Christianity Vocab

Apocalypticism:

The belief that the world will soon come to and end; this belief usually includes the notion of a great battle, final judgement, and reward of the good.

Apostle:

One of Jesus’s twelve disciples; also, any early preacher of Christianity.

Baptism:

The Christian rite of initiation, involving immersion in water or sprinkling with water.

Bible:

The scriptures sacred to Christians, consisting of the books of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

Bishop:

“Overseer” (Greek); a priest and church leader who is in charge of a large geographical area called a diocese.

Canon:

“Measure,” “rule” (Greek); a list of authoritative books or documents.

Ecumenism:

“Good gift” (Greek); the Lord’s Supper.

Evangelical:

Emphasizing the authority of scripture; an adjective used to identify certain Protestant groups.

Evangelist:

“Good news person” (Greek); one of the four “authors of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Filioque:

“And from the Son”; a Latin word added to the Nicene Creed in the Western Church to state that only the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son. The notion, which was not accepted by Orthodox Christianity, contributed to the separation between the Western and Eastern churches.

Gospel:

“Good news” (Middle English); an account of the life of Jesus.

Icon:

“Image” (Greek); religious painting on wood, as used in the Orthodox Church; also spelled ikon.

Incarnation:

“In flesh” (Latin); a belief that God became visible in Jesus.

Indulgence:

“Kindness-toward” (Latin); remission of the period spent in purgatory (a state of temporary punishment in the afterlife); this is part of the Catholic belief and practice.

Lent:

“Lengthening day,” “spring” (Old English); the preparatory period before Easter, lasting for days.

Messiah:

“Anointed” (Hebrew); a special messenger sent by God, foretold in the Hebrew scriptures and believed by Christians to be Jesus.

Original Sin:

An inclination toward evil, inherited by human beings as a result of Adam’s disobedience.

Orthodox:

“Straight opinion” (Greek); correct belief.

Orthodoxy:

The major Eastern branch of Christianity.

Patriarch:

“Father source” (Greek); the bishop of one of the major early sites of Christianity (Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Moscow).

Pope:

“Father” (Latin and Greek); the bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church; the term is also used for the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria.

Predestination:

The belief that because God is all-powerful and all-knowing, a human being’s ultimate reward or punishment is already decreed by God; a notion emphasized in Calvinism.

Protestant Principle:

The right of each believer to radically rethink and interpret the ideas and values of Christianity, apart from any church authority.

Redemption:

“Buy again,” “buy back” (Latin); the belief that the death of Jesus has paid the price of justice for all human wrongdoing.

Righteousness:

Being sinless in the sight of God; also called justification.

Sacrament:

“Sacred action” (Latin); one of the essential rituals of Christianity.

Sin:

Wrongdoing, seen as disobedience to God.

Testament:

“Contract”; the Old Testament and New Testament constitute the Christian scriptures.

Trinity:

The three “Persons” in God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

Judaism Vocab

Ashkenazim:

Jews who lived in or came from central Europe.

Bar (Bat) Mitzvah:

“Son (daughter) of the commandment” (Aramaic); the coming-of-age ceremony that marks the time when a young person is considered a legal adult within the Jewish community.

Biblical Judaism:

Judaism before the destruction of the second temple (70 CE).

Canaan:

An ancient name for the land of Israel.

Conservative Judaism:

A branch of Judaism that attempts to blend the best of old and new Judaism.

Covenant:

A contract; the contract between the Hebrews and their God, Yahweh.

Diaspora:

The dispersion of Jews beyond Israel, particularly to Persia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean region.

Essenes:

A reclusive semimonastic Jewish group that flourished from c. 150 BCE to 68 CE.

Hanukkah:

An early-winter festival recalling the rededication of the Second Temple, celebrated with the lighting of candles for eight days.

Holocaust:

The destruction of European Judaism by the Nazis; also known as Shoah (Hebrew: “extermination”).

Kabbalah:

“Received,” “handed down”; the whole body of Jewish mystical literature.

