Famous American Spiritual & Religious Leaders

Spirituality and religion go hand in hand and yet are most diverse from each other. While religion restricts human to a particular belief and a way of worship, spirituality frees the soul and gives him/her the liberty to connect with the transcendental force without following any routine, procedure or theory. Though we may argue that the world is going under the pit with each passing day, thanks to the rise in violence, hatred and insanity, there, however, have been leaders who are safeguarding the globe and shaping the mind and spirit of humans. It is to these religious and spiritual leaders that we must owe our existence. Their power of positivity and love have influenced and touched the life of many. Like every country in the world, America has its own list of religious and spiritual leaders who have deeply influenced the life of not just Americans but people all over. Francis George, Peter Morales, John Taylor, George Storrs, James Freeman Clarke, Harold Klemp and George B Bacon are some of America’s religious and spiritual leaders. Browse through this section and discover the life and works of famous American spiritual and 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 Joseph Smith Jr.

Joseph Smith Jr.
Famous As: Religious leader, Theologians
Birthdate: December 23, 1805
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Sharon, Vermont, United States
Died: June 27, 1844

Religious leader Joseph Smith Jr. is known as the founder of the Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. He also published the Book of Mormon. He established his communities in Ohio and Missouri and eventually founded the city Nauvoo in Illinois, which became the center of his spiritual activities.

 2 Brigham Young

Brigham Young
Famous As: Second President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Birthdate: June 1, 1801
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Whitingham
Died: August 29, 1877
Brigham Young, known as the "American Moses," was the second president of the LDS Church. He founded Salt Lake City, was the first governor of the Utah Territory, and led to the formation of the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. He was a polygamist who had 55 wives.

 3 Ram Dass

Ram Dass
Famous As: Spiritual Teacher
Birthdate: April 6, 1931
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts
Died: December 22, 2019

Ram Dass was an American spiritual teacher and psychologist. Born as Richard Alpert in Boston, he embraced Hinduism on a visit to India and changed his name. He traveled extensively, giving talks, and authored or co-authored many books on spirituality. He also founded the charitable organizations, Seva Foundation, and Hanuman Foundation. He was openly bisexual.

 4 David Miscavige

David Miscavige
Famous As: Leader of the Church of Scientology
Birthdate: April 30, 1960
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Bristol Township, 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.

 5 Charles Stanley

Charles Stanley
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.

 6 David Koresh

David Koresh
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.

 7 Stella Immanuel

Stella Immanuel
Famous As: Physician, writer
Birthdate: 1965 AD
Birthplace: Cameroon
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 8 Russell M. Nelson

Russell M. Nelson
Famous As: Religious Leader, Surgeon
Birthdate: September 9, 1924
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Salt Lake City, Utah

Russell M. Nelson is an American religious leader and the current president of the Mormon Church. A former surgeon, Nelson is credited with co-developing the heart-lung machine, which was used in the first-ever open-heart surgery. He became a respected heart surgeon and went on to serve as the president of the Utah Medical Association before becoming a religious leader.

 9 Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards
Famous As: Preacher, Theologian, Philosopher
Birthdate: October 5, 1703
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: East Windsor, Connecticut, United States
Died: March 22, 1758

Jonathan Edwards was an American philosopher, revivalist preacher, and Congregationalist Protestant theologian. Considered one of America's most prominent and influential philosophical theologians, Jonathan Edwards played a major role in shaping the Evangelical Revival of the 1730s and 1740s. His theological work is credited with paving the way for a new school of theology called the New England theology.

 10 Bernice King

Bernice King
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.

 11 Wallace Fard Muhammad

Wallace Fard Muhammad
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.

 12 Charles Taze Russell

Charles Taze Russell
Famous As: Christian Restoration Minister
Birthdate: February 16, 1852
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Allegheny, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died: October 31, 1916

Charles Taze Russell was an American restorationist minister who is credited with founding the Bible Student movement, which formed the basis for several independent Bible Student groups. He is also credited with co-founding a not-for-profit, non-stock organization called the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, which is an important publisher of religious books in America.

