Religion Glossary

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  • A.D.
    Abbreviation of the Latin phrase anno Domini, translated as “the year of the Lord.” Traditionally, it is used to date years after the birth of Jesus. Scholars and textbooks are increasingly using the abbreviations B.C.E. for “before the common era” and C.E. for “common era” to avoid using terms defined by their relation to Christianity. AP style, however, remains A.D. and B.C. Use A.D. preceding the year, as in A.D. 77. Do not say the seventh century A.D. If A.D. is not specified, it is assumed to be A.D. Use B.C. afterward, as in 255 B.C.
  • abaya
    A robelike garment worn by some women who are Muslims. It is often black and may be a caftan or fabric draped over the shoulders or head. It is sometimes worn with a hijab and/or a niqab.  
  • abortion
    When choosing terms to describe a person’s stance on abortion, journalists should remember that abortion is a nuanced issue, with many people supporting or opposing abortion in some, but not all, circumstances. Take care to describe a person’s view rather than relying on terms popularized in the heated public debate. For example, journalists should use pro-abortion rights or a similar description instead of pro-choice, and opposed to abortion or against abortion rights instead of pro-life. The AP Stylebook advises using anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.
  • adhan
    The Islamic call to prayer. It is chanted in Arabic by a person called a mu’adin or a muezzin. In Muslim neighborhoods, it might be broadcast over speakers. This is a general translation of the call, though there are differences among countries and branches of Islam: God is great. (Four times) I bear witness that there is no god except the One God. (Twice) I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. (Twice) Hurry to the prayer. (Twice) Hurry to success. (Twice) God is great. (Twice) There is no god except the One God.
  • Adi Granth
    Pronounced “Aad granth.” Holy book of the Sikh religion, considered the 11th and lasting guru. It is a compilation of the devotional poetry of Guru Nanak, other Sikh gurus, and saints of other religions. Sikhs consider it the supreme spiritual authority and living guide of the Sikh religion. It is installed under a canopy in every Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) where Sikhs sing, recite and meditate on the scripture. It is also called the Guru Granth Sahib. See Sikhism.
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion
    Black members within the John Street Church in New York City and within American Methodism in general were denied ordination, forced to sit in segregated pews and limited in their access to the Methodist itinerant clergy and the Communion Table. Frustrated by this treatment, two black John Street members, Peter Williams and William Miller, in 1796 founded the African Chapel. The chapel was later renamed Zion Church and its members became known as Zionites. In 1801, with the help of the Rev. John McClaskey a white minister who had opposed the independence efforts of Richard Allen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Philadelphia, the Zion Church was incorporated as the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of New York. James Varick was its first pastor, later becoming the first black African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop. [According to the Religionbook, AME Zion Church is acceptable on second reference.]
  • African Methodist Episocopal (AME) Church
    Independent Methodist organization dedicated to black self-improvement and Pan-Africanist ideals. In 1794, Richard Allen, the first AME bishop, established Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. About 2,000 black Methodists facing persistent discrimination met at Bethel to discuss legal independence from the Methodist church's main body. They voted to organize under the name African Methodist Episcopal Church and the group successfully sued for independence before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. AME is acceptable on second reference and in headlines. See Methodist Episcopal Church.    
  • agnostic
    Someone who is unsure whether there is a God or who believes it is unknowable whether God exists. Sometimes, the former is referred to as weak agnosticism and the latter is called strong agnosticism. Do not confuse with atheist. See atheist.
  • Allah
    Arabic word for God. Some Muslims say they generally say or write God instead of Allah when addressing a non-Muslim to avoid any suggestion that the two are not the same. However, always use Allah when quoting a person or text that uses Allah.  
  • Allahu akbar
    In Arabic it means “God is great” or “God is the greatest.” Muslims say it several times a day, such as during the call for prayer, during prayer, when they are happy and when they wish to express their approval of what they hear.
  • Amish
    The Amish, descendants of the Swiss Anabaptists, are known for their distinctive, plain clothes as well as their commitment to rejecting modern technology, including in some cases cars and electricity. They base their morals and way of life on the Bible, which they interpret literally, and on unwritten rules known as the Ordnung. Amish pastors are called bishops.
  • annul, annulment
    A divorced person who wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church can apply to a church court for an annulment or “declaration of nullity.” This means that the sacramental bond of matrimony never existed in the earlier marriage because at least one of the parties was unwilling or unable to make and keep a promise of permanent, faithful, self-sacrificial marriage in which he or she modeled the love of Christ toward a spouse. A declaration that the sacrament did not exist does not mean that a loving marriage relationship never existed, and it does not make children illegitimate in the eyes of the church or civil law.
  • anti-Semitism
    A prejudice against people of Jewish heritage. It has inspired the Holocaust, physical abuse, slander, economic and social discrimination, vandalism and other crimes. Religious anti-Semitism is based on the idea that all Jews are eternally and collectively responsible for killing Jesus (known as deicide). It has been formally renounced by most major churches, led by the Catholic Church. Although Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, they do not make the anti-Semitic claim against Jews because they do not believe that Jesus was crucified. Economic and political anti-Semitism is rooted in widespread 19th- and 20th-century claims that Jews were engaged in a plot to rule the world.
  • apocalypse, apocalyptic
    A final, cosmic battle between forces of good and evil that encompasses the Earth; for religious believers, it ushers in the reign of God and results in the righteous being raised to everlasting life. Apocalyptic thought dates to ancient times and is present in Judaism, Christianity and other belief systems. The New Testament Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel, found in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, are the best-known Scriptures involving apocalyptic prophecies, but other examples exist. Apocalyptic beliefs are most closely associated with Christians who read the Bible literally and with fringe religious movements. Other Christians are more likely to read Revelation as an allegory. Lowercase apocalypse when referring to the battle ending the world, but uppercase when using the traditional Catholic name for the New Testament Book of Revelation, which in Greek means “Apocalypse.” The Catholic News Service advises using the New American Bible name Revelation instead of Apocalypse except in direct quotations.
  • Ash Wednesday
    In the Western Christian church, the seventh Wednesday before Easter marks the beginning of the Lenten season. The name is taken from a practice of putting ashes on the foreheads of penitent believers as a reminder of their physical return to dust (“ashes to ashes”). The practice is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, and many Lutherans. It is also becoming more popular among other Protestant churches.
  • Ashkenazi
    Pronounced “osh-ken-AH-zee.” A Jew of German, Polish, Austrian or Eastern European descent. From the Middle Ages through the mid-20th century, Ashkenazic Jews developed a distinct culture and spoke predominantly Yiddish (a combination of German and Hebrew) or Slavic languages. During the 19th and 20th centuries, as they faced increasing persecution in Eastern Europe, many Ashkenazic Jews migrated to Western Europe and the United States. Since the mid-18th century, Ashkenazic Jews have made up the majority of Jews in the U.S. After the Holocaust, their numbers were drastically reduced in Europe. Many of the surviving Ashkenazic Jews immigrated to France, the U.S. and current-day Israel. They are estimated to make up 80 percent of the world’s Jewish population. Ashkenazic Jews are also referred to as Ashkenazim. See Sephardi.
  • Asian religions
    Caution. Religion is an imprecise term. Faith in Asia can differ sharply from that of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Temples, for instance, are typically not used for “worship” but for meditation; meditation is not necessarily “prayer;” and to most, but not all, Buddhists, Buddha is not a god. Confucianism and Taoism, much practiced in East Asia, are ways of and guides to living. They are informal combinations of practical philosophies, values, and folk beliefs. See Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Shintoism, Taoism.        
  • atheist
    A person who does not believe in God or other supernatural forces. Some people make a distinction between “weak atheism” (the idea that evidence doesn’t support a belief in God) and “strong atheism” (being convinced that God does not exist). See agnostic.
  • ayatollah
    A Shiite term for senior clergyman. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, but lowercase otherwise.
  • B.C.
    Literally, before Christ or the Christian era. Scholars and textbooks are increasingly using the abbreviations B.C.E. for “before the common era” and C.E. for “common era” to avoid using terms defined by their relation to Christianity. See A.D.
