Glossary of religious and spiritual terms
Starting with the letters Aa... to Am...
See following lists for words beginning with An and Ao to Az
|Abba: An Aramaic word for father, typically used by a child
when addressing their own parent. Jesus used the term when addressing
God. "Papa" might be the best translation in English. Not to be
confused with a really neat Swedish singing quartet.
|General medical definition: A drug which causes the
interruption of a pregnancy and the death of
an embryo or fetus. (Pregnancy begins when the pre-embryo attaches to
the wall of the uterus.)|
|Common pro-life definition: A drug which causes the death of
any form of human life after conception.|
|The difference in definitions makes dialog concerning
emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning
after pill) very difficult. More info.|
|Abortion grays: This is a term used to refer to those American
adults who are not strongly pro-life or pro-choice. They have reservations
about abortion but do not wish to see it criminalized. They may well form
the majority of adults. They are as opposed to enforced childbirth for every
pregnant woman as they are to completely free access to abortion at any
stage of pregnancy for any reason.
|Abrahamic: (a.k.a. Abramic) A group of religions that recognize Abraham as a
patriarch. This includes Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Sometimes,
the Baha'i Faith is included in the list.
Many smaller non-Jewish groups such as Samaritans, Falashas, Karaits,
etc, also trace their spiritual roots back to Abraham, but are not often
cited as Abrahamic religions.
|Absentee Property Law: An Israeli law that considers all land in
Israel that was abandoned by Palestinians when they were driven from Israel
now belongs to the state.
|Absolution: In legal terms, it is the act of a judge or jury
declaring a person innocent of a crime. In a religious sense, it
involves a person being freed from guilt or sin. In the Roman Catholic
Church, a priest can declare the sins of a penitent person to be
forgiven if they sincerely plan to avoid such behavior in the future.
|The belief that absolute truths exist in the
field of ethics and morality. Typically, these truths are extracted from a holy
text. Antonym is relativism.|
|The concept that a monarchy held the ultimate authority in a state. This was
typically a king who claimed to rule by divine right.|
|Acolyte: (From a Greek word for "follower") A layperson who
performs minor duties during a religious service.
|Activism: Promoting social change. In a religious sense, the term
is often used by Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians to refer to
the expression of the gospel in
various ways, including missionary outreach and social reform.
|Activist judges: A term, typically used by social or religious
conservatives, to refer to judges who give state or federal constitutions
priority over ordinary laws, and rule in favor of equal justice and liberty
for all persons, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, degree of
AD: (a.k.a. A.D.) An acronym for anno domini, the year of the
Lord. It refers to the number of years since the birth of Yeshua of
Nazareth, a.k.a. Jesus Christ. In reality, Jesus was born probably in the
Fall of a year between 4 and 7 BCE. "CE,"
an acronym for the religiously neutral term "common era" is gradually
|Adhan: The Muslim call to prayer, typically from the minaret at
|Ad Hominem: The action of attacking a person's character,
expertise, ethics, knowledge etc. as an attempt to discredit their ideas
without taking on the more difficult task of debating the ideas themselves.
||Adoptionism: A belief, universally held within the earliest
Christian movement, and still active in the 2nd and 3rd
century CE, that Jesus was a normal human being, a prophet, who was born as any other human, and is not a deity.
God later gave him supernatural powers at his baptism when God chose Jesus
as his "adopted" son. Adoptionism was later declared a heresy by a
number of early church councils.
|Advent: From the Latin word "adventus" or coming: A period of time before Christmas, beginning on the
Sunday closest to NOV-30 when the birth of Jesus is recalled. Advent candles are often lit.
|African Independent Churches (AICs; a.k.a. African Indigenous
Churches): African-based Christian faith groups which range from
variations of Western denominations to syncretistic tribal groups which
combine selective elements of Christianity with local existing traditions.
|Agape: A Greek word for love that is found frequently in the Christian
Scriptures (New Testament) in noun form as "agape" and in verb form
as "agapao." 1 It is different from
erotic love. It is supposed to be the characteristic attitude of
Christians toward one another, (John 13:34), and toward all humanity, 1
Thessalonians. 3:12; 1 Corinthians 16:14; 2 Peter 1:7.
Agency: This term has multiple meanings:
- The most common use is to refer to an organization, like a government agency, advertising agency, news agency, etc.
- When used as a legal term, it refer to one person acting on behalf of another person.
