 1939

A man who believed in the motto “The peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ,” Pope Pius XI was also an avid scholar. His reign witnessed the rise of Benito Mussolini and the signing of the Lateran Treaty, which recognized Vatican City as an independent nation state.

 33 Aga Khan IV

Aga Khan IV.
4
Famous As: Imam of Nizari Ismailism
Birthdate: December 13, 1936
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Geneva

Aga Khan IV is the current Imam of Nizari Ismailism. Serving as the imam since 1957, Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Apart from being the current leader of the Institution of the Imamate, Aga Khan is also a business magnate and one of the world's richest royals, according to Forbes.

 34 Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad.
6
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: October 7, 1897
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sandersville
Died: February 25, 1975
Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad supported black nationalism for African-Americans. He was the leader of the religious movement known as the Nation of Islam from 1934 to 1975. He established the Muhammad University of Islam and was later imprisoned for it, based on complaints from various boards of education.

 35 Mary Baker Eddy

Mary Baker Eddy.
5
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: July 16, 1821
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bow, New Hampshire, United States
Died: December 3, 1910

Born to Congregationalist parents, Mary Baker Eddy had a difficult life, from losing her brother at 20, being widowed at 22, and then surviving a divorce. Remembered as the pioneer of Christian Science, she propagated faith healing and believed the cause of all illnesses lie in the human mind.

 36 Marshall Applewhite

Marshall Applewhite
4
Famous As: Religious leader
Birthdate: May 17, 1931
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Spur, Texas, USA
Died: March 26, 1997

Marshall Applewhite, the founder of the 1970s’ cult Heaven's Gate, had initially aspired to become a priest and had then dabbled in music, before joining the army. He and 38 other cult followers committed mass suicide by consuming poison in 1997, believing aliens would carry them in the Hale-Bopp comet.

 37 Timothy M. Dolan

Timothy M. Dolan
3
Famous As: Theologian, University teacher, Catholic priest
Birthdate: February 6, 1950
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: St. Louis

The archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan has previously also served as the archbishop of Milwaukee. He has also penned several religious books, such as Doers of the Word and Called to Be Holy. He was also assigned with the task of handling cases of priests engaging in sexual abuse.

 38 Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley.
3
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: June 23, 1910
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Died: January 27, 2008

Religious leader Gordon B. Hinckley was the oldest President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). He built countless temples and also reconstructed the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. The Presidential Medal of Freedom winner was the son of LDS leader and religious speaker Bryant S. Hinckley.

 39 Meher Baba

Meher Baba.
3
Famous As: Religious Leader
Birthdate: February 25, 1894
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Poona, India
Died: January 31, 1969

Meher Baba, or the Awakener, is best remembered for his 44-year silence, during which he chiefly communicated through an alphabet board. Born into a Parsi family, he later came under the influence of spiritual leaders such as Hazrat Babajan, and started the Meher Baba Movement, in search of spiritual consciousness.

 40 Ali al-Sistani

Ali al-Sistani
3
Famous As: Theologian, Akhoond
Birthdate: August 4, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Mashhad

 41 Idris of Libya

Idris of Libya
3
Famous As: King
Birthdate: March 12, 1889
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Al Jaghbub, Libya
Died: May 25, 1983

 42 Chogyam Trungpa

Chogyam Trungpa
3
Famous As: Teacher
Birthdate: March 5, 1939
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Nangchen, Kham region, Tibet
Died: April 4, 1987

 43 Mirra Alfassa

Mirra Alfassa.
3
Famous As: Spiritual Guru
Birthdate: February 21, 1878
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 17, 1973

Mirra Alfassa was a French occultist and spiritual teacher. Alfassa, who worked closely with the Indian philosopher and yogi Sri Aurobindo, is credited with founding the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India. She is also credited with establishing Auroville, an experimental township in India. She serves as an inspiration to people seeking knowledge about Integral Yoga.

 44 Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II.
4
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: May 18, 1920
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Wadowice, Poland
Died: April 2, 2005

Pope John Paul II was the head of the Catholic Church from 1978 until his death in 2005. He is hailed for helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and improving the Catholic Church's relations with Islam, Judaism, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was a lifelong football fan, having himself played the sport in his youth.

 45 Graham Staines

Graham Staines
3
Famous As: translator, Bible translator
Birthdate: 1941 AD
Birthplace: Palmwoods
Died: January 22, 1999

 46 Narayana Guru

Narayana Guru.
3
Famous As: Spiritual Leader, Social Reformer
Birthdate: August 20, 1856
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chempazhanthy, Thiruvananthapuram, India
Died: September 20, 1928

Born in Travancore in India, Narayana Guru was the son of a teacher and studied in a gurukula. He grew up to lead a social reform movement against the caste system that he saw in erstwhile Kerala. He believed in the motto One Caste, One Religion, One God for All.

 47 General Butt Naked

General Butt Naked
4
Famous As: Criminal
Birthdate: September 30, 1971
Sun Sign: Libra

 48 Hassan al-Banna

Hassan al-Banna
3
Famous As: School teacher
Birthdate: October 14, 1906
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: El-Mahmoudeya, Egypt
Died: February 12, 1949

 49 Pope Benedict XV

Pope Benedict XV
3
Famous As: Pope
Birthdate: November 21, 1854
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Pegli, Italy
Died: January 22, 1922

 50 Enoch Adeboye

Enoch Adeboye.
5
Famous As: Pastor
Birthdate: March 2, 1942
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Ifewara, Osun State, Nigeria

Better known as Daddy Go, Nigerian pastor Enoch Adeboye serves the Redeemed Christian Church of God and has millions of followers. However, the media has often called out his sexist attitude, reflected in his social-media posts, one of which advised men to marry only women who could cook.