  • Bahá’í, the Bahá’í Faith
    The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion. Its founder, Bahá’u’lláh, taught that all religions represent progressive stages in the revelation of God’s will. There are no clergy; the faith’s affairs are administered by a network of democratically elected councils. The terms Bahaism and Bahaist are incorrect; use the Bahá’í Faith to refer to the religion and Bahá’í to refer to an adherent. For more about Bahá’í Faith go to bahai.org, the website of the worldwide Bahá’í community.
  • Baptist
    When capitalized, the term generally refers to a member of an evangelical Christian grouping marked by baptism by immersion of individuals who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Baptists commonly call this practice believer’s baptism. This distinguishes them from groups that practice infant baptism, such as Catholics and Episcopalians.
  • bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah
    Often translated as “son of the commandment” in Hebrew and Aramaic since "bar" is "son" in Aramaic and "mitzvah" is "commandment" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. ["Bat" is daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic.] [However, a more accurate translation of bar/bat mitzvah is “subject to the commandments.”] This is a milestone in Judaism in which a person is no longer a child in the eyes of Jewish law and is now responsible for his or her own actions spiritually, ethically and morally. A boy automatically reaches the milestone at age 13, while a girl reaches it at age 12 (bat mitzvah). No ceremony is required to mark the passage, although religious ceremonies and receptions are commonplace. [Technically, the term refers to the child who is coming of age, and it is strictly correct to refer to someone as "becoming a bar (or bat) mitzvah." However, the term is commonly used to refer to the coming-of-age ceremony itself, and people often talk about "having a bar mitzvah" or "going to a bar mitzvah."]
  • Bible Belt
    Areas of the United States that are noted for a prevalence of strict evangelical Christian teachings, particularly in the South and Midwest. Writer H.L. Mencken coined the phrase in 1925 while reporting on the Scopes Trial in Tennessee. It can be considered offensive in some contexts so the term should be used carefully.
  • Bible-believing
    A term used by some Christians to describe their emphasis on the authority and primacy of Scripture, as in Bible-believing Christians. By definition, however, all Christians believe the Bible. Thus, journalists should avoid using this term except when it is clear people are using it to describe themselves.  
  • Black church
    Collective noun that refers to the more than 65,000 Christian churches that have a predominance of Black members and clerical leadership. The Black Church has served as a major institutional foundation in the Black community. It generally refers to Protestants, who themselves represent a variety of denominations and sects. It does not generally encompass Catholics, Muslims or others. In some cases the term b\Black churches may be more accurate, but also be mindful that many Black people worldwide belong to churches and to denominations that may not be predominantly Black. [According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, the Black Church “has been composed of seven major denominations.” They are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of God in Christ, the National Baptist Convention of America, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.]  
  • Black Muslim
    Black Muslim is a term that became associated with the Nation of Islam but is now considered derogatory and should be avoided. The preferred term is simply member of the Nation of Islam. Also, because of that association, do not use Black Muslim to describe African-Americans who practice traditional Islam, whose tenets differ markedly from the Nation’s. Instead, say African-American Muslims.
  • born-again
    Theologically, all Christians claim to be born-again through the saving work of Jesus Christ; they just disagree over how it occurs. Catholics and Orthodox, for instance, say it occurs in the sacrament of baptism, which frequently takes place when the baptized person is too young to recall it. Evangelical Protestants emphasize being born-again as a personal, transformational experience that involves a deliberate commitment to follow Christ. Because the term tends to associate someone with a particular religious tradition, do not label someone a born-again Christian. Let the person label themselves, as in, who calls herself a born-again Christian.
  • Borscht Belt
    An informal term for the summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York that primarily catered to Ashkenazic Jewish families in the mid-20th century. These resorts, now mostly closed or under new management, were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews between the 1920s and 1970s. The name, a play on the Bible Belt, came from borscht, a beet soup popular with Eastern European Jewish immigrants. This collection of bungalow colonies and hotels developed in part to accommodate Jewish families who were sometimes denied admission to other resorts because of anti-Semitism. Many Jewish comedians and performers got their start in the Borscht Belt. The 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing" immortalized Borscht Belt culture, which included lavish meals, afternoon dance lessons and evening entertainment.
  • Buddha
    Pronounced “BUD-dah” (first syllable “u” as in “put,” not a long “oo” sound). The Buddha, meaning “the awakened one,” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. A Buddha is anyone who has attained enlightenment. There are human Buddhas of the past, present and future as well as celestial Buddhas who are venerated in some Buddhist schools for their ability to help those on the path to liberation.
  • Buddhism
    The fourth-largest organized religion in the world, Buddhism was founded in India sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, or the “awakened one.” Buddhism teaches that meditation and the practice of moral behavior (and, according to some schools, rituals) can lead to the elimination of personal craving and hence the release of suffering and the attainment of absolute peace (nirvana). This is gradually achieved through successive cycles of rebirth (although some schools say such liberation may be obtained as quickly as within one lifetime). Although Buddhism is frequently described as a nontheistic tradition since the historical Buddha did not claim to be divine and there is no concept of a divine absolute God — the vast and complex tradition of Buddhism includes an intricate cosmology of beneficent and wrathful deities as well as transcendent Buddhas and bodhisattvas who can be propitiated to help Buddhist practitioners on the path to enlightenment. There are three major forms or “vehicles” of Buddhism: Theravada, found in most of Southeast Asia, focuses on individual realization, with practices particularly directed to monastic life; Mahayana stresses the universality of Buddha-nature and the possibility of enlightenment for all beings. It developed into many variant schools in China, Japan and Korea; Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism, is found in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Vajrayana developed from the Mahayana tradition but is often considered separately as a third “vehicle.”
  • burkini
    A type of swimming suit that covers the arms, legs and hair and is worn by some Muslim women. Burkini is a mix of the words burqa and bikini. Some Muslim women choose to cover these parts of the body to demonstrate modesty and faith. In the summer of 2016, after a series of terrorist attacks on French communities, some towns in France banned women from wearing a burkini on public beaches or in the sea.
  • burqa
    A form of covering for women who are Muslims, most frequently found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is an all-enveloping outer garment with a net-covered opening for the eyes or face to allow the woman to see. See abaya, hijab and niqab.
  • C.E.
    See A.D.
  • caste system
    The traditional social, economic and religious structure of Indian society, which divided people into four broad groups, or castes (varna in Sanskrit), and multiple smaller groups, or subcastes (jati). While it is believed that the system was once simply a division of labor and guild system, determined by skills and aptitude, it became a rigid hereditary hierarchy in which restrictions were placed on one’s social mobility, job opportunities, marriage prospects and even whom one could eat with. Although caste discrimination is illegal in India and most Hindu leaders stress that it is not sanctioned in Hinduism, it is still practiced among followers of all religions throughout South Asia. An additional group, the untouchables, was created from the lowest caste for people who performed tasks considered “polluting” in a physical or spiritual sense. Since the early 20th century, the Indian government has called this group the “Scheduled Castes.”      
  • Catholic, catholic
    When capitalized, the word refers specifically to that branch of Christianity headed by the pope, the Roman Catholic Church. In lowercase, the word is a synonym for universal or worldwide, [as in he has catholic tastes in art.] Most Roman Catholics are Western or Latin Catholics, meaning they follow church practice as it was formulated in Rome. But the Roman Catholic Church also includes 22 Eastern Catholic churches, whose practices closely resemble those of the Eastern Orthodox, including venerating icons, allowing a married priesthood and giving the three sacraments of initiation – baptism, First Communion and confirmation – to infants. Never refer to Eastern Catholics as Orthodox or vice versa. Use Roman Catholic if a distinction is being made between the church and members of other denominations who often describe themselves as Catholic, such as some High-Church Episcopalians and members of some national Catholic churches that have broken with Rome (for example, the Polish National Catholic Church and the Lithuanian National Catholic Church).
