Glossary of Religion: S

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

sa'y
Ritual of running seven times between two low hills in Mecca during the hajj, representing Hagar's search for water.
Sabbath
The Jewish day of rest from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset.
Sabellianism
Modalist belief system attributed to Sabellius, in which God consists of a single person who reveals himself in different modes. Thus the Son is divine and the same as the Father. Essentially synonymous with patripassianism and modalist monarchianism.
sacrament
A solemn Christian ritual believed to be a means of grace, a sign of faith, or obedience to Christ's commands. The Anglican catechism defines a sacrament as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace...ordained by Christ himself." In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist (communion), penance, extreme unction, ordination and marriage. In Protestant churches, only baptism and the eucharist are regarded as sacraments.
sadhu
A holy man who has renounced the material world to devote himself to spiritual practice. He wanders from place to place and owns nothing. A female sadhu is a sadhvi.
saint
A historic or legendary person who has been canonized.
salat
(Arabic, "prayer") Ritual prayer performed five times per day facing the direction (qibla) of Mecca.
salvation
The doctrinal concept of the deliverance of man or his soul from evil or sin by religious means, the restoration of people to their true state, and the attainment of eternal and blessed life. God's intervention is responsible for salvation in theistic religions while in Buddhism salvation comes from escaping the cycle of birth and rebirth, thereby reaching nirvana.
Sama Veda
Liturgical Hindu text
samadhi
(Sanskrit) State of deep meditation.
samsara
(Sanskrit, Pali "wandering"). The cycle of death and rebirth.
samu
(Japanese, "work service"). Physical work performed at set times in Zen monasteries.
samudaya
Second of the Four Noble Truths: Suffering is caused by desire.
samyama
In yoga, movement from meditative concentration into total mental absorption.
sanatana dharma
("everlasting truth"). Hindu word for Hinduism.
sandek
The "Jewish godfather": the man who holds the baby boy during the rite of circumcision.
sanjiao
"three teachings." Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The phrase originated in 9th-century China.
sawm
(Arabic, "fasting," also spelled siyam). Religious fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
scholasticism
The philosophical systems and speculative tendencies of various Medieval Christian thinkers, who, working against a background of fixed religious dogma, sought to solve anew general philosophical problems (as of faith and reason, will and intellect, and the provability of the existence of God), initially under the influence of the mystical and intuitional tradition of patristic philosophy, and especially Augustinianism, and later under that of Aristotle.
Scientology
System of beliefs and religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. It is based on the principles of Dianetics, a form of psychotherapy developed by Hubbard, which uses various techniques for ridding the psyche of painful experiences or engrams. It includes a highly structured system of beliefs, including the role of the thetan, which is comparable to the soul or life energy, in the physical universe.
Second Temple
The Temple in Jerusalem that was rebuilt in 516 BCE after the Babylonian Exile and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
see
(from Latin, "seat"). City in which a bishop's cathedral is located.
Sephardic
Jews from the Middle East and Spain and their descendents.
Septuagint
Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible dating from 300-200 BCE, used extensively by New Testament writers and the early church.
sermon
A message delivered to laypeople for their edification.
shahada
("testimony" or "witness"). The profession of faith that "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the prophet of God," which is the only requirement for joining the Muslim community. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it must be spoken aloud with full understanding and faith at least once in one's lifetime. It is also included in the call to prayer, most ritual prayers, and is recited at death.
Shakti
The Great Goddess and consort of Shiva. Her many forms include Durga, Kali and Amba.
shalom
Jewish greeting meaning "hello," "goodbye," or "peace."
shamanism
Refers generally to the religious practices of some northern Asian peoples who believe that good and evil spirits inhabit the world and can be summoned or heard through inspired priests acting as mediums. Shamanism is also found amongst the pre-Chrisitian Lapps, the Inuit, the Plains Indians of North America, some Australian Aborigines, and some other peoples. The term was originally used by the Tungus people of Siberia.
Shari'a
Islamic law, both political and religious.
shekhinah
The presence of God; the Holy Spirit. In Kabbalistic thought, the feminine aspect of God.
Shemot
(Hebrew "names"). The Hebrew name for Exodus, the second book of the Torah.
shen
Spiritual consciousness.
Sheol
Grave; world of the dead.
Shi'a
Minority sect of Islam, distinguished from the more popular Sunni branch. It emerged in early Islamic history as a political faction that supported the rule of Ali, son-in-law of Muhammad and fourth caliph of the Muslim community. This branch of Islam advocates the idea of rule in the Muslim world based on lineage; only descendants of Ali could rule.
Shinto
Used to distinguish the indigenous Japanese religious beliefs and practices from Buddhism, which had been introduced into Japan in the sixth century. In general, it is characterized by its lack of official sacred scripture and specific formal dogma and by the veneration of small images set in particular Shinto shrines.
Shiva
("auspicious"). Major deity and the third in the Hindu trinity (with Brahma and Vishnu). Shiva has roots in the pre-Vedic period, there associated with the god Rudra. To Saivities, Shiva is creator, preserver and destroyer, and the supreme deity.
shochet
Kosher butcher.
shomerim
(Hebrew, "guards"). In Judaism, those who stay with a body prior to burial so that it will not be left alone.
shu
(Chinese) reciprocity
shunning
In a religious context, a formal decision by a denomination or congregation to cease all interaction with an individual or a group.
siddur
(Hebrew, "order"). Prayer book used in Jewish liturgy.
Sikhism
Refers to the Indian religion that blends together Islamic and Hindu elements, founded by Nanak Sikhs, disciples of Nanak and his nine successors known as the Ten Gurus, in the Punjab region of India in the late 15th century. Prominent features of this belief system are the lack of a professional priesthood and the eligibility of adults of either sex to conduct religious ceremonies.
Sila
(Sanskrit, Pali, "precepts"). Basic obligations that Buddhists undertake. Monks and nuns adhere to all ten; laypersons to the first five sila. The ten precepts are to abstain from: harming a living being; taking anything not given; sensual misconduct; false speech; intoxication; solid food after midday; frivolous entertainments; perfumes and jewelry; raised beds; and involvement with money.
simcha
(Hebrew, "rejoicing"). Any Jewish celebration.
Sivaism
Religious and philosophical beliefs dominant in South India and based on the worship of the deity Siva as the supreme god. The primary doctrine of this religion is the devotional book of hymns called, Tirumurai, composed by Saiva saints from the fifth to the ninth century.
skandha
(Sanskrit; Pali, khandha, "group"). The five aggregates that make up human appearance: material composition; sensations; perceptions; mental formations; and consciousness. These are impermanent, constantly changing, and do not constitute a "self."
smrti
("remembered"). Scriptures of human origin (as opposed to sruti) but highly regarded and authoritative.
sola fide
(Latin, "faith alone"). Martin Luther's doctrine that faith is all that is necessary for salvation. It remains a core doctrine for many Protestants today.
sola scriptura
(Latin, "scripture alone"). Martin Luther's doctrine that Scripture is the only authority for Christians (i.e., church tradition and papal doctrine are unnecessary and inferior to direct reading of the Scripture).
Son of Man
Title used 81 times by Jesus to refer to himself in the Gospels, but never by anyone else. The term may derive from the eschatological figure of Daniel 7 or may have been intended to refer to his humanity.
soteriology
Branch of Christian theology dealing with salvation.
Soto
One of the two main branches of Zen. Known as Tsao-tung in China, it was brought by Dogen from China to Japan in 1227. Unlike Rinzai, Soto teaches a form of silent seated meditation in which enlightenment is a gradual process. In his 'Shobo Genzo,' Dogen advocates a combination of seated meditation (zazen), daily labor, discipline, and the use of koans.
spiritual being
Gods and other beings who inhabit the spiritual or otherworldly realms, , or who inhabit the physical world but have powers and abilities of the supernatural.
spiritualism
Use with reference to endeavors to communicate with the souls of the dead or other spirits.
sruti
("heard"). Divinely revealed scriptures, as opposed to sruti ("remembered"), which are of human origin.
St. Patrick's Day
Catholic feast day honoring St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Celebrated worldwide by the Irish, those of Irish descent, or those enjoy being "Irish for a day."
star of David
Six-pointed stars composed of two equilateral triangles, one superimposed upside down on the other.
stations of the cross
Series of 14 events in the Passion of Christ, beginning with his condemnation and ending with his body being laid in the tomb. The stations are a popular subject of public and private devotion in Catholicism, especially during Lent.
stats
Reproductions, usually of documents, made with the Photostat (TM) machine or similar machines.
stigmatists
A person who reports experiencing the wounds of Christ (nails in hands and feet, crown of thorns) in a physical way, such as bleeding in the hands.
Stoicism
A philosophical movement that flourished in Greek and Roman antiquity. Stoics have always believed that the goal of all inquiry is to provide humanity with a mode of conduct characterized by tranquility of mind and certainty of moral worth, and urged participation in the affairs of humankind. Thus, moral worth, duty, and justice are singularly Stoic emphases, together with a certain sternness of mind.
stupa
(Sanskrit) Monument containing relics, usually of the Buddha.
subordinationism
Heretical belief in which the Son is lesser than the Father in divinity, rank or honor.
Sufism
Branch of Islam founded on the central tenet that divine love and knowledge can be attained through direct personal union with Allah. The branch is also known for the popularization of its mystical love poetry composed in the Persian, Turkish, and Urdu languages.
Sukkot
The Jewish autumn festival celebrated in September or October (15-21 Tishri) as a festival of thanksgiving. Sukkot is one of three Jewish pilgrim festivals. In biblical times the festival was associated with the agricultural year. Following the tradition established in Leviticus (23: 42), 'booths' or temporary shelters are built in homes, gardens, and synagogues in memory of the huts used by the Israelites after leaving Egypt.
Sunnah
("Tradition"). Record of the words and deeds of the Prophet. While not the Word of God on a level with the Qur'an, the Sunnah is regarded as inspired and authoritative.
Sunni
Branch of Islam generally considered the more mainstream and traditionalist Islamic sect, constituting the majority of adherents to Islam. It is founded on the recognition of a theocratic state as an earthly, temporal dominion for Allah and it is characterized by religious leadership determined by and based on contemporary political realities and by the proper exercise of religious order through election rather than through lineage.
surah
A chapter of the Qur'an.
sutra
(Sanskrit) Discourse or section of teachings.
svarodaya
The science of breath control in yoga.
swastika
(Sanskrit svastika, "all is well") Ancient symbol of good fortune and well-being, with a variety of uses and meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism and many other faiths.
symbols, religious
Visible signs (art, icons, illustrations, personifications, or objects) that stand for abstract or intangible religious concepts.
synoptic gospels
(from Greek synopsis, "single view "). The New Testament books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which offer similar views of the life of Christ and share some verbatim text. The Gospel of John has a unique perspective and seems to be independent of the synoptic gospels.
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Article Info

Title Glossary of Religion: S
Published
Last UpdatedFebruary 13, 2021
URL religionfacts.com/glossary/s
Short URLrlft.co/3494
MLA Citation “Glossary of Religion: S.” ReligionFacts.com. 13 Feb. 2021. Web. Accessed 3 Aug. 2021. <religionfacts.com/glossary/s>