 13 Thomas S. Monson

Thomas S. Monson
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.

 14 Rick Warren

Rick Warren
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.

 15 Meir Kahane

Meir Kahane
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.

 16 Cochise

Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: New Spain
Died: June 8, 1874

Legendary Apache leader Cochise  led the Native Americans against the Whites, thwarting colonial intrusion in the U.S. Southwest, in the 1860s, especially in the Battle of Apache Pass. He has been immortalized through films such as Broken Arrow, while Cochise County in Arizona has been named after him.

 17 Leigh Taylor-Young

Leigh Taylor-Young
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: January 25, 1945
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States

Actor Leigh Taylor-Young had initially studied economics, before switching to theater. After gaining fame with the soap Peyton Place, she delivered a Golden Globe-winning performance in the film I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. She also won an Emmy for her role in the series Picket Fences.

 18 Mary Baker Eddy

Mary Baker Eddy
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.

 19 Mother Angelica

Mother Angelica
Famous As: Nun
Birthdate: April 20, 1923
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Canton, Ohio, United States
Died: March 27, 2016

Born to Italian parents, amid poverty, in Ohio, Mother Angelica and her siblings were raised by her mother after her father abandoned them. Initially a factory worker, she later became a Poor Clare nun and also founded the Eternal Word Television Network, which streamed Catholic-oriented programs.

 20 Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad
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.

 21 Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Ann Seton
Famous As: Teacher, Abbé, Memoirist, Nun
Birthdate: August 28, 1774
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York City
Died: January 4, 1821
Born to a physician, Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American to be canonized by the Catholic Church, helped establish the first charity in New York. Part of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, she pioneered the Catholic schooling system, establishing the first Catholic girls’ school in the U.S. 

 22 Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley
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.

 23 Marshall Applewhite

Marshall Applewhite
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.

 24 Kent Hovind

Kent Hovind
Famous As: Evangelist
Birthdate: January 15, 1953
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Pensacola, Florida, United States

Kent Hovind is an American tax protester and evangelist. He is credited with establishing Creation Science Evangelism (CSE), which aims at propagating creationism. A controversial personality, Hovind was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2007 for failing to pay taxes, structuring cash transactions, and obstructing federal agents.

 25 Prem Rawat

Prem Rawat
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 10, 1957
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India

Indian-American public speaker and bestselling author Prem Rawat, son of an Indian guru who founded Divine Light Mission, pioneered the technique of meditation known as "peace education" and "knowledge." He often pilots his own private jet to preach his messages to various countries and has also launched a charitable foundation.

 26 Shmuley Boteach

Shmuley Boteach
Famous As: Writer, Theologian, Rabbi
Birthdate: November 19, 1966
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Los Angeles

Orthodox rabbi and author Shmuley Boteach, also known as the host of Shalom in the Home, soared to international fame with the release of his book Kosher Sex. The father of nine was a spiritual advisor to Michael Jackson and has founded the pro-Israel non-profit The World Values Network.

 27 St. Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel
Famous As: Philanthropist
Birthdate: November 26, 1858
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: March 3, 1955

Roman Catholic saint Katharine Drexel, the founder of Xavier University, was born to Philadelphia banker Francis Anthony Drexel and picked up he philanthropic habits from her father. In spite of inheriting a massive fortune, she devoted her life to building schools and churches for the racially underprivileged.

 28 William Miller

William Miller
Famous As: theologian
Birthdate: February 15, 1782
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Pittsfield
Died: December 20, 1849

Baptist preacher William Miller launched the movement Millerism, which propagated the idea of the advent of Christ. Millerism paved the way for groups such as the Seventh-day Adventists. He and his followers believed the Second Coming was to happen on October 22, 1844, but it never did.

 29 Father Yod

Father Yod
Birthdate: July 4, 1922
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cincinnati
Died: August 25, 1975

Father Yod was an American spiritual leader and singer. He established a spiritual commune called the Source Family, which was influenced by the philosophy and teachings of Harbhajan Singh Khalsa. Father Yod is credited with setting up America's first health food restaurants. He is also credited with forming Ya Ho Wha 13, a psychedelic rock band.