  • Chabad
    The official organization of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Judaism, which is based in Crown Heights, N.Y. Chabad-Lubavitch is a branch of Hasidism, a movement within Orthodox Judaism founded by 18th-century mystics. Chabad emphasizes reaching out to nonpracticing Jews. The term Chabad comes from an acronym of the Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
  • Christianity
    The world’s largest religion is based on the life and teachings of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Believers, called Christians, consider Jesus the Son of God, whose Crucifixion served as atonement for all human sins and whose Resurrection assures believers of life after death. The original Christians were Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Bible; other Jews disagreed, however, and eventually Christianity became distinct from Judaism as the Apostle Paul and others spread the faith to gentiles.
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
    Members of the church are called Mormons or Latter-day Saints; either is acceptable. It is preferable to use the church’s entire name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on first reference. The LDS church has asked not to be referred to as the Mormon Church but does not object to adherents being referred to as Mormons. Mormon, LDS and Latter-day Saint can all be used as adjectives, as in Mormon beliefs or LDS practices. The church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, a farm boy in upstate New York. Smith said he was directed to a set of golden plates that contained a record of ancient inhabitants of the Americas who had migrated from Jerusalem. Smith said he translated this record with divine help and published it as the Book of Mormon. The book tells of a visit by the resurrected Jesus to these inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere, which is why its subtitle reads “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Mormons believe that Smith had a vision of God and Jesus Christ and that the church he founded is the restoration of true Christianity. In the 19th century, Mormons were persecuted for their beliefs and eventually fled to Utah, where they could practice their faith in peace. Because of their extra-biblical scriptures and beliefs about God and Jesus (they reject the Nicene Creed, for example), Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches do not regard Mormons as Christian. In stories where that is relevant, journalists should explain why Mormons regard themselves as Christian and why other groups say their beliefs do not accord with traditional Christianity. In stories where different faith groups are mentioned, journalists should avoid judging which groups are Christian. For example, say: Baptists, Mormons, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists and Jewish groups took part in relief efforts rather than Baptists, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists and non-Christians, including Mormons and Jews, took part in relief efforts. The church has headquarters in Salt Lake City and is highly structured. All worthy males, 12 and older, can be ordained to the priesthood; women are not ordained but can serve in leadership and other positions in the all-volunteer clergy. The top authority is the "prophet, seer and revelator," a position held by the most senior apostle, who has the title of church president. He is joined by two counselors, who constitute the governing First Presidency. When the president dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the new president. Under the First Presidency is the three-member Presiding Bishopric, which governs in temporal affairs. There is also the First Quorum of Seventy, which oversees missionary work and other aspects of church governance. The church is divided into territories called stakes, and each stake is headed by a president, two counselors and a stake high council. Individual congregations are called wards. The leader of a ward holds the title of bishop. The only formal titles in the LDS church are president for the head of the First Presidency, apostle, bishop and elder. Female leaders are called sisters. Capitalize all formal titles before a name on first reference, and only use the person’s last name on second reference. The terms minister and the Rev. are not used.
  • Confucianism
    A philosophy developed by Confucius, an influential Chinese teacher and scholar who lived in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. His teachings, collected in the Analects, emphasize social harmony and moral obligation. Confucianism is a philosophy, not a religion.
  • Copts, Coptics, Coptic Christians
    The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian, and Coptic was the native language of Egypt before Arabic prevailed. Today the word refers to Coptic Christians. Although linguistically and culturally classified as Arabs, many Copts consider themselves to be ethnically distinct from other Egyptians.        
  • creationism
    In the United States, creationism usually refers to the belief that the Bible’s account of creation is literally true and accurate. That generally means Genesis 1-2:4a, where God creates the Earth and all its life forms in six consecutive 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. (Genesis also tells a second creation story, in 2:4b-24, in which man is created before the Earth’s vegetation, and specific days are not described.) See intelligent design.
  • Diwali
    Pronounced “dee-VAH-lee.” The Hindu “festival of lights” is one of the most celebrated in the Hindu diaspora. It symbolizes the victory of dharma, and good over evil. The word is a variation of the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” and refers to the rows of earthen lamps celebrants place around their homes. Hindus believe that the light from these lamps symbolizes the illumination within the individual that overwhelms ignorance, represented by darkness. Diwali commemorates the return of the avatar Lord Ram (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu), his wife Sita and brother Lakshman to their capital, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. The residents of Ayodhya, overjoyed at the return of their beloved king, lit lamps in his honor. Thus, the entire city looked like a row of lights. Diwali is also observed by Sikhs, who celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, and Jains, who commemorate the day Lord Mahavira attained nirvana, or liberation, after his death in 527 B.C.
  • Easter
    The major Christian holy day. It marks Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. Western Christian churches and Orthodox Christian churches usually celebrate Easter on different dates, sometimes as much as five weeks apart. Both observe Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox. However, the Western church uses the Gregorian calendar and the Orthodox church and many Eastern Catholic churches use the Julian calendar. They also use different definitions of a full moon and an equinox. The two Easters are observed on the same day about a quarter of the time. Orthodox Christians refer to Easter as Pascha, derived from the Hebrew word for Passover.
  • Eastern Orthodox
    A group of Christian churches that do not recognize the authority of the pope in Rome, but, like the Roman Catholic Church, have roots in the earliest days of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox churches split from the Western church in the Great Schism of 1054, primarily over papal authority and whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (as the Orthodox believe) or from the Father and Son (as the Catholics believe). Included in the Eastern Orthodox churches are the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox, as well as other, smaller churches based on the nationalities of various ethnic groups such as Bulgarians, Romanians and Syrians. Eastern Orthodox clergy comparable to Catholic archbishops are known as patriarchs or metropolitans. They recognize the patriarch of Constantinople, now Istanbul, as their leader. He has the power to convene councils, but he does not have authority over the activities of the other archbishops. The patriarch of Constantinople is known as the ecumenical patriarch. Working with the archbishop are other archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons. Archbishops and bishops frequently follow a monastic tradition in which they are known only by a first name. When no last name is used, repeat the title before the name in subsequent references. Archbishop may be replaced by the Most Rev. on first reference. Use the Rev. before the name of a priest on first reference. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name. The churches have their own traditions on matters such as married clergy; for example, a married man may be ordained, but a priest may not marry after ordination. In the United States, the largest Eastern Orthodox church is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, followed by the Orthodox Church in America.
  • Eid al-Adha
    Pronounced “EED-uhl-ad-ha.” Known as the Feast of Sacrifice, it concludes the annual observance of the pilgrimage to Mecca known as hajj. Muslims everywhere observe Eid al-Adha with community prayers and a feast, whether or not they are on hajj. Eid al-Adha shifts dates every year because Muslims use a lunar calendar that only includes about 354 days. Eid al-Adha commences with the sighting of the new moon. See hajj.  
  • Eid al-Fitr
    Pronounced “EED-uhl-FIT-uhr.” A joyous Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is observed with communal prayers, donations to charity and special meals. Fasting is forbidden on this day. Eid al-Fitr shifts dates every year because Muslims use a lunar calendar that only includes about 354 days. Eid al-Fitr commences with the sighting of the new moon. See Ramadan.  
  • Episcopal Church
    The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion. Officially called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Episcopal Church is acceptable in all references. Two bodies govern the church nationally — the permanent Executive Council and the General Convention, which meets every three years. One bishop holds the title of presiding bishop. The General Convention determines national policies, and all acts must pass its House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Under the council are provinces, dioceses or missionary districts, local parishes and local missions. A province is composed of several dioceses and has a synod made up of a house of bishops and a house of deputies. Within a diocese, a bishop is the principal official and is helped by the Diocesan Convention, which is made up of all clergy in the diocese and lay representatives from each parish. A vestry, composed of the rector and lay members elected by the congregation, governs the parish or local church. Among Protestant churches, the Episcopal Church has titles that are particularly challenging. Capitalize titles before a name but lowercase otherwise. Note that some positions have more than one title or honorific. Because some U.S. congregations have broken ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliated with Anglican bishops, be sure to make clear in stories about such disputes whether a bishop is Anglican or Episcopal. The presiding bishop is the chief pastor and primate who leads the national Episcopal Church. She is addressed as the Most Rev. All other bishops use the title the Rt. Rev. before their name. Priests and deacons use the title the Rev. Priests who head a chapter, or governing body of a cathedral, are called deans and are addressed as the Very Rev. Archdeacons are addressed with the honorific the Venerable, as in the Venerable Jill Smith. Women and men in religious communities are called brother or sister and may be ordained.
