Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified multiple susceptibility loci for immunoglobulin A nephropathy (IgAN), the most common form of glomerulonephritis, implicating independent defects in adaptive immunity (three loci on chromosome 6p21 in the MHC region), innate immunity (8p23 DEFA locus, 17p23 TNFSF13 locus, 22q12 HORMAD2 locus), and the alternative complement pathway (1q32 CFH/CFHR locus). In geospatial analysis of 85 populations, a genetic risk score based on the replicated GWAS loci is highest in Asians, intermediate in Europeans, and lowest in Africans, capturing the known difference in prevalence among world populations. The genetic risk score also uncovered a previously unsuspected increased prevalence of IgAN-attributable kidney failure in Northern Europe. The IgAN risk alleles have opposing effects on many immune-mediated diseases, suggesting that selection has contributed to variation in risk allele frequencies among different populations. Incorporating genetic, immunologic, and biochemical data, we present a multistep pathogenesis model that provides testable hypotheses for dissecting the mechanisms of disease.