Just the facts on religion.

Glossary of Religion

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A.H.
(Latin anno hegirae, "After Hijira"). Western abbreviation for the Islamic dating of years, beginning with Muhammad's flight to Medina in 622 CE.
abhaya mudra
Buddhist hand gesture representing fearlessness.
acolyte
(Greek, "follower"). A lay person, usually a child or young adult, who assists ministers in worship services.
Acre
The holiest city of the Bahá'í Faith and the direction of prayer. It is located in modern-day Israel and contains the tomb of Bahá'u'lláh.
adar
(also atar). Sacred fire in Zoroastrianism.
adhan
Arabic. The call to prayer performed by the muezzin before each of the five daily times of prayer (salat).
adharma
(also papa). Evil, sin, or misfortune, including both natural and moral evil.
Adonai
(Hebrew, "Lord"). One of the most common Jewish names for God, used especially during prayer.
adoptionism
Doctrine that Jesus was fully human until God "adopted" him, or made him divine, at his baptism.
Advent
four Sundays before Christmas; Nov. 30 - Dec. 24
Aeneas
Hero of Greek mythology and literature. Son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. In the Iliad, he is a Trojan leader who is very pious towards the gods.
afterlife
Continued existence of the soul after the death of the body, affirmed by most (but not all) world religions.
Agamemnon
Hero of Greek mythology and literature. Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus, husband of Clytemnestra. In Homer, commander of the Greek expedition against Troy and a man of personal valor but easily discouraged.
agones
1. Informal and competitive struggles and rivalries that permeated Greek life. 2. Gatherings of people, usually for formal contests in honor of a god or local hero.
agora
Large open space used for assembly of the citizens; thus the center of a Greek city.
System of liturgical practices found in Egyptian and Ethiopian Christian churches. It is historically associated with St. Mark the Evangelist, who is believed to have traveled to Alexandria.
School of thought associated with Alexandria, Egypt. It was influenced by Platonic philosophy and tended to emphasize the divinity of Christ over his humanity and interpret scripture allegorically. Compare with the Antiochene School. Notable Alexandrians include Clement and Origen.
Allah
Strict monotheism. One God (Allah in Arabic); the same God revealed (imperfectly) in the Jewish and Christian Bibles
Amida Buddha
(Japanese; Sanskrit Amitabha; "infinite light"). Celestial buddha who, while a bodhisattva, vowed to lead all beings to the Pure Land. Amida is the focus of devotion in Pure Land Buddhism and one of several revered buddhas of the Mahayana tradition.
amillennialism
The belief that the 1,000-year period described in Revelation should not be taken as a literal 1,000-year period of time.
anathema
(Greek, "suspended"). Condemned; cut off from the church. The word is used in Galatians 1:8 and I Corinthians 16:22 to denote separation from the Christian community. It is generally considered even more serious than excommunication.
anchor
Symbol of firmness, tranquility and hope.
Anicca
Impermanence.
Ante-Nicene
Predating the Council of Nicea (325 CE).
Anthesteria
An Athenian festival in honor of the god Dionysus. Held annually for three days in the early spring to celebrate the end of winter and the maturing of the wine.
antiminsion
(also antimension) In Eastern Orthodoxy, the portable altar that consists of a silk or linen cloth decorated with scenes from the Passion and containing relics. Its use began around the beginning of the 9th century.
Antiochene school
(also Antiochene theology) Modern designation for the school of thought associated with the city of Antioch in Syria, as contrasted with the Alexandrian School. Antiochene theology was influenced by Aristotelian philosophy, emphasized the humanity of Christ, and interpreted scripture in light of its historical context. Its most famous teachers are Diodore of Tarsus, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus.
aparche
First fruits (lit. "from the beginning"). Gifts to the gods, usually agricultural products. They may be either burnt, deposited at sacred places, or sunk in water.
Apaturia
An Ionian festival celebrated by the phatry throughout Attica. It took place in the autumn month of Pyanopsion for three days, and its main function was to enrol new phatry members.
Apellai
Dorian festival of Apollo celebrated at Sparta and elsewhere. Corresponded to the Ionian festival of Apaturia. At Sparta, the festival was celebrated monthly, on the seventh, when the Spartan assembly met.
Aphrodite
Goddess of sexuality and reproduction; also connected with vegetation and the earth in general. Patron goddess of prostitutes, seafaring, and civic harmony. According to Homer, the daughter of Zeus and Dione. According to Hesiod, born from the severed genitals of Uranus. Seen as both Greek and foreign.