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    The largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. ELCA is acceptable on second reference. Do not confuse it with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is smaller and more conservative. See Lutheran.
  • fatwa
    A legal pronouncement issued by an Islamic scholar. There is no central authority for fatwas. The expert must have rigorously studied the Quran and can issue a fatwa only when aware of all elements of the case. It pertains only to Muslims and is not binding in secular settings. While a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie became one of the most well-known, fatwas calling for the death of an individual are rare. Fatwas usually give religious guidance.
  • fundamentalism, fundamentalist
    A Christian religious movement that began in the U.S. in the late 19th century and early 20th century to counter liberalism and secularism. It emphasized the inerrancy of the Bible. In recent years, fundamentalist and fundamentalism have become associated with any religious reactionary movement, such as Islamic fundamentalism. The words also have been used as pejoratives. Journalists often, and erroneously, label all conservative Christians, including conservative evangelicals, as fundamentalists. It is best to avoid the words unless a group applies the terms to itself.
  • gentile
    In Judaism, anyone who is not a Jew. It is usually a reference to Christians. Some Mormons use the term to describe non-Mormons.
  • God
    Capitalize in reference to all monotheistic religions. Also capitalize such references as God the Father, Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit. However, lowercase personal pronouns, such as him and he. Many Christians consider God to be beyond gender, so be sensitive to the context of the story and avoid gender-defining pronouns when appropriate. Orthodox Jews write G-d to avert the sin of erasing or defacing God’s name. Journalists should respect these Jews’ practice by using G-d in quotes of written material, but otherwise should refer to God.
  • Good Friday
    In Christianity, Good Friday commemorates the day on which Jesus Christ is traditionally believed to have been crucified. It falls just before Easter Sunday, on which Christians celebrate his Resurrection. Part of the Christian Holy Week.
  • Gospel, gospel
    The word derives from the Old English word Godspell, or “good news.” It is a translation of the Greek word evangelion. This refers to the “good news” that Jesus Christ came as the Messiah, was crucified for the sins of humanity, died and then rose from the grave to triumph over death. Of the many gospels written in antiquity, four came to be accepted as part of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Capitalize when referring to each or all of the first four books of the New Testament. Lowercase in all other references.
  • gurdwara
    A Sikh place of worship that houses the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib.  
  • hadith
    Pronounced “ha-DEETH.” A report or reports about a saying, action or tradition of Muhammad and his closest companions. Can be used as both a singular and a plural noun. Hadith are viewed by Muslims as explanations of the Quran and are second only to Islam’s holy book in terms of guidance and as a source of Shariah (Islamic law). The two most reliable collections are by Bukhari and his student Muslim, both ninth-century Islamic scholars.
  • hajj
    Pronounced “hahj.” In Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam. Every Muslim who is physically capable and financially able is expected to make the hajj at least once. Hajj takes place during the 12th month of the Islamic year, and specific rites take place during a five-day period. Because Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the dates move each year. The festival of Eid al-Adha occurs at the end of hajj. The word hajj is typically not capitalized. A hajji is a person who has undertaken the pilgrimage.
  • halakhah
    Pronounced “ha-la-KHAH.” Jewish law, or the set of rules and practices that govern every aspect of life. They are defined by Jewish scripture and teachings. Jews believe that the law was given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai and that it has been interpreted for each generation by respected and learned rabbis.
  • halal
    In Arabic, something that is lawful and permitted in Islam. Halal means lawful foods, objects and activities sanctioned by Islamic teaching. Halal also refers to foods that are permissible for Muslims to eat and drink. The halal process for slaughter requires that a Muslim invoke God’s name and cut the throat with a sharp knife so as to drain the blood. Pork is not sanctioned, no matter how it is processed. Blood, intoxicants and alcohol are not halal, either. Forbidden objects and activities are called haram.
  • hamesh hand
    Hamesh is the Hebrew word for hamsa in Arabic. It means five or "five fingers of the hand." In Jewish and Israeli culture the hamsa is often adorned with a star of David or Hebrew letters.
  • hamsa
    Often worn as jewelry, the hamsa is a non-religious, palm-shaped symbol for good luck or protection that pre-dates Islam. It is seen in many cultures, including Latin American, Greek, Ethiopian and Turkish. People from many traditions and religions have adopted it. Some Muslims call it the “hand of Fatima,” referring to the daughter of the prophet Muhammad. [The Arabic word hamsa means "five" and refers to the digits on the hand.]
  • Hanukkah
    The Jewish Festival of Lights. It usually falls in early or mid-December. The eight-day holiday celebrates the Maccabees’ victory over the Syrians in the second century B.C. The Maccabees were a first- and second-century B.C. Jewish family that brought about the restoration of Jewish religious and political life. They also made several unsuccessful attempts to overthrow Roman rule in Judea. Hanukkah is the preferred spelling. To find the date for Jewish holidays in the current or an upcoming year consult the Jewish holidays page on Hebcal.
  • haraam
    Pronounced “ha-RAHM.” In Arabic, something that is forbidden or prohibited in Islam.  
  • haram
    Pronounced “HAR-em.” In Arabic, a sanctuary or sacred territory in which all things are considered inviolable. Mecca and Medina both have this designation.
  • Haredi, Haredim
    A Hebrew term (Haredim in the plural) that literally means “fear” or “anxiety” and is used in the context of a devout believer who “trembles in awe of God.” The label can be applied to strictly observant Orthodox Jews instead of the term ultra-Orthodox, but Haredi is not widely used outside of Israel and Jewish media outlets.
  • HaShem
    The word some Jews use in the place of the word God, which is considered to be too holy to utter. It literally means “The Name.”
  • Hasidism
    A social and religious movement in Judaism founded in 18th-century Poland. It stresses the importance of devotion in prayer and serving God in ecstasy amid day-to-day life. Hasidic Judaism is usually structured around a “rebbe,” or revered spiritual teacher whose interpretations of Jewish law govern the community. Its followers, called Hasidim, are among the most traditional of U.S. Orthodox Jews. Hasidic is the adjectival form.
  • High Holy Days
    The High Holy Days are the 10-day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, which marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. To find the date for Jewish holidays in the current or an upcoming year consult the Jewish holidays page on Hebcal.
  • hijab
    Generally used to describe the scarf many women who are Muslims use to cover their head, but it can also refer to the modest dress, in general, that women wear because of the Quran’s instruction on modesty. Shiites are more likely to wear hijabs than Sunni Muslims, but women decide whether to wear one based on the dictates of their mosque, community and conscience. [According to 100 Questions & Answers About Arab Americans, this practice of veiling varies by region and class. While some say that it denigrates women, many women who dress this way say it liberates them. In fact, some say it is more oppressive to be expected to dress in revealing ways. Some governments have, at times, banned veiling and at other times required it. In American families, a mother, a daughter or a sister might decide to cover her head while the other does not. Most Arab Americans dress like other Americans.]  
