Adherent: 1) A person who identifies with some religious tradition. It is a broader term than "member" because the latter refers to an official status that varies according to congregation or denomination. 2) Note that in ARDA's online Maps & Reports, “adherent” has a more specific meaning: “All members, including full members, their children and the estimated number of other participants who are not considered members; for example, the ‘baptized,’ ‘those not confirmed,’ ‘those not eligible for communion,’ ‘those regularly attending services,’ and the like,” according to the Religious Congregations and Membership Study, 2010 (Grammich et al. 2012: xvi).
Adventist Family: Churches originating from founder William Miller in the late 19th century. Miller taught that Christ would soon return to earth and that Saturday, rather than Sunday, should be observed as the Christian Sabbath. The Adventist family includes the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was founded by Ellen White and James Springer White, as well as offshoots such as the Advent Christian Church (Melton 2009: 560-561).
African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME): One of the largest black denominations in the United States. The denomination broke off from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787. In 1816, it was officially founded by Richard Allen in Philadelphia (Prothero 2008: 194).
Afterlife: The fate of humans after death (Smith and Green 1995: 31). Descriptions of the afterlife will differ by cultural, historical and geographical context (see Egyptian Book of the Dead and Tibetan Book of the Dead). In Eastern religions, such as Hinduism or Buddhism, reincarnation is an afterlife concept. In the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam discussions of the afterlife also entail whether an individual goes to either heaven or hell based on God's judgment (Hinnells 1984: 25-26).
Agnosticism: A philosophical position neither affirming nor denying belief in a deity. Agnostics believe the question of whether God exists must be left open and unanswered. The concept comes from David Hume (1711-1776), who questioned the idea of causality, and by extension the historical accuracy of biblical miracles. The term "agnostic" was coined by Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), and was used as a method more than a belief system, claiming that one should seek truth until a certain point where the evidence becomes scarce or non-existent (Reid et al. 1990: 31).
Ahimsa: A term in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that is often translated as "non-violence," referring to not harming or wishing to harm. In Jainism, nonviolence is considered the highest moral duty, as Jain ascetics even attempt to avoid the injury and death of insects. Ahimsa also influenced Gandi and his nonviolent campaign in India (Prothero 2008: 194-195).
Ali: One of the most important caliphs in Islam. He was cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Ali was brutally murdered in 661 CE by an assassin. Sunnis consider him the fourth caliph, while Shi'ite Muslims consider him the first. In addition, Shiite Muslims trace the lineage of the imams through him (Esposito 2011: 241).
Alienation: A feeling of estrangement from society as a whole, or from its dominant institutions, but not necessarily estrangement from all local religious groups (Dean 1961; Neal and Rettig 1967).
All Saints Day: A feast celebrated in the Western Church on the first of November to commemorate Christian martyrs and all those who have led conspicuously holy lives. In the Eastern Church it is observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost (Reid et al. 1990: 36).
Allen, Richard (1760-1831): Richard Allen was an influential black minister who established the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816, the first black denomination in the United States. For more information on Richard Allen, click here.
Al-Qaeda: An international terrorist organization founded by Osama bin Laden in the 1980s. The organization seeks to establish a transnational Islamic empire that strictly adheres to Islamic law. The group is most famous for the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. The leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed on May 2, 2011 by U.S. Navy seals and CIA operatives (Prothero 2008: 196).
Amillennialism: A Christian theological position that the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ is symbolic, not literal, and is a period between the ministry of Christ and the Second Coming. It emphasizes the present reality of the Kingdom of God, and that the perfect age will not arrive until the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth. This is an alternative interpretation of Chapter 20 in the New Testament's Book of Revelation, and it differs from a premillennial interpretation (Reid et al. 1990: 57). See Premillennialism for more.
Amish: A group of the Mennonites who broke away in the late seventeenth century, led by the minister Jacob Amman. He supported a strict interpretation of discipline and the practice of avoidance, shunning excommunicated members. They arrived in America in the early 1700s, and have retained a fairly separatist environment from modern culture ever since, preferring to cultivate a community more representative of the late seventeenth century (Melton 2009: 439). Examples of Amish churches include the Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches and Old Order Amish Mennonite Church
Analogical Imagination: A religious perspective that emphasizes God’s presence in the world, expressed through every aspect of creation. Moreover, it stresses the community. The analogical imagination contrasts with the dialectical imagination, which stresses the individual and the belief that God has withdrawn from the sinful world. This concept was developed by Andrew Greeley (1989), who believed that Catholics tend to have analogical imagination, while Protestants tend to have dialectical imagination.
Ananda: Cousin and disciple of the Buddha who lived in the sixth century BCE. He used his exceptional memory to recite the Buddha’s sermons, and played a pivotal role in forming the Buddhist community after the Buddha’s death. He also is known for his support of female disciples (Smith and Green 1995: 46).
Anathema: 1) A Greek term referring to a curse in the New Testament. 2) In Catholicism, it refers to an open condemnation against immorality, heresy, or blasphemy by church authorities (Smith and Green 1995: 46).
Anatman: A Buddhist doctrine denying the reality of a permanent, immortal soul as the spiritual center of a human. The term means "no self," and it is meant to teach that all things are connected and there is no separate existence (Esposito et al. 2012a: G-6).
Ancestor Worship: The worship, feeding and petitioning of the souls of dead ancestors at home altars, temples and graves. This practice is most common among East Asian religions (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-15).
Angel: A superhuman intermediary between the divine and human realm. Angels exist in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Perhaps the most famous angel is Gabriel, who reveals himself as God's messenger in the Hebrew scriptures, Christianity's New Testament and Islam's Koran. Theological discussions of the nature of angels vary by tradition (Smith and Green 1995: 49-50).
Anglican Family: Churches originating in England that broke with Roman Catholicism during the 16th century Reformation after King Henry VIII rejected papal supremacy. Some view the Anglican Church as a "middle way" between Catholicism and Protestantism, since both traditions have influenced Anglican theology and practice (Mead et al. 2005: 102). Churches in the Anglican family include the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States. For more information on the Anglican family, click here.
Antichrist: In Christian literature, the Antichrist is an evil figure that deceives people into thinking that he is holy. In the end-times, according to the Christian tradition, Jesus will come back and defeat the Antichrist (Smith and Green 1995: 53). In Islamic eschatology, there also is an Antichrist figure that is depicted in the Hadith as a one-eyed monster from the East who rules the earth for a period of time before Jesus comes to vanquish him (Hinnells 1984: 44).
Antinomianism: 1) The belief that certain religious allegiances exempt one from following secular law. 2) The belief that secular laws ought to be disobeyed because they are evil (Smith 1995: 53). 3) A theological position in which subjective elements of Christianity are emphasized over objective elements of Christianity, like moral law. The famous "Antinomian Controversy" took place in the 1630s, where Anne Hutchinson was brought to trial in Massachusetts for claiming to follow her direct revelation of the Holy Spirit instead of Scripture alone. She was banished from the colony in 1638 (Reid et al. 1990: 69).
Anti-Semitism: Unreasoning hostility toward and discrimination against the Jews. It can range from a formal doctrine and from mild antipathy to active efforts to kill the Jews. German writer Wilhelm Marr coined the term in 1880 to distinguish between secular hatred for the Jews as a people and hatred toward the Jewish religion, although the modern usage of the word denotes hatred for the Jews and Judaism in all forms (Smith and Green 1995: 53). Also defined on the ARDA's Theory, Concepts & Measures page.
Apocalypse: Catastrophic end-times battle between good and evil, in which good will triumph over evil. The Greek term refers to "hidden things." The most famous apocalyptic literature is the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. In contemporary usage, the apocalypse has been popularized by Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of Christian novels (Prothero 2008: 197).
Apocrypha: A collection of books or chapters of books not included in the Hebrew Bible, but present in various Christian versions of the Old Testament, mostly in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. These traditions see the Apocrypha as authoritative, whereas Protestantism does not. Protestant Bibles either exclude the Apocrypha or create a separate section for it found in-between the Old and New Testament. Traditions that include this collection of terms prefer the term "deuterocanonical" books, not the Apocrypha. The majority of these books were composed between the third century BCE and the first century CE. This collection of books is not to be confused with the pseudepigrapha or the Christian Apocrypha, which are not regarded as authoritative by any major branch of Christianity (Smith and Green 1995: 55).
Apologetics: The argumentation or defense on behalf of a certain religious faith. It is usually directed toward those outside the faith community, but the audience is usually those within the faith community (Reid et al. 1990: 71). Famous apologists include Orestes Brownson and Francis Schaeffer.
Apostle: It refers to both the mission and representational authority of someone sent on a mission by a superior. In Christianity, "apostle" refers to the authoritative mission conferred to Christ on his disciples, with special emphasis on the Twelve Apostles and other specific people, to continue his mission on earth after his resurrection-ascension (Reid et al. 1990: 72).
Archbishop: The bishop of an Archdiocese. The archbishop’s power extends over an ecclesiastical province, not just a diocese. Catholic Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and Anglican Churches maintain these hierarchal positions, although the jurisdiction, positional rank and specific role of the archbishop differs by tradition (Reid et al. 1990: 73). Famous archbishops in American Catholic history include James Gibbons and John Hughes.
Archdiocese: A large diocese overseen by the Archbishop. Since the fourth century CE, neighboring dioceses have been grouped into provinces, and the most important province has been designated as the archdiocese, while the others are called "suffragan dioceses." Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize archdioceses, although Eastern Orthodox Churches prefer the terminology of “eparchey” and “archeparchy.” Although Episcopalians organize dioceses into provinces, they do not officially recognize archdioceses (Reid et al. 1990: 74).
Arhat: One who has attained the final stage of enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism. Over time, a distinction arose between arhats and bodhisattvas, and some Mahayanists came to malign arhats as a selfish and inferior enterprise, lacking in the compassion of the bodhisattva. There has been some debate as to whether only monks and nuns or laypeople can be arhats, and whether arhats still exist today (Smith and Green 1995: 71).
Armageddon: A term referring to the battle between god and evil in the last days. The term itself only appears once in the Bible in Revelation 16:16. “Armageddon” is a transliteration for the Hebrew word for “Mount Megiddo” in northern Israel (Prothero 2008: 198).
Asbury, Francis (1745-1816): Francis Asbury was the preeminent leader of American Methodism after the Revolutionary War. When many Methodist missionaries fled back to England during the American Revolution, he stayed behind and continued spreading Methodism. For more information on Francis Asbury, click here.
Asceticism: The complete renunciation of physical pleasures and other bodily desires in order to foster spiritual development. This practice is common in many religious traditions, including Buddhism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and classical Hinduism (Smith and Green 1995: 77-78).
Assemblies of God: One of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States. As the Pentecostal movement began to flourish in the early 20th century, several diverse regional constituencies of the Reformed tradition desired to combine their efforts into one movement. Click here for more information on the founding of the Assemblies of God. Today they have a little under three million adherents (Smith and Green 1995: 84).
Astral Projection: The experience of one’s soul traveling outside the physical body into unknown realms of the universe. The belief in astral projection is found in many occult systems (Smith and Green 1995: 84).
Astrology: Belief and practice of determining the influence of stars (Smith and Green 1995: 85).
Atheism: A belief that God does not exist (Prothero 2008: 198).
Atman: The Hindu concept that the soul resides in the heart, and is the source of life energy and spiritual awareness. In Hindu thought, the soul transmigrates after death (Esposito et al. 2012a: G-4).
Atonement: A term in both Judaism and Christianity referring to the forgiveness of sins. For Christians, atonement is found through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. For Jews, atonement is found on the holiday Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), where practitioners ask God to forgive them of the sin they committed in the past year (Prothero 2008: 199).
Attachment Theory: Attachment theory, under a religious framework, posits that religion can be explained by understanding the human need for attachment in general and one’s relationship to her/his parents specifically. For more information on attachment theory, click here.
Avalokiteshvara: The most popular and celestial bodhisattva in Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism. He is the bodhissattva of compassion. In China, Avalokiteshvara is known as Guanyin, and is female (Esposito et al. 2012b: 424).
Azusa Street Revival (1906-1915): The Azusa Street Revival, led by William Seymour, took place in Los Angeles, where Seymour’s congregants began experiencing miraculous healings, glossalia (i.e., "speaking in tongues"), and spontaneous worship. It was a defining event for early Pentecostalism and functioned as the catalyst to the growth of American Pentecostalism. For more on William Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival, click here.
Baha’i: A religion started in 19th century Persia (now Iran) by Mirza Husain Ali. The Baha’i faith is now worldwide and teaches the unity of God, the truth of his prophets, and continuation of revelation in every age. It has no priesthood, believing in spiritual equality between men and women (Parrinder 1973: 39).
Baptism: The rite of applying water to a person, usually marking his or her entrance into the Christian church. It appears to have derived from John the Baptist in the first century CE, although some scholars believe that the act was inspired by the ritual ablution of the Jewish Essenes. Churches and denominations are divided on whether baptism literally or symbolically washes away sin (Smith and Green 1995: 102-103).
Baptist: Protestants that originated from 17th century English Puritanism. The term "Baptist" came from their insistence that baptism should be reserved for those old enough to comprehend and confess a personal faith in Jesus. Modern Baptist churches teach that only believers should be voluntarily baptized by immersion (Reid et al. 1990: 110). For more on the Baptist family, click here. To interactively explore the history of Baptists in America, click here.
Bar Mitzvah: This Jewish ceremony, usually performed when a boy is 13, marks his passage into adulthood. The ceremony includes a reading from the Torah or the Prophets, and is followed by an elaborate party for friends and family (Smith and Green 1995: 104).
Bat Mitzvah: A Jewish ceremony, usually performed when a girl is 12, which marks her transition into adulthood. The ceremony includes a reading from the Torah or the Prophets, and is followed by an elaborate party for friends and family. The Bat Mitzvah is a fairly new rite of passage in modern times, and functions as a way to give the girl more of a role in Jewish public life (Hinnells 1984: 37).
Belief, Religious: On its most basic level, religious belief refers to views toward the supernatural. One of the most common measures for religious belief is whether respondents believe in God. A new strain of research is focusing not just on if individuals believe in God, but specifically what they believe God to be like (see images of God). For more on religious belief, click here.
Bhagavad Gita: The most popular scripture in contemporary Hinduism. It is part of a Hindu epic called the Mahabharata, written in Sanskrit between 200 BCE and 200 CE, and discusses Hindu ethics (Prothero 2008: 201).
Bible, Christian: The sacred text for Christians, comprising the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is comprised of thirty-nine books, further divisions of the twenty-four books in the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament contains twenty-seven books: the four Gospels of Jesus’ life, the Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one letters, and the Book of Revelation. The canon of the New Testament became official in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 CE. It is important to note that Bibles in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches contain more books, including the apocrypha (Smith and Green 1995: 113).
Bible, Hebrew (Tanakh): The sacred text of Judaism, also known as the Old Testament for Christians. The Hebrew Bible is comprised of twenty-four books that are further divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (Smith and Green 1995: 113).
Biblical Inerrancy: The belief that the Bible is without error, in terms of theology, ethics, history, geography, and science. This is common in Christian fundamentalism, as opposed to evangelicals who typically have a less strict view that the Bible, and instead simply believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God (Prothero 2008: 235).
Biblical Literalism: The extent to which individuals believe that the Bible (or other sacred scriptures) should be interpreted literally. Social surveys that are interested in religion often ask a question pertaining to biblical literalism, though the question wording and response options can vary. For more information, click here.
Black Protestantism: Also known as the Black Church, Black Protestantism is a unique religious tradition that has theological and structural similarities to white evangelical denominations, but also emphasizes social justice and community activism. Black Protestants tend to be liberal on economic issues, but conservative on social issues. Historically, seven major denominations compose this religious tradition, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God in Christ, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention. For more information, click here.
Black Theology: A system of Christian thought that focuses on God as a liberator of the oppressed, specifically those in the black community. It derives from traditional African-American religion and liberation theology. Many attribute its development to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s/1960s (Reid et al. 1990: 161-164).
Blasphemy: An act or verbal offense that mocks beliefs, sacred beings, or objects in a certain religion. In some religions, like Islam, blasphemy and heresy are sometimes used interchangeably (Smith and Green 1995: 118).
Bodhisattva (Bodhissata): One destined for enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. In Theravada Buddhism, it is one on the way to becoming a Buddha. In Mahayana Buddhism, there are many Bodhisattvas, and they function as embodiments of ideals like compassion. One of the greatest bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism is Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (Parrinder 1973: 48).
Book of Mormon: The sacred text of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), along with the Bible. It is said that the angel Moroni led church founder Joseph Smith to golden plates in 1827. According to Smith, the angel gave him gold plates that were engraved in what Smith describes as a reformed Egyptian language. The angel also gave him two divining stones, the Urim and Thummim, which were used to translate the text. The Book of Mormon tells the story of two groups of people: the Jeradites and the Israelites. According to the story, both groups came to America, although at different times, and both groups were eventually destroyed, with Native Americans as the last remnants of the Israelites in America. In the book, Jesus visits the New World after his resurrection and before his ascension. These revelations were officially published in 1830. Smith also received other revelations, including the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and an alternate translation of the Bible (Melton 2009: 635-636).
Book of Revelation: An important book in Christian apocalypticism and millenarianism. It is the last book in the New Testament canon, and it is written by John of Patmos. The book has traditionally been attributed to John the Apostle, but more recently scholars have questioned this assertion. The book deals with the end-times as well as persecution by the Roman government at the time. The writing heavily uses symbolic language and imagery (Smith and Green 1995: 927).