Ketuvim:

“Writings”; the third section of the Hebrew scriptures, consisting primarily of poetry, proverbs, and literary works.

Kosher:

“Ritually correct”; refers particularly to food preparation and food consumption.

Menorah:

A candelabrum usually containing seven (and occasionally nine) branches, used for religious celebrations.

Messiah:

A savior figure to be sent by God, awaited by the Jews (see Dan. 7:13-14).

Midrash:

“Search”; rabbinical commentary on the scriptures and oral laws.

Nevi’im:

“Prophets”; the second section of the Hebrew scriptures, made up of historical and prophetic books.

Orthodox Judaism:

The most traditional branch of Judaism.

Passover:

A joyful spring festival that recalls the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt and freedom from oppression.

Pharisees:

A faction during the Second Temple period that emphasized the observance of biblical rules.

Prophet:

A person inspired by God to speak for him.

Purim:

A joyous festival in early spring that recalls the Jews’ being saved from destruction, as told in the Book of Esther.

Rabbi:

A religious teacher; a Jewish minister.

Rabbinical Judaism:

Judaism that developed after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE).

Reconstructionism:

A modern liberal branch of Judaism that emphasizes the cultural aspects of Judaism.

Reform:

A movement beginning in the nineteenth century that questioned  and modernized Judaism; a liberal branch of Judaism.

Rosh Hashanah:

“Beginning of the year”; the celebration of the Jewish New Year, occurring in the seventh lunar month.

Sabbath:

“Rest”; the seventh day of the week (Saturday), a day of prayer and rest from work.

Sadducees:

A priestly faction, influential during the Second Temple period.

Seder:

“Order”; a special ritual meal at Passover, recalling the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt.

Sephardim:

Jews of Spain, Morocco, and the Mediterranean region.

Sukkot:

“Booths”; a festival in the late autumn that recalls the Jews’ period of wandering in the desert after their exodus from Egypt.

Tallit:

A prayer shawl worn by devout males during morning prayer.

Talmud:

An encyclopedic commentary on the Hebrew scriptures.

Tanakh:

The complete Hebrew scriptures, made up of the Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im), and Writings (Ketuvim).

Tefillin:

Phylacteries; two small boxes containing biblical passages, which are worn by Orthodox males on the head and left arm at morning prayer during the week.

Theophany:

A revelation or appearance of God.

Torah:

“Teaching,” “instruction”; the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures; also, the additional instructions of God, believed by many to have been transmitted orally from Moses through a succession of teachers and rabbis.

Western Wall:

The foundation stones of the western wall of the last temple of Jerusalem, today a place of prayer.

Yarmulke:

The skullcap worn by devout males.

Yom Kippur:

Day of Atonement, the most sacred day of the Jewish year.

Zealots:

An anti-Roman, nationalistic Jewish faction, active during the Roman period of control over Israel.

Zionism:

A movement that has encouraged the creation and support of the nation of Israel.

 

Shinto Vocab

Amaterasu:

“Shining in heaven”; goddess of the sun.

Bushido:

“Warrior knight way”; military devotion to a ruler, demanding loyalty, duty, and self-sacrifice; an ideal promoted by State Shinto.

Gagaku:

The stately ceremonial music of Shinto.

Ise:

Location in southeastern Honshu of a major shrine to Amaterasu.

Izanagi:

“Male who invites”; primordial male parent god.

Izanami:

“Female who invites”; primordial female parent god.

Jinja:

A Shinto shrine.

Kami:

A spirit, god, or goddess of Shinto.

Kamidana:

A shelf or home altar for the veneration of kami.

Kamikaze:

“Spirit wind”; suicide fighter pilots of World War II.

Kojiki:

The earliest chronicle of Japanese ancient myths.

Misogi:

A ritual of purification that involves standing under a waterfall.

Nihongi:

The second chronicle of Japanese myths and history.

Noh:

Dramas performed in mask and costume, associated with Shinto.

Omoto:

A New Religion, which stresses art and beauty.

