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Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Words and phrases
starting with the letter "T"

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bulletTabernacle: From the Latin word "tabernaculum" which means a tent.
bulletA tent in which the Jews carried the Ark of the Covenant during the Exodus.
bulletA Mormon temple.
bulletAn early Methodist chapel.
bulletA locked box on a Roman Catholic altar where the Host is stored.
bulletTalit, tallit: A Jewish blue-and-white-striped prayer shawl worn by married Jewish men in Orthodox synagogues and any adult Jew in conservative synagogues.
bulletTalmud: From the Hebrew word for "teaching." A body of Jewish oral law and tradition assembled in written form. It is composed of two parts: The Mishna, which is a rabbinic commentary on the Torah, and the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishna. It exists in two versions: The more important is the Babylonian Talmud, completed about 500 CE. The Palestinian Talmud was completed circa 400 CE.
bullet Tanakh (a.k.a. TaNaK, Tenakh, Tenak, Tanach, & Mikra): The Jewish Bible, a.k.a. the Jewish Scriptures. The word Tanakh is derived from the letters of the Hebrew names of its three components: Torah (a.k.a. Pentateuch), the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; the Nevi'im (a.k.a. Prophets); and the Ketuvim (Writings). "Mikra" is a Hebrew word meaning "that which is read."
bullet Taoism: This religion of about 20 million followers was founded by Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius, and author of  Tao-te-Ching. Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a state religion in 440 CE  At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. Much of Taoism has been destroyed since the Communist victory in 1949; it survives mainly in Taiwan.
bulletTawheed: An Muslim word derived from the Arabic word "Wahhada" which means to join, unite, or combine. In Islam the word refers to Allah (God) and has many shades of meaning, including that God is without partner, a unity, the sole creator and sustainer of the universe, without rival to whom all worship must be directed.
bulletTefillin (a.k.a. phylacteries): Small black leather boxes worn by Orthodox Jewish males on their forehead head and non-dominant arm at weekday morning prayer. They contain passages from the Torah.
bulletTeleological: A system of morality in which the proper choice among two or more options is based on their practical consequences. Whichever choice has the best (or least worse) outcome is the moral decision. Antonym is deontological.
bulletTemple: The term used by Buddhists, Hindus and others to refer to their house of worship. The center for Jewish worship prior to 70 CE was the Temple in Jerusalem. Recently, many Jews use "temple" to refer to the synagogue.
bulletTen Commandments: A set of about 19 different commands and prohibitions which are intended to govern basic human behavior. Three versions appear in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) at: Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. 
bulletTenet: an opinion, principle, dogma, belief, or doctrine that is accepted as true, generally by a faith group.
bullet Territorial Spirits: Many aboriginal religions, and some Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian groups, teach that supernatural forces are associated with a town, city, state, country or other geographic region. Christian groups who believe in these spirits often teach that believers have to aggressively engage in spiritual warfare to defeat these spirits before Christian evangelism can proceed in the area ruled by the spirit.
bulletTerrorism: The use of extreme violence or the threat of violence by states, groups or individuals to generate fear in individuals and thus manipulate their behavior. Currently, most terrorism is either drug or religion based. Some define the term widely to include topics like spanking of children or the teaching of an eternity of torture in Hell as forms of physical or spiritual terrorism.
bulletTeshuvot: A Jewish legal opinion.
bulletTetragram, Tetragrammaton: (From the Greek "tetra" (four) and "gramma" (letter). It consists of four Hebrew letters: Yod, He, Waw and He, transliterated as YHWH, JHVH or JHWH -- the name of God in the Hebrew language. Often translated as "Lord" or mistranslated as "Jehovah" in English versions of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It could never have pronounced as "Jehovah." "Yahweh" is probably a more accurate vocalization. Historically, within Judaism, the name of God was neither spoken nor written.
bulletTextual criticism: A study of biblical text, attempting to identify the words of the original autograph copy and eliminate later forgeries, spelling errors, etc.
bulletTextualism: the belief that a biblical passage's ordinary meaning should govern its interpretation, rather than study of the intent of the author, the culture at the time the passage was written, etc.
bulletTheist: A person who believes in the existence of a personal God who is active in the universe. Sometimes used to include persons who believe in the existence of multiple deities, but who worship only one.
bulletTheistic Evolution: The belief that new species of animals develop from existing species over a very long interval of time, in response to the guidance, supervision, and intervention of a deity.
bullet Theocracy:  From the Greek words: "Theos" (God) and "cratein" (to rule). A government in which the church and state are unified. Such a union is generally has disastrous effects on human rights, particularly for women, persons with a minority sexual orientation, persons with a minority gender identity, and various other minorities. This form of government is common among Muslim countries. 
bulletTheodicy: From the Greek words "Theos" (God) and "dike" (justice). Attempts to harmonize the goodness of God with the existence of evil in the world.
bulletTheological anthropology: The study of humanity from the standpoint of our relationship with God.
bulletTheology: From the Greek words meaning "study of deity." The study of religion.
bulletTheology of displacement: A synonym for "supercessionism:" the concept that Christianity replaced Judaism because God unilaterally abrogated his Old Testament covenant with the Jewish people.
bulletTheophagy: The practice of eating the body of a god. This procedure has ancient roots. It is performed symbolically in most Protestant communion services. However, Roman Catholics believe that both the wine and wafer consumed during Mass are the "real presence" of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.
bulletTheophany: "Theophany" means "to make known" or "to reveal." It is usually used to refer to a direct communication from God to one or more humans. Eastern Orthodox Christians observe a holy day by this name; it recalls the baptism of Yeshua of Nazareth, allegedly on JAN-6 according to the Julian Calendar.  Eastern Christians believe that Jesus' divinity was reveled at his baptism. The Western church celebrates the Epiphany on JAN-6.
bulletTheosis: (a.k.a. deification, divinization, participation in God) The concept that Christians can become participants in the life of God, while not sharing in God's essence. The precise definition varies among Christian denominations and theologians. This is based, in part, on 2 Peter 1:4: "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature..." 2
bulletTherapeutic Touch: A holistic health practice in which the practitioner moves their hands above the patients body, and balance or release the natural energy of the latter's body. This is said to facilitating healing. A high school student conducted a series of experiments for a science project, that proved that therapists cannot measure body energy fields. This appears to destroy the credibility of this therapeutic technique.
bulletTherevada: A Buddhist term in Sanskrit that means the school or way of the elders. It recognizes the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Because it emphasizes personal liberation over collective liberation, it is sometimes referred to as the Hinayana or "Lesser Vehicle" school of Buddhism -- a derogatory term. It is found in Sri Lanka and throughout Southern Asia.
bulletTikkun olam: A Jewish term usually translated as "repairing the world." First used by Isaac Luria, a Cabbalist from the 16th century. It describes the obligation of a Jews to do good works, promoting peace, understanding, and help for the hungry, homeless and oppressed.
bulletTithe: The practice of donating 10% of one's income to the church. "Triple Tithing" is also used; it consists of 13% of one's income, donated according to a specified schedule.
bulletTolerance, General: The willingness to grant to other people equal rights and freedom from persecution and oppression, irrespective of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, language, nationality, language, ability status, marital status, etc.