  • Hindu, Hinduism
    India’s most popular religious and cultural system and the world’s third-largest religion (after Christianity and Islam). Most followers live in India, but there are large populations in many other countries. Its oldest scriptures are the Vedas. Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma (“the eternal natural law”), is one of the world’s most ancient religious and spiritual systems and encompasses a broad spectrum of philosophies, ranging from pluralistic theism to absolute monism. Followers believe that God (Brahman), the ultimate reality or truth, can be understood in various ways and often use the two terms interchangeably. This not only reflects the diversity of practice and perspective in Hinduism, but also the belief that this infinite reality is beyond the comprehension of undisciplined minds. Therefore, Hindus celebrate God’s various attributes through different representations. Most Hindus believe in one God, who is all-pervasive, though he or she may be worshipped in different forms, in different ways and by different names. As such, Hinduism can be described as monotheistic and henotheistic: monotheistic in its belief in one God and henotheistic in that any one God can be worshipped without denying the existence of other forms or manifestations of God. A basic belief in Hinduism is that the soul does not die but is reborn into another life form when the body dies. Under Hinduism’s rule of karma, every act and thought affects how the soul will be reborn. This cycle of birth and rebirth continues until the soul achieves spiritual perfection and is united with the Supreme Being. Hindus believe that all living beings have souls, and some are revered as manifestations of God. These beliefs have evolved over several thousand years and are embedded in ritual, mystical and ascetic practices. There are many regional variations in Hindu practice. Hindus have no formal clergy but do have spiritual teachers, or gurus. Capitalize guru before a name on first reference, and use only the last name on second reference. Swami is a title of respect and reverence conferred on a religious teacher and, in particular, one who has taken vows of celibacy and renunciation; it, too, should be capitalized before a name.
  • Holocaust
    Always capitalize when referring to the murder of 6 million Jews and others during World War II. Lowercase in other uses. For more about the Holocaust, see the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  
  • Holy See
    A term of reverence for the Diocese of Rome, it is used to refer to the pope and his Curia, the Roman Catholic Church’s administrative offices, when official church actions are taken. The Holy See refers to an entity that is distinct from the city-state of the Vatican, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. For more about the Holy See, see the Vatican's website.
  • Holy Spirit
    The third entity of the Christian Trinity of God, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians believe the Holy Spirit leads people to belief in Jesus and dwells in each Christian. The Holy Spirit is depicted in Christian art as an ascending dove bathed in light or as a flame. Once called the Holy Ghost, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the term Holy Spirit came into use. It is now the preferred term.  
  • Holy Thursday
    The day before Good Friday, when Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples, washed their feet and instituted Holy Communion. In the Catholic Church, Lent ends whenever the Holy Thursday service begins in any given parish. Also called Maundy Thursday.  
  • Holy Week
    In Christianity, the week that begins with Palm Sunday and concludes with Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and Easter commemorates his rising from the dead. Also includes Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper (Jesus’ final meal with his disciples), and Good Friday, the day of Christ’s Crucifixion. The Roman Catholic Church has redesignated the period as Passion Week, but Holy Week is still the generally used and preferred term.
  • hujjaj
    Travelers on a hajj pilgrimage.
  • humanist
    A rationalist who believes that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without reliance on supernaturalism.
  • idol
    Be cautious in using this word because it can imply that something is a false god. For example, do not use idol to refer to the representations Hindus use in worshipping. The correct term to use is murti. For similar reasons, idol worship is also inaccurate.
  • imam
    Pronounced “ee-MAHM.” In everyday use, any person [in the Muslim community] who leads a congregational prayer. Traditionally, only men have been imams, although women are allowed to serve as imams for other women. To lead prayers, one does not have to be a cleric. In a more formal sense, an imam is a religious leader, but can also be a political leader. Many Shiites believe imams are intercessors with God; many also believe in the Twelve Imams, descendants of Prophet Muhammad whom they consider his rightful successors. The Twelfth Imam disappeared from the world in 873, but followers of Twelve Imams Shiism believe that he is still alive and will return as the Mahdi, or “the guided one,” who will restore righteousness before the end of the world. On first reference, uppercase imam when preceding a proper name. On second reference, use only the person’s last name. Uppercase imam when referencing the Twelve Imams.
  • indigenous religion
    Refers to the myriad religious traditions of local and regional societies where language, kinship systems, mythologies and rituals shape religious practices that may borrow from traditional religion but are unique to the local culture.
  • intelligent design
    The belief that some aspects of life forms are so complex that they must reflect the design of a conscious, rational intelligence. Proponents do not identify the designer, but most people involved in the debate assume that intelligent design refers to God. Many supporters of intelligent design reject the theory of evolution and support the idea of creationism. Most intelligent design supporters do not believe that life forms share a common ancestor, although some do.
  • interdenominational
    A congregation or organization that is formally approved or under the jurisdiction of more than one denomination. It is not a synonym for nondenominational.
  • interfaith
    This refers to activities or events that draw people from entirely different religious traditions, such as Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims. It is not a synonym for ecumenical, which refers to a multiplicity of Christian traditions, or interdenominational.
  • intifada
    This Islamic term for shaking, uprising and insurrection generally is used to refer to the Palestinian resistance of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Specific events mark the beginnings of different intifadas.
  • Islam
    Religion founded in seventh-century Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad, who said Allah (God), through the Angel Gabriel, revealed the Quran to him between 610 and 632, the year of his death. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. They worship in a mosque, and their weekly holy day is Friday. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity. After Muhammad’s death, Islam split into two distinct branches — Sunni and Shiite — in an argument over who would succeed him. Sunnis make up an estimated 85 percent of all Muslims. Shiites are the majority in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, while Sunnis are the majority in other Islamic countries. In Sunni and Shiite Islam, there are various madhhabs, or schools of thought, and other theological traditions. There is no central religious authority, so theological and legal interpretations can vary from region to region, country to country and even mosque to mosque. Capitalize all Islamic titles when used before a name and lowercase otherwise. Use the title and name on first reference and only the person’s last name after that. Shiites and Sunnis use a few of the same religious titles but differ on others. Shiites have a more-defined hierarchy than Sunnis. For example, Sunnis call people who lead congregational prayers imams, while Shiites almost exclusively reserve imam to refer to any of the 12 descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who Shiites believe were his rightful successors. Sheikh, on the other hand, is used in both communities, but can be used either as term of respect — to address older men, for example — or for a formally trained scholar. Among Sufi Muslims, sheikh holds a more exclusive status that is reserved for highly trained scholars and heads of Sufi orders. Among Shiites, mullahs are lower-level clergy who generally have only rudimentary religious education. A hujjat al-Islam is more learned than a mullah but does not have the authority to issue legal rulings. Mujtahids and faqihs are jurists with the authority to issue rulings. A higher-level mujtahid is a marja, the most educated of whom are called ayatollahs. In addition to imam and sheikh, Sunni titles include mufti and grand mufti, which indicate a higher status usually conferred by an institution. Grand muftis are usually the top religious scholar in a country. Because the Quran is in Arabic, it is a common misconception that all Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are Arab; neither is true.  
  • Islamic
    An adjective used to describe the religion of Islam. It is not synonymous with Islamist. Muslim is a noun and is the proper term for individual believers.
  • Islamic fundamentalist
    The term fundamentalist, whether applied to Muslims or Christians, is a largely American construct that implies politically conservatism and, sometimes, extremism. Some groups make no distinction between their cause and their interpretation of the religion. Careful reporting doesn't assume that religion is the sole basis for political actions. The term Islamic fundamentalist has been used to refer to people who cite Islam to justify political actions. Fairness and accuracy mean attributing political actions to the group, government or party responsible, and not just to the religion, which may have millions of followers with different beliefs. Avoid constructions like Muslim bomb.
  • Islamist
    Follow AP style, which defines the term as an “advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam” and gives this guidance: "Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.”  
  • Islamophobia
    Fear and prejudice against Muslims based on the idea that Islam is inferior and barbaric and cannot adapt to new realities. It also encompasses the belief that Western and Eastern civilizations have irreconcilable differences in political, economic and social beliefs. Islamophobia existed before Sept. 11, 2001, although attacks on Muslims have grown since then. A 2010 Gallup report found that 48 percent of Muslim Americans said they had been discriminated against in the previous year, and that anti-Islam sentiments had been increasing. Read more about Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in the West in this Gallup report.
  • Jainism
    A sect established in India in the sixth century B.C. as a revolt against Hinduism. It teaches that the way to bliss and liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. Jains do not believe in a creator god; God is any soul who has been liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The supreme principle is nonviolence; Jains believe plants and animals have souls, just as people do, and should be treated with respect and compassion.
  • JAP
    Avoid, a slur. Stands for Jewish American Princess.
