Glossary of Religion Terms

The academic study of religion, like any academic study, is its own little world of terminology and jargon. To help ease into it, here’s a small glossary of religion terms.

Ablutionceremonial act of washing oneself, usually for ritual or purification purposes
Animismbelief that various natural forces have spirits
Apocalypseliterary genre in which the future of humanity is revealed using highly symbolic imagery
Apologeticsarguments used to justify something, typically a religious doctrine
Apostasyabandonment of religious belief by a believer
Apotheosisthe process of humans becoming divine
Bedeanother term for ‘prayer’
Blasphemyinsults to a religion or deity
Blessingthe favor of a deity or a wish for a deity’s favor
Canonaccepted scripture of a religion or a kind of religious law
Ceremonya religious event to celebrate or mark an occurrence for a person or community
Cosmogonybelief about the origin of the universe
Cosmologyunderstanding of the origin and form of the universe and existence as well as the ultimate end to that existence
Creedstatement of belief regarded as authoritative or defining in a religion
Culture Heroa person representing a defined group whose actions are responsible for something considered important to that group or the world in general
Deificationmaking someone or something into a god
Deisma belief in a supreme creator who does not interact with their creation
Demiurgethe controller and sometimes creator of the physical world in gnostic beliefs
Dualisma belief in the mind and the body as separate forces
Epica narrative celebrating and celebrating heroic deeds that are considered central to a given culture
Eremeticismpractice of solitary living for religious purposes
Eschatologya doctrine or understanding of the end of everything
Exorcisman act that ejects to presence of a malevolent spiritual force from someone’s body
Golden Agethe state of the world prior to the current age where life was painless and connection to divinity was stronger
Heresyreligious opinion contrary to orthodox practices
Hermeneuticsinterpretation of texts, often scripture
Heterodoxydeviation from orthodoxy
Hierophanymanifestation of something sacred
Iconographysystem of images used to convey a specific meaning or message
Incensesomething that releases fragrance when burnt, used in religious ceremonies or practices
Initiationprocess by which one becomes a member of a religion or subsection of a religion and is thereby privileged to learn more details
Liminal Spacelocation in which one experiences liminality
Liminalitythe transition between defined states, such as the point immediately before a ritual
Martyrsomeone who suffers persecution or death for advocating or refusing to renounce a religious belief
Monasticismway of living in which one retreats from the secular world in pursuit of religious ideals or practices
Monismdenial of a distinction between things in some aspect
Monotheismbelief in a single god
Mysticismexperience of unity of the soul with divinity
Occultsupernatural beliefs that fall outside of mainstream religions
Ontologyphilosophical understanding of the nature of existence
Orthodoxyaccepted beliefs and doctrines of a religion
Pantheisma belief that regards the universe as an emanation of a supreme being
Pollutionsomething that makes one impure in a ritual sense and unable to participate in certain aspects of the religion until cleansed
Polytheismbelief in multiple gods
Prayera request or communication with a deity
Reincarnationthe process by which a soul inhabits a new body after the death of the prior
Resurrectionreturning to life after death
Rituala religious activity with a defined sequence of actions and events
Sacrificesomething offered to a deity either in exchange for blessings or simply as a part of religious duty
Sacrilegeviolation of things regarded as sacred
Sanctuarya sacred place
Schisma split in a religion, with people dividing into groups with different and irreconcilable interpretations
Scripturewritings regarded as sacred or as telling sacred truths by a religious belief system
Secta smaller division of a religion, possibly with different interpretations of the beliefs
Shrinea place regarded as sacred for a specific entity
Syncretisma mixing of different belief systems into on coherent and distinct form
Taboosomething considered morally wrong within a belief system
Templea building reserved for religious activities
Theismbelief in the existence of a deity or deities
Theodicyan answer to the “problem of evil” and how it can exist if there is also a supreme, loving creator
Therianthropycombination of human and animal aspects in a divine being
Totemismreligious belief centered on veneration of an object (animal, plant or other) that is considered to have a deep connection to the worshippers
Transmigrationthe movement of the soul after death, sometimes to a new body
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