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bulletTolerance, Religious: This very important term unfortunately has multiple, very different, meanings. Conservative Christians often believe that it involves the belief:
bulletThat all religions are the same, and/or
bulletThat all religions are equally true, and/or
bulletThat all religions are simply different paths to God.

Others define religious tolerance as:
bulletValuing the human right of other people to freely hold religious beliefs which are different from your own, without oppression or persecution. This is the meaning that we use in this web site.

With such different definitions for the same term, dialog between conservative Christians and others on this topic is almost impossible.
bulletTongues, speaking in: See glossolilia.
bulletTorah: From the Hebrew word for "teaching" or "law." The Torah, (a.k.a. Pentateuch, or the Law) are the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Most conservative Christians and Jews believe that they were written mainly or entirely by Moses. There is a near consensus among other theologians that they were written and edited by many persons or groups of persons over a period of many centuries.
bulletTotal inability: Alternative description of the first of the The Five Points of Calvinism: the belief that it is impossible for the ordinary "natural" human to understand the Gospel's message. They are spiritually helpless. First, God must first decide to intervene in the form of the third personality within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, the person is lost.
bulletTotal depravity: This is the first of the The Five Points of Calvinism: the belief that as a result of Adam and Eve's disobedience to God -- the Fall of Man -- sin has extended to all parts of every person's being: "his thinking, his emotions and his will."
bulletTouch for health: See Therapeutic Touch.
bulletTouch therapy: See Therapeutic Touch.
bulletTractarianism: Synonym for Anglo Catholicism.
bulletTradition: a term used by Neopagans to indicate the group that is being referred to. It is analogous to "denomination" in Christianity.
bulletTraditional marriage: The union of one man and one women to the exclusion of all others, freely entered into. Most of the eight family and marriage types mentioned in the Bible do not represent natural marriage. The term is typically used by individuals and groups opposed to same-sex marriage who wish to keep marriage as a special privilege offered only to opposite-sex couples.

Traditionalism: In a religious sense:

  • The belief that, after death, unsaved people will  be tormented for all eternity of time in Hell without hope of mercy or relief. This contrasts with:
    • Annihilationism (a.k.a. conditionalism  and conditional immortality) which teaches that these individuals spend only an interval of time being tortured in Hell; they are then exterminated and cease to exist, and
    •  Universalism which teaches that all will be saved and attain Heaven.