  • Jehovah's Witness
    A religious group that believes in one God, referred to by the Hebrew name Jehovah. Jesus is considered to be Lord and Savior but inferior to God. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not recognized as Christian by the Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant traditions, primarily because they do not believe in the Trinity. Adherents do not salute the flag, bear arms or participate in politics. They also refuse blood transfusions. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no formal clergy titles and do not use honorifics such as the Rev. They refer to baptized members who evangelize as publishers and those who devote greater time to ministry activities as regular pioneers. Full-time workers are called special pioneers. Their gathering places are called Kingdom Halls, not churches.
  • Jew
    Follower of the Jewish faith. Tradition holds that people are Jewish if their mothers are Jewish or if they have gone through a formal process of conversion, but some Jews argue for a more liberal definition. Many Jews consider themselves “secular Jews” whose connection to Judaism is cultural or ethnic rather than spiritual. Jews believe that God called their ancestor, Abraham, to be the father of their nation, which works toward the goal of establishing a divine kingdom on earth. Use Jew for men and women.
  • Jews for Jesus
    This is a proper name of an organization founded by Jews who converted to evangelical Christianity, but see that faith as a fulfillment of the Jewish hope in the Messiah. The organization is part of a broader group of converts who call themselves “Messianic Jews.” Jews for Jesus are known for proselytizing to Jews. They observe Jewish holidays, speak Hebrew in their services, read from the Torah and refer to Jesus by the Hebrew name Yeshua. They also call their houses of worship synagogues and their clergy rabbis. Mainstream Jewish groups consider Messianic Judaism deceptive and do not want such converts to call themselves Jews of any kind. Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus should never be grouped together with mainstream Jews in stories or listings. When reporting on them, clearly state that they are Christian by faith, though Jewish by culture or ethnicity.
  • jihad
    An Arabic word that translates as “struggle” or “striving.” It is most commonly used to describe an inward, spiritual struggle for holiness, though traditionally it has also been used to describe defensive military action against non-Muslims. Today militant Muslims use it to call for aggressive armed strikes against non-Muslims, including civilians, and against other Muslims whom they consider impure – all acts condemned by mainstream Islam. Although many in the media translate jihad as “holy war,” it does not mean that literally, and the majority of Muslims do not use it that way.
  • Judaism
    The religion of the Jewish people. With its 4,000-year history, it is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. Its beliefs and history are a major foundation for other Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam. It traces a covenant between the Jewish people and God that began with Abraham and continued through Jacob, Moses, David and others to today’s modern Jews. Jews believe that the Messiah will one day establish a divine kingdom on earth, opening an era of peace and bliss. They believe that God called their ancestor, Abraham, to be the father of their nation, which works toward the goal of establishing this kingdom. Throughout history, Jews have been heavily persecuted. The Holocaust is the most high-profile example. The modern Jewish state of Israel was established in 1948. There are three major branches of Judaism. Reform Jews are the largest branch in the U.S., followed by Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Reconstructionist Judaism and Renewal Judaism are smaller branches that developed in the 20th century. Reform Judaism: Reform Jews believe that the spirit of Jewish law can be adapted to time and place, so they tend to emphasize social justice issues more than dietary laws, Sabbath rules and other particulars of traditional Jewish life. They are represented by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, both based in New York City. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, based in Washington, D.C., is the political voice of the movement. Orthodox Judaism: Orthodox Jews practice strict adherence to traditional Jewish laws, including the rules that prohibit work on the Sabbath and kosher dietary laws that prohibit such things as eating pork products or shellfish and eating meat and dairy products together. Some Orthodox Jews might consider themselves “modern Orthodox,” meaning that the men do not keep long beards or wear traditional garb. Most Orthodox congregations are represented nationally by the [Orthodox Union,] and most of its rabbis are members of the Rabbinical Council of America. Conservative Judaism: Conservative Jews follow a middle path between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. Congregations and individuals vary in terms of how observant they are of dietary laws, and though some do not, many drive to synagogue on the Sabbath. They are represented nationally by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly. Reconstructionist Judaism: A 20th-century movement, founded by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, that views Judaism as a social rather than a God-centered phenomenon. Reconstructionists generally do not believe the Hebrew Scriptures are divinely inspired, reject the idea of God as male or female, are less hierarchical and believe that Jewish law as a guiding principle isn’t binding. Reconstructionist rabbis are ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa. [Jewish Renewal: Jewish Renewal is a transdenominational approach to revitalizing Judaism, according to Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. It combines “the socially progressive values of egalitarianism, the joy of Hasidism, the informed do-it-yourself spirit of the havurah movement, and the accumulated wisdom of centuries of tradition.”]
  • Kaaba
    Pronounced “KAH-bah.” A black, cube-shaped building, about 40 feet tall, in Mecca. Islam’s most important mosque was built around the kaaba. Muslims believe that Abraham built the kaaba hundreds of years before the time of Muhammad, whose family belonged to the tribe that cared for the building. The stone kaaba has been rebuilt several times. The “black stone,” a relic installed in the kaaba’s eastern corner, is said to be from heaven and to date back to the time of Adam and Eve. The kaaba symbolizes the truth, and Muslims set their compass to the truth no matter where they are. This is why they face the kaaba to pray. There are normally people praying around the kaaba at all times. Pilgrims on hajj pray while circling it seven times. Also spelled Ka'bah.  
  • Kabbalah
    A doctrine of ancient Jewish mysticism that provides a path for humans to achieve an understanding of the divine mysteries of God and the universe. It teaches that such understanding can only be attained by praying and contemplating the hidden meanings of the Hebrew words and letters of the Torah. It had its greatest following in Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. Preferred spelling is Kabbalah. Uppercase in all references.
  • karma
    In Buddhism and Hinduism, the universal law of cause and effect; the effect (or fruits) of a person’s actions in one’s next lifetime. Lowercase in all references.
  • Kashrut
    The body of Jewish law dealing with what foods observant Jews can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten, according to Judaism 101. "Kashrut comes from the Hebrew root Kaf-Shin-Reish, meaning fit, proper or correct. It is the same root as the more commonly known word kosher, which describes food that meets these standards. The word kosher can also be used, and often is used, to describe ritual objects that are made in accordance with Jewish law and are fit for ritual use." See kosher.
  • kesh
    The wearing of long uncut hair by Sikhs as a symbol of respect for the natural perfection of God’s creation. It is one of the articles of faith known as the Five K’s (or kakars) — outward symbols of Sikh faith — ordered by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
  • kippa, kippah
    See yarmulke.
  • Koran
    Quran is the preferred spelling and is capitalized in all references. The spelling Koran should only be used if it is in a specific title or name. See Quran.
  • kosher
    In Judaism, refers to ritually pure food prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. Lowercase in all references. Kashrut is the term for Jewish dietary laws, while kosher is the adjective.
  • kufi
    A skullcap worn by some Muslims.
  • Kwanzaa
    A celebration of African heritage and principles. It occurs Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. It grew out of the Black Nationalist Movement in the mid 1960s. Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, chairman of Black Studies at California State University. From the Swahili phrase “first fruits of the harvest,” Kwanzaa celebrates seven principles, which are also identified in the East African language. They are: umoja (unity) kujichagulia (self-determination) ujima (collective responsibility) ujamaa (cooperative economics) nia (purpose) kuumba (creativity) imani  (faith) Kwanzaa also has seven symbols. They are fruits, vegetables or nuts; a mat; a candleholder; seven candles (three red, three green and one black); corn; gifts and a communal cup signifying unity. Kwanzaa was intended to be independent of religion, though some families celebrate Kwanzaa with religious holidays. For more information about the holiday, see The Official Kwanzaa Web Site.  
  • lama
    A Tibetan Buddhist teacher or master. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, as in Lama Surya Das, or when referring to the man who holds the title Dalai Lama.
  • Latter-Day Saints
    See Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, LDS Church, Mormon.
  • lay person
    A member of the laity, rather than the clergy. The terms lay person and lay people are each two words. Layman and laywoman, however, are each one word.
  • LDS Church
    Acceptable on second reference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lowercase church when using the shortened term.