Apocrypha
(lit. Greek: "out of the writings"). Books not included in the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, but included in the Greek Septuagint. Catholic and Orthodox Christans include the Apocrypha in the canon of scripture; Protestant Christians do not. Apocryphal books are Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Drago, The Prayer of Manasseh, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and additions to Esther.
Apollo
Important god of many functions, including healing and purification, prophecy, care for young citizens, poetry and music. Son of Zeus and Leto, brother of Artemis. For many, the most Greek of Greek gods. Portrayed as young, beardless, athletic, and of ideal beauty. His weapon is the bow, his instrument is the lyre, and his plant is the laurel.
apologetics
(Latin apologia, "defense"). Branch of Christian theology focused on defending the faith against its critics and demonstrating its reasonableness. Examples of apologetic works include Justin Martyr's Apology, Augustine's City of God, Calvin's Institutes, and, in modern times, C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
apologist
When used with a capital letter 'A', refers to the early Christian authors from about 120 to 220 CE who sought to defend Christianity against its critics, usually by explaining misunderstood Christian practice and showing the harmony of Christianity with Greek philosophy. Among this group are Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian and Tertullian.
apophrades
"Impure" days of the Athenian calendar. Associated with the Plynteria, homicide trials, moonless days, and other inauspicious events. Temples were closed and major undertakings were avoided.
apostle
(Greek apostolos, "one sent out"). Missionaries sent out by Jesus, including the Twelve Disciples and Paul.
apostolic fathers
Group of Christian leaders and writers from the late first and early second centuries A.D. These authors were not apostles themselves, but had close proximity to the apostles, either by personal relationship or close connection with apostolic teaching. Examples include Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Pseudo-Barnabas, the Didache, the Second Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and The Apostle's Creed.
apostolic succession
Doctrine that the authority of ordained clergy (to perform valid sacraments and teach right doctrine) derives from an unbroken succession of valid ordinations beginning with the apostles.
archbishops
In Catholicism and Anglicanism, a bishop who oversees the other bishops in the province. In the Episcopal Church, the archbishop is called the Presiding Bishop.
arhat
(Sanskrit, "foe-destroyer"). One who has attained nirvana; the goal of Theravada Buddhism.
Arianism
Belief, taught by Arius in the 4th century, that Christ was created by the Father, and although greater than man he is inferior to the Father. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote and campaigned against Arianism. It was delcared a heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325.
Aristotle
(384-322 BCE) Greek philosopher who taught that knowledge of God is the primary form of knowledge, and the way to know God is through the intellect and rationality. Aristotle's thought (combined with Platonism) was influential in Judaism, Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages.
ascension
The physical ascent of a person into heaven. The term most often refers to the Ascension of Christ, which is described in the biblical books of Luke and Acts, but may also refer to the Night Journey of Muhammad.
Ashtanga Yoga
("eight-limbed path"). The yoga with eight components: morality; ethics; posture; breath control; sense control; concentration; meditation; absorption. Also known as Raja Yoga ("royal path").
asura
In Mahayana Buddhism, anti-gods or demi-gods, who populate the lower heavens, the second highest realm of existence. They enjoy a similar existence to the gods of the highest realm, but are plagued by jealousy of the latter and wage fruitless wars against them.
Atheism
The lack of belief in any gods.
atman
A person's true Self or underlying vital force. According to Vedanta philosophy, "atman is Brahman."
aureole
A halo that surrounds a sacred figure's whole body.
auspicia
In ancient Roman religion, divine signs given through natural events.
Avalokiteshvara
Compassionate bodhisattva who is described in the Land of Bliss sutras as standing by the side of Amida to welcome the deceased to the afterlife. In China, Avaoliteshvara became a feminine deity, Kuan-yin.
avidya
(Sanskrit, "ignorance"). Ignorance, which is the root of all suffering.

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