Born-Again: A term used by Jesus in the New Testament that is now employed to describe the conversion experience for many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The conversion experience includes the feeling of knowing Jesus, sensing the Holy Spirit, and putting off the old sinful self (Smith and Green 1995: 126).
Brahman: A Hindu concept referring to the world spirit that arises at creation. Hindus believe that it is either in an impersonal form (Nirguna Brahman) or human form (Saguna Brahman) (Esposito et al. 2012a: G-4).
Branch Davidians: A breakaway Christian Adventist group that was infamously sieged by the U.S. government in 1993 at Mt. Carmel Center, the Davidians' compund outside Waco, Texas. The Branch Davidians began as an offshoot of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association in 1930. After a divisive fight in the 1950s, Vernon Howell, who later assumed the messianic name of David Koresh, became the prominent leader of the group. Based on Koresh's interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the group stockpiled weapons in preparation for imminent final conflict. This attracted the attention of government officials, who in February 1993 launched a deadly gun battle, during which several federal agents and Branch Davidians died. That set off a siege of nearly two months. On April 19, federal authorities launched another attempt to raid Mt. Carmel. A fire erupted, the complex burned down and many members died, including David Koresh (Smith and Green 1995: 127-128).
Brownson, Orestes (1803-1876): Orestes Brownson (1803-1876) was a 19th century public intellectual in the United States. He defended Catholicism and its compatibility with American society, which was controversial at the time, for Catholics were a small minority that many Protestant Americans viewed with skepticism. For more on Orestes Brownson, click here.
Buddha: It literally means one who has "awakened," reaching enlightenment and escaping rebirth (see samsara). This also is the name given to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of the Buddhist religion (Esposito et al. 2012a: G-6).
Buddhism: A world religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha in the sixth or fifth century BCE in India. Teaching reincarnation and freedom from worldly attachments, Buddhism has three major branches: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. According to Buddhism, the origin of suffering comes from ignorance, and that one must follow the Eightfold Path to reach nirvana. Buddhism first came to America through Chinese immigration (Prothero 2008: 205-206).
Caliph: A title for the political leader of the Muslim community. Sunni Muslims believe that the most qualified person should be elected as a caliph, whereas Shi'ite Muslims believe that the caliph should come from the bloodline of Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law (Esposito 2011: 43).
Calvinism: Also known as Reformed theology, Calvinism is a Protestant theological tradition based on the works of John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin believed in the absolute sovereignty of God and the total depravity of humans. Calvinism also includes the doctrine of double predestination: the belief that God fated every human being, before birth, to either heaven or hell (Prothero 2008: 207).
Cane Ridge Camp Meeting: Barton Stone organized the Cane Ridge camp meeting (1801), the largest and most famous religious revival of the Second Great Awakening. It took place in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and he invited Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist preachers. For more information on Cane Ridge Camp Meeting, click here.
Canon Law: Church law or decrees given by an ecclesiastical authority for governing a given church. In Roman Catholicism, there is a history of systematic collections dating back to the 11th century, but the first code of canon law was promulgated in 1917, and was revised several times since its inception. It includes the obligations of the clergy and laity, missionary activities, Catholic education, worship and the sacraments (Reid et al. 1990: 219-220).
Cardinal: A papal-appointed position in the Roman Catholic Church responsible for electing new popes. The term originally applied to all clergy with permanent positions. Currently, there are more than 100 cardinals (Reid et al. 1990: 223).
Caste System: A complex network of interdependent, yet separated, hereditary, occupationally specialized, and hierarchal social groups in India. It is a distinctive social institution in India, guided by religious principles in Hinduism, and yet transcending Hinduism in the sense that non-Hindus also are subject to the caste system. The structure of the caste system can be traced back thousands of years. Some scholars have recently questioned the emphasis of the caste system as a definitive representation of Indian society and culture. Some scholars even suggest that the caste system is a recent invention due to the fall of Hindu kings in the medieval period, or due to British colonial rule (Smith and Green 1995: 182-185).
Catechism: A manual of instruction in the basics of the Christian faith. Various denominations have issued catechisms outlining basic teachings and practices of their faiths. Examples of catechisms include Luther’s German catechism (1529) and the Roman Catechism (1566). Catechisms were an important tool in educating both Catholic and Protestant youths until recently, where many have viewed them as somewhat outdated (Smith and Green 1995: 186).
Catholic Church Abuse Scandal: The Catholic Church abuse scandal involves widespread allegations of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy and institutional cover-ups by Catholic officials. Although accusations of clerical sexual misconduct had arisen in decades prior to 2002, investigative reporters for the Boston Globe revealed not only how prevalent it was, but how these incidents were dealt with internally within the Catholic Church. For more information on the abuse scandal, click here.
Catholic Worker Movement: A Catholic movement created to serve the poor. It was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin during the Great Depression, and it still exists today. For more information, click here.
Catholicism, Roman: The largest of Christianity’s three main branches, which include the Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestantism. Catholicism maintains a hierarchy of bishops and priests, with the pope as the clerical leader. Notable differences from Protestantism also include the veneration of the Virgin Mary and other saints, the importance of church traditions, and the celibacy of the priesthood (Prothero 2008: 208). For more information on the Roman Catholic Church, including membership data, click here. To interactively explore the history of Catholics in America, click here.
Celibacy: The renunciation of marriage and sexual relations as part of a religious vocation. Roman Catholic priests are celibate while Orthodox priests are not required to be celibate (Smith and Green 1995: 190-191).
Charismatics: Christians who stress spiritual gifts described in the New Testament, such as speaking in tongues and healing. Prior to 1960, this phenomenon was closely associated with the Pentecostal tradition (see Azusa Street Revival), but since then it has become a more general term that emphasizes the presence of the Holy Spirit, without a specific denominational affiliation (Smith and Green 1995: 194). For more information on charismatics, click here.
Christian Apocrypha: Also known as the New Testament Apocrypha, it is a collection of non-canonical Christian writings purporting to contain information regarding Jesus and other first-century Christian leaders. Books in the Christian Apocrypha include the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter. The major branches of Christianity do not view these books as authoritative, as many of them were written much later than the New Testament canon. The Christian Apocrypha is different from the Old Testament Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books (Smith and Green 1995: 55).
Christian Coalition: A conservative political pressure group composed of white evangelicals and Catholics that was established in 1989 by Pat Robertson after he failed to receive the Republican nomination in the presidential election. The Christian Coalition is the spiritual successor to Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority of the 1980s. Today, the group is known for promoting "family values" and a return to the nation’s "Christian heritage" (Prothero 2008: 209).
Christian Science Family: Churches following the teachings of founder Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who believed that personal healing was the central message of Christianity. She believed that the correct interpretation of Scripture would alleviate disease, suffering, and even death according to her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875). The movement became more of an institution in 1879. Worship services include readings from the Bible as well as Eddy’s “Science and Health.” The largest group in the Christian Science family is the Church of Christ, Scientist (Smith and Green 1995: 264).
Christianity: The largest of the world religions, comprising a third of the world’s population. It views sin as a core human problem that can only be absolved through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The three main branches of Christianity are Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism (Prothero 2008: 209-210). See the ARDA's American Denomination: Profiles web page for specific denominations of Christianity.
Church: 1) A building, program or service providing religious goods to a certain constituency and a specific geographical location. 2) Historically and theologically, it represents a Christian community founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ (Reid et al. 1990: 266).
Church/Sect Cycle: A cycle whereby new religious bodies begin as sects that have high tension with their surrounding environment and gradually transform into churches that have low tension with their surrounding environment. As members become less satisfied with their low-tension church, growing conflict within the group will erupt into a split, and the faction desiring a return to higher tension will found a new sect. This perpetuates an endless cycle of church-sect formation (Finke and Stark 1992:44-45). For more, click here
Circumcision: In Judaism, the cutting of the penis's foreskin as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham's offspring. The practice is also common among Christians and Muslims, along with some indigenous groups (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-4).
Civil Religion: A religio-political phenomenon describing the general faith of a nation or state, and its commonly held beliefs about the history and destiny of the nation. The term was coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his book, Social Contract (1762). The concept was further developed by the sociologist Robert Bellah in 1967, referring to the historical belief that America represents "God’s New Israel" (Reid et al. 1990: 281). For more information on civil religion, click here.
Clergy: Ordained leaders who carry out religious duties. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches tend to emphasize the distinction between the clergy and the laity, although this distinction exists in various other Protestant denominations to a lesser degree (Reid et al. 1990: 293).
Communal Family: Churches where members often live together or share living activities, such as common meals, as an expression of their faith. The Hutterian Brethren is an example of a communal church (Smith and Green 1995: 275).
Communion: 1) The Christian commemoration of Christ's last supper by partaking of the elements of bread and wine (or grape juice). The various churches and denominations are divided on whether these elements actually become Christ's body and blood or symbolize them (see Transubstantiation). Communion also is known as the Eucharist in some Christian traditions. 2) The fellowship of all Christians on earth and in heaven. 3) A specific Christian church or family of churches (Hinnells 1984: 94).
Confession: A sacrament in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches in which a penitent confesses his or her sins to a priest and is absolved of them. In Roman Catholicism, confession is only one part of the entire sacrament of penance (Smith and Green 1995: 280).
Confirmation: This ceremony marks the reception of young Christians (usually in their early teen years) into full participation in the life of the church. Confirmation is most often celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations (Smith and Green 1995: 280).
Confucianism: A Chinese religion founded by Confucius (551-479 BCE), whose goal was to foster social harmony through a combination of self-cultivation and social rites. Chinese Immigrants brought Confucianism to the United States in the 19th century (Prothero 2008: 211-212).
Confucius (551-479 BCE): A Chinese philosopher who taught concepts of righteousness and of "being fully human." His disciples helped spread his philosophy, which later became known as Confucianism in the Han dynasty. His name actually was Master K'ung, but Catholic missionaries later referred to him as Confucius, a Latinized version of his name (Esposito et al. 2012: 491-492).
Congregation: Any local gathering of believers for worship. This can be thought of as a more inclusive term for church, since many religious traditions use different names for their place of worship. Usually this refers to a building or physical structure, but it also could refer to a more fluid group of people without a specific building (e.g. a ‘congregation’ that meets in member’s homes).
Congregationalism: A system of church governance in which the members hold most of the power, such as electing the clergy and making other major decisions. 2) Congregationalism can also refer to the church tradition stemming from the English Puritans of the 17th century and now found in the United States in the United Church of Christ and smaller Congregationalist bodies (Smith and Green 1995: 285-286).
Conservative Judaism: An offshoot of Reform Judaism in America that officially began in the early 20th century, but traces its early thought pattern to European Jews in the mid-19th century. The founders desired to reaffirm the validity of the Jewish past while still emphasizing the need for Jews to modernize. The movement claims to be an authentic continuation of rabbinical Judaism while still maintaining a sense of relevance in modern times (Smith and Green 1995: 286-287).
Conservative Protestantism: A broad social category of Protestantism that advocates a conservative theological position (e.g., the inspiration of the Bible, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, etc.). Conservative Protestants are often subdivided into Evangelical Protestants and Fundamentalists, who differ in terms of their engagement with the secular non-Christian world.
Conversion: A turning away from one way of life to another. In Christianity, it is a turning away from sin and toward a new life of Christ. Most churches agree on the need for conversion, but its relationship with salvation is debated between religious groups (Reid et al. 1990: 316). Some sociologists of religion define conversion as the shift in religious allegiance from one religious tradition to another, from Judaism to Christianity, for example. These scholars would define the shift from the Baptist to the Catholic tradition as a process of reaffiliation, not conversion (Stark and Finke 2000: 114). For more information on conversion, click here.
Coping Theory: The way in which individuals use religion to cope with difficult situations and make sense of events in their lives (Pargament 1997). Originating in psychological studies of religion, research and theory indicate that religious coping is more likely to occur in situations perceived as uncontrollable. For more information, click here.
Coughlin, Charles (1891-1979): Charles Coughlin was a Catholic "radio priest," who was controversial for his anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi views leading up to World War II. Although he garnered millions of listeners, the U.S. government and church authorities were disturbed by Coughlin, and they eventually pushed him off the air in 1942. For more information on Charles Coughlin, click here.
Creationism: The belief that the creation account of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is historically and scientifically correct. This has led to some confrontation with proponents of Darwinian evolution, most notable in the infamous Scopes Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. More recently, former creationists have advocated Intelligent Design instead of creationism to counter evolutionary claims (Prothero 2008: 213-214). For more information, click here.
Creed: A confession or adherence to selected essentials of religious faith. Creeds are especially prominent in liturgical traditions. Some groups, like those in the Restoration Movement, state that there is "no creed, but Christ." Baptist groups also resist creedal statements. The most famous creeds are Christianity's Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed (Reid et al. 1990: 327).
Crosby, Frances "Fanny" (1820-1915): Fanny Crosby was a blind Christian hymn writer who wrote thousands of famous hymns, including "Blessed Assurance," "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross," and "To God Be the Glory." For more information on Fanny Crosby, click here.
Cross: 1) A sign widely used in the history of religion to express the structure of the cosmos. 2) An instrument of execution used by the Romans. 3) A Christian symbol of salvation and God’s compassion on humanity by allowing his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for humanity’s sins (Smith and Green 1995: 297).
Crucifix: A cross bearing the figure of Christ. It is often used to represent the suffering of Christ. It became an important image for devotional purposes in the Middle Ages, but was viewed as idolatry by many Protestant Reformers, which is why many Protestant churches prefer the symbol of a cross without Jesus on it (Reid et al. 1990: 330).
Cult: 1) A new and unconventional religious movement that is often founded on the teachings of a new prophet and/or new sacred text. 2) The ARDA and other scholars tend to use the term "new religious movements" rather than cults because the latter term carries negative political and social connotations and prejudices associated with those belonging to such groups. 3) In popular use, people often refer to sects as cults (Smith and Green 1995: 298). For more information on this concept, click here.
Day, Dorothy (1897-1980): Dorothy Day was a Catholic activist known for co-founding the Catholic Worker movement, leading anti-war and anti-nuclear proliferation movements, and promoting assistance to the poor. For more information on Dorothy Day, click here.
Deacon: A minister ranking below a priest in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches. In most Protestant churches, deacons are not ordained and are seen as people who assist the clergy (Reid et al. 1990: 344).
Deism: A rationalistic religion based on religion and nature instead of revelation. Deists believe in one God and in an afterlife of rewards and punishments, but they reject both miracles and prayers. This position spread under the Enlightenment period and influenced the founding fathers of the United States (Prothero 2008: 216).
Demon: A superhuman being between humans and gods, which can have benevolent or malevolent intentions based on the religious tradition. In Christianity, they are considered evil. In Hinduism, demons belong to many castes and are sometimes hard to distinguish from gods (Smith and Green 1995: 311).
Denomination: A larger religious organization or structure to which a congregation may be a member. Usually, congregations within a denomination are united by some historical and/or theological tradition. Congregations not belonging to a denomination are usually called "independent" or "non-denominational" (Melton 2009: 3).
Denominationalism: Denominationalism refers to the subdivision of a particular religion. A common example is Protestant Christianity in the United States, which is subdivided into multiple denominations (e.g., Baptist, Methodist, etc.). For more information, click here.
Devotionalism: The frequency at which an individual performs religious rituals and comparable behaviors, notably prayer and Bible reading, often measured independently of group activities such as church attendance (Roof 1976). For ways to measure devotionalism, click here.
Dharma: The proper course of conduct, norms and ultimate realities in the Buddhist religion. Dharma is central to Buddhist practice. The term also exists in Hinduism and Brahmanic thought as a set of ritual actions sanctioned by the priestly class (Smith and Green 1995: 315).
Dialectical Imagination: A religious perspective emphasizing the individual and the withdrawal of God from the sinful world. The dialectical imagination contrasts with the analogical imagination, which stresses the community and the expression of God through every aspect of creation. The differing concepts were developed by Andrew Greeley (1989), who believed that Catholics tend to have analogical imagination while Protestants tend to have dialectical imagination.
Diaspora: The dispersion of a religious people outside their geographic homeland, where they must live as a minority among others (Esposito et al. 2012: G-4).
Disaffiliation: The opposite of conversion, disaffiliation refers to the process of leaving a religious organization or disavowing one’s former religious identity. For more information on this concept, click here.
Disciple: A pupil who is attached to a specific teacher or way of life (Smith and Green 1995: 317). In the Christian tradition, John the Baptist and Jesus had disciples. Peter is a famous disciple of Jesus. The term also has been used in the Buddhist tradition. For example, Ananda was a disciple and cousin of the Buddha.
Dispensational Premillennialism: The belief held by some Christians that the current dispensation, or historical period, is near the end, and will conclude with the rapture of the believers into heaven. Jesus will come down from heaven to fight the Antichrist and establish a thousand-year reign of peace. British theologian John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed this theology and it spread to the United States after the Civil War. This type of theology was made popular by the Scofield Reference Bible and the fictional Left Behind book series. It is one of the most popular forms of prophecy belief in the United States (Prothero 2008: 217).
Dispensationalism: A Christian theological view that divides history into several periods, or dispensations. God’s plan for salvation differs according to the dispensation (Smith and Green 1995: 318).
Divination: The determination of the hidden significance of things through a variety of techniques. Divination often is performed by specialists and is historically common in Chinese and Japanese religions (Smith and Green 1995: 318-319).
Divinity: A term frequently used prior to the 20th century to refer to the study of theology or the "science of divine things." The term also could refer to the quality of being divine as well as to God himself (Reid et al. 1990: 359).
Doctrine: An official teaching of a religious group. Religious bodies and officials often establish doctrine through written statements or councils. In a Christian context, the Trinity serves as an important doctrine. In Buddhist, Hindu, and Jainist traditions, ahimsa is an important doctrine (McBrien 1995: 424).
Dogma: A religious doctrine that is taught definitively, that is infallibly. Dogma is understood as a principle component of a religious ideology that is non-disputable. In the context of the Catholic Church, the Nicene Creed contains dogmata (McBrien 1995: 424).
Dogma: The truths and their systematic presentations which all Christians must accept. The Greek word is "dokeo," which means "appears." Dogma is particularly found in Roman Catholicism, explicitly stated in ecumenical councils or by the pope. In a non-liturgical setting, it has a pejorative connotation (Reid et al. 1990: 361).
Dome of the Rock: A domed shrine in Jerusalem that houses the rock upon which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into the Seven Heavens during his night journey. It was constructed by the Caliph Abd al-Malik and was finished in 691 CE (Smith and Green 1995: 320).
Dominionism: The belief that Christians should hold positions of power in society and government based on biblical law. Dominionism has close ties to Christian nationalism, which suggests that it is important to reunite church and state in the United States because the Founding Fathers believed in a Christian nation.
Eastern Liturgical (Orthodox) Family: One of the three great divisions of Christianity; the others are the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic and Orthodox churches were originally united, but they parted in the eleventh century, when they differed over several points of doctrine, including the supreme authority of the pope, which Orthodox Christians reject (Melton 2009: 169-172). Since the 20th century, the Catholic and Orthodox churches have made greater efforts toward reconciliation.
Ecumenism: A movement supporting closer relations and unity between Christians. Often this means denominational dialogues and even mergers (Reid et al. 1990: 377). For more information on ecumenism, click here.
Eddy, Mary Baker (1821-1910): Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) founded the Christian Science movement, a religious body that believes illness is an illusion. She helped establish a church of 100,000 members and founded the Christian Science Monitor, which still exists today. For more on Mary Baker Eddy, click here.
Edwards, Jonathan (1703-1758): Jonathan Edwards is the most influential theologian in American religious history and helped start the First Great Awakening. He was a Congregational preacher with a calm preaching style, though he is ironically known for his passionate 1741 sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". For more information on Jonathan Edwards, click here.
Egyptian Book of the Dead: A collection of more than 200 prayers, spells, and illustrations to ensure a peaceful afterlife for the dead. It dates back to the second millennium BCE in Egypt (Smith and Green 1995: 331).
Eightfold Path: As a culmination of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism, it charts the course from suffering to nirvana. It is further divided into three parts: wisdom (right view and right intention), morality (right speech, right conduct, and right livelihood), and concentration (right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration). It also is known as the "middle way" (Prothero 2008: 189-190).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1803-1882): Ralph Waldo Emerson was an influential writer/minister who promoted Transcendentalist thought, which emphasized experiencing God through lived experience and intuition. For more information on Ralph Waldo Emerson, click here.
Encyclical: A statement or document on an important issue written by the pope or bishops to fellow Catholics. These statements often pertain to controversial social issues, like poverty (Rerum Novarum, 1891), human rights (Pacem in Terris, 1963), contraception (Humanae Vitae, 1968), as well as abortion, birth control, euthanasia, and capital punishment (Evangelium Vitae, 1995) (Prothero 2008: 219).
Enlightenment: The experience of knowing the cause of suffering in the Buddhist tradition. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is said to have experienced enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (ca 530 BCE) (Smith and Green 1995: 338).
Eschatology: A broad theology concerning the End-Times, and processes of salvation. The term was first used in the nineteenth century with the advent of critical biblical studies. Topics in eschatology include Armageddon, millennialism, the Second Coming, and the Messiah (Smith and Green 1995: 342).
Eucharist: The Christian ritual that focuses on the life, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The term has existed since the second century CE and comes from a thanksgiving prayer that acts as an important element of the rite. It also is known as the Divine Liturgy, Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper, or Mass (Smith and Green 1995: 345).
European Free Church Family: Churches that left established and state churches in Europe over the belief that congregational activity and membership should be voluntary and free of state control. Examples of these churches include the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Evangelical Covenant Church, which is the result of a schism from the Church of Sweden in the 19th century (Melton 2009: 433).
Evangelical Protestantism: A movement in Protestantism emphasizing one’s personal relationship with Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, and the importance of sharing one’s faith with non-believers. Evangelical Protestantism is usually seen as more theologically and socially conservative than Mainline Protestantism, although there is obviously variation between denominations, congregations, and individuals within the "evangelical" category (Reid et al. 1990: 413).
Evangelism: The Christian practice of sharing the gospel of Christ with non-believers. This term comes from the New Testament Greek word "euangelizomai," which means "to proclaim the good news" (Reid et al. 1990: 416).
Extrinsic Religion: Using religious participation and affiliation to achieve practical rewards, such as social status. This is in contrast to intrinsic religion, which pertains to internal motivations for religious activity. The concepts of extrinsic religion and intrinsic religion was developed by Gordon Allport (1960). Differences between intrinsic and extrinsic religion can be understood as differences in religious orientation (Allport 1960).
Fanatic: A derogatory term for someone overly zealous in their religious faith (Smith and Green 1995: 356).
Fasting: The religious practice of abstaining from food for a certain period of time. There are various forms of fasting in the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Jewish passover includes a fast, Lent usually includes a chosen fast for Christians, and Ramadan in Islam includes a month-long daytime fast (Smith and Green 1995: 357).
Fatalism: The belief that all events are predetermined, and human effort is therefore irrelevant (Smith and Green 1995: 357).
Feminist Theology: A system of religious thought that interprets practices and scriptures through a feminist perspective. It tends to challenge male-dominance in religious language, authority, and scripture. This perspective spans across Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other religions (Lippy and Williams 2000).
Finney, Charles (1792-1875): Charles Finney was a prominent evangelist and revivalist during the Second Great Awakening. Licensed by the Presbyterian Church, Finney began conducting revivals in small New York towns and then spread to large urban centers, including Philadelphia, Boston, and Rochester. Like many revivalists, he was criticized for using emotionalism and abandoning traditional religious teachings. For more information on Charles Finney, click here.
First Great Awakening (1730s-1770s): The First Great Awakening (1730s-1770s) was a series of religious revivals in the 18th century that propelled the expansion of evangelical denominations in the colonies. Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield played pivotal roles in the development of the First Great Awakening. For more information on the First Great Awakening, click here.
Five Pillars of Islam: The five essential practices of Islam. These include shahada (profession of faith), salat (worship), zakat (alms-giving), saum (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage). The observance of these pillars differs between Sunni and Shi’ite traditions (Hinnells 1984: 136).
Four Noble Truths: The Core Teachings of Buddha in his first sermon in what is now known as northern India. These four truths include: the Existence of Suffering (which characterizes human life), the Origin of Suffering (which is ignorance), the Cessation of Suffering (through nirvana), and the Path to the Cessation of Suffering (through the Eightfold Path) (Prothero 2008: 187-188).
Fuller, Charles (1887-1968): Charles Fuller was a prominent evangelist on the popular evangelical radio show "The Old Fashioned Revival Hour." By the mid-1940s, Fuller's sermons were being broadcast on 575 stations, making the "The Old Fashioned Revival Hour" one of the most widely heard shows. Fuller also founded Fuller Theological Seminary, which helped graduate influential religious figures, including Bill Bright, Rob Bell, John Piper, and Rick Warren. For more information on Charles Fuller, click here.
Fundamentalism: 1) A movement of Protestants embracing similar beliefs as evangelicals, although usually in a more conservative direction, stressing separation from the world and from more liberal Christian bodies. The term derives from a series of booklets entitled The Fundamentals, which were published in the early 20th century on what were viewed to be the basic doctrines of Christianity. 2) The term also is used to describe similarly conservative movements in other religions, particularly Islam (Smith and Green 1995: 369-370). For more information on fundamentalism, click here.
Gabriel: An archangel in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. In Christianity, he is known for announcing to Mary that she will bear the Jesus, the savior of humanity. In Islam, he is known as "Jibril," and is known for visiting the Prophet Muhammad in a human form. It was Jibril who revealed God’s messages through Muhammad, and who also guided Muhammad during his night journey through the heavens (Smith and Green 1995: 373).
Ghost: The appearance of a dead person, usually thought of as a disembodied spirit. In Korea, ghosts operate as malevolent spirits who died prematurely and are therefore unfulfilled, like unmarried women, young children or drowning victims (Smith and Green 1995: 385).
Gibbons, James (1834-1921): James Gibbons was an important American cardinal archbishop who guided the Catholic Church through the influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. Moreover, he mediated relations between American Catholics and the Vatican. Pope Leo XIII was suspicious of American cultural influence on American clerics, but Gibbons defended his American officials. For more information on James Gibbons, click here.
Gnosticism: A term used for a category of religions that emphasize knowledge as a means to salvation. Its origins and age are debated. Since there have been Gnostic interpretations of Christian, Jewish, Greek and Iranian philosophies, it is not necessarily a religion as much as it is an interpretative perspective of specific religious phenomena (Smith and Green 1995: 387).
God/Goddess: Common term for supreme deities. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam often mention God as the supreme and sole deity. Goddesses are more common in Eastern religions, especially Hinduism (Smith and Green 1995: 389).
Golden Rule: A popular moral maxim espoused by Jesus in the New Testament Gospel According to Matthew. It states, "Do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12, NIV). Variations of this precept are attributed to Confucius, Muhammad and the rabbi Hillel (Prothero 2008: 227-228).
Good Friday: The Friday before Easter and an important Holy Week observance for Christians. It functions as a somber time of reflection and meditation with regards to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Reid et al. 1990: 485).
Gospel of Wealth: A religious doctrine that maintains that wealth is the natural product of moral character, diligence and faith (Reid et al. 1990: 1238).
Gospels: The narratives of the life of Jesus found in the beginning of the New Testament of the Bible in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In Greek, "gospel" refers to "good news." The gospels contain some differences between them. Many believe that Mark is the first gospel, and that Matthew and Luke borrowed some of their material from Mark. For this reason, they are known as synoptic gospels, while the Book of John is believed to be written later, and contains information not found in the synoptic gospels (Prothero 2008: 187).
Government Favoritism: When a government provides subsidies, privileges, support, or favorable sanctions for a select religion or a small group of religions. For more information, see the National Profiles section on the ARDA website.
Government Regulation of Religion: The restrictions placed on the practice, profession, or selection of religion by the official laws, policies, or administrative actions of the state. For more information, see the National Profiles section on the ARDA website.
Grace: The term refers to an expression of unmerited divine love and assistance given to humans from God (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-6). In Christianity, God's grace is expressed through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for the redemption of human sin.
Graham, William "Billy" (1918-present): Billy Graham was the preeminent Christian evangelist of the second half of the 20th century, preaching to millions in the United States and abroad. His "crusades" throughout his career were attended by very large audiences. For example, the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade was attended by more than 350,000 people. He was friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as many U.S. presidents. For more information on Billy Graham, click here.
Greek Septuagint: The name for the original Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It was the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language and includes the books in the rabbinic Bible along with apocryphal/deuterocanonical books. Scholars trace some of the early translations to as far back as the third century B.C. The Greek Septuagint was later eclipsed by the Latin Vulgate (McBrien 1995: 1183-1184).
Hajj (Pilgrimage): One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the Hajj (pilgrimage), where Muslims visit the sacred monuments in and near Mecca. It is required for Muslims to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, if they are physically able and can afford it (Hinnells 1991: 145).
Hanukkah (Chanukah, Chanukkah, or Chanuka): An eight-day Jewish festival of lights commemorating the victory of the Hasmonean priests over the non-Jewish Seleucid rulers of Palestine in the second century BCE. On each night a candle is lit on a special Hanukkah menorah, and presents are exchanged (Hinnells 1991: 34).
Hasidism: A form of Judaism that is orthodox in that it emphasizes the fulfillment of all Jewish precepts and ritual, and yet it also incorporates mystical aspects. It originated in the Ukraine during the 18th century through the efforts of rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. He taught that all men were equal under God, and that piety, devotion, purity and prayer were more important than study, learning or ascetic practices. A strong emphasis on tradition, social service, celebration, communal life and experimenting with radical ideas is characteristic of Hasidic practice. In the last generation, the Hasidim became the fastest growing segment of American Judaism, due to proselytization and high birth rates (Melton 2009: 898).
Heaven (Christianity): The dwelling place of God, angels and redeemed individuals in the afterlife. It functions as the ultimate reward for the redeemed, as opposed to hell, which is the punishment for the damned (Smith and Green 1995: 411). To find information on survey questions related to heaven, click here.
Hell (Christianity): A place for the damned in the afterlife after Judgment Day. Hell originally referred to the dark regions of the underworld, but now it refers to the eternal separation between individuals and God. Whether hell is everlasting or a temporary state of existence is often debated (Smith and Green 1995: 412).
Heresy: Either a rejection of doctrines taught by a communal authority or a choice to advocate an alternative doctrine/interpretation opposed to the authoritative conventional teaching. This concept is tied to the early Christian tradition, as the Church attempted to dispel certain Hellenistic philosophies. It also is evident in Judaism and Islam, although in these religions it is often more related to religious behavior, instead of religious beliefs (Smith and Green 1995: 414).
Heschel, Abraham (1907-1972): Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was an important Jewish theologian and social activist in the 20th century. He boldly supported the civil rights movement and walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma, which led to jail time. He opposed the Vietnam War and helped improve Jewish-Catholic relations by providing advice during Vatican Council II. For more information on Abraham Heschel, click here.
Hijra: Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. He fled after his enemies made a failed assassination attempt on him. His flight to Medina led to the establishment of the first Muslim community. The year of the flight (622 CE) now serves as the first year in the Muslim lunar calendar (Prothero 2008: 257).
Hinduism: The name given for the majority religion of India. There is no central authority in Hinduism, although most Hindu groups and traditions believe in reincarnation and venerate gods and goddesses who are viewed as manifestations of God. Sanskrit texts known as Vedas are sacred scriptures in Hinduism, and they were composed between 1200 and 900 BCE. Around 660 million people identify as Hindu in the world, and 97 percent of Hindus live in India (Smith and Green 1995: 424).
Holiness Family: Churches that emerged out of the Methodist churches in the United States as they sought to restore John Wesley’s teachings of personal holiness and total sanctification (perfection). The movement originated in the mid-nineteenth century. Holiness bodies include the Church of the Nazarene and the various Church of God denominations (Smith and Green 1995: 457-458).
Holy Spirit: A term widely employed in the New Testament, and used at points in the Old Testament, although in a different context. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon prophets in order for them to transmit God's message to others. In Christianity, it describes the third person in the Trinity. The archaic term for the Holy Spirit is "holy ghost." Charismatics often refer to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues and prophecy (Smith and Green 1995: 464).
Holy Thursday: A day in the Christian Holy Week commemorating the Eucharist at the Last Supper of Jesus. The rite of washing feet also is sometimes practiced, just as Jesus washed his disciples' feet at the Last Supper. Holy Thursday also is known as Maundy Thursday (Smith and Green 1995: 465).
Holy Week: A Christian celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Palm Sunday begins the week, followed by Holy Thursday, Good Friday, an Easter Vigil on Saturday night and Easter Sunday. This practice probably began in fourth-century Jerusalem (Smith and Green 1995: 465).
Homily: Similar to a sermon, though usually briefer and most often given in Catholic churches. In the Catholic Church, it is often a short interpretation of a Gospel passage during the Eucharistic liturgy (Smith and Green 1995: 465).
Homo religiosus: A term referring to the universal practice of religion by all humans. From the earliest period of human history, religion has been the center of human culture and social life. The term was coined by the comparative religions scholar Mircea Eliade (Esposito et al. 2012b: 41).
House Churches: Gatherings of believers held in the home of a Christian individual or family. They existed from the time early Christianity began, and continue to exist with the advent of new independent Christian groups. Some view it as providing intimacy and community that is more difficult to find in larger churches (Reid et al. 1990: 557).
Hubbard, L. Ron (1911-1986): L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) founded Scientology, a controversial new religious movement. Once a science fiction writer, he became interested in the human condition and detailed techniques to rid humans of destructive behaviors in his famous book entitled Dianetics (1950). In 1954, he opened the first Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. He was accused of being a cult leader and a fraud. For more information, click here.
Hughes, John (1797-1864): John Hughes was an important New York archbishop who oversaw growth in the American Catholic Church due to Irish immigration and advocated Catholic parochial education. For more information on John Hughes, click here.
Idol: A pejorative term for any three-dimensional, or sculpted figure, or more broadly, a figure representing a god or goddess used for worship. Many world religions use such figures in their religious rituals, but Western religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, forbid the worship of idols (Smith and Green 1995: 479).
Idolatry: A pejorative term for the alleged worship of idols. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it often loosely refers to the worship of other beings or things besides God (Smith and Green 1995: 479).
Images of God: Images of God are a collection of survey items that tap into personal theologies pertaining to God’s nature. Typically, these measures ask respondents their beliefs pertaining to: God’s level of engagement or distance from the world, wrath or anger, and love (see Froese and Bader 2010). For more information on this topic, click here.
