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Glossary of religious and spiritual terms

Starting with the letters "Sp" to "Sz"

Words beginning Sa are described elsewhere

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

Words beginning Sh... to So... are described elsewhere

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 spell to motivate another person to feel sexual attraction towards them.
bullet Spiritism: See necromancy.
bullet Spiritualism: 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.

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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.
bullet Star of David: A Jewish symbol consisting of a six-pointed star.
bullet Stewardship: 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.
bullet Stereotype: 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.
bullet Suffragan bishop: An assistant or subordinate bishop of an diocese -- generally in the Roman Catholic Church or Anglican Communion.
bullet Stupa: A Buddhist term that refers to a burial monument that stands for the Buddha and his attainment of enlightenment.
bullet Subliminal 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.
bullet Subordinationism: 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.
bullet Subordination of the Son, Eternal: See Eternal Subordination of the Son
bullet Substance 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.

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bullet Suffragan 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
bullet Sunnat: 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.
bullet Sura: (a.k.a. Surah): one of the 114 chapters in the Qur'an. They are generally sorted in decreasing length.
bullet Sutra: A Buddhist scripture that includes a teaching by Buddha.
bullet Swastika: See srivatsa.
bullet Sweat lodge: A Native American ritual for purification involving moist hot air in an enclosed space.
bullet Synagogue: From the Greek word for "gathering." A Jewish house of worship.
bullet Syncretistic Religion: A faith that is created from the merger of concepts from two or more religions. Santeria and Vodun are two examples.
bullet Synergism: 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
bullet Synod:
bullet In Roman Catholicism: any official church meeting.

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

References used:

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

  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 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on: 1996-MAR-11

Last update and review: 2016-MAR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson
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