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Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Starting with the letters "Sh" to "So"

Words beginning Sa are described elsewhere

Words beginning Sb... to Se... are described elsewhere

Words beginning Sp... to Sz... are described elsewhere

bullet Shadism: (a.k.a. colorism): A form of racism within the African American community that gives preferential treatment to light skinned persons. See: colorism, homophobia, racism, religism, sexism, and transphobia for other common terms related to discrimination.
bulletShalom: A Hebrew word for peace; often used as a greeting and farewell.
bullet Shamanism: This is a "system of religious and medical beliefs and practices that centers on the shaman, a specific type of magico-religious practitioner...who specializes in contacting and controlling the supernatural." 1 Shamans may be either male or female. Their main task is healing. Shamanism was originally centered in central Asia and Siberia, but is now found throughout the world.
bullet Shari'ah: Four codes of Islamic law. In some cases, Shari'ah provides for very severe punishment -- including limb amputation or execution by very painful means. Some transgressions are viewed as serious crimes within Shari'ah laws, although they are seen as minor and/or victimless crimes in the West.
bulletShakti: (a. k.a. Chiti, Chit Shakti, Kundalini) The Creative Principle in Hinduism. She is viewed as a female Goddess because she gives birth to all things. Sometimes viewed as Devi in her benevolent aspect.
bullet Shaytan: The Muslim name of the evil entity called Satan by others. Shaytan is similar to the Devil in Christianity.

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bullet Shechitah: A Hebrew term for the ritual sacrifice of animals.
bullet Sheep psychology: A derogatory term used to refer to a control over the membership found within some faith groups.

bullet Sheep stealing: The practice of some Christian faith groups who attempt to attract other Christians to membership in their denomination.
bullet Shema: A Jewish prayer, customarily repeated morning, evening and just before going to sleep. It begins: "Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
bullet Shepherding: An relationship in which an experienced Christian, a shepherd, is selected to supervise a new convert. In some denominations, the senior person closely controls almost every aspect of the convert's life. This has major potential to generate spiritual abuse.
bullet Shi'a (a.k.a. Shi'ite and Shiism): The smaller of the two main traditions within Islam. Islam split into two main traditions after the death of the prophet Muhammad: Sunni and Shi'a. The main dispute was over the mechanism to be used to select his successor. The religion has remained divided, with much mutual hatred, violence, terrorism, and mass murder.
bullet Shinto: This is the indigenous religion of Japan. Starting about 500 BCE (or perhaps earlier), it was originally "an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism." 2 It later became the state religion of the country. Church and state were separated just after World War II.
bullet Sheol: A Jewish underworld. A place of the dead in which good and the evil persons alike share an energyless existence separated from God. Mistranslated as "Hell" in the King James Version of the Bible.
bullet Shiva: An mourning interval of seven days following the burial of a family member.
bullet Shoa: (a.k.a. Shoa and Sho'ah) the systematic killing of five to seven million European Jews by the Nazi government during World War II. Sometimes referred to as the Holocaust, although the latter term is sometimes used to refer to all of the ten to fourteen groups of victims, which included Jews, Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies), Russians, Poles, other Slavs,  homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, political prisoners,  etc.
bullet Shofar: A ram's horn used in some Jewish services.
bullet Shrine: Derived from the Old French word "escrim" which referred to a box or case. A sacred place that holds a collection of objects representing a deity, saint, hero, ancestor, martyr, or similar figure of great religious significance.
bullet Shul: A Yiddish word for a Jewish synagogue.
bullet Shunning: (a.k.a. Disfellowshipping): This is a method of disciplining or punishing a member who strays from the group's expected behavior or belief. Other members --often including friends and family -- are expected to have no contact with the shunned individual. In a high intensity faith group where a believer's entire support network is composed of fellow members, this can have disastrous consequences; some have been moved to commit suicide. Various forms of shunning are practiced by Amish, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other conservative religious groups as a means of forcing conformity of belief and behavior.
bullet Sikhism: Although religious scholars generally view Sikhism as a blend of Hinduism and Islam, most Sikhs believe that their religion is unique without precursors, originating from a series of ten gurus, starting with Guru Nanak. Sikhs believe in a single deity, and reject class differences. There are about 18 million Sikhs in the world; most are concentrated in the Punjab region in northwest India.
bullet Simply Green: A South African secular term referring to a local response to save money, avoid wasting energy and water, minimize damage to the environment and protect endangered habitats and species.
bullet Sin: In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words which are translated as sin mean failing to hit the target or missing the mark. Most conservative Christians believe that, since God is pure and just, that a person who sins just once cannot come into God's presence unless they first attain salvation.
bullet Sindonology: The scientific analysis of historical fabric objects. It is often used to refer to tests performed on the Shroud of Turin.

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bullet Sins, The Seven Deadly: The seven deadly sins are: sloth, covetousness, anger, lust, gluttony, envy, and pride.
bullet Six directions: A Buddhist collection of paths: north, south, east, west, up, and down. Wiccan, other Neopagan traditions, Native American spirituality and other Aboriginal religions recognize variations of this -- sometimes including center, and the four points on the compass that lie between the cardinal directions, like northeast and southwest.
bullet Skandas: In Buddhism, the five principal components of the personality: form, sensation, perception, impulse, and consciousness.
bullet Slain in the spirit: (a.k.a. "falling under the Spirit's power," "falling before the Lord," resting in the spirit." A religious phenomenon, generally in Pentecostal or Charismatic meetings in which a person loses motor control over their body, and falls to the floor. It has variously been attributed to religious hysteria by mental health professionals and to a personal encounter with God by fellow believers. Its origins can be traced back to Methodist churches in the late 18th century and to the Azusa Street Revival in the early 20th century.
bullet Social Darwinism: An attempt to apply Charles Darwin's natural selection principles to human society, thus producing a culture that embraces the "survival of the fittest" and practices neglect for those who are less healthy or poor. This is based on a misunderstanding of Darwin's theories. Natural selection, when applied to a society, includes such factors as organizational ability, talent to inspire others, getting groups to cooperate, creativity, perseverance, mental flexibility, etc., in addition to physical fitness.
bullet Sodomite:
bullet In the Bible, the word refers to an inhabitant of the city of Sodom.

bullet In modern usage by religious conservatives: a homosexual. Sodomite is regarded as a derogatory term by most homosexuals, religious liberals, etc.

bullet A new meaning is gradually emerging: a person who is insensitive to the needs of the poor, sick, stranger, marginalized, imprisoned, widowed, etc. This is derived from the growing belief that the sin described in Genesis 19 in the Bible refers to this lack of concern, and not to homosexual behavior or same-sex rape.
bullet Sola Scriptura: (Latin for "by scripture alone"). This was a slogan of the Protestant Reformation that is still active among Protestant faith groups. It is the belief that the Holy Bible is:

"... God's written word [and] is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine. 3

bullet Solstice: The two dates and times each year when the sun reaches its northernmost or southernmost extreme. On the summer solstice, the interval of daylight is at its maximum and the nighttime interval is at its minimum for the year. The reverse occurs at the winter solstice. The solstices happen about June 21 and December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. Many religious holy days are synchronized to the solstices. Wiccans, other Neopagans, Native Americans, followers of many aboriginal religions worldwide, and some Atheists celebrate the solstices.
bullet Sorcery: There are two quite different meanings to this term:

bullet the use of black magic to kill, injure, harm, dominate, manipulate or control other people. This is the primary meaning.

bullet the (usually) benign use of magical powers to influence events without controlling other people.
bullet Soteriology: From the Greek words "soteria" -- salvation, and "logos" -- word or reason . The theological study of salvation.

Soul: Equivalent to the Greek word "psuche" -- breath and the Hebrew word "nephesh." This word has a variety of meanings, including: the seat of personality, the individual or person themselves, the immaterial component of a human that survives death, etc. Among Christians, dichotomists believe that a person is composed of a body and soul; trichotomists believe that a person consists of a body, soul, and spirit. Both derive their beliefs from biblical passages with contrasting meanings. Many scientific investiators believe that the soul does not exist as a separate entity; its functions are performed by the brain, and therefore do not survive death.


Soul Freedom: Freedom of conscience (a.k.a. freedom of thought) as applied to Bible interpretation. This is the concept that an individual has the right and privilege to interpret Scripture for themselves in the context of their religious community, using the best available scholarship. Robert Bellah wrote, in 1997:

"What was so important about the Baptists, and other sectarians such as the Quakers, was the absolute centrality of religious freedom, of the sacredness of individual conscience in matters of religious belief." 4

bullet Soul sleep: The belief that, after death, one's soul sleeps -- and thus the person is unconscious -- until the day of resurrection arrives when the person will awaken, be judged, and spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell. The criteria used to judge people's salvation differs among biblical passages and denominations. Soul sleep is regarded as truth by some denomination, and as heresy by others.

References used:

  1. David Levinson, "Religion: A cross-cultural dictionary," Oxford University Press, (1998). Read reviews or order this book
  2. "The Fountainhead of Miracles, Shinreikyo," has a home page at:
  3. Sola Scriptura," Wikipedia, 2007-JUL-19, at:
  4. Robert N. Bellah, "Is There a Common American Culture?," The Journal for the American Academy of Religion, Volume 66, Number 3, (1998-Fall), Pages 613-625. Online at:
  5. Rowan Moonstone and Durwydd MacTara, "Glossary of Terms Used Frequently in Wicca," Miciigan State University, 1992, at:
  6. "Historical note on the Swastika," Falun Dafa, at:
  7. Dr. Alan Godlas, "Sufism -- Sufis -- Sufi Orders: Sufism's Many Paths," at:
  8. "Sunyata" Wikipedia, at:
  9. F.V. Filson, "The Literary Relations among the Gospels," essay in C.M. Laymon: "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1991)

Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on: 1996-MAR-11

Last update and review: 2015-OCT-25
Author: B.A. Robinson
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