Imam: For Sunni Muslims, the imam is the prayer leader of a mosque. For Shi'ite Muslims, the imam is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad that leads the congregation in all areas of belief in practice. Many Shi'ite Muslims believe that there will be a "hidden imam" that will come in the end-times to bring peace and justice to the world (Prothero 2008: 234-235).
Immaculate Conception: A teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by a singular grace and privilege of God, through the merits of her son Jesus Christ, was preserved from the stain or effects of original sin from the first moment of her conception by her parents. This teaching is not the same as the virgin birth of Jesus (Reid et al. 1990: 567).
Independent Fundamentalist Family: Churches that left mainline and evangelical denominations in 1930. Out of the initial 39 men who formed the movement, twelve were Congregationalists, three Presbyterians, nineteen Independents, one Baptist, and four with no denominational affiliation. The movement was a response to modernity, as they believed that other churches were too liberal in theology. The Independent Fundamental Churches in America is the largest of these separatist bodies (Reid et al. 1990: 573).
Intelligent Design: A theory that posits that both the universe and individual organisms are too complex to be a result of either chance or random selection, thus pointing to an "intelligent designer." Critics accuse Intelligent Design proponents of espousing "pseudoscience," and attempting to give creationist sentiments a more scientific facade (Prothero 2008: 214).
Interfaith Marriage: When spouses in a marriage identify with different religions (e.g., Christianity and Judaism). Typically, this excludes interdenominational marriages (e.g., Baptist & Methodist), but some researchers consider it interfaith marriage if the spouses come from different Christian traditions (e.g., Evangelical Protestant & Mainline Protestant; see Murphy 2015). For more on how researchers measure interfaith marriage, click here.
Intrinsic Religion: Religion that serves as its own goal, motivated by internal desires. The concepts of extrinsic religion and intrinsic religion was developed by Gordon Allport (1960). Differences between intrinsic and extrinsic religion can be understood as differences in religious orientation (Allport 1960).
Irreligion: Irreligion refers to individuals who are "not religious." This can refer to a number of different dimensions including religious affiliation, belief, practice, and identification. For more information, click here.
Islam: The religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad (570-632), who is believed by followers to be the final prophet. The word "Islam" means "submission." Muslims follow the sacred text of the Koran and stress the oneness of God. Muslims practice the Five Pillars: praying, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving, pilgrimage and a testimony of faith. There are two divisions of Islam: Sunni and Shi’ite. The Muslim community split due to different opinions on leadership succession (Prothero 2008: 236).
Islamic Center: A building that operates as a community center, similar to Christian or Jewish community centers. It usually has educational programs, sports activities, computer classes, religious classes and a prayer room. Islamic centers are either stand alone or incorporate a mosque (Esposito 2011: 40).
Islamism: Ultraconservative Islamic movements that use their religion to advance a political agenda. The term is pejorative, and often aimed at groups like al-Qaeda. It also is known as "political Islam" (Prothero 2008: 237).
Jainism: An ancient Indian religion that teaches no supreme deity, although some Hindu gods are recognized. The religion stresses non-violence and takes its authority from spiritual teachers known as Jinas. There are two major sects, the Digambaras and Shvetambara, and both have different canons of scripture (Parrinder 1973: 141).
Jehovah’s Witnesses: A worldwide Christian society noted for their use of "Jehovah" as the name of God and their assertive proselytizing efforts through door-knocking. Charles Taze Russell founded the movement in the 1880s with hopes of restoring the Church to the beliefs of first-century Christianity. Some of their prominent beliefs include: hell is not a place of eternal torment, the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, a rejection of the Trinity, living in the "last days" of the world (millenarianism), and converting every person into a Witness (Melton 2009: 592).
Jerusalem: The capital city of Israel, and a holy site for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the Jewish tradition, Jerusalem was a holy city where King Solomon built the first temple to God around 950 BCE. In Christianity, Jesus performed miracles there and spent his last weeks there. In Islam, Jerusalem was the site where Muhammad traveled on his Night Journey (Smith and Green 1995: 567-568).
Jesus Christ: The founder of the Christian religion. "Christ" is a Hebrew term for "messiah," meaning Christians believe that he is the savior of humanity. Jesus was born in Palestine under Roman occupation around 6 BCE. Many Christians believe that he is the Son of God, who died for human sin, and was raised in order for all humans to have salvation. He, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit make up what is known as the Trinity. Muslims believe that Jesus was an important prophet, but he was not the Son of God, nor do they believe in the Trinity. The nature of Jesus’ form, in terms of his physical form and divine form, has been debated over the centuries in what is known as Christology (Smith and Green 1995: 568-572).
Jews for Jesus: A term referring to a contemporary movement of young Jews to Christianity and a missionary agency. The movement began in the late 1960s during the "Jesus Movement." The movement and missionary group attempt to convert Jews by emphasizing that accepting Christianity did not entail an automatic rejection of Jewish heritage (Reid et al. 1990: 595).
Jihad: A term derived from Arabic that means "to struggle." For Muslims, there are two types of Jihads: the greater struggle is the internal spiritual battle between the believer and his/her nature, and the lesser struggle is the physical battle against the enemies of Islam. Muslim extremists and critics of Islam emphasize jihad as a "holy war," while most Muslims do not (Prothero 2008: 240).
Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Election: In 1976, Jimmy Carter became the first self-proclaimed "born again" Christian elected to be president of the United States. For more information on this historical event, click here.
John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Election: John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic President of the United States when he defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 election. Unlike Al Smith, an earlier Catholic candidate, Kennedy was able to overcome suspicions that his faith would impede his ability to successfully govern. He was assassinated during his first term, in 1963. For more on John F. Kennedy and his presidential election, click here.
John the Baptist: A first-century figure who appears in Josephus' Antiquities and in the New Testament gospels as a prophetic forerunner to Jesus Christ. Many believe that he was associated with the baptist movements in Judaism at the time and preached baptism for the purification of sins (Smith and Green 1995: 574).
Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of 1965: The Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of 1965 revoked the mutual excommunications of 1054 that led to the Great Schism, which separated Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. During the Second Vatican Council in 1964, Catholic leaders and Orthodox representatives began discussing greater efforts of ecumenism between Catholic and Orthodox churches, which came to fruition in 1965. This event reflected a growing desire for reconciliation between both churches and led to firmer ecumenical relations after centuries of mutual excommunication. For more information on this historical event, click here.
Judaism: A monotheistic religion based on the Torah, Talmud and other texts in the Hebrew Bible. There are several Jewish traditions, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform Judaism, and Reconstructionist. Today, there are 15 million Jews worldwide, making it the third largest religion, and there are 5.2 million Jews in the United States (Prothero 2008: 241-242).
Judson, Adoniram (1788-1850): Adoniram Judson was one of the first American missionaries to travel to Burma, inspiring other Protestants to engage in overseas missionary work. For more information on Adoniram Judson, click here.
Kaaba: The most sacred space in the Muslim world. It literally means "cube" because it is a cube-shaped structure that contains a sacred black stone, which Muslims believe is a meteorite upon which Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Ishmail, to display his submission to Allah (in Christianity, it was his son Isaac who Abraham nearly sacrificed; and this has become a key distinction between the two religions). It is located in the Grand Mosque at Mecca, and many Muslims visit it every year as part of their pilgrimage. Muslims pray in the direction of the Kaaba everyday (Esposito 2011: 23-24).
Kaballah: The Jewish mystical teachings which offer esoteric interpretations of Jewish law. It comes from the Zohar, a thirteenth century (CE) multivolume text, and covers topics ranging from angels to the afterlife (Prothero 2008: 244).
Kama Sutra: A popular Hindu scripture, originally intended as a sex manual for courtesans. It was written around 400 CE by Hindu thinker Vatsyayana. It provides different types of kisses and different sexual positions for intercourse (Prothero 2008: 244).
Karma: A term in Sanskrit referring both to an action and its consequences. It drives the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth in the eastern religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism (Prothero 2008: 244).
King, Martin Luther (1929-1968): Martin Luther King, Jr. was an important African-American Baptist minister and civil rights leader who combined Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy and Christian love to fight racism. He is the most recognizable figures in in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. For more information on Martin Luther King, Jr., click here.
Koran: The sacred text of Muslims, and the ultimate authority in Islam regarding law, religion, and ethics. It literally means "recitation." It is also spelled "Quran" or "Qur'an." The Koran is a compilation of the Prophet Muhammad's revelations from the angel Gabriel between 610 CE and 632 CE. Muhammad's recited these revelations, which his followers memorized and later complied into a canon. It consists of 114 surahs, or chapters, which are organized from largest to shortest. As a result, the Koran is not arranged chronologically, which can be confusing for those unfamiliar with the context of each surah (Prothero 2008: 269-270). The Koran is four-fifths the size of the New Testament
Koresh, David (1958-1993): Leader of the breakaway Christian Adventist group known as the Branch Davidians and self-proclaimed final prophet. His birthname is Vernon Howell, but he took on the messianic name David Koresh in 1990. He died in 1993 after government officials raided the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (Smith and Green 1995: 127-128). See Branch Davidians for more details.
Kosher: Jewish dietary laws that include permissible and restricted foods from one’s diet. These guidelines were set forth in the Torah, and later elaborated in postbiblical Jewish law. Animals with cloven hooves and who chew their cud are forbidden to eat, like pigs. Some explain that kosher laws exist for hygienic reasons, as well as symbolic reasons, like discouraging the assimilation of non-Jewish neighboring communities (Smith and Green 1995: 645-646).
Laity: Non-ordained members of Christian churches. The term’s root meaning comes from the Greek "laos," which means "the people." The distinction between laity and clergy is often articulated in a Catholic context in order to clarify roles in church hierarchy. Some Protestant denominations claim that there should be no distinction between laity and clergy, at least in a theological sense (Reid et al. 1990: 627).
Last Supper: The New Testament narrative of Jesus' last meal with his disciples prior to his arrest, trial and crucifixion. This event is commemorated through the Christian rite of Communion, also known as the Eucharist (Smith and Green 1995: 652).
Latter-day Saints Family (Mormonism): A 19th century religious movement in America founded by Joseph Smith. The purpose of the movement is to restore New Testament Christianity. The Latter-day Saints’ main authority is the Book of Mormon, along with a distinct translation of the Bible. Mormons moved westward from New York after religious persecution. Some of their distinct doctrinal views include: baptism for the dead, eternal marriage and the corporeality of God. They also refrain from tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints) are the largest denominations in this family (Prothero 2008: 254-255).
Lent: A 40 day period of fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. The purpose of fasting is to encourage spiritual discipline and devotional reflection. These 40 days usually don't include Sundays. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Protestant churches celebrate this practice. For Orthodox Christians, Lent begins on Clean Monday (Reid et al. 1990: 643).
Liberal Religious Family: Consists of churches and associations stressing the primacy of reason and experience over the authority of doctrine and sacred texts. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in hopes of making Christianity more relevant to modern times (Reid et al. 1990: 646). The Unitarian-Universalist Association and the American Ethical Union are two examples of such groups.
Liberation Theology: A system of Christian thought that reflects on structures of oppression and emphasizes divine judgment on the oppressors. It began in Latin America in the 1960s as a response to explain extreme poverty, and God’s response to these conditions. In North America, it has been used to explain racial and gender inequalities. Some have criticized liberation theology for using Marxist concepts (Smith and Green 1995: 658).
Liturgy: A set order of public worship, often comprised of chants, prayers and readings. Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches have more ornate liturgies than other churches that stress preaching and the singing of hymns (Reid et al. 1990: 662).
Lord’s Prayer: The most popular prayer in Christianity, and widely recited by Christians today. It comes from a passage in the Gospel According to Matthew, where Jesus’ disciples ask him how to pray. It begins (in the King James Bible): "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…" (Prothero 2008: 246-247).
Luther, Martin (1483-1546): A German monk and theologian who became a leader in the sixteenth century during the Protestant Reformation. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church after publishing his 95 Theses, which challenged the Church’s doctrines and practices. Luther placed importance on justification by grace through faith, and the Bible as the sole authority for Christians, not scripture and tradition as Catholics assert. His ideas helped pioneer Protestant thought. He is the founder of Lutheranism (Prothero 2008: 247).
Lutheran Family: Christian churches following the teachings of sixteenth century reformer Martin Luther, particularly his teaching on justification by faith and scripture alone (sola scriptura). It is one of the most liturgical Protestant movements, along with Episcopalianism. Lutheranism is more prominent in the Midwestern United States, particularly among those with German ancestry. There has never been a Lutheran president of the United States (Prothero 2008: 247-248).
Madrasa: The term is most often used to describe Islamic schools, including Islamic universities, seminaries, primary and secondary schools. The term literally means "a place where learning or studying occurs." While some madrasas teach a radical view of Islam, most historically do not. Critics of Barack Obama have equated madrasas with terrorist training schools in order to malign the president’s early schooling (Esposito 2011: 40-41).
Magic: A term referring to all efforts to manipulate supernatural forces to gain rewards, or avoid costs, without a reference to a god or gods or to general explanations of existence (Stark and Finke 2000: 279).
Mahayana Buddhism: A school of Buddhism that is much more open to the role of nonmonks in the faith. The goal for this school of thought is the ultimate salvation of all living beings. This universalist tendency helped to carry the faith across Southeast Asia to Japan. The school dates itself to Ananda and other early disciples of Buddha (Melton 2009: 1043).
Mainline Protestantism: A branch of Protestantism encompassing what are considered theologically liberal and moderate denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, The Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This term emerged in the youth counterculture of the 1960s, and was used pervasively in the 1970s by journalists and scholars. While Mainline Protestantism is usually seen as more theologically and socially liberal than Evangelical Protestantism, there is obviously variation between denominations, congregations, and individuals within the "Mainline" category (Reid et al. 1990: 700).
Martyr: In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a martyr is someone who dies, typically premature and violently, for a sacred cause. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, martyrdom became a terrorist strategy for suicide bombers in Israel, Iraq, the United States, and other countries (Prothero 2008: 248).
Mary (Mother of Jesus): Also known as the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Catholic tradition, she was the mother of Jesus Christ. Her miraculous virgin birth is recorded in the gospels. She is frequently depicted in Eastern icons and Western art. In the Catholic tradition, she is seen as a powerful mediator between the individual and God. The Protestant Reformers criticized what they believed was an excessive veneration of Mary (Smith and Green 1995: 687).
Mary Magdalene: A prominent follower of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels. She is specifically mentioned as a witness to his death as well as one of the first witnesses of his resurrection. A gnostic gospel presents her as one of the most important disciples of Jesus. A later tradition depicted her as a prostitute, which is not evident in the gospels (Smith and Green 1995: 687).
Massachusetts Bay Colony: In 1630, a group of Puritans, led by John Winthrop, established the Massachusetts Bay Colony after fleeing religious persecution in England. For more information on the Massachusetts Bay Colony, click here.
Mecca: The most holy city in Islam, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia. It was the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and is the location for the sacred Kaaba. When Muslims go on their pilgrimage (hajj), they visit Mecca. Muslims pray toward this city as well (Esposito 2011: 245).
Medina: The second most holy city in Islam after Mecca. It is located in modern day Saudi Arabia. Muslims view the city as holy because Muhammad fled to Medina in 622 CE (see Hijra) and established the Muslim community there before returning to Mecca. In Medina, Muhammad established himself as a politician and military leader in addition to being a religious leader (Prothero 2008: 251).
Meditation: A process of serious contemplation that is common in Eastern religions. In Buddhism, it refers to a range of conscious-altering practices used to remove passion and ignorance, leading to nirvana. Meditation is also prominent in the practice of Taoism, although the connection to Taoist thought is unclear (Smith and Green 1995: 692-695).
Megachurch: A large congregation with 2,000 or more people attending services. It is typically Protestant, often evangelical. Two-thirds of megachurches are affiliated with a denomination. They tend to cluster in the suburbs located outside of growing cities. Currently, there are more than 1,200 megachurches in the United States. Famous megachurch pastors include Joel Osteen and Rick Warren (Prothero 2008: 251).
Member: 1) A member is a person belonging to a congregation and/or denomination. Rules concerning membership vary by religious tradition. For example, there may be confessions, behaviors, rituals or other requirements for becoming a full member. 2) Sometimes people use the word "member" to mean that they simply attend a congregation, whether they are full members of the congregation or denomination. In this sense, "member" is similar to adherent. 3) Note that on the ARDA's Maps & Reports, "members" are defined as "All individuals in a religious group with full membership status," based on the definition of a "member" from the Religious Congregations and Membership Study (Grammich et al. 2012: xvi).
Merger: When two or more denominations, organizations or congregations join together to make one structure. For instance, the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988 was the result of a merger of three smaller Lutheran denominations. Denominations with low tension will typically have declining membership, and are therefore more likely to form mergers (Stark and Finke 2000: 206). See the Denominations section to explore denominational histories, including mergers.
Merton, Thomas (1915-1968): Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk and prolific writer. He denounced social inequality and opened up interfaith dialogue through his hundreds of articles and numerous books. For more information on Thomas Merton, click here.
Messiah: The long-awaited king who will come in the last days. In the Jewish tradition, the messiah will restore the Jews to the promised land, rebuild the temple, and inaugurate a period of peace. This is particularly emphasized in Orthodox Judaism. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the messiah, but most Jews do not hold this view, with the exception of Jews for Jesus and some messianic Jewish groups (Prothero 2008: 252).