 30 Richard Allen

Richard Allen
Famous As: Minister
Birthdate: February 14, 1760
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: March 26, 1831

Born to slave parents, American clergyman Richard Allen became a Methodist convert at 22. He later founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church and served as its first bishop. Apart from establishing the first church for Blacks in the U.S., he worked on various aspects to improve the lives of Blacks.

 31 Increase Mather

Increase Mather
Famous As: Clergyman
Birthdate: June 21, 1639
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Massachusetts Bay Colony, United States
Died: August 23, 1723

Puritan clergyman Increase Mather was educated at Harvard and Trinity and preached his first sermon the day he turned 18. The son of Puritan minister Richard Mather, he penned An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences, which is said to have influenced the Salem witch trials.

 32 Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Famous As: Rabbi
Birthdate: April 18, 1902
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Mykolaiv, Ukraine
Died: June 12, 1994

Menachem Mendel Schneerson was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most influential Jewish leaders, Schneerson is best remembered for leading the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Under his leadership, the movement became one of the world's most influential and widespread Jewish movements. Menachem Mendel Schneerson was posthumously honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 1994.

 33 J. Z. Knight

J. Z. Knight
Famous As: Psychic, Writer
Birthdate: March 16, 1946
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Roswell

American mystic and spiritual author J. Z. Knight claims she had channelized a spirit she calls Ramtha. She founded the Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, where she teaches Ramtha’s preachings, though she has courted controversy for her anti-semitic, homophobic, and unscientific comments. She believes Ramtha heals better than medicine.

 34 J. C. Watts

J. C. Watts
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: November 18, 1957
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Eufaula, Oklahoma, United States

J. C. Watts is an American politician, athlete, and clergyman. A multi-talented man, Watts played professional football in the Canadian Football League. From 1995 to 2003, he served as a Republican in the United States House of Representatives, representing Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. 

 35 Jemima Wilkinson

Jemima Wilkinson
Famous As: Religious leader
Birthdate: November 29, 1752
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Cumberland, Rhode Island, United States
Died: July 1, 1819

Jemima Wilkinson was an American preacher who later became known as the Public Universal Friend after becoming a genderless evangelist. The Public Universal Friend preached throughout the northeastern US. The Friend's teachings attracted several followers who became part of the Society of Universal Friends.

 36 Adi Da

Adi Da
Famous As: Founder of Adidam
Birthdate: November 3, 1939
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Queens, New York, United States
Died: November 27, 2008

Adi Da was an American writer, spiritual teacher, and artist. He first achieved popularity during the 1970s for his public talks and books. He is credited with founding a new religious movement called Adidam. A controversial personality, Adi Da was later accused by his former followers of brainwashing, assault, sexual abuse, and false imprisonment.

 37 Timothy M. Dolan

Timothy M. Dolan
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 Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith
Famous As: Political leader
Birthdate: November 13, 1838
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Far West, Missouri, United States
Died: November 19, 1918

Joseph F. Smith was an American political and religious leader. From 1901 to 1918, he served as the president of the Mormon Church. An influential president of the church, Joseph F. Smith's teachings were the course of study in the Church's Melchizedek priesthood classes and Sunday Relief Society for the year 2000–01.

 39 John Birch

John Birch
Birthdate: May 8, 1918
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Landour
Died: August 25, 1945

John Birch was an American missionary and Baptist minister. A US Army Air Forces military intelligence captain, Birch also played a key role during the Second World War, serving as an OSS agent in China. Killed during a confrontation with Communist soldiers in China, John Birch was posthumously honored with the Army Distinguished Service Medal.

 40 Robert Jeffress

Robert Jeffress
Famous As: Religious leader
Birthdate: November 29, 1955
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Texas

Best known as a senior pastor of the Dallas-based First Baptist Church, Robert Jeffress is also a major Fox News contributor. He boasts of multiple theological degrees and is married to his high-school sweetheart, Amy. He has reached millions through his religious program Pathway to Victory.

 41 Hannah Emerson Duston

Hannah Emerson Duston
Famous As: Protestant
Birthdate: December 23, 1657
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 6, 1736

Hannah Emerson Duston was a Puritan who was taken captive during King William's War by the Abenaki people. She is best remembered for killing and scalping 10 of the Native American family members with the help of two other captives. She later became a folk hero and was honored with a statue.

 42 Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery
Birthdate: October 3, 1806
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Wells
Died: March 3, 1850

Oliver Cowdery was an American religious leader who played an important role during the developmental duration of the Latter Day Saint movement in the 1830s. The first baptized Latter Day Saint, Cowdery was also the Second Elder of the church and one of the first apostles of the Latter Day Saint movement.

 43 Michael Beckwith

Michael Beckwith
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: 1956 AD

Michael Beckwith is an American New Thought minister. He is credited with founding a New Thought church called the Agape International Spiritual Center in 1986. Today, the community has more than 9,000 members and is expected to expand in the future. Also an influential writer, Beckwith's book Spiritual Liberation earned him the Gold Medal Nautilus Book Award.

 44 Theodore Hesburgh

Theodore Hesburgh
Famous As: 15th President of the University of Notre Dame
Birthdate: May 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Syracuse, New York, United States
Died: February 26, 2015

Theodore Hesburgh was an American educator, social activist, and author. Over the course of his career, Hesburgh was involved in several American governmental and civic initiatives, international humanitarian projects, commissions, and papal assignments. In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2000, he received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service.

 45 Joseph Franklin Rutherford

Joseph Franklin Rutherford
Famous As: Lawyer, Judge
Birthdate: November 8, 1869
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Morgan County
Died: January 8, 1942

Joseph Franklin Rutherford was an American lawyer who later developed an interest in the teachings of Charles Taze Russell. Eventually, he joined the Bible Student movement and later became the president of the Watch Tower Tract Society. Also an author, Joseph Franklin Rutherford wrote 21 books and distributed almost 400 million booklets and books.

 46 Leonidas Polk

Leonidas Polk
Famous As: Bishop
Birthdate: April 10, 1806
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States
Died: June 14, 1864

Leonidas Polk was an American Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. He is credited with establishing an Anglican Christian denomination called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. A political general of the Civil War, Leonidas Polk is remembered for commanding troops in the Battle of Perryville and the Battle of Shiloh among many other battles.

 47 Joseph Smith, III

Joseph Smith, III
Famous As: Religious leader
Birthdate: November 6, 1832
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kirtland, Ohio, United States
Died: December 10, 1914

Joseph Smith III was an American religious leader best known as the son of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith III served as the Prophet-President of the Community of Christ and presided over the church for 54 years until his death in 1914. He made immense contributions to the development of the church, which earned him the nickname, the pragmatic prophet.

 48 Tenskwatawa

Famous As: Political leader
Birthdate: December 31, 1775
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Ohio, United States
Died: October 31, 1836

Tenskwatawa was a Native American political and religious leader. Remembered for changing his ways after a near-death experience, Tenskwatawa led a purification movement that condemned the consumption of alcohol and promoted unity among Native Americans. He became known as the Prophet among his ethnic group and accumulated several followers.

 49 Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff
Famous As: Religious leader
Birthdate: March 1, 1807
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Farmington, Connecticut, United States
Died: September 2, 1898

Wilford Woodruff was an American religious leader. From 1889 until his death in 1898, Woodruff served as the president of the Mormon Church. He is credited with ending the public practice of polygamy among the members of the Church in 1890. Woodruff's journals are regarded as an important contribution to the Mormon Church history.

 50 Gene Robinson

Gene Robinson
Famous As: Bishop
Birthdate: May 29, 1947
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lexington, Kentucky, United States

Gene Robinson is an American former bishop associated with the Episcopal Church. Gene Robinson is renowned for being the first openly gay man to be consecrated as a bishop in a prominent Christian denomination. His life and career have been the subject of articles in print media and films.