Controversies within religious studies over the categories of religion and religions are reflective of changes in religion that correspond to the historical development of global society in recent centuries. The globalization of society has created social conditions that encourage the differentiation of religion as a distinct modality of social communication based on binary codes and centred on institutionalized programmes that flow from these. The result has been the gradual construction and imagining of an ambiguous but nonetheless observable and operative global religious system. From its beginnings in early modern Western Christianity, the system has spread haltingly and gradually to the rest of the world. Similar to the way the spread of the global political system brought about the discovery and construction of nations, the development of the religious system has resulted in the crystallization of ‘religions’, especially but not exclusively what we now call the world religions. The examples of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Chinese religion are discussed briefly as illustration.