  • Lent
    The period of penance and fasting preceding Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection. Lenten observances are most common in the liturgical traditions, such as Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. The observance of Lent developed through the centuries and sometimes varied in its focus and length. Especially for Western Christians, the currently accepted Lenten period recalls Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert and the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. Lent was originally to prepare those being initiated into the church at Easter and was then broadened to include various days of fasting and penance by all believers. In most of the Catholic Church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. Sundays are not counted as days of Lent. Some, still using the old liturgical calendar, count from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Since 1969, when the document known as the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar was released, the Roman Catholic Church has said that Lent ends at the beginning of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. During Lent, Catholics over 14 and under 65 who are able are called on to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (that is, to go without a main meal during the day) and to abstain from meat on Fridays. Fish is often substituted. The observance of Lent within Protestantism varies from denomination to denomination, church to church, believer to believer. In recent years, even some nonliturgical Protestants, on their own or through their churches, have taken to observing the Lenten season through fasting and penance.
  • liturgy
    Has two sets of meanings, one for Western Christians and the other for Eastern Christians. Among Roman Catholics and Protestants, lowercase liturgy means a standard set of prayers and practices for public worship. It can also be used as a synonym for the service of worship in churches that use such forms – most commonly the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran. With reference to Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, uppercase Liturgy; avoid the lowercase use of the word with their churches. Churches that tend to vary their services each week, such as most Baptist, Pentecostal and independent churches, are often called nonliturgical.
  • Lord
    Always capitalize when referring to God in a monotheistic faith, as in Lord Jesus or in Lord Krishna.
  • Lubavitch, Lubavitcher
    One of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism, it originated in Russia in the 18th century. It was founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman. In 1940, the Rebbe, or head of the movement, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, emigrated from Poland to America, where he was determined to make the Lubavitch into an American religious movement. Under his successor and son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch used various forms of American media and institutions, such as schools and camps, to reach out to American Jews the group felt had not been exposed to “authentic” Judaism. Schneerson died in 1994, and a new leader has not been appointed. Lubavitchers still refer to him as “The Rebbe,” while they refer to his father-in-law as “The Previous Rebbe.” Some groups regard Schneerson as the Messiah and await his return, while others believe he could have been the Messiah if God had willed it. Still others believe he never died and is living in a way that ordinary people cannot perceive. The branch is also called Chabad-Lubavitch. Chabad comes from an acronym for the Hebrew words for wisdom, comprehension and knowledge. Lubavitch is the name of the town in Russia where the movement was based for more than a century. See Chabad.
  • Lutheran
    A member of a Protestant denomination that traces its roots to Martin Luther, the 16th-century Roman Catholic priest whose objections to certain practices in the Catholic Church began the Reformation. The two major Lutheran bodies in the U.S. are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA on second reference) and the smaller Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Missouri Synod on second reference). Missouri Synod churches are far more theologically conservative than ELCA churches. There are smaller Lutheran bodies as well. In Lutheran practice, the congregation is the basic unit of government and is usually administered by a council made up of clergy and elected lay people. The council is headed either by the senior pastor or a lay person elected from the council. Some Lutheran branches, including the ELCA, have bishops. Members of the clergy are known as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. and the cleric’s full name. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name.
  • madrassa
    A Muslim place of learning usually associated with a mosque.
  • mainline Protestant
    A designation for a group of moderate-to-liberal Protestant churches. The most prominent are the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.  
  • mantra
    A syllable, word or phrase with spiritual power, it is chanted or held in the mind in connection with meditation or ritual. Mantras are commonly used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and are traditionally drawn from Sanskrit scriptures, such as the Vedas. The adherents of some vernacular texts, such as the Hindi Ramcharitmanas, believe their verses have the power of mantra as well. Some of the more powerful mantras consist of a single syllable, the most popular of which is “om.”
  • masjid
    Urdu word for mosque, a place of prayer and meeting for Muslims. Shot into the limelight because of a 1992 controversy in India over the Babri Masjid in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
  • mass
    A term used by Latin Catholics and some high-church Anglicans for a worship service that includes the celebration of Holy Communion. The term cannot be used for services that do not include Communion, including those in which someone distributes Communion hosts that were consecrated outside of that service. Catholic sources say a Mass is celebrated or said; however, The Associated Press accepts only celebrated. Capitalize when referring to the celebration of worship in the Roman Catholic Church. Lowercase any preceding adjectives, as in funeral Mass. Orthodox Christians call their Eucharistic service the Divine Liturgy.
  • messiah, Messiah
    A Hebrew term meaning “the anointed one.” For Christians, the one and only Messiah is Jesus Christ. Jews await the coming of the Messiah. Capitalize in religious uses and lowercase in secular cases.
  • Methodist Episcopal Church
    American Protestant denomination whose initial progress in ministering to black Americans was thwarted by segregationist policies. The term Methodist originated as a nickname applied to a group of 18th- century Oxford University students known for their methodical application to Scripture study and prayer. The nation's principal Methodist body is the United Methodist Church, which was formed in 1968 by the merger of the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church. It has 10 million members. The three major black denominations are African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • minister
    Most Protestant denominations use the term minister to describe their clergy, but it is not a formal title and is not capitalized. It is also used in Catholicism, with a strong distinction drawn between ordained ministers (priests and deacons) and lay ministers (including, for example, Eucharistic ministers, who take Communion to the sick, and youth ministers). The Nation of Islam also uses the term, and in that case it is a title and should be capitalized before the person’s name.
  • Modern Orthodox
    A movement within Orthodox Judaism that tends to integrate traditional Jewish practices and beliefs with life in the secular world while retaining a distinctive Jewish identity and presence. Modern Orthodox will keep strictly kosher and carefully observe the Sabbath, and they will often wear a yarmulke, or skullcap, for example, but not always. Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is a widely known example of a follower of the Modern Orthodox movement. The term Modern Orthodox is accepted among Jews, but as with any movement it can encompass a wide spectrum of beliefs and behaviors so it is advisable to clarify with the subjects of a story where they see themselves within Modern Orthodoxy.
  • Moonie
    A derogatory term for a member of the Unification Church. Journalists should not use it except in direct quotes. See Unification Church.
  • Mormon Church
    See Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  • Moslem
    An outdated term for Muslims. It should not be used unless it is part of a proper name.
  • mullah
    A Shiite term for lower-level clergy. Capitalize the title when it precedes a name.
  • murti
    Pronounced “MOOR-tee.” In Hinduism, an image or icon of God used during worship. A manifestation, embodiment or personification of the divine. Do not use the word idol as a synonym.
  • Muslim American
    Do not hyphenate. Do hyphenate, however, when the term is used as a compound modifier, as in Muslim-American community.
  • Muslim, Muslims
    A Muslim is a follower of Muhammad and the tenets and practices of Islam. The word Muslim is a noun; use the adjective Islamic when referring to the Islamic faith or the Islamic world.
  • Nation of Islam
    A religious and political organization formed in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad with the stated aim of “resurrecting” the spiritual, mental, social and economic condition of Black people in America and the world. Its tenets differ markedly from those of traditional Islam. Elijah Muhammad took over the organization in 1934 and preached separation of Blacks and Whites, in addition to calling for a strong morality. After his death in 1975, Elijah Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, assumed leadership. (Note the different spelling of the last name.) Mohammed began moving the Nation toward mainstream Sunni Islam and shunning Black separatist views. He essentially dismantled the Nation and created his own organization. In 1976, Louis Farrakhan left the Nation of Islam, but in 1978 he and his supporters decided to rebuild the original organization. Followers should be referred to as members of the Nation of Islam. The term Black Muslim, once associated with the organization, is now considered derogatory and should be avoided. Nation of Islam clergymen use the title minister, which should be capitalized on first reference before a name. On second reference, use only the person’s last name. See Islam.  
  • neo-paganism
    A term used to describe contemporary paganism, as opposed to ancient paganism. Some groups or individuals describe themselves as “pagan” because they trace their belief and practices back to ancient times and the emphasis on the natural world and goddess worship. Others prefer “neo-pagan” because their faith blends the old and the new.