- It is a moral term referring to a living entity capable of making moral judgments.
- In philosophy or religion it refers to a living entity to take action in their environment.
||Agnostic: a person who neither believes, nor does not believe, in the existence of a God. They remain neutral on the subject because they believe that, at our present
level of knowledge, we cannot prove that a God exists or that does not exist. |
||Agunah: A Jewish woman who is not free to remarry, generally
because her husband refuses to give her a get (divorce), or because he has
disappeared and it is not known whether he is alive or dead, or because he is not mentally
competent to give her a get.
|Ahimsa: Taking care and concern to avoid injury to any sentient
creature. This is the first of the five precepts of
Buddhist life and a major principle of Jainism.
|Alawis: An sect of Islam that originated in the Shia tradition.
Many of its followers live in Syria.
|Alexandrian School: One of the two great schools of biblical
interpretation in the early Church. They incorporated Greek Pagan
philosophical beliefs from Plato's teachings into Christianity. They
interpreted much of the Bible allegorically. The school was was established in
Alexandria, Egypt in the late second century CE.
|Alim (single), Ulama (plural): Islamic scholar(s).
|Aliyah: A Jewish term which means an immigration of Jews to
Israel. An "oleh" is a single Jew immigrating into Israel. (Plural is
||Allah: This is an Arabic word which means "the One True God."
Most Armenian Christians, other Christians throughout the Middle East where Arabic is spoken, and most Muslims in the West use Allah to refer to God or use Allah and God interchangeably. However, many in the Western media restrict their use of the term "Allah" to refer only to the deity worshiped by Muslims.
|Al-Hijra: An Islamic holy day that recalls the trek by
Mohammed and his followers to Medina.
|Al-Sajdah: This is the the act of prostration by a
Muslim during which seven parts of the body are to touch the ground:
the forehead, palms, knees and big toes.
|Allegory: Interpreting religious texts sybmolically.
|All Saints Day: A Christian day of remembrance of the saints
of the faith- both recognized and unknown. It has been observed since
609 CE. The Western church celebrates it on
NOV-1; Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate All Saints Day in
the springtime -- on the Sunday after Pentecost.
|All Souls' Day (a.k.a. the Day of the Dead), is
celebrated yearly on NOV-2. This is a day for prayer and
almsgiving in memory of ancestors who have died. Believers pray for
the souls of the dead, in an effort to hasten their transition from Purgatory
to Heaven. It is primarily observed by
|Altar: A table-like structure originally used for ritual
sacrifice of animals, and occasionally of humans. Now used as a central
focus in Jewish, Christian, Neopagan, and other religious services.
|Amen: The word is related to "Emunah" in Hebrew, which
means faith and/or belief. Adding "Amen" at the end of "...a blessing
or a prayer demonstrates a statement of affirmation that the blessing is
true and hope that the prayer will be answered." "Amen" is
also a near acronym; its four letters stand for the three Hebrew words:
"Aiy'l Melech Ne-eman" which mean that God is a true and faithful
|Amillennialism: (a.k.a Nonmillennialism)
A belief taught by Roman Catholicism, and some Reformed Protestantism
Baptist churches concerning the end of the world. We are currently in
the "millennium." End time events described in the
book of Revelation and elsewhere in the New
Testament have mostly taken place. The Antichrist is viewed
figuratively and not as a real person. This was the universal
belief of Christianity up until the 19th century.
|Amish: A very conservative Christian group which broke away
from the larger Anabaptist movement in the Alsace region in France
during the late 17th century. Most Amish now live in the U.S. and Canada
-- largely in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They isolate themselves
from the larger American/Canadian culture. Most are farmers.
Amitabha or Amituofo:
According to the USA Shaolin Temple's web site:
"Amituofo means a multitude of things, depending on how it is used. It can be a greeting, a salutation, a blessing, or it can mean 'please' or 'I'm sorry.' You can use it to express anything from your heart. Literally, it is the name of a Buddha, the 'Amita' Buddha ('fo' being the Chinese word for Buddha). It is pronounced 'Ah-mee-twoh-foh'. 'Amituofo' is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit 'Amitabha'."
See following lists for words beginning with An or Ao to Az
- "Bible Love" at:
- "Amen - Meaning & Implication," at:
- Joseph Tamney, "Animism," at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written on: 1996-MAR-11
Last update: 2016-MAY-29
Author: B.A. Robinson