Twitter icon

Facebook icon

About this site
About us
Our statement of belief
Is this your first visit?
Contact us
External links

Recommended books

Visitors' donated essays
Our forum
New essays
Other site features
Hot, controversial topics
Vital notes

World religions
Definition of Christianity
 Shared beliefs
 Handling change
 Bible topics
 Bible inerrancy
 Bible harmony
 Bible Interpreting
 Individuals in the Bible
 Beliefs & creeds
 Da Vinci code
 Revelation & 666
WICCA & Witchcraft
Other religions
Cults and NRMs
Compare Faiths

Non-theistic beliefs

About all religions
Main topics
Basic information
Gods and Goddesses
Handling change
Doubt & security
Confusing terms
End of the World?
True religion?
Seasonal events
More information

Morality & ethics
Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious freedom
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
10 Commandments
Abortion access
Assisted suicide
Death penalty
Environment/Climate change

Gay marriages

Human rights
Gays in military
Sex & gender
Spanking kids
Same-Sex marriages
Stem cells
Women's rights
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news


!!!!!!!! Search error!  If the URL ends something like .htm/  or .htm# delete the character(s) after .htm and hit return.

Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Starting with the letters "Sh" to "Sz"

Sponsored link.

Words beginning with Sa are described elsewhere

Words beginning Sb... to Se... 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 also: colorism, homophobia, racism, religism, sexism, and transphobia
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 in all of the continents of 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, 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.
bulletShaytan: The Muslim name of the evil entity called Satan -- the Devil -- in Christianity.
bulletShechitah: 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 convert other Christians to membership in their denomination.
bulletShema: 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
bulletShepherding: 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, and mass murder.
bulletShinto: This is the indigenous religion of Japan. Starting about 500 BCE (or 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.
bulletSheol: 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.
bulletShiva: An mourning interval of seven days following the burial of a family member.
bulletShoa: (a.k.a. Shoa and Sho'ah) the 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.
bulletShofar: 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.
bulletShul: A Yiddish word for a Jewish synagogue.
bulletShunning: (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.
bulletSikhism: 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.
bulletSimply 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.
bulletSin: 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 the Shroud of Turin.
bulletSins, The Seven Deadly: The seven deadly sins are: sloth, covetousness, anger, lust, gluttony, envy, and pride.
bulletSix 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.
bulletSkandas: 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 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, also includes such factors as organizational ability, talent to inspire others, getting groups to cooperate, creativity, perseverance, mental flexibility, etc., in addition to physical fitness.
bulletIn the Bible, the word refers to an inhabitant of the city of Sodom.

bulletIn modern usage by religious conservatives: a homosexual. It 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.
bulletSola 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 date and time 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.
bulletSorcery: There are two quite different meanings to this term:

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

bulletthe (usually) benign use of magical powers to influence events or people.
bulletSoteriology: From the Greek words "soteria" -- salvation, and "logos" -- word or reason . The theological study of salvation.
bullet 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, 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.
bulletSoul 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.
bullet Spell: a prayer, or verbal direction of magickal energies toward the accomplishment of some goal. 5 Wiccans and other Pagans often use spells, but are not permitted to use them to dominate, manipulate, control or harm another person. For example, a Wiccan is not permitted to cast a love spell to motivate another person to feel attraction towards them.

Sponsored link:

bulletSpiritism: See necromancy.
bulletSpiritualism: See necromancy.

Spirituality: from the Latin word "spiritus," which means "wind" or "breath." This term is defined quite differently by monotheists, polytheists, humanists, followers of new age, Native Americans, secularists, etc. Some common meanings are:

  • Devotion to metaphysical matters, as opposed to worldly things.
  • Activities which renew, lift up, comfort, heal and inspire both ourselves and those with whom we interact.
  • The deepest values and meanings by which people live.
  • Practices to develop a person's inner life, including meditation, private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection, contemplation.
  • Religion minus the dogma, minus the need to control others, and minus an overwhelming fixation with what people do sexuality.
  • Methods of "internal travel" that give richness and meaning to our life, including mental, and physical practices.
  • Our beliefs about what ultimately exists, who we fundamentally are, and our place in the greater scheme of things.
  • Belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself.
  • A sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures, and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life.