Methodist-Pietist Family: The Methodist-Pietist family consists of churches that stress the importance of internal faith, spirituality and Christian living over adherence to formal creeds and doctrine. The largest among these churches is the United Methodist Church, which follows the teachings of John Wesley, who in the 18th century broke away from the Church of England because of his emphasis on personal holiness. Methodism came to the United States in the 1760s with Leesburg, Virginia being the site of the first Methodist society (Melton 2009: 273-274).
Millenarianism: The belief that there will be an unprecedented period of peace and righteousness on the earth, usually associated with the return of Jesus Christ. Millennial groups are typically divided into premillennialist and postmillennialist perspectives based on beliefs regarding the return of Christ and the events preceding his return. Amillennialism is sometimes considered a third perspective, although it mostly deals with a symbolic interpretation of the "millenium" (Smith and Green 1995: 738).
Miller, William (1782-1849): William Miller was a Baptist lay preacher who predicted that the return of Christ would occur in 1843. This garnered both fervor from religious seekers and criticism from established churches. Despite his failed predictions, his teachings influenced both Ellen Gould White and her husband, James Springer White. They would later found the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For more information on William Miller, click here.
Million Man March: The Million Man March of 1995, organized by the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, was the largest gathering of African Americans in U.S. history. Taking place after the widely publicized beating of Rodney King, the subsequent riots in Los Angeles, and in the midst of conservative backlash toward civil rights efforts, the Million Man March desired to paint a more positive portrayal of black males in America. For more information on the Million Man March, click here.
Miracle: A desirable effect believed to be caused by the intervention of a god or gods in worldly matters. Miracles credited to a religion will increase the confidence in certain religious explanations (Stark and Finke 2000: 280). To find survey questions related to miracles, click here.
Mitt Romney's 2012 Presidential Campaign: Mitt Romney became the first Mormon nominee for president when he ran as a Republican in 2012 against Barack Obama. His religious views became a focus in both his 2008 and 2012 presidential runs, though it is debatable whether it actually led to either failed campaigns. For more on Mitt Romney and his religious faith, click here.
Modernization Theory: This theory holds that religion is just as important a feature of modern society as it is of traditional society, but it takes different forms and possesses different characteristics. For more information on this theory, click here.
Monasticism: A form of religious organization that emphasizes strict ascetic practices and individual salvation. The origins of monasticism are somewhat unknown, although many believe that started around the third to fourth century CE by Christians. Monasticism was fairly dominant in the medieval ages. It has waned since the Protestant Reformation, but still exists in
Monotheism: The belief that there is only one God, shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims. This is in contrast to polytheism, which posits multiple gods, and atheism, which posits that there is no God (Prothero 2008: 253).
Monstrance: A vessel, typically made of metal, used to display the Eucharistic bread in Catholic and Anglican churches. Typically, it is placed on the altar for adoration during religious rites. It is also known as an ostensorium (McBrien 1995:890).
Moody, Dwight (1837-1899): Dwight L. Moody was a 19th century Protestant revivalist whose popularity led to the Moody Bible Institute and the growth of Christian fundamentalism. For more information on Dwight Moody, click here.
Moral Majority: A conservative political group seeking to "return" Judeo-Christian morality to society. Founded in 1979 and led by Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority later dissolved in 1989. For more information, click here.
Moroni: The last of the Nephite prophets who resurrected in the form of an angel to reveal to Joseph Smith where he buried sacred golden plates 14 centuries earlier. This occurred on September 21, 1823 (Smith and Green 1995: 731).
Moses: A very important prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is remembered for leading the Jewish slaves out of Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. The revelations on Mount Sinai became known as the Torah, or Law. In all three traditions, Moses is highly regarded, but receives special importance in the Jewish tradition (Prothero 2008: 256).
Mosque: The Islamic building for public worship. The term "mosque" comes from the Arabic word "masjid," meaning "place for ritual prostration." The first mosque was founded by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina as a place for worship and prayer. There are more than 2,100 mosques located in the United States (Esposito 2011: 38-39).
Muhammad (Mohammad): The founder and last prophet in Islam. He was born in Mecca (570 CE) and died in Medina (632 CE). He was born an orphan and became a trader. He received his first of many revelations at age 40 from the angel Gabriel in a cave. These revelations covered issues of God’s nature, morality, other prophets (including Jesus) and more. His followers recorded his accounts, which later became the Koran. As he preached his revelations in Mecca, which differed from the polytheism at the time, he started to encounter hostility. After his enemies attempted to kill him, he fled to Medina in 622 C.E., where he established his Muslim community. He returned to Mecca with his army in 630 C.E., and demolished the idols around the Kaaba. In Islam, the phrase "peace be upon him" follows any utterance of his name (Prothero 2008: 257-258).
Mysticism: A form of spirituality stressing union with God and religious experience, rather than doctrine. Mystical traditions transcend religious traditions, evident in the three major world religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (Smith and Green 1995: 747-748).
Nation of Islam: An American movement founded in the early 20th century that emphasizes that Islam is the true religion of black people and that African-Americans should leave the distorted white religion of Christianity. The movement spread throughout the country under Elijah Muhammad and became increasingly militant after World War II (Mead et al. 2005: 379-380).
Native American Church: A movement among Native Americans that has factions related to Christianity, but diverges from popular aspects of Christianity through the use of cactus peyote for ceremonial purposes. This movement has been criticized for diluting distinct tribal identities into one "pan-American" religious identity. Their use of peyote is legal in the United States since it is being used for "religious" purposes (Esposito et al. 2012b: 64).
Neo-Confucianism: A tradition that attempts to harmonize the spiritual teachings of Confucius with the cosmology of Taoism and the teaching of karma in Buddhism. It also incorporates meditation techniques from both Taoism and Buddhism (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-16).
Neopaganism: A diverse, decentralized religious movement that emphasizes the importance of nature, polytheism, pantheism, personal responsibility and rituals. Neopagan religions include reconstructions of Egyptian, Celtic, Norse and Greek Paganism as well as Neopagan Witchcraft (Wicca). The movement has more than 100,000 adherents in the United States and Canada (Smith and Green 1995: 765).
New Age: A loosely based movement that emerged in the late 1960s stressing experiential spirituality, the interconnectedness of life and the immanence (or nearness) of the sacred to the world, drawing on a blend of occult, Eastern and human potential teachings. Evangelical churches in the United States and Europe have denounced New Age movements as detrimental to Christian values (Smith and Green 1995: 768-769). For more information on the New Age movement, click here.
New Religious Movements: Groups and movements that because of belief and practice exist outside of traditional Christianity, Judaism, and other major religious traditions. Examples of new religious movements would be the Unification Church and various neopagan groups, although even such an established religion as Christianity started out as a new religious movement within Judaism. Scholars prefer the term "New Religious Movement" over "cult" because the term "cult" is more of a political term used to denounce new religious groups. There is little evidence that new religious movements actually use "brainwashing" (Stark and Finke 2000: 136).
New Testament: Canonized scripture in addition to the Old Testament that constitutes the Christian Bible. The New Testament is made up of 27 books, written roughly between 50 and 150 CE. The first four books are the gospels, which record the life of Jesus Christ. Among the gospels, the first three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are considered the synoptic gospels for their similarity in content, whereas the book of John is considered fairly distinct. The gospels are followed by the Acts of the Apostles, which records the development of the early Christian movement. Most of the New Testament contains letters, many of whom are attributed to the apostle Paul, while others are either anonymous or associated with other early church leaders. The New Testament ends with the book of Revelation, an apocalypse that deals with the end-times as well as with current persecution at the hands of the Romans. The New Testament was officially canonized in 367 by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (Smith and Green 1995: 769-770).
Nicene Creed: A formal creed stating that Jesus was "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God." This creed originated in the fourth century CE as a response to controversies pertaining to Jesus’ nature (see Christology). Most Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians affirm this creed (Prothero 2008: 239).
Niebuhr, Reinhold (1892-1971): Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was an influential Christian theologian in the 20th century. He advocated social justice and, although he came from a theologically liberal background, he rejected liberal notions of the innate goodness of humans. He also is credited with the popular Serenity Prayer. For more information on Reinhold Niebuhr, click here.
Night Journey: The Prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and then from Jerusalem into heaven where he met Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. This event is reported to have occurred in 621 CE. This event is briefly discussed in the Koran and further elaborated in the hadith. The Night Journey made Jerusalem the third-holiest city, behind Mecca and Medina, in Islam. It also affirmed the continuity of Islam with Judaism and Christianity (Esposito 2011: 188).
Nirvana: The main religious goal in major forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. The term comes from Sanskrit, meaning "blowing out." It is essentially the extinction of suffering and the liberation from samsara. It is important to note that Mahayana Buddhists do not see a clear distinction between nirvana and samsara, seeing the world of suffering as nirvana itself (Prothero 2008: 259).
Nominal Christian: A term for those who identify as Christian in name only, meaning that they aren’t particularly religious. This identification is contrasted with practicing Christians, and is often used in a pejorative way (Reid et al. 1990: 827).
Numinous: A primary sense of religious experience, an overwhelming feeling of the divine. The German theologian Rudolf Otto coined this term in his 1917 book The Idea of the Holy (Smith and Green 1995: 804).
Nun: A term referring to any Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican woman who is an avowed member of the religious community. Technically, it refers to women who take a solemn oath to renounce a life of pleasure and live a life of prayer and discipline in a monastery (Reid et al. 1990: 832).
Occultism: The practices and beliefs relating to "hidden" spiritual truths or esoteric insights. These hidden truths are seen as very powerful. This tradition was somewhat underground during the Middle Ages, but became more prominent in the Renaissance. The occult worldview was basic to pre-Copernican and pre-Newtonian science. Modern groups that incorporate elements of the occult include the Liberal Catholic Church and Wicca, as well as some Neopagan groups (Smith and Green 1995: 806).
Ockenga, Harold (1905-1985): Harold Ockenga was an influential evangelical leader in the mid-20th century. He led a "neo-evangelical" movement, which upheld conservative theological standards while still maintaining a sense of warmth and engagement with society. He helped co-found Fuller Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Christianity Today. For more information on Harold Ockenga, click here.
of Constantinople, Athenagoras I (1886-1972): Athenagoras was an important archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America. He helped unite Orthodox communities that were divided by ethnicity at the time. In 1948, he was elected Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, a position he held until his death in 1972. For more information on Athenagoras, click here.
Old Testament (Hebrew Bible): The first portion of the Christian Bible. It also is known as the Hebrew Bible in Judaism. The Hebrew Bible contains twenty-four books, while Protestant Bibles further divide the 24 books into 39 books, and place them in a different order. Catholic Bibles are ordered the same as Protestant Bible, but include seven additional books known as the Deuterocanonical Books. Orthodox Bibles also contain additional books (Prothero 2008: 260).
Ordination: The setting apart of some members by a church for ministerial or priestly leadership. In Christianity, this usually is done by either the laying on of hands or invocation of the Holy Spirit. Ordination is considered a sacrament in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelical churches ordain men only, while liberal, some Holiness, and some Pentecostal churches have ordained women (Reid et al. 1990: 846). Ordinations also exist in Buddhism and Judaism (Smith and Green 1995: 815-816).
Orthodox Judaism: A branch of Judaism that was developed by European Jews in the 19th century as a response to modernization and the rise of Reform Judaism. Orthodox Jews maintain a traditional form of worship and strict observance of dietary laws (Smith and Green 1995: 822).
Orthodoxy: This is usually assessed in reference to affirming a series of beliefs representing "traditional" religious views, such as stances on sacred texts or belief in miracles (Smith and Green 1995: 824). Click here for more information regarding orthodoxy.
Pali Canon: The complete canon among the early collections of the Buddha's teachings. It is written in the Pali language derived from Sanskrit. The canon is split into three sections: Vinaya (monastic code), Sutras (sermons), and Abhidhamma (advanced teaching formula) (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-13).
Palm Sunday: The first day of Holy Week that commemorates Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is called "Palm Sunday" because in the gospel of John, the crowds took palm branches and met Jesus as he arrived into the city. It is celebrated a week before Easter (Smith and Green 1995: 827).
Pantheism: The belief that all of reality is divine. It can be cosmic in the sense that God is equated with nature, or acosmic in the sense that experience is illusory and only the divine is real (Hinnells 1984: 245).
Papal Infallibility: A Roman Catholic term referring to the pope’s share in the general grace that preserves the Church from error. This term was formally defined by the Roman Catholic Church in 1870 at the First Vatican Council (Reid et al. 1990: 862).
Particularism: This refers to the belief that only one’s own faith is true or that salvation can be achieved only by adherence to a particular religion. For more information on particularism, click here.
Passover: A seven-day Jewish holiday commemorating the story in Exodus where God saved the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. No leavened bread is eaten during this holiday, and matzah is considered the staple food (Hinnells 1991: 35).
Patriarch: 1) The head bishop of an Eastern Orthodox Church (see Athenagoras I of Constantinople, 1886-1972). 2) A historical title for the bishops in the ancient cities of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. 3) A term for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Hebrew Bible (Smith and Green 1995: 833).
Paul: A first-century church leader in Christianity and the author of many New Testament epistles. He was born Jewish and was called Saul, a Pharisee and persecutor of Christians. According to the Book of Acts, he saw the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity. Afterward, he preached the gospel to Jews and Christians alike. While some debate whether all the letters attributed to him in the New Testament were written by him, the consensus is that his "authentic" letters were written around the 50s CE and became the theological architecture of ancient and modern Christian beliefs (Prothero 2008: 261-262).
Penn, William (1644-1718): William Penn was a Quaker activist, religious tolerance advocate, and founder of the Pennsylvania colony. He wrote many books on his religious faith and the ideal style of government, including No Cross, No Crown (1669) and Frame of Government (1682), the latter of which influenced the U.S. Constitution. For more information on William Penn, click here.
Pentecost: The annual Christian celebration commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus as recorded in the biblical book of Acts. The term derives from Greek, literally meaning "50 days," traditionally the time between the Passover feast and the wheat harvest. In the early church and in some churches today, Pentecost is celebrated fifty days following Easter. Later Judaism associated Pentecost with God giving Moses the Law on Mount Sinai. The Christian celebration is common in liturgical churches with the final lighting of the Paschal candle, readings from the lectionary, and prayer (Reid et al. 1990: 881).
Pentecostal Family: A movement of churches that emerged in early 20th century America, stressing enthusiastic worship and the restoration of such practices evident in New Testament Christianity, such as speaking in tongues and healing. It is sometimes divided into "classical Pentecostalism," indicating the movement’s historical bodies, and "neo-Pentecostalism," the modern movement emphasizing charismatic renewal (Reid et al. 1990: 885-886).
People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab): In Islam, this refers to non-Muslims who possess some revelation or scripture from God. Jews and Christians make up this group, and sometimes Zoroastrians are included (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-9).
People's Temple: A controversial new religious movement that was founded by Jim Jones in the 1960s. The congregation was known for its racial diversity, emphasizing anti-racial themes along with socialist ideals. Jones became increasingly paranoid about government authorities, moving followers from California to Guyana, where he established an isolated farming community dubbed Jonestown. The group would routinely practice mass suicide rituals. This, along with heterodox religious teachings, made the People's Temple a controversial group. As growing opposition mounted against Jones in the United States, Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in 1978 and was murdered along with several members of his group. Thereafter, Jones gave members poisoned fruit punch in a mass suicide, often argued as murder. Jones and more than 900 members died on November 18, 1978 (Smith and Green 1995: 836).
Pluralism: The existence or toleration of diverse religious groups in a society. For example, America is a religiously pluralistic country because it has many different denominations and religions. Some consider this to be a distinctly modern phenomenon. Social scientists have debated whether this is a problem or opportunity in modern religion (Smith and Green 1995: 848). For more information on pluralism, click here.
Plymouth Plantation: Plymouth Plantation was a North American colony settled in 1620 by English Separatists, later known as Pilgrims, who desired to practice their own religion freely. For more information on Plymouth Plantation, click here.
Polytheism: The belief in many gods (Prothero 2008: 264).
Pope John XXIII (1881-1963): Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, one of the most significant events in the modern Catholic Church. Though he died two years before its conclusion, the historic council would become his lasting legacy for its momentous moves toward openness and ecumenism in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII was canonized a saint in 2014. For more information on Pope John XXIII, click here.
Pope Paul VI (1897-1978): Pope Paul VI oversaw the completion of the Second Vatican Council and authored Humanae Vitae, an important, albeit controversial, document in modern Catholicism that denounced contraception. For more on Pope Paul VI, click here.
Postmillennialism: The belief that the return of Christ will take place after the millennium, which may be a literal period of peace and prosperity or else a symbolic representation of the final triumph of the gospel. This new age will come through Christian teaching and preaching on earth. This view is often dismissed by critics as a Christian version of the secular idea of progress, but it was actually formulated by Puritan theologians (Reid et al. 1990: 919).
Predestination: The belief that every human being, before birth, was predestined by God to either heaven or hell. This is found in Calvinist theology, also known as Reformed theology (Prothero 2008: 207).
Premillennialism (Chiliasm): The belief that at the end of the present age Christ will come back and reign on earth for one thousand years, based on passages in Isaiah 55-66 and Revelation 20:1-10. Before the advent of God’s kingdom, premillennialists believe that there will be signs including preaching to all nations, earthquakes, famine, wars, a great apostasy, the Antichrist, and a period of great tribulation (Reid et al. 1990: 929).