  • New Age movement
    A spiritual movement that developed in Western society in the late 1960s. Adherents link elements of religion with psychology and parapsychology. It remains a loose network of spiritual seekers, teachers, healers and other participants. Followers construct their own spiritual journeys, which are heavily influenced by the mystical elements of many organized religions, as well as native practices such as shamanism and neo-paganism.
  • niqab
    A veil worn by some women who are Muslims; it covers all of their face except the eyes.  
  • nirvana
    This English word means bliss; a state of oblivion to care and pain. In Buddhism, attaining a state of freedom from the endless cycle of personal reincarnations. From the Sanskrit for "act of extinguishing."
  • om
    In Hinduism, the mantra of the divine. The ancient Sanskrit name for the absolute. All mantras begin with om.
  • Orthodox Church
    Any of the several Eastern Christian churches that are rooted in the Middle East or Eastern Europe but that do not give allegiance to the Roman Catholic pope. The term Orthodox was adopted by the Eastern Church to signify its adherence to the original apostolic traditions, teachings and style of worship. The Orthodox Eucharistic service is called the Divine Liturgy, and worship is very sensual, involving incense, chants and the veneration of icons. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches were united until 1054, when the Great Schism occurred, mainly as a result of disputes over papal authority. The pope in Rome claimed supremacy over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the Eastern patriarchs claimed equality with the pope. Although the split was officially made in 1054, divisions began more than two centuries earlier. Today the spiritual head of Orthodoxy is the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, who has no governing authority over the other patriarchs but is called “first among equals.”
  • Orthodox Judaism
    The most conservative of the three major branches of Judaism, it strictly adheres to traditional teachings and acceptance of Jewish principles of faith and law. Capitalize in all references. Hasidism is a movement within Orthodox Judaism.
  • orthodox, orthodoxy
    A term used to denote a clear doctrine that implies correct belief according to a particular religion or philosophy. Lowercase except when referring to Judaism or the Eastern branches of Christianity or as part of a denominational name, such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
  • pagan
    Generally, a person who does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity or Islam and who is a worshipper of a polytheistic religion. Many pagans follow an Earth-based or nature religion. The modern religious movement known as neo-paganism has adopted the name as a badge of faith. Note: Some pagans prefer to see the term capitalized.
  • Palm Sunday
    The sixth Sunday in Lent and the beginning of the Christian Holy Week before Easter. Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The day gets its name from the biblical reference to crowds throwing palm fronds before Jesus as he entered the city. Also known as Passion Sunday, though Palm Sunday is the preferred term.
  • Parsi, Parsis
    Pronounced “PAHR-see.” An ethnic group in India that follows Zoroastrianism.
  • Passover, Pesach
    A major Jewish holiday commemorating the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, who was directed by God. The account is found in Exodus, the second book of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament. Passover takes its name from God’s instruction to the Israelites to mark the upper part of their homes’ doors with lamb’s blood so the Angel of Death would “pass over” their homes as he killed the firstborn male of each family in Egypt during the 10th plague. Passover, also called by its Hebrew name Pesach (pronounced “PAY-sakh”), is celebrated in late March or early April and lasts for seven days in Israel, though most outside of Israel celebrate for eight days. On the first two nights of Passover, it is traditional for a Jewish family to gather for a special dinner called a seder in which the story of the Exodus is retold.
  • pro-choice
    A term used to describe people who support abortion rights. Abortion, however, is a more nuanced issue, with many people supporting abortion in some circumstances, but not all. Journalists should instead use the term pro-abortion rights or a similar description.
  • pro-life
    A term used to describe people who oppose abortion. Abortion, however, is a more nuanced issue, with many people opposing abortion rights in most, but not all, circumstances. Journalists should instead use a description of their views, such as opposed to abortion or against abortion rights.
  • progressive
    A term that emerged as a way to refer to people of faith who are liberal-to-moderate in their political views. It is a disputed term because it implies that other groups are regressive, which carries a negative connotation.
  • proselytize
    The act of seeking converts to a faith. However, many Christian groups – particularly the Roman Catholic Church – draw a strong distinction between proselytizing and evangelizing. Proselytizing is viewed as the use of unethical methods – such as coercion, bribery or threats – to bring conversions. Evangelizing is considered a pressure-free effort to present the faith and invite others to freely accept it. This distinction explains why Pope John Paul II frequently condemned proselytizing while encouraging – and engaging in – evangelization. Do not use the word proselytize unless you know it is being used in a negative context. Evangelism (Protestant) or evangelization (Catholic or Orthodox) are the preferred terms.
  • qawwali
    Pronounced “kuh-WAH-lee.” Devotional songs of the Sufi tradition of Islam. Do not capitalize.
  • Quakers
    This group’s formal name is the Religious Society of Friends, but Quakers can be used in all references. Members typically refer to themselves as Friends. Historically, Quakers are considered Christian; some Quakers today consider themselves nontheistic. Their worship and business gatherings are called meetings. Although there is no recognized ranking of clergy over lay people, meeting officers are called elders or ministers, and these terms should be capitalized when used before a name. Many Quaker ministers in the Midwest and West use the Rev. before their names.
  • quinceañera
    Pronounced "keen-see-nyair-ah." A Hispanic celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, signifying her transition from youth to adulthood. This is both a social and religious event and, like many other Hispanic traditions, emphasizes the importance of family. A quinceañera typically begins with a mass that is attended by the girl’s parents, grandparents, godparents and family. The mass is followed by a reception with food, family, music, dancing and more. In past times, the quinceañera signified that a girl was prepared for marriage. In contemporary times, it tends to mean that a girl is ready to begin formal dating. Some families will throw a quinceañera for a son.  
  • Quran
    Pronounced “ku-RAHN.” The holy book of Islam, which Muslims believe is the direct word of God as dictated in Arabic to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel during the month of Ramadan beginning in 610 to about 632. The Quran contains laws for society, as well as descriptions of heaven and hell and warnings on the end of the world. It also includes stories of figures found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, but Muslims believe the Quran supersedes those holy writings. Quran is the preferred spelling and is capitalized in all references. The spelling Koran should only be used if it is in a specific title or name.
  • rabbi
    Hebrew word for teacher and the title used by Jewish clergy. On first reference, capitalize before a name. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name.
  • Ramadan
    Pronounced “rah-mah-DAHN.” Islam’s holy month, during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. Ramadan commemorates the time during which the faithful believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in Mecca and gave him the teachings of the Quran. The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr. Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, Ramadan shifts each year as calculated by Western calendars.
  • Reconstructionist Judaism
    A 20th-century movement, founded by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, that views Judaism as a social rather than a God-centered phenomenon. Reconstructionists generally do not believe the Hebrew Scriptures are divinely inspired, reject the idea of God as male or female, are less hierarchical and believe that Jewish law as a guiding principle isn’t binding. Reconstructionist rabbis are ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa.
  • religious left
    A term used to describe people of faith with liberal political views. Journalists can refer to the so-called “religious left,” but it is best to specify which groups they are referring to and what action they are promoting. See religious right and progressive.
  • religious right
    A term used to describe people and groups whose religious beliefs inform their conservative political and social views. The term dates to 1979, when the Rev. Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority. Since then, politically active religious conservatives have diversified in their goals and approaches. Journalists should refer to the so-called “religious right” or religious conservatives. It is best to specify which groups the term refers to and what they are promoting. See religious left.
  • religious titles
    The Religion Stylebook offers this guidance on religious titles for the major religious traditions as well as traditions in which titles are likely to be unfamiliar to many journalists: For all faiths, the title Dr. is generally not used before the names of scholars or clergy who hold academic doctorates. If the person’s academic credentials are important to the story, it is better to give specifics, as in Jane Doe, who holds a doctorate in systematic theology, led the discussion. Never combine Dr. with other titles, such as the Rev. Dr. Baptist churches: All members of the Baptist clergy may be referred to as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. Use the Rev. on first reference before a clergy’s name. On second reference use only the last name. Buddhism: Titles for Buddhