I think that Buddha certainly carries weight out of all the religious figures that have ever been acknowledged, but it appears by religion that Christian figures probably are the top most recognized religious icons. This is, statistically, possibly misleading, since all religious icons are probably identifiable by anyone with enough exposure.
According to the cited website, the most commonly acknowledged religious figure in the world is the Muslim prophet Muhammad. However, he can’t explicitly be the most well recognized per se, because the tenets of Islam include stringent restrictions or portraying the prophet’s image.
Going from there, one has to conclude from this list that the most easily recognized religious figure worldwide is Jesus (with Buddha a close runner-up).
As far as religious founders are concerned, Jesus is probably the most recognized because Christianity is, at this point in time, the most widespread religion in the world. Islam is second, and is the fastest-growing religion, however very few people would be able to identify Muhammad, as it is improper to create an image of Muhammad, according to Muslim tradition. In all reality, the Dalai Lama is much more recognizable than the Buddha, as he is a real living person who is often in the news, and the Buddha is one of many thangka images that come out of Asian culture – what I mean is that sometimes people don’t differentiate between images of the Buddha and that of Tonpa Shenrap, founder of the Bon religion – or any other colorful Indo-Tibetan-Asian image of a person sitting in meditation.
Ergo #1 Jesus, #2 Pope (although many might not know his personal name), #3 Dalai Lama.
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