Just the facts on religion.

Glossary of Religion


(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.
(Greek, "follower"). A lay person, usually a child or young adult, who assists ministers in worship services.
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.
Traditional Chinese medical treatment using needles to stimulate the flow of ch'i in the body.
Abbreviation for Latin anno domini, "in the year of our Lord."
(also atar). Sacred fire in Zoroastrianism.
Arabic. The call to prayer performed by the muezzin before each of the five daily times of prayer (salat).
(also papa). Evil, sin, or misfortune, including both natural and moral evil.
A follower or member of a religious faith or belief system.
(Hebrew, "Lord"). One of the most common Jewish names for God, used especially during prayer.
Doctrine that Jesus was fully human until God "adopted" him, or made him divine, at his baptism.
four Sundays before Christmas; Nov. 30 - Dec. 24
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.
Continued existence of the soul after the death of the body, affirmed by most (but not all) world religions.
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.
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.
Large open space used for assembly of the citizens; thus the center of a Greek city.
Ahura Mazda
("Lord of Wisdom"). Creator God worshipped in Zoroastrianism.
(Hebrew, "A-B"). The Hebrew alphabet.
Closing prayer of every synagogue service, proclaiming God's sovereignty.
Alexandrian rite
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.
Alexandrian School
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.
(Hebrew, "going up"). To "make an aliyah" is to be called up to recite the blessing before the Torah reading.
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.
The belief that the 1,000-year period described in Revelation should not be taken as a literal 1,000-year period of time.
Small desk in a synagogue from which the Torah is read.
The Buddha's cousin and one of his primary disciples. He memorized and recited the Buddha's teachings, and so was known as the Dhammabhandagarika, "treasurer of the teachings."
(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.
Symbol of firmness, tranquility and hope.
Angra Mainyu
("Evil Spirit"). In Zoroastrianism, the spirit of evil. Opponent of the good God, Ahura Mazda.
Predating the Council of Nicea (325 CE).
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.
"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.
(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.
Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. Was once the common language of the Jewish world - the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds were both written in Aramaic - but it is no longer spoken.
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.
(Sanskrit, "foe-destroyer"). One who has attained nirvana; the goal of Theravada Buddhism.
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.
(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.
(Acronym for Hebrew aron hakodesh, "holy chest"). Cabinet in a synagogue that holds the Torah scrolls, usually located at the front of the sanctuary.
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.
Jews from eastern and northern Europe and their descendents, to be distinguished from Sephardic Jews.
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").
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.
The lack of belief in any gods.
Greek goddess of wisdom and war
A person's true Self or underlying vital force. According to Vedanta philosophy, "atman is Brahman."
A halo that surrounds a sacred figure's whole body.
In ancient Roman religion, divine signs given through natural events.
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.
The scripture of Zoroastrianism.
(Sanskrit, "ignorance"). Ignorance, which is the root of all suffering.
Ascension of Jesus
The event described in the biblical books of Luke and Acts, in which Jesus is taken up physically into the sky after his Resurrection.

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