bullet Srivatsa (a.k.a. Swastika in German and English): A cross symbol with equal arms bent at a right angle:    This is an ancient positive symbol used by many religions around the world -- e.g.  Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Judaism, and by the ancient Greeks, Germanic tribes, and Native Americans. 6. It was distorted and adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany. Since the 1930s it has been considered a profoundly evil symbol throughout the West.
bullet SSM: An acronym for "Same-Sex Marriage:" a marriage between two persons of the same sex. SSM is sometimes referred to as "gay marriage." However, the latter term is not recommended, because some same-sex marriages include one or two spouses with a bisexual orientation.
bulletStar of David: A Jewish symbol consisting of a six-pointed star.
bulletStewardship: In general usage, stewardship is the wise management and use of resources, whether by an individual, corporation, government, etc. Among many religious conservatives it is the concept that God owns everything and has entrusted certain resources to individual believers who will eventually be held accountable for what they accomplished with those resources.
bulletStereotype: A process of generalization by which an entire group is found to be at fault because of the actions of a few of their members. One example is to blame all homosexuals for child molestation because of the actions of NAMBLA, a homosexual pedophile group which is composed of a handful of members. The term is sometimes used to refer to the condemnation of an entire group because of events that never happened.  One example was the German Nazi government who blamed the loss of World War I on the German Jews -- a very small minority at the time, numbering less than 1% of its citizens.
bullet Stigmata: the presence of wounds on a person's body (usually a woman) in the places where Jesus is believed to have been injured at his crucifixion. Wound's usually appear on the palms of the person even though during his crucifixion, Jesus was either pierced through his wrists or his arms were tied to the crossbar. A nail through the palm of the hand would tear out due to the weight of the body.
bulletSuffragan bishop: An assistant or subordinate bishop of an diocese -- generally in the Roman Catholic Church or Anglican Communion.
bulletStupa: A Buddhist term that refers to a burial monument that stands for the Buddha and his attainment of enlightenment.
bulletSubliminal Messages: Visual or audible messages shown in a way that prevents the conscious mind from recognizing them. Visual messages may be flashed on a screen too fast for the person to sense; audible messages may be played at too low a volume to be detected. Controlled tests have shown that they are completely ineffective. Some people still believe that such messages can enter the individual's subconscious mind and motivate them to take certain actions. See also backmasking.
bulletSubordinationism: An early Christian heresy that Jesus is eternally subordinated to God the Father. This contrasts with the traditional Christian view that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-eternal, interdependent, one in substance, and without any form of hierarchy, order or ranking. The heresy has been adopted by many Evangelical Christians in recent decades and used to support the belief that a woman's role is to be submissive to other males -- in particular to her husband.
bulletSubordination of the Son, Eternal: See Eternal Subordination of the Son
bulletSubstance dualism: The concept that the brain and mind are separate entities: the brain is a physical entity controlled by chemical and electrical processes; the mind is not physical.
bullet Succubus: A female demon who would visit sleeping men at night and engage in sexual activity. This belief was commonly held during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. There were also corresponding male demons, called incubi who were believed to visit women.
bulletSuffragan bishop: an assistant bishop in a diocese.
bullet Sufiism: "Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam." Some Muslims reject the concept that Sufism is part of Islam. 7
bulletSunnat: A Muslim term for an act that is desirable but not obligatory.
bullet Sunni: The larger of the two main tradition within Islam. Islam split into two main traditions after the death of the prophet Muhammad: Sunni and Shi'a (a.k.a. Shiism). The main dispute was over the mechanism to be used to select his successor. The religion remains divided, with much mutual hatred, violence and mass murder.
bullet Sunyata: A Sanskrit term for "emptiness." It is a Buddhist term that asserts that "... everything one encounters in life is empty of absolute identity, permanence, or 'self'. This is because everything is inter-related and mutually dependent - never wholly self-sufficient or independent. 8
bullet Supercessionism: (a.k.a. Replacement Theology). This is the theological concept that, because the vast majority of Jews in the first century CE did not accept Jesus as their Messiah, God unilaterally terminated his covenants with the Jewish people and transferred them to the followers of Christianity.  It relegates Judaism to an inferior position and recognizes Christianity as the 'true' or 'spiritual' Israel. This concept was first developed by Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa 130 to 200 CE). It was largely accepted within the church by the 4th century. It has led to a great deal of persecution of Jews by Christians. Many conservative Protestants still believe in this principle. In opposition to supercessionism is the dual covenant theory -- that God has a different and separate covenant with both Jews and Christians.
bulletSura: (a.k.a. Surah): one of the 114 chapters in the Qur'an. They are generally sorted in decreasing length.
bulletSutra: A Buddhist scripture that includes a teaching by Buddha.
bulletSwastika: See srivatsa.
bulletSweat lodge: A Native American ritual for purification involving moist hot air in an enclosed space.
bulletSynagogue: From the Greek word for "gathering." A Jewish house of worship.
bulletSyncretistic Religion: A faith that is created from the merger of concepts from two or more religions. Santeria and Vodun are two examples.
bulletSynergism: Two or more items interacting in such as way that the end result is greater than each item could have achieved separately. For example, a client who believes in Satan as an evil, quasi-deity who undergoes recovered memory therapy (RMT) is very likely to recover false memory of Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). Just believing in Satan or just undergoing RMT is much less likely to generate false memories of SRA.
bullet Synoptic: From the Greek syn (together) and opsis (appearance). A term used to refer to the gospels Mark, Matthew and Luke. They are in general agreement with each other; each conflicts with the Gospel of John in theme, content, time duration, order of events, and style. "Only ca. 8% of ... [John] is parallel to these other gospels, and even then, no such word-for-word parallelism occurs as we find among the synoptic gospels." 9
bulletIn Roman Catholicism: any official church meeting.

bulletAmong Presbyterian denominations, a religious court between the presbytery and the general assembly.
bulletSystematic theology: The study of God and his relationship with humanity.

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

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
line.gif (538 bytes)
Sponsored link

Go to the previous page, or go to the Glossary of religious terms, or choose:


Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Hot, controversial topics

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

Google Page Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.


Sponsored link: