Glossary of Religion: A



Learn the definitions of religious terms and concepts with our extensive Glossary of Religion. Choose a letter above or explore the random terms below.

(Latin anno hegirae, "After Hijira"). Western abbreviation for the Islamic dating of years, beginning with Muhammad's flight to Medina in 622 CE.
An Islamic dynasty established in 750, when it replaced the Umayyad caliphate. Originally based in Mesopotamia (the Abbasids founded Baghdad in 762), it remained dominant in the Islamic world until the mid-10th century. Abbasid art and architecture is characterized by Persian, Oriental, and Arabic influences.
abhaya mudra
Buddhist hand gesture representing fearlessness.
(Greek, "follower"). A lay person, usually a child or young adult, who assists ministers in worship services.
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.
Christian doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth became the son of God by exaltation that was not his at birth.
Christian religious season lasting from the fourth Sunday before Christmas until Christmas, observed by some as a period of prayer and fasting.
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.
The idea of survival of a person in some form after physical death. This notion is present in a wide variety of forms in different 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.
In ancient Greek settlements, open spaces used as marketplaces or general public meeting places. For similar spaces in ancient Roman settlements, use "forums.".
An Islamic religious movement founded in India in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (ca. 1839-1908). Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the Messiah Mahdi prophesied in the Koran, the Christian Messiah, an incarnation of the Hindu god Krishna, and a reappearance of Muhammad. In 1914 the sect split into two very separate branches, the Qadiyani and Lahori.
Ahura Mazda
("Lord of Wisdom"). Creator God worshipped in Zoroastrianism.
A form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting base metal into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
(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.
(Arabic, "God"). The name of God in Islam. Allah is 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.
Conservative Anabaptist sect led by Jakob Amman that separated from the Mennonites in Switzerland around 1693. The development of more liberal sects occurred after many Amish migrated to the United States, particularly in the 1870s. Only the Old Order Amish (founded 1720-40) still maintain Amman's strict dress codes, customs, and policy of non-cooperation with the state. Today, the Amish exist mainly in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Small desk in a synagogue from which the Torah is read.
(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.
Metal ties or plates used to fasten together timbers or masonry.
Angra Mainyu
("Evil Spirit"). In Zoroastrianism, the spirit of evil. Opponent of the good God, Ahura Mazda.
Belief in spiritual beings capable of influencing human events, based on the idea that animals, plants and even inanimate objects have souls. The term was coined in 1871 by anthropologist Edward Tylor, who believed it to be the earliest form of religion.
(Egyptian hieroglyph `nh, "life" or "breath of life"; Latin crux ansata, "handle-shaped cross"). Egyptian symbol of life, immortality, and the union of opposites.
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.
A messenger or person sent on an errand. In Christianity, a person sent into the world to preach about Jesus Christ.
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.
Doctrines of the Alexandrian priest Arius (ca. 250-ca. 336), which denied that Jesus was of the same substance as God and stated instead that he was only the highest of created beings. As such, the Son was not co-equal or co-eternal with the Father.
(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.
Explore works of visual art by category or style, find works by your favorite artists, and discover art historical attractions like museums and artists' homes.
The act or process of rising from the earthly to the heavenly sphere. It often specifically refers to Christ's ascension witnessed by the apostles forty days after his resurrection. Belief in Christ's ascension became an important part of Christianity, representing his oneness with God the Father, his transcendence over the limitations of time and space, and his universal availability. It can also refer to the ascent of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven.
Ash Wednesday
First day of Lent, occuring 6 1/2 weeks before Easter. The name comes from the practice of marking the foreheads of clergy and worshippers with ash. Typically the ash comes from burning the palms used on the previous Palm Sunday. It is the only other day besides Good Friday for which fasting is prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church.
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").
For Sunni Muslims, a minor holiday with voluntary fasting. For Shi'a Muslims, a major holiday commemorating the death of Hussein in 680 CE, with solemn mourning rituals.
Assemblies of God
Christian Pentecostal denomination formed in Canada and the United States in the early 20th century out of previously independent Pentecostal churches. The Assemblies of God are in the Baptist tradition and specifically believe that speaking in tongues is evidence of baptism by the Holy Spirit. The denomination promotes missionary work all over the world.
The study that assumes and attempts to interpret and foretell the influence of the stars, moon, and planets upon human affairs.
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.
Doctrine that there is neither God nor any other deity.
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, the signs of the gods that were inscribed in nature and meant to be deciphered. Auspicia were seen as affirmative or negative answers to proposed courses of action. Auspicia often came from the sky as thunder, lightning, and different kinds of birds although there were other kinds as well. Public auspicia were taken by magistrates or augurs in the sacred space of the templum.
authority, religious
Source of religious truth and instruction, such as scriptures, tradition, or spiritual leaders.
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.

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Title Glossary of Religion: A
Last UpdatedFebruary 13, 2021
MLA Citation “Glossary of Religion: A.” 13 Feb. 2021. Web. Accessed 24 Jul. 2021. <>