Samurai:

Feudal soldier.

Shimenawa:

Twisted rope, marking a sacred spot.

Tenrikyo:

A New Religion devoted to human betterment.

Torii:

A gate-like structure that marks a Shinto sacred place.

Daoism and Confucianism Vocab

Analects:

A book of the sayings attributed to Confucius and his early disciples.

Dao:

The mysterious origin of the universe, which is present and visible in everything.

Daodejing:

The classic scripture of Daoism.

Five Classics:

The classical literature of the time preceding Confucius, including poetry, history, and divination.

Four Books:

The major Confucian books, which include the sayings of Confucius and Mencius.

Junzi:

“Noble person”; the refined human ideal of Confucianism.

Laozi:

The legendary founder of Daoism.

Legalists:

The strictest of the Chinese philosophical schools, which advocate strong laws and punishments.

Li:

Appropriate action, ritual, propriety, etiquette.

Qi:

The life force.

Ren:

Empathy, consideration for others, humaneness; a Confucian virtue.

Shu:

Reciprocity; a Confucian virtue.

Wen:

Cultural refinement; a Confucian virtue.

Wu Wei:

“No action,” “no strain,” “effortlessness”; doing only what comes spontaneously and naturally.

Xiao:

Family devotion, filial piety; a Confucian virtue.

Yang:

The active aspect of reality that expresses itself in speech, light, and heat.

Yijing:

An ancient Confucian book of divination, one of the Five Classics, still in use today.

Yin:

The receptive aspect of the universe that expresses itself in silence, darkness, coolness, and rest.

Zhuangzi:

Author of the Zhuangzi, a book of whimsical stories that express themes of early Daoist thought.

Jainism and Sikhism Vocab

Adi Granth:

“Original Collection”; the primary scripture of the Sikhs.

Ajiva:

Matter without soul or life.

Digambara:

“Clothed in sky”; a member of the Jain sect in which monks ideally do not wear clothing.

Gurdwara:

A Sikh temple.

Hylozoism:

The belief that all physical matter has life and feeling.

Japji:

A poem by Guru Nanak that begins the Adi Granth; the poem is recited daily by pious Sikhs.

Jina:

“Conqueror”; the Jain term for a perfected person who will not be reborn.

Jiva:

Spirit, soul, which enlivens matter.

Puja:

Ritual in honor of a tirthankara or deity.

Sallekhana:

“Holy death”; death by self-starvation, valued in Jainism as a noble end to a long life of virtue and detachment.

Shvetambara:

“Clothed in white”; a member of the Jain sect in which monks and nuns wear white clothing.

Sikh:

“Disciple”; a follower of the Sikh religion.

Sthanakavasi:

“Building person”; a member of a Jain sect that rejects the use of statues and temples.

Terapanthi:

“Thirteen”; a member of the newest Jain sect.

Tirthankara:

“Crossing maker”; in Jainism, one of the twenty-four ideal human beings of the past, Mahavira being the most recent.

Buddhism Vocab

Amitabha Buddha:

The Buddha of the Western Paradise, a bliss-body Buddha in Mahayana.

Anatta:

“No self”; the doctrine that there is no soul or permanent essence in people and things.

Anichcha:

Impermanence, constant change.

Arhat:

In Theravada, a person who has practiced monastic disciplines and reached nirvana, the ideal.

Bodhi:

Enlightenment.

Bodhisattva:

“Enlightenment being”; in Mahayana, a person of deep compassion, especially one who does not enter nirvana but is constantly reborn to help others; a heavenly being of compassion.

Dharma:

The totality of Buddhist teaching.

Dhyana:

“Meditation”; focusing of the mind; sometimes, stages of trance.

Dukkha:

Sorrow, misery.

Guanyin:

A popular bodhisattva of compassion in Mahayana.

Karuna:

Compassion, empathy.

Koan:

In Chan and Zen Buddhism, a question that cannot be answered logically; a technique used to test consciousness and bring awakening.

Lama:

A Tibetan Buddhist teacher; a title of honor often given to all Tibetan monks.

Maitreya:

A Buddha (or bodhisattva) expected to appear on earth in the future.

Mandala:

A geometrical design containing deities, circles, squares, symbols, and so on that represents totality, the self, or the universe.

Mudra:

A symbolic hand gesture.

Nirvana:

The release from suffering and rebirth that brings inner peace.

Samadhi:

A state of deep awareness, the result of intensive meditation.

Samsara:

Constant rebirth and the attendant suffering; the everyday world of change.

Sangha:

The community of monks and nuns; lowercased, sangha refers to an individual monastic community.

Satori:

In Zen, the enlightened awareness.

Shunyata:

The Mahayana notion of emptiness, meaning that the universe is empty of permanent reality.

Stupa:

A shrine, usually in the shape of a dome, used to mark Buddhist relics or sacred sites.

Sutra:

A sacred text, especially one said to record the words of the Buddha.

Tathata:

“Thatness,” “thusness,” “suchness”; the uniqueness of each changing moment of reality.

Trikaya:

The three “bodies” of the Buddha (The Dharmakaya (cosmic Buddha nature), the Nirmanakaya (historical Buddhas), and the Sambhogakaya (celestial Buddhas)).

Tripitaka:

The three “basket,” or collections, of Buddhist texts.

Vajra:

The “diamond” scepter used in Tibetan and other types of Buddhist ritual, symbolizing compassion.

Hinduism Vocab

Ahimsa:

“Nonharm,” “nonviolence.”

Ashram:

A spiritual community.

Atman:

The spiritual essence of all individual human beings.

Avatar:

An earthly embodiment of a deity.

Bhagavad Gita:

A religious literary work about Krishna.

Bhakti:

Devotion to a deity or guru.

Bhakti Yoga:

The spiritual discipline of devotion to a deity or guru

Brahma:

God of creation.

Brahman:

The spiritual essence of the universe.

Brahmin:

Member of the priestly caste.

Caste:

A major social class sanctioned by Hinduism.

Devi:

“Goddess”; the Divine Feminine, also called the Great Mother.

Dhyana:

Meditation.

Durga:

“Awe-inspiring,” “distant”; a mother-goddess; a form of Devi.

Guru:

A spiritual teacher.

Hatha Yoga:

The spiritual discipline of postures and bodily exercises.

Jnana Yoga:

The spiritual discipline of knowledge and insight.

Kali:

“Dark,” a form of Devi; a goddess associated with destruction of rebirth.

Karma:

The moral law of cause and effect that determines the direction of rebirth.

Karma Yoga:

The spiritual discipline of selfless action.

Krishna:

A god associated with divine playfulness; a form of Vishnu.

Kundalini Yoga:

A form of raja yoga that envisions the individual’s energy as a force that is capable of being raised from the center of the body to the head, producing a state of joy.

Mantra:

A short sacred phrase, often chanted or used in meditation.

Maya:

“Illusion”; what keeps us from seeing reality correctly; the world, viewed inadequately.

Moksha:

“Liberation” from personal limitation, egotism, and rebirth.

Monism:

The philosophical position that all apparently separate realities are ultimately one; the belief that God and the universe are the same, that the universe is divine.

Puja:

Offerings and ritual in honor of a deity.

Raja Yoga:

The “royal” discipline of meditation.

Rama:

A god and mythical king; a form of Vishnu.

Samadhi:

A state of complete inner peace resulting from meditation.

Samsara:

The everyday world of change and suffering leading to rebirth.

Sannyasin:

A wandering holy man.

Shiva:

A god associated with destruction and rebirth.

Trimurti:

“Three forms” of the divine (the three gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva).

Upanishads:

Written meditations on the spiritual essence of the universe and the self.

Vedas:

Four collections of ancient prayers and rituals:

Vishnu:

A god associated with preservation and love.

Yoga:

A spiritual discipline; a method for perfecting one’s union with the divine.