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Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Starting with the letters Aa... to Am...

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See following lists for words beginning with An and Ao to Az

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bulletAbba: 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.
bulletGeneral 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.)
bulletCommon pro-life definition: A drug which causes the death of any form of human life after conception.
bulletThe difference in definitions makes dialog concerning emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning after pill) very difficult. More info.
bulletAbortion 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.
bullet 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. The use of this term has become controversial. Aaron W. Hughes, in his book "Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History" (2012) referred to the term as a "vague referent," "artificial and imprecise," and " "amorphous." Also, the three religions have different stories about the life of Abraham. He recommends that the term not used, at least academically.
bulletAbsentee 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.
bulletAbsolution: 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.
bulletThe belief that absolute truths exist in the field of ethics and morality. Typically, these truths are extracted from a holy text. Antonym is relativism.
bulletThe concept that a monarchy held the ultimate authority in a state. This was typically a king who claimed to rule by divine right.
bulletAcolyte: (From a Greek word for "follower") A layperson who performs minor duties during a religious service.
bulletActivism: 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.
bulletActivist 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 ability, etc.

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 replacing "AD."

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bulletAdhan: The Muslim call to prayer, typically from the minaret at a mosque.
bulletAd 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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. More information on the year and month in which Jesus was born.
bulletAfrican 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.
bulletAgape: 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.

bullet 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. 
bullet 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.
bulletAhimsa: 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.
bulletAlawis: An sect of Islam that originated in the Shia tradition. Many of its followers live in Syria.
bulletAlexandrian 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.
bulletAlim (single), Ulama (plural): Islamic scholar(s).
bulletAliyah: A Jewish term which means an immigration of Jews to Israel. An "oleh" is a single Jew immigrating into Israel. (Plural is "olim").
bullet 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.
bulletAl-Hijra: An Islamic holy day that recalls the trek by Mohammed and his followers to Medina.
bulletAl-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.
bulletAllegory: Interpreting religious texts sybmolically.
bulletAll 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.
bulletAll 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 Roman Catholics.
bullet Alt-right: An extreme-conservative U.S. political movement that wants to replace democracy with a dictatorship and terminate the federal Constitution. It is supported by a group of white supremacists, nationalists, and anti-immigration nativists. They promote neoreaction (NRx) -- the rejection of democracy because it is excessively responsive to changing public wishes. During 2016, the alt-right embraced Donald Trump for the presidency, although many alt-right members had reservations that, as president, he would not go nearly far enough in altering U.S. society and government.
bulletAltar: 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.
bulletAmen: 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 king. 2
bulletAmillennialism: (a.k.a Nonmillennialism) A belief taught by Roman Catholicism, and some Reformed Protestantism and 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.
bulletAmish: 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. More details.

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'."

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See following lists for words beginning with An or Ao to Az

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  1. "Bible Love" at:
  2. "Amen - Meaning & Implication," at:
  3. Joseph Tamney, "Animism," at:

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Copyright 1996 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written on: 1996-MAR-11

Last update: 2017-DEC-22
Author: B.A. Robinson
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