  • The belief that one is unable to learn fundamental metaphysical, moral or religious truths through the use of reason. It is must be an act of faith based on revelation.
bullet Traditionalism: the concept that deity is remote from the world and the rest of the universe.
bulletTranscendence: Being beyond the limits of all human experience and knowledge.
bulletTransference of the Holy Spirit: The concept that a person can transfer or impart a blessing to another person, often by physical contact, as in the laying on of hands. In some Christian denominations, it is believed that one Christian can transfer either demons or the Holy Spirit to another person by the laying on of hands.
bulletTransferability of sin: A concept, supported by numerous biblical examples, in which the responsibility and punishment for sinful actions of one person can be ethically transferred to an innocent person. This is one of the foundational themes taught throughout the Bible, but one that is rarely acknowledged today. A logical corollary of the transferability of sin is that the innocent person can be punished for the behavior that they did not commit. This concept, considered immoral by all world religions, naturally leads to the idea of collective responsibility.
bulletIn Christianity, this refers to the transfiguration of Jesus as described in three of the gospels: Mark 9:2-13, Matthew 17:1-13, and Luke 9:28-36. Jesus climbed Mount Tabor with three of his disciples, and was joined by Moses and Elija. All three appeared clothed in dazzling white. Luke records how God's voice came from the cloud, saying "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." 1

bulletIn the Harry Potter series of books for children, transfiguration refers to the use of magic to change the appearance of an object - e.g. from a toothpick to a needle.
bulletTransgender: An individual whose feelings of gender identity do not match their gender assigned at birth. Some feel that they are female trapped in a male body, or vice-versa. Therapy has had a zero success rate trying to harmonize the persons perceived and genetic genders.
bullet Transhumanism: This is not a religious or ethical term. We have included it only because some people might confuse it with Humanism. Transhumanism is " international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to enhance human mental and physical abilities. They hope to eventually eliminate disease, aging and death." 4 Potential technologies include virtual reality, gene therapy, space colonization, autonomous robotics, molecular manufacturing, etc.

bulletTransmigration of the Soul: The Hindu belief that at death, a person's soul is reborn into another living entity. Often, this is a new human. But if the individual has accumulated a negative balance of Karma, they may return as an animal. This term is often confused with Reincarnation.
bullet Transphobia: Any attitude, action or institutional structure which systematically treats an individual or group of individuals differently because of their gender identity or their perceived gender identity. See also colorism, homophobia, racism, religism, sexism, shadeism, and transphobia for other forms of bigotry. The most common forms of transphobia in North America is discrimination against transgender persons and transsexuals in employment, accommodation, ordination, church membership, and church leadership. A secondary meaning of transphobia is fear or loathing of persons with a specific gender identity.
bulletTranssexual: An individual who is severely distressed by a conflict between their assigned birth gender, and their personal feelings of their actual gender. There is no standardized definition of "transsexual;" however it is often used to refer to a transgender persons who is planning or has gone through gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatment.
bulletTransubstantiation: The belief, held by Roman Catholics, that during the Lord's Supper, the Holy Spirit transforms the wafer and wine into the actual body and blood -- and sometimes the soul and divinity -- of Jesus.
bulletTribulation: A period of seven years of great misery and death when God pours out his hatred on humans. It is described in Revelation 14:9-16.
bulletTrichotomy: The belief that a person is composed of three parts: body, soul and spirit. An opposing belief, also justified by reference to biblical passages is Dichotomy: In the field of religion, this is the concept that a person is made up of a body and a soul, or of a body and a spirit.
bulletTrickster: Within Native American spirituality, a trickster is a mythical hero who teaches culture, proper behavior and provides sustenance to the tribe.
bullet Tridentine: Latin for "of Trent:" A Roman Catholic term pertaining to the Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563 CE.
bulletThe Christian belief that deity is simultaneously a unity and is composed of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the ancient Athanasian Creed is worded, the Trinity is "one God" and "three persons... and yet they are not three Gods, but one God." Extensive debate about the nature of God and of Jesus split the Christian movement during the early centuries of the Church until this concept was forced on the church by the Emperor Constantine.
bulletThe Hindu belief that Brahman is simultaneously visualized as a unity, and as a trinity composed of: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
bullet The belief among many Neopagans that the Goddess exists as a trinity, composed of Maiden, Mother and Crone, representing energy and sexuality, fertility, and wisdom.
bulletTrinity, Economic: Christian concepts of how God has revealed himself to humanity.
bulletTrinity, Ontological: Christian concepts of how the three persons in the Trinity relate to each other.
bulletTritheism: The belief in the existence of three deities. This is one form of polytheism. A small minority of Christians believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three different entities, or that God and Jesus are separate and the Holy Spirit is a type of force.
bulletA short phrase sung by a choir during a religious service to backup words being spoken.
bulletA figure of speech in which words are not used in their literal sense; examples include a metaphor, simile, allegory, irony, etc.
bulletTwo Covenant theory: See dual covenant theory
bullet Two Spirited: An North American Aboriginal term that includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

References used: 

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Transfiguration," at:
  2. R.V. Rakestraw, "Becoming like God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis," at:
  3. "The Meaning of the Tetragrammaton," at:
  4. "Transhumanism," Wikipedia, at:
  5. Taken from the first national climate survey on homophobia in Canadian schools, by Egale Canada and the University of Winnipeg. See:

Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on: 1996-MAR-11
Last update: 2015-MAR-02
Author: B.A. Robinson
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