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: The Protestant tradition based on the teachings of reformer John Calvin. The Reformed tradition consists both of Presbyterian churches as well as denominations that developed in continental Europe, such as the Dutch and the German Reformed. American Presbyterianism split over revivalism, slavery and fundamentalism, but is still one of the leading Protestant families in the United States (Prothero 2008: 265).
Prophecy: A mode of communication between the divine and specific humans, known as prophets. Prophecy can be understood as a dialogue, not just a one-way message from God. In various religious traditions, prophecy often occurs at times of crises, like an imminent military threat or natural disaster (Smith and Green 1995: 861-862).
Prophet: The intermediary between the divine and the human audience, communicating with god/gods on behalf of other humans. Famous prophets in the Judeo-Christian-Islam traditions include Abraham, Moses and the Prophet Muhammad. Some other traditions, especially native religions, refer to this type of intermediary as a shaman, conjurer, spirit or medium (Smith and Green 1995: 861).
Protestant Buddhism: A term coined by anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere to describe the adoption of aspects of missionary Protestant Christianity into Buddhism to reinvigorate practices and doctrines. Henry Steele Olcott (1832-1907) was an American convert who went to colonial Sri Lanka, and encouraged Buddhist leaders to emphasize the importance of the laity and reestablish "true Buddhism" (Esposito et al. 2012: 450).
Protestant Ethic: Based on Max Weber’s ([1904-05] 1996) classic argument about religion and capitalism, this concept brings together supposed characteristics of Protestantism, such as worldly asceticism, dedication to work, and the notion that economic success is evidence of grace.
Protestantism: A branch of Christianity dating back to the Reformation of the 15th century, when Reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, first sought to reform the Catholic Church but increasingly left to start their own churches. Most Protestant churches share a belief in the priesthood of all believers, whereas Catholic Churches have a hierarchal model that clearly separates the priesthood (clergy) from the members (laity). Also, Protestants emphasize the sole authority of the Bible (sola scriptura), whereas Catholics see church tradition along with the Bible as authorities for faith and practice (Reid et al. 1990: 949).
Pseudepigrapha: A collection of Jewish and Christian books written from the third century BCE to the sixth century CE. These works include rewritten portions of the Hebrew Bible, resemble biblical texts, and books attributed to figures in the Hebrew Bible. The term "pseudepigrapha" literally means "writings with false attributions," for they are not regarded as authentic, and therefore not authoritative. However, some parts of the pseudepigrapha are included in the Ethiopian Christian Old Testament (Smith and Green 1995: 55).
Purgatory: The place, state or condition of departed Christian souls in which they undergo purifying suffering before entering heaven. This belief is evident in Roman Catholicism (Reid et al. 1990: 964).
Purim: A Jewish holiday commemorating the events in the book of Esther, where Queen Esther saved the Jews of the Persian Empire from the designs of the villainous Haman. On this day, the scroll of Esther is read publicly in Jewish synagogues. Some Jews wear costumes on this day and send food to one another (Hinnells 1991: 35).
Qiyas: A legal term in Islam that refers to analogical reasoning. This form of deduction often is used in order to understand whether something is forbidden, even if not explicitly stated in any Islamic scriptures (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-9).
Quakers (Friends): A seventeenth century Christian movement that originally arose in England, led by George Fox. They emphasize the belief in the "inner light," where God’s revelation is not limited to the Bible but continues in the daily contact between the believer and God. Because of this, they have no clergy, and their worship service consists of members waiting in silence until the Holy Spirit moves them. They also are known for their social-activism (Melton 2009: 440).
QuickLists: Using the best available data, the QuickLists section of the ARDA provides data on American and international religion in rank order. For example, if one wants to know the number of Christians or Muslims in the world, this list will assist the user. If one wants a list of states with the most Evangelical Protestants, this list provides that information. For more information on QuickLists, click here!
QuickStats: The QuickStats section of the ARDA allows users to browse dozens of topics covered by major national surveys. Survey responses, pie charts, and time series charts present a variety of religious attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs among individuals as well as congregations. Click here to explore the ARDA’s QuickStats!
Ramadan: The Islamic month of daytime fasting, and one of the
Rauschenbusch, Walter (1861-1918): Walter Rauschenbusch was the main founding theologian of the Social Gospel movement, a loose coalition of social reformers and theologians who believed that Christianity would eradicate all societal evils some day. His most famous works are Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917). For more information on Walter Rauschenbusch, click here.
Reaffiliation: The process by which people shift from one religious group to another within their religious tradition. For example, one goes from a Baptist church to a Methodist Church. Reaffiliation is synonymous with religious switching. This is in contrast with conversion, which is understood as a shift across religious traditions, like converting to Christianity from Judaism (Stark and Finke 2000: 114).
Reconstructionism, Christian: A fundamentalist Christian movement that started in the 1960s with the intent of reconstructing society based upon Old Testament law. Reconstructionists argue that Old Testament law still applies today, and that Christians should oversee all aspects of society. Reconstructionists also are postmillennial in their eschatology, believing the world is now in the millennial age (Reid et al. 1990: 977).
Reconstructionism, Judaism: A modern movement of Judaism in North America, and to some extent, in Israel. American theologian and Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983) is considered the founder of the movement and provided the formal name "Reconstructionism" for the movement. Influenced by French sociologist Emile Durkheim and American psychologist John Dewey, Kaplan believed that Judaism was an ever-changing institution, and that its main function is to provide social solidarity and desire for moral perfection. Kaplan's rejection of Israel being "supernaturally" chosen made him a controversial figure in Judaism (Smith and Green 1995: 881).
Reform Judaism: A form of Judaism that arose in Europe and the United States in the 19th century as a Jewish response to modernity. It is considered a liberal movement within Judaism. It proposes that Jewish Law provides general guidelines for Jewish observance and does not require strict adherence like in Orthodox Judaism (Lindner 2010: 225).
Reincarnation: The belief that souls take up new bodies as part of an ongoing cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth (see samsara). This belief is common in Hinduism. In Buddhism, they affirm the belief in reincarnation, but contend that one's consciousness is reborn, not the soul, for they deny the existence of the eternal soul. Although this belief is common in Eastern religions, nearly one-fourth of American Christians believe in reincarnation (Prothero 2008: 272-273). To find information on survey questions related to reincarnation, click here.
Religiosity: The degree to which a person is religious or spiritual. Sociologists usually consider a number of factors, such as church attendance, belief in God, prayer frequency, and professed importance of religion to assess a person's level of religiosity (Johnstone 2006: 102-103). For more information on religiosity, click here.
Religious Affiliation: This refers to an individual’s self-identified religious tradition (e.g., Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, etc.) or denomination (e.g., Baptist, Methodist, etc.). For more information, click here.
Religious Behavior: The type and amount of religious actions an individual exhibits. Closely tied to the concept of religiosity, religious behavior focuses upon what individuals are doing in relation to religion specifically. The most commonly used measure of religious behavior in survey research is religious service attendance. For more on this topic, click here.
Religious Capital: The degree of mastery and attachment to a particular religious culture. For example, one might learn when or when not to say "Amen" during a sermon, or learn certain passages of scripture in order to accumulate religious capital. The greater their religious capital, the less likely people are to either reaffiliate or to convert (see Stark and Finke 2000: 120). For more information on religious capital, click here.
Religious Compensator: A religious compensator promotes the belief in a future reward and/or justice. According to Iannaccone and Bainbridge (2009:466), "A distinctive feature of religious organizations is that they promise attainment of rewards, such as eternal life in Heaven, that cannot be delivered in the here and now" (2009:466). For more on this concept, click here.
Religious Consumer: Using a religious economies perspective, a religious consumer is a religiously active individual seeking religious goods, often from religious organizations (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009). A religious consumer often weighs the benefits and costs of their religious investment. For more information on this concept, click here.
Religious Economies: A sociological term used to denote a distinct subsystem encompassing the religious activity of a society. It focuses on a "market" of current and potential adherents, organizations seeking to attract and maintain adherents, and the religious culture offered by the organizations. Within all religious economies, there are relatively stable market niches that appeal to the religious preferences of potential adherents (Stark and Finke 2000: 193-195).
Religious Experience: An experience that is believed to have religious significance. The term usually refers to experiences of the divine through either God or sacred objects. Theologians often debate whether reports of religious experiences function as universal phenomena. A famous example of a religious experience is when the apostle Paul reported witnessing Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, even though Jesus was no longer on earth at the time (Smith and Green 1995: 918). For more information on religious experiences, click here.
Religious Family: A way to classify religious groups based on religious ancestry or heritage. It is a broader category than religious denomination, but more specific than a religious tradition. Some common religious families include: Adventist, Lutheran, Holiness, etc. The ARDA provides religious family trees to illustrate the history of schisms and mergers within each religious family.
Religious Favoritism: Subsidies, privileges, support or favorable sanctions provided by the state to a select religion or a small group of religions. Research shows that religious favoritism can be used to reduce religious freedoms and to control religious groups. Religious favoritism is also associated with higher rates of violent religious persecution (Grim and Finke 2011: 207).
Religious Freedom: The absence of government discrimination, restrictions, regulations and societal pressures on religious individuals or groups. This allows for individuals to change religions, or propagate their message within society with the intent of winning new adherents. Research shows that religious freedoms produce less violent religious persecution, less conflicts, and better overall outcomes for society (Grim and Finke 2011: xiii).
Religious Group: 1) Typically a subgroup of a larger world religion that is defined by a common religious doctrine, identity and/or value-system. 2) When used by the ARDA, a religious group is an alternative way to describe a religious denomination without the connotations linked to Protestant Christianity or a centralized/established religious organization.
Religious Identity: This refers to how survey respondents place themselves within a certain religious category, like whether the respondent considers himself/herself an Evangelical Protestant. This is in contrast to survey researchers categorizing the respondent based on beliefs (theological conservative) or denomination. The strengths and limitation of this measure are discussed here.
Religious Markets: Using a religious economies perspective, religious markets describe the three main economic roles that people play in religion: consumer, producer, and investor (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009). In religious markets, religious producers (i.e., religious organizations) compete over consumers (i.e., adherents). For more on this concept, click here.
Religious Organizations: Social enterprises whose primary purpose is to create, maintain and supply religion to a set of individuals. They support and supervise exchanges with a god or gods. Religious organizations are able to demand extended and exclusive commitments to the extent that they offer otherworldly rewards (Stark and Finke 2000: 279).
Religious Preference: This refers to an "individual’s evaluations of competing religious goods" (Sherkat 1997:69). Religious preference as a concept is used to explain why individuals participate in different religions or choose varying styles of religion. For more information, click here.
Religious Regulation: The legal and social restrictions that inhibit the practice, profession, or selection of religion. Societies with high religious regulation produce less religious pluralism (Stark and Finke 2000: 198). For more information on religious regulation, click here.
Religious Seeker: The state of a person who is unsatisfied with her currently available religious affiliation and is carrying out exchanges in search of a more satisfying affiliation, belief system, or practice. For more on this topic, click here.
Religious Switching: This concept refers to shifts in religious affiliations within religious traditions (e.g., Baptist to Methodist). This term is synonymous with reaffiliation. The concept of religious switching is commonly conflated with the concept of religious conversion, which deals with shifts from one religious tradition to another (e.g., Christianity to Judaism). It can be difficult to measure what constitutes religious switching (for more on this topic, click here).
Religious Tradition (RELTRAD): A way to measure religious affiliation. Developed by Steensland and colleagues (2000), it divides religious traditions into Black Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, Jewish, Mainline Protestant, no religion, and "other" religion based on both doctrine and historical changes in religious groups. The ARDA uses this general scheme for our U.S. Congregational Membership Reports. For more information, click here.
Renewal Group: A group or movement within or on the periphery of a denomination attempting to reform or change its teachings and practices in a desired direction. Usually this means change back to "traditional" beliefs and/or practices (Reid et al. 1990: 1002-1003).
Rerum Novarum: Rerum Novarum, an 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on protecting the working class, is a foundational text in modern Catholic social thought. The encyclical decried the poverty condition of the working class as well as the dangers of runaway profiteering. For more information on Rerum Novarum, click here.
Restorationist Family: Churches that broke away from established American denominations during the 19th century to restore what they understood as true New Testament Christianity, stressing strict adherence to the Bible rather than to creeds. Restorationist churches include the Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Melton 2009: 478-479).
Resurrection: The belief that the dead will rise on some day in the future for final judgment. This is closely associated with the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic belief that a person is a combination of body and soul. Belief in a resurrection came late in the Jewish tradition, in 2 Maccabees, and was later adopted by Christians. Sometimes, when Christians refer to the "resurrection," they are referring to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion (Prothero 2008: 274).
Revival, Religious: This refers to staged episodes of increased religious emotion and group celebration, often to reclaim "sliding" religious commitment or moral values. Revivals are typically organized by established religious groups, and employ a variety of methods designed to arouse religious fervor. For more information on revivals, click here. For examples of revivals, see the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, Cane Ridge camp meeting, and Charles Finney’s Rochester Revival.
Rituals, Religious: Collective ceremonies having a common focus and mood in which the common focus is on a god or gods, while the common mood may vary (Stark and Finke 2000: 107). For more information on religious rituals, click here.
Russell, Charles Taze (1852-1916): Charles Taze Russell sparked the religious group later known as the Jehovah's Witnesses. He wrote a series of Bible study books called Studies in Scripture, which, although popular, attracted criticism from evangelical Christians for his denial of hell, the immortal soul, the deity of Jesus, and his insistence that God was One, not a Trinity. His ideas and early religious movement would later influence the development of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For more information on Charles Taze Russell, click here.
Ryan, John (1869-1945): John A. Ryan was a Catholic priest and moral theologian who fought for economic justice. He helped inspire and support Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. For more information on John Ryan, click here.
Sabbatarianism: The rigid and scrupulous observance of the Sabbath as a divinely ordained day of rest. This view contends that people should abstain from all activity on the Sabbath, except for what is necessary for the benefit of society and is based on a strict understanding of Old Testament law (Reid et al. 1990: 1036). Sabbatarianism also is often associated with Christian groups that believe the Sabbath should be observed on Saturday rather than Sunday, like the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Sabbath: The last day of the week, considered the day of rest by Jews according to the Book of Genesis. On this day, God rested after creating the universe, and therefore observers are forbidden from working. Over time, the Sabbath became known as a day of worship. Jews and Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath on Saturday, while many Christians observe it on Sunday (Prothero 2008: 275).
Sacralization: The process through which there is little differentiation between religious and secular institutions, and the primary aspects of life, from family to politics, are suffused with religious symbols, rhetoric and rituals (Stark and Finke 2000: 199). For more information on sacralization, click here.
Sacrament: A term for a sacred rite or "holy act" of great significance. Catholics affirm seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, Anointing of the Sick, ordination and matrimony. Eastern Orthodox Christians also have sacraments, but believe that there are other "holy acts" besides those practiced by Catholics. Protestants generally only recognize the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, with Baptists viewing these as ordinances, performed because Jesus ordained their use, rather than as a means of grace (Reid et al. 1990: 1037).
Sacred: Things set apart or forbidden, according to the sociologist Emile Durkheim. This is contrasted with the "profane," or mundane aspects of life. Critics claim that this definition is fairly vague, and not too useful in understanding religion (Stark and Finke 2000: 89).
Saint: A category of holy person. In Christianity, it can mean at least one of the following: a holy person who is venerated in life and after death, a term to designate a member of the Christian community, or a person who is publicly venerated in the liturgy as an intercessor in heaven. In Islam, it is used in the Koran to designate a "friend of God," and a person who mediates on behalf of adherents (Smith and Green 1995: 953).
Salem Witch Trials: During the Salem Witch Trials (1692-1693), citizens accused one another of witchcraft, leading to mass hysteria and the imprisonment/death of approximately 170 community members in Salem, Massachusetts. For more detailed information on the Salem Witch Trials, click here.
Salvation: The belief that humans require deliverance due to the problem of sin. For Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus allows individuals to be forgiven of sin, and therefore saved. Salvation also is often associated with receiving admission into heaven (Smith and Green 1995: 954).
Samsara: The never-ending cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth due to karma, the ethical law of cause and effect. This doctrine is found in the eastern religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism (Prothero 2008: 244).
Satan: A malevolent figure in the Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Satan often is interpreted as an angelic being in the Hebrew scriptures. In the New Testament, Satan is the enemy of God who challenges Jesus in the desert. In Islam, Satan is identified with Iblis, chief of the legion of devils who leads humanity astray. It is important to note that the portrayal of Satan as a horned being with cloven hoofs and a tail appears in the Middle Ages, ascribed by the European populace to ancient fertility spirits, such as the Greek god Pan (Smith and Green 1995: 962).
Satanism: The worship of Satan or the devil. Satanism should not be confused with Neopaganism or with occultism because Satanists in some sense honor the biblical interpretation of Satan, but choose to venerate him instead of vilify him. Modern Satanism emerged from the late medieval and early modern period due to rising spiritual tension and atmosphere of witch hysteria. Satanism garnered much attention in the mid-20th century with the much-publicized Church of Satan and the Manson family (Smith and Green 1995: 963).
Schaeffer, Francis (1912-1984): Francis Schaeffer was a famous evangelical apologist, famous for denouncing the spread of relativism in modern society in his book How Should We Then Live? (1976) . For more information on Francis Schaeffer, click here.
Schism: A division or split within a religious group. Although a congregation can undergo a schism, the term usually refers to a split within a denomination (Smith and Green 1995: 964). For example, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America split off from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1874. See the "Denominations" section to explore denominational histories, including schisms.
Scientology: A new religious movement, founded in 1953 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Scientologists believe that suffering is caused by ingrained records of past experiences ("engrams"). Scientologists aim to remove these "engrams" and become "Clears." Famous Scientologists include John Travolta and Tom Cruise (Prothero 2008: 276).
Scofield Reference Bible: The Scofield Reference Bible, developed by C.I. Scofield and published in 1909, popularized premillennial dispensationalism, a theological development suggesting that the world would inevitably spiral downward into sin and decay prior to the return of Christ. The book was a tremendous success, selling more than two million copies by the end of World War II. For more information on the Scofield Reference Bible, click here.
Scopes Trial: A 1925 court case in Dayton, Tennessee, in which science teacher John Scopes was accused of violating state law by teaching Darwinian evolution instead of a creationist account. The court found John Scopes guilty, but the ruling was overturned due to a small technicality (Prothero 2008: 214). For more information on the Scopes trial, click here.
Scriptures: A term often used to denote sacred writings of different religions. Commonly, the authority of the scriptures is believed to come from God (e.g., Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), and sometimes it is believed to come from a legendary person (e.g., Confucianism and Buddhism). Popular scriptures include the Christian Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and the Vedas (Hinnells 1984: 289).
Second Great Awakening (1790s-1840s): The Second Great Awakening(s) (1790s-1840s) fueled the rise of an evangelical Protestant majority in antebellum America, giving rise to new denominations and social reform organizations. The Cane Ridge camp meeting of 1801, led by Barton Stone, is considered the largest and most famous religious revival of the Second Great Awakening. For more information on the Second Great Awakening, click here.
Sect: 1) A religious group that separates from a larger religious movement or tradition. 2) Sociologists also refer to sects as religious groups making high demands on their members and holding a high level of tension with the rest of society (Stark and Finke 2000: 144). For more information on sects, click here.
Secular: Someone or something not identified as religious or spiritual (Esposito et al. 2012b: 27).
Secularization: 1) The process of a group or individual discarding religious beliefs and practices. 2) Sociologists also refer to a society being secularized when religion loses its public presence. 3) A theory about the eventual decline of religion due to modernity (i.e. science, economic development, pluralism, etc.), which is debated among social scientists (Reid et al. 1990: 1069-1070). For more information on secularization, click here.
September 11th (9/11): On September 11, 2001 ("9/11"), al-Qaeda terrorists crashed two planes into the Twin Towers and one into the Pentagon. More than 3,000 people died. The event was the catalyst for two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and deepened anti-Muslim sentiments in America, even though al-Qaeda espoused a form of militant Islamism not approved by the majority of Muslims in the world. For more information on 9/11, click here.
Serra, Junipero (1713-1784): Junipero Serra (1713-1784) was a Spanish Franciscan priest who strengthened Spanish control of California and helped spread Catholicism to the New World. His relationship with the native population, however, was complex and remains widely debated. For more information on Junipero Serra, click here.
Seven Deadly Sins: In Roman Catholicism, it refers to the seven most serious human failings: pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust and gluttony. Some date the list back to Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century CE (Prothero 2008: 189).
Seventh-day Adventist Church: An evangelical sabbatarian church founded in the mid nineteenth century. It grew from the work of William Miller, who had predicted the Second Coming of Christ in 1844. The church continued to grow under Ellen White and James Springer White. Besides advocating a Saturday Sabbath, the church also teaches the infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, creation out of nothing, baptism by immersion, and salvation by atonement in Jesus Christ (Melton 2009: 577).
Shahada (Profession of Faith): One of the Five Pillars Of Islam. The Shahada is a profession of faith. A Muslim recites the following Islamic creed: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." This is recited by new converts and during each performance of Salat (Hinnells 1991: 136).
Shaman: Intermediaries who attempt to connect this realm to another realm of existence that affects humanity. They act as ritual specialists that help foster social solidarity within the community, and protect the group from harm. This role is more common in indigenous religions (Esposito 2012b: G-3).
Sharia: The canon law of Islam that seeks to guide human activity. It is established from the Koran and the hadith. Some nations incorporate Sharia law into their governance (Smith and Green 1995: 982).
Sheen, Fulton (1895-1979): Fulton Sheen was a popular Catholic leader, who appeared on popular radio programs ("Catholic Hour") and television programs (Emmy-winning "Life is Worth Living"). His themes of patriotism, Christian faith, and morality strongly resonated with both Catholic and non-Catholic Americans alike. For more information on Fulton Sheen, click here.
Shema: The declaration of monotheistic faith in Judaism. This central prayer, which begins, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One," often is recited in temple services (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-5).
Shi'ite Islam: A branch of Islam that split from Sunni Islam when the fourth caliph, Ali, was assassinated in 661 CE. The Shi’is viewed Ali as the First Caliph, rather than the Fourth, and traced the line of true Caliphs through Ali's family. Shi'ite Muslims make up 10 percent of the one billion Muslims in the world (Mead et al. 2005: 341).
Shinto: The indigenous religion of Japan, also known as the "way of the gods." Its polytheistic "kami" were, by and large, essentially the patronal deities of the uji, or clans, of ancient Japan. Since Shinto holds to a strong sense of purity, its shrines are often located outside human communities, away from possible pollutions. It was not considered a distinct religion until the advent of Buddhism in the sixth century CE. Most Japanese maintain a relationship to both Shinto and Buddhism (Melton 2009: 1052).
Shramana: Wandering ascetics that existed at the time of Buddha. It was his experience with seeing a shramana that led the Buddha to leave his palace and search for deeper meaning in life (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-14).
Shrine: A sacred place usually commemorating a holy person or a holy event. Shrines typically house relics and sometimes are constructed over tombs. The Kaaba in Mecca functions as a shrine for Muslims (Smith and Green 1995: 992).
Siddhartha Gautama: Also known as Gautama Buddha, he is the founder of Buddhism. He was born around 563 BCE to an aristocratic family in an area near the Himalayan foothills. He decided to leave his palace after seeing a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and a shramana. He experimented with asceticism before finding a "middle way" (see eightfold path) between excessive indulgence and asceticism (Buddhism also is known as the "Middle Way" for this reason). Finally, he reached enlightenment under the bodhi tree, extinguishing all desire and ignorance. He taught his disciples, called arhats, about suffering and how to reach enlightenment. He died around 483 BCE (Esposito et al. 2012b: 400-402). Siddhartha often is associated with the jolly corpulent being depicted in statues in Chinese restaurants. But, it is important to note that the being in the statue is not Siddhartha, but Maitreya, a Chinese bodhisattva who many believed would be the next Buddha (Esposito et al. 2012a: 208).
Sikhism: Emerged in central India and the Punjab region of India in the 16th century and was founded by Guru Nanak. The Sikhs stress the oneness of God and follow the teachings of 10 gurus, the fifth of whom, Arjan, compiled the religion's primary sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib (Parrinder 1973: 260).
Sin: An act against religious law. In Judaism, it is a violation of the stipulations of the covenant with God. In Orthodox Judaism, it may not be a moral violation, but perhaps a violation of dietary law. In Christianity, sin has a variety of interpretations. It can mean "missing the mark" or wandering from God's path. It also can be interpreted as rebellion against God or a disease (Smith and Green 1995: 1002-1003).
Smith, Joseph (1805-1844): The founder and prophet of the Church of Latter-day Saints. He lived from 1805 to 1844, and wrote the Book of Mormon (1830). The Book of Mormon consists of revelations that he received from the angel Moroni. He also wrote Doctrine and Covenants (1835) and The Pearl of Great Price (1842) (Smith and Green 1995: 1006). He was killed by a mob on June 27, 1844. For more information on Joseph Smith, click here.
Social Encapsulation: The situation when a high fraction of friendships or other social relations of members of a religious organization are with fellow members rather than outsiders (Stark and Bainbridge 1980). For more information on this concept, click here.
Social Gospel: A theological Protestant movement that aims to apply Jesus' teachings toward ameliorating socioeconomic problems. This movement was led by Baptist theologian Walter Rauschenbusch in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its emphasis on rectifying the problems caused by capitalism and industrialism influenced aspects of the New Deal policies (Prothero 2008: 283).
Social Regulation of Religion: The restrictions placed on religion by other religious groups, associations, or the culture at large (Grim and Finke 2011: 216).
Sociology of Religion: The study of religion as an institution, a cluster of values, norms, statuses, roles and groups developed around a basic social need. Under this framework, sociologists study religious behavior as a social phenomenon (Smith and Green 1995: 905).
Sola Scriptura: A Latin phrase translated as "by Scripture alone," used in the Protestant tradition to signify that biblical scriptures are the ultimate authority of faith and practice. This was a response to the Catholic emphasis on church traditions as an authority (Reid et al. 1990: 1111).
Soul: The animating force conjoined with the body in a human being. Many believe that the soul is capable of separating from the body at death and under special conditions, like dreaming (see astral projection). In some dualistic traditions, the soul is understood as divine and in opposition to the body. The belief in the soul pervades various religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Smith and Green 1995: 1012-1013).
Southern Christian Leadership Conference: Founded in 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was monumental in the Civil Rights Movement. The organization believed that racial equality was a Christian imperative and utilized non-violent protests to combat racism. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., SCLC members organized protests in Albany (1962), Birmingham (1963), St. Augustine (1964), and Selma (1965). For more information on the SCLC, click here.
Speaking In Tongues: The practice of speaking in unknown or foreign languages by charismatic and Pentecostal Christians. It is usually seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit first described in the New Testament book of Acts. It is also known as "glossolalia" (Reid et al. 1990: 1179-1180).
Spiritualist Family: Churches and other religious associations teaching that believers can communicate with spirits and the deceased through such practices as seances and other paranormal activities (Melton 2009: 747-750). Churches in the Spiritualist tradition include the Swedenborgian Church and the International General Assembly of Spiritualists.
Spirituality: An orientation toward transcendent or supernatural realities outside any strict doctrinal framework. This primarily includes beliefs and practices that are internal and privatized. For more information on this concept, click here.
Stake: A regional association of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) congregations or wards.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (1815-1902): Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was an important women’s rights leader in the 19th century, who, along with Susan B. Anthony, convened the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. However, it was her controversial biblical commentary, known as The Woman’s Bible (1895), that led many in the movement to disaffiliate with her. Nonetheless, The Woman’s Bible helped pioneer feminist theology. For more information on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, click here.
Star of David (Magen David): A six-pointed star that is an important symbol of Judaism, similar to the importance of the symbol of the cross in Christianity. In the Middle Ages, both Jews and Christians used the Magen David as a symbol to protect against the powers of demons. It was only after the emancipation of European Jewry in the 19th century that it became centrally associated with Judaism (Smith and Green 1995: 673).
Stations of the Cross: Fourteen images that depict the Passion of Jesus in his last hours, from condemnation through his crucifixion. Stations of the Cross are found in some Roman Catholic churches and Episcopal churches. Mel Gibson fashioned his film The Passion of the Christ from the Stations of the Cross (Prothero 2008: 284).
Stigmata: The imprinted wounds on the hands and feet that resemble the wounds of Jesus Christ. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was the first to report experiencing stigmata. The Roman Catholic Church is cautious about the validity of stigmata (Smith and Green 1995: 1026).
Strictness Theory: This theory suggests that strict religious groups will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment, while more lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit lower levels of commitment. Kelley (1972) posited three primary aspects of strictness: 1) ideological; 2) lifestyle or behavioral; 3) and policing. For more on this theory, click here.
Sub-Cultural Identity Theory: A theory that posits that religion survives and can thrive in pluralistic, modern society by embedding itself in subcultures that offer satisfying, morally-orienting collective identities which provide adherents with meaning and a sense of belonging. For more information, click here.
Sufism: A term used to describe a wide variety of mystical and disciplined orders found throughout the Islamic world. It is an eclectic movement that draws from Christian and Gnostic elements. There is an emphasis on ecstatic experience, the immediate knowledge of God, in contrast to secondhand knowledge from theologians (Melton 2009: 927).
Sunday School: An educational ministry for children and adults usually held before or after worship services in Christian churches. In Judaism, there are educational classes for children that serve a similar purpose and are sometimes called Hebrew school. The Sunday school movement migrated from England to the United States in the 1790s, although the purpose at the time was to teach working-class children how to read (Prothero 2008: 100).
Sunday, William "Billy" (1862-1935): Billy Sunday was a prominent evangelist who led revivals in the early 20th century. He passionately advocated a prohibition of alcohol and strengthened conservative Protestantism. For more information on Billy Sunday, click here.
Sunni Islam: A branch of Islam that teaches that the process of interpretation of the law was closed in the 10th century. Before that there were four legal traditions: Hanafi, Malaki, Shafi and Hanbali. Sunnis are expected to follow one of the four traditions, which is somewhat difficult for American Muslims from different schools who share the same mosque. Sunnis make up 90 percent of the one billion Muslims in the world (Mead et al. 2005: 339-340).
Supernatural: A term referring to forces or entities beyond or outside nature that can suspend, alter, or ignore physical forces (Stark and Finke 2000: 277).
Surah: The chapters in the Koran, arranged from the largest in content to the smallest. The 286 Surahs detail the revelations communicated through the Prophet Muhammad. Since they are ordered by size, and not chronologically or thematically, it can be difficult to follow without any additional commentaries. For this reason, the hadith accounts can be very useful in understanding the context of certain passages. Muslims believe that the Koran was initially preserved in oral and written form during the lifetime of the Prophet. Muslims also do not believe that Muhammad was the author, nor editor, of the Surahs because they consider the scriptures to be the eternal word of God (Esposito 2011: 9).
Synagogue: The Jewish building for public worship. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the synagogue has been a central component of Jewish religious and cultural life (Smith and Green 1995: 1041).
Synod: An official meeting of ministers and other members of the Christian church. This term also can refer to an association of churches, such as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Smith and Green 1995: 1044).
Taliban: Islamic militants who were trained in Pakistani refugee camps during the Russo-Afghan war. The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and turned it into a theocratic state under Mullah Muhammad Omar. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 because the state was providing shelter and protection to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda (Prothero 2008: 285).
Talmud: A text of commentary and traditions supplementing the Torah and other Old Testament writings. There are two Talmuds: the first is called the Talmud of the Land of Israel, and was completed in Israel between 400-500 CE. The second is called the Talmud of Babylonia, and was completed around 600 CE in present-day Iraq (Smith and Green 1995: 1048).
Tantra: An esoteric tradition common to both Hinduism and Buddhism (see Tantric Buddhism). It often defies caste and gender orthopraxy, and is believed to lead to nirvana faster (Esposito et al. 2012b: G-11).
Tantric (Vajrayana) Buddhism: A form of Buddhism that combines elements of the Theravadan tradition and the Mahayanan tradition based on the belief that everything is permeated by a single power (Shakti) emanating from God. It originated in India around the fifth century CE. It manifests itself in three ways: positive masculine, negative feminine, and the union of the two. Tantric Buddhism is known for its esoteric rituals, including sexual rituals (Melton 2009: 1047).
Taoism: One of the three "Great Teachings of China," along with Buddhism and Confucianism. Lao Tzu (570-490 BCE) founded Taoism, while Chuang Tzu (370-290 BCE) further advanced it in China. They viewed Confucianism as an empty set of rituals, and supported self-cultivation through naturalness and spontaneity. This is known as "philosophical Taoism," as opposed to "religious Taoism," which is a later form that emphasizes physical immortality through meditation and dietary practices (Prothero 2008: 286).
Televangelism: The use of television to teach viewers about Christianity. Well-known televangelists include Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Benny Hinn. The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is an example of a Christian television station used for the purposes of televangelists. For how survey researchers study televangelism, click here.
Temperance: The proper control of one’s desires and one of the four cardinal virtues in the Catholic tradition. It’s often associated with abstaining from alcohol (see Temperance Movement) (McBrien 1995:1244).
Temperance Movement: A century-long effort, beginning in the 19th century, to denounce alcohol consumption in the United States. Many temperance organizations, like the American Temperance Society (est. 1826) and Women’s Christian Temperance Union (est. 1873/1874), had explicit connections to Protestantism and Christian thought. Seven of the 16 founders of the American temperance Society were clergyman. The temperance movement slowly declined in the 1930s, as Prohibition became increasingly unpopular (Reid et al 1990).
Temple: Religious buildings for ritual activities and public worship (see also Synagogue for Jews). They are commonly known in Judaism, Mormonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. There also existed temples in Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome (Smith and Green 1995: 1059-1062).
Ten Commandments (Decalogue): Religious and moral laws given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. This story is found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The Ten Commandments begin with obligations towards God and end with obligations toward one another. There are Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish variations of these statutes (Prothero 2008: 190).
Tension: A term referring to the degree of distinctiveness, separation and antagonism in the relationship between a religious group and the "outside" world (Stark and Finke 2000: 281). For more information on tension, click here.
Theism: The belief in God (Reid et al. 1990: 1167).
Theologian: A person who systematically studies theology or some aspects of theology. In Colonial America, theologians usually were educated pastors who might instruct prospective ministers in a college setting. Theologians became professional academicians and specialists after the advent of seminaries in the 19th century (Reid et al. 1990: 1170).
Theology: The study of God and of his relationship with created reality (Reid et al. 1990: 1170).
Theravada Buddhism: One of the oldest schools of Buddhism that looked to the writings of Sariputra, an early disciple of the Buddha whose method of interpreting Buddha’s teachings was very conservative and emphasized the role of the monastic life as the way to nirvana (Melton 2009: 1043).
Tibetan Book of the Dead: A collection of Buddhist texts focused on the state between death and rebirth. The texts describe a 49-day journey that includes unconsciousness at the moment of death, reawakening in a bodiless form, and the appearance of both peaceful and wrathful deities (Smith and Green 1995: 1075).
Torah: The Hebrew term ("teaching") broadly refers to both the oral and written Jewish Law. More narrowly, it refers to the first five books in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, which Jewish believers consider their most sacred text (Prothero 2008: 287).
Transubstantiation: A Catholic doctrine that the Eucharistic bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ in a literal sense. The term means "substance crossing" or "substance changing." It is based on the literal interpretation of the Last Supper in the Gospel accounts. The Benedictine monk Paschasius Radbertus (c.785-c.860 CE) is credited as the first explicit proponent of the doctrine, although the actual term first appears around 1130 CE. The Protestant reformers rejected this doctrine (Reid et al. 1990: 1184).
Trinity: The Christian term for the community of God made of three "persons" (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The term itself is not in the New Testament, although the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned. The distinctions between the three are relational and not believed to be a separation of power. Jesus is said to be the Son of God. The doctrine of the trinity is somewhat controversial, for critics (e.g. Muslims and Unitarians) claim that it is polytheism, while Christians traditionally defend the doctrine as communal monotheism (Smith and Green 1995: 1100).
Unclaimed Population: As used by the ARDA, the unclaimed population are those that are not adherents of any of the 236 groups included in the Religious Congregations & Membership Study, 2010. This number should not be used as an indicator of irreligion or atheism, as it also includes adherents of groups not included in these data.
Unction: The sacrament of healing in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Since Vatican Council II, Catholicism has used the term "Anointing of the Sick" rather than "unction." This sacrament is based on passages in the New Testament books of Mark and James, as well as early Christian tradition. Medieval practice in Western Christianity limited the sacrament to those who were dying. Vatican Council II restored its earlier general purpose (Reid et al. 1990: 1194).
Unification Church: A new religious movement founded in Korea by Sun Myung Moon in 1954. The full name of the movement is the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. Unification theology is based on Moon's interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. It claims that Jesus’ mission was to restore spiritual and physical salvation to the world, but due to his crucifixion, he was only able to bring spiritual salvation. Moon claims that physical salvation comes through marriage, and as a result, Moon selects members of the church to be married. Their children are considered to be free of a "fallen nature" (Smith and Green 1995: 1109).
Unitarianism: The belief that there is only one God, and thus Jesus was not divine in essence. This tenet dates back to the Protestant Reformation, where Michael Servetus and Faustus Socinus were opposing the concept of the Trinity. Famous Unitarians include Issac Newton, John Locke, and John Milton (Mead et al. 2005: 368). For modern Unitarian/Universalist churches, see the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
Universalism: The belief that ultimately all individuals will be saved (Reid et al. 1990: 1205). For modern Unitarian/Universalist churches, see the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
Upanishads: A collection of texts at the end of the Vedas that record early Hindu speculations on Brahman, atman and moksha. These texts are very influential to Hindu thought (Esposito et al. 2012a: G-5).
Vatican City: An independent state within the city of Rome governed by the pope. It was established by the Lateran Pacts in 1929, and later ratified by the Republic of Italy in 1948. The area is 108.7 acres and has a population of 1,000, making it the smallest country in the world. Its famous buildings include St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel (Smith and Green 1995: 1114).
Vatican Council I: A church-wide council held for Catholics from 1869 to 1870 in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica. Led by Pope Pius IX, the purpose of the Council was to deal with contemporary problems of the time, but it is best known for establishing the definition of papal infallibility (McBrien 1995:1296-1298).
Vatican Council II: A church-wide council held for Catholics from 1962-1965 to renew the church and update Catholic teachings, especially involving the liturgy, religious freedom, and ecumenism (Smith and Green 1995: 1114). For more information on Vatican Council II, click here.
Vedas: The most ancient and sacred texts of Hinduism. It is a large body of Sanskrit texts collected by the Brahmans, or priestly class, who were Aryans who occupied North India. They are dated from 2000-1000 BCE. Until recently, it was preserved through oral tradition (Smith and Green 1995: 1114).
Virgin Birth: A Christian teaching that Mary conceived Jesus without a human father. God miraculously made Mary pregnant without the use of sexual intercourse with Joseph. This doctrine is accepted by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Muslims. This doctrine is not the same as the Immaculate Conception (Prothero 2008: 289).
Virginia's Religious Disestablishment (1786): In 1786, the Virginia legislature passed a bill by Thomas Jefferson ending the Anglican Church’s formal establishment as the state religion. Although Virginia was not the first state to disestablish religion -- North Carolina claimed that honor in 1776 -- it marked the turning point in American disestablishment because of the state's massive population and the out-sized political influence. Virginia’s disestablishment became important to future legal battles regarding the separation of church and state. For more information on this historical event, click here.
Voodoo (Vodou): An African-Christian religion originating in Haiti. Followers serve divine spirits and accept possession by those spirits for spiritual and healing purposes. Recently, the Roman Catholic Church in Haiti attempted to suppress Voodoo. It has spread to Noth America in the cities of New York, Miami, Montreal and is significantly present in New Orleans (Smith and Green 1995: 1126).
Vulgate: The Latin translation of the Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church. In the late fourth century CE, Jerome put together a Latin translation that translated from the Hebrew of the Old Testament instead of the Greek Septuagint as was common at the time. It was deemed the official version of the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century CE, and all Roman Catholic translations were required to use it until 1943 (Smith and Green 1995: 1127).
Wahhabism: A conservative Sunni Muslim movement that seeks to return the Muslim world to the pure Islam in the Koran and restore traditional morality in society. The term derives from the founder of the movement, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), although the term is considered derogatory. Proponents of the movement prefer being called "Muwahhidun" or Salafis. It recently spread to Afghanistan through the Taliban, and has influenced leaders of al-Qaeda, like Osama bin Laden (Prothero 2008: 290).
Warrior Monks: Japanese Buddhist monks who participated in armed violence in the eighth century. They were used to protect the monasteries' interests as they continued to grow. Most of the conflicts were between monasteries, but some warrior monks would threaten the government if their demands were not met. Warrior monks were particularly influential in eleventh through twelfth centuries, but their influence abated when Japan was unified in the sixteenth century (Smith and Green 1995: 1130).
Wesley, Charles (1707-1788): Charles Wesley was an important leader of the Methodist movement. He was influential in having his brother, John, join the group that eventually became the Methodists. He also was a prolific hymn writer. Some of his well-known hymns include "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." For more information on Charles Wesley, click here.
Wesley, John (1703-1791): The founder of Methodism. He was ordained in 1725 in the Church of England. From 1729 to 1735, he led the Holy Club, a group of students who were called Methodists. They performed acts of piety and charity. After his disastrous missionary trip to America, he returned to England. In 1738, he had a religious experience that convinced him the activities of the Methodists could be empowered by grace through faith in Jesus. This led to a revival and a 52-year ministry up until his death (Reid et al. 1990: 1241). For more information on John Wesley, click here.
Western Liturgical Family: Churches represented by or originating from the Roman Catholic Church. Such offshoots include the Old Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church, which differ from the Roman Catholic Church in their rejection of the authority of the pope (Melton 2009: 82). To interactively explore the history of Catholics in America, click here.
Westminster Abbey: The central church of English Christianity. It also is the traditional site for the coronation of British royalty. It was once a Benedictine Abbey, and legend has it that Peter consecrated it (Smith and Green 1995: 1131).
White, Ellen Gould (1827-1915): Ellen Gould White was the co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with her husband, James Springer White. She promoted Saturday as the Christian Sabbath and advocated biblically-based health initiatives. For more information on Ellen White, click here.
White, James Springer (1821-1881): James Springer White was the co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with his wife Ellen Gould White. For more information on James Springer White, click here.
Whitefield, George (1714-1770): George Whitefield was the leading preacher and revivalist of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies. George Whitefield was a Church of England clergyman and itinerant preacher who made seven trips to the American colonies, attracting large crowds during this "preaching tours." For more information on George Whitefield, click here.
Wicca: The common term for many different traditions of Neopagan Witchcraft, also known as "the craft." It is a nature-based religion that celebrates seasonal and life cycles (Smith and Green 1995: 1131).
Willard, Frances (1839-1898): Frances Willard was a Christian social activist who promoted temperance, women’s suffrage, labor reform and home-centered family life. She became involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874 when she began preaching at daily temperance meetings in Chicago, and she eventually became WCTU president in 1879 (see Temperance Movement). In her later life, she promoted Christian socialism, making her a forerunner of the Social Gospel Movement. For more information on Frances Willard, click here.
Williams, Roger (1603-1683): Roger Williams was a theologian, advocate for the separation of civil and church authority, and founder of Rhode Island. For more information on Roger Williams and his role in American history, click here.
Winthrop, John (1588-1649): John Winthrop was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was famous for describing the colony as a "city on a hill." For more information on John Winthrop, click here.
Witherspoon, John (1723-1794): John Witherspoon was an influential Presbyterian minister in Colonial America. As president of the college of New Jersey (Princeton), he helped expand the college’s curriculum, endowment, and enrollment. He also was influential in American politics, serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress, New Jersey state legislature, and the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. For more information on John Witherspoon, click here.
Worship (Christianity): The public and ritual honor given to God in the name of Jesus Christ. It often consists of words (prayers and other ritual formulas) and sacred acts (see sacrament). Protestant churches tend to stress the verbal aspect of Christian worship over sacramental activity. Catholic and Orthodox churches place a larger emphasis on the sacraments (Smith and Green 1995: 260).
Worship Style: The types of activities that occur within the context of worship services in a given religious group. Some worship styles are more liturgical (e.g., Catholic Mass), and some are more spontaneous (e.g., Pentecostal services). For more on this topic, click here.
X, Malcolm (1925-1965): Malcolm X was an active and controversial minister/spokesman for the Nation of Islam from the mid-1950s until 1964. He brought national attention to his religious group and the problems facing the black Americans, though his negative comments toward whites and the civil rights movement received national criticism as well. For more information on Malcolm X, click here.
Yiddish: A vernacular language of Ashkenazi Jews. It is a combination of medieval German with elements from Hebrew, Slavic and other romance languages. It has been used since the Middle Ages and continues to be used today (Smith and Green 1995: 1143).
Yin/Yang: Two forces that oppose, yet complement each other in the world according to Confucianism, Taoism and religion in China. Yin is dark and passive, while yang is bright and active (Prothero 2008: 290-291).
Yoga: A term meaning "union," specifically referring to union with the divine. Early forms of yoga were related to ascetic practices and Hindu philosophy, but now many use it for physical fitness and mental health. In 1893, yoga was introduced to Americans by Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu missionary in the United States. The practice took off in the 1950s and 1960s, and now it is considered mainstream (Prothero 2008: 291).
Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh (1918-2008): Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the founder of Transcendental Meditation and a popular religious figure of the 1960s and 1970s. He became a mentor to rock groups like the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. For more information on this important figure, click here.
Yom Kippur: A Jewish holiday 10 days after the Jewish New Year that entails a 25-hour fast day from dusk until nightfall the following day. It also is known as the Day of Atonement, where Jews seek atonement from God for past sins. It is considered one of the most solemn Jewish holidays, and synagogues are often very crowded on this day (Hinnells 1991: 34).
Young, Brigham (1801-1877): Brigham Young succeeded Joseph Smith as Mormon president. He led the Mormon exodus to Utah and helped expand the church to 150,000 members. Young was one of the most influential leaders in Latter-day Saints history, although critics have noted his controversial history of plural marriage, ban on African-American priesthood, tacit support for slavery, and wars with the American government. For more information on Brigham Young, click here.
Zen Buddhism: A mystical school of Buddhism founded by Daosheng (Tao-sheng) (360-434 CE), who added to Buddhist meditative techniques the doctrine of instantaneous enlightenment—the attainment of enlightenment in one single act. It illuminates the goal of mystical truth in both its objective and subjective aspects (Melton 2009: 1046).
Zionism: It relates to the persistent belief that God's covenant with his people, the Jews, is linked to Palestine and Jerusalem, in particular, and that that land is rightfully theirs (Reid et al. 1990: 1303). The growth of Zionism came with the 1917 Balfour Declaration that committed England to the Zionist cause (Melton 2009: 897).
Zoroastrianism: The religion founded by Zoroaster (c. 1400 BCE) that reforms ancient Persian polytheism into a monotheistic belief system. Zoroastrian teachings include the Avesta and the Pahlavi literature. It is considered dualistic since it has a good god, Ahura Mazda, and an evil god, Angra Mainyu. The religion has influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam, specifically in the concepts of heaven and hell, resurrection of the dead and final judgment (Hinnells 1984: 362-363).
Case: A single unit being studied, such as a person or organization. If 100 people in a congregation were surveyed, then the study contains 100 cases.
Census: An official enumeration of the population, with details as to age, sex and occupation. Usually differs from a survey in that it attempts to count all individuals instead of just a sample.
Correlation: Correlation means "to go together, to vary in unison." For example, people who attend church frequently also tend to pray frequently. Correlations can be either positive or negative. A positive correlation means that the two variables go "up" or "down" at the same time. Prayer goes up with attendance and vice versa. A negative correlation means one variable goes "down" as the other goes "up." Correlation does not mean that one variable actually causes another. Prayer may or may not cause attendance to increase, just like attendance may or may not cause frequency of prayer. Saying something is correlated simply states that the two variables vary together.
Index: An index is a way to combine similar measures into a single measure. Consider how you would measure the religiosity of a person. You could ask the person a single question, such as "how religious are you?" But a more useful strategy might be to ask a series of questions (e.g. frequency of prayer, attendance at religious services, etc.) and combine them into an overall "religiosity score."
Indicator: An empirical manifestation of a concept; for example, the indicator "number of those attending church services" often represents the concept "attendance." See also: "Measure\Measurement."
Measure/Measurement: A measure is a way to scientifically represent some part of the world. This is easier in the natural sciences. If you want to know the weight of an object, you can measure this fairly clearly and accurately. But what if you wanted to measure the religiosity of a person? You could ask in a survey how religious he or she is, how frequently they attend religious services, how often they pray, or some other "measure" of religiosity.
Missing: Data that is absent in a survey. Missing data occurs for a number of reasons. A case may have refused to answer a question, or did not have an opinion on a question. If a person is filling out a survey, he or she may have unintentionally skipped a question. Sometimes a question is only meant for a particular subgroup, such as males. In these cases, females would be intentionally missing from that particular question.
N: The number of cases in a survey. The "N" also can represent the number of people who responded to a particular survey question or the number of people with a particular characteristic. For instance, a study may have surveyed 100 people, but for some questions only 95 or 87 gave responses (see "Missing"). Or, if only 43 of the 100 people were male, the "N" for males is 43.
Per Capita: A rate that refers to the amount of something per individual unit. It is computed by taking the number of cases with a particular characteristic and dividing it by the total number of cases. For instance, if you take the total amount of money received by a congregation and divided by the number of members, you would have "giving per capita," or the average amount of money given per person.
Percentage: A proportion in relation to a whole sample or population usually represented by the number 100. It is computed by taking the number of cases with a particular characteristic and dividing by the total number of cases. For instance, if you wanted to know the number of Catholics in a survey, you can take the number of Catholics and divide by the total number of cases in the survey.
Population: All individual units (i.e. people, organizations, nations, and so on) within a defined group. Before doing a survey or census, researchers must ask exactly what population they are interested in studying. For instance, the "population" of a nation could be all of the individuals in the nation. The "population" of a religious group could be all members or congregations.
Rate: Unlike absolute or raw numbers, rates attempt to make comparisons across units (e.g. states) more meaningful. Consider the absolute number of evangelical adherents in California and Alabama. California has many more evangelicals than Alabama, but it also has many more people. One way to compare the "evangelical" nature of these two states would be to create a rate. How many people out of 1,000 are evangelical in California and Alabama?
Sample/Sampling: Most social research relies on sampling (specifically, random sampling). It is a way to examine only a small percent of a population and obtain results that are extremely similar to what you would find if you did a census of the population. Let's say you wanted to know the opinions of your congregation on an issue, but your congregation is particularly large. It would take a great deal of time to ask every person your question. A much faster way would be to sample 10% of the individuals. If you randomly select those individuals, then your results will be virtually the same as if you had asked everyone and any differences will have a known range of error. This is why you often see statistics presented with a "margin of error."
Statistic: A number derived from a sample that represents some characteristic of a defined population. For instance, "56% of a congregation’s membership is female" represents a statistic if the number came from a random sample of the congregation. If every unit (i.e., person) was counted in a census, then the number is usually called a parameter instead of a statistic.
Survey: A method of obtaining information directly from an individual or organization. A survey typically consists of a series of questions and is usually only given to a sample of a particular population. The ARDA's Data Archive primarily consists of surveys, but also contains census and other forms of data.
Variable: Almost everything in the social world is a variable. People vary in their sex, income, religious affiliation, political opinions, and so on. Surveys attempt to measure this variation by asking questions and providing a range of options for answers. Most social research can be viewed as trying to understand the relationship between different variables. For instance, how does variation in income relate to variation in prayer? Do those with higher incomes pray more or less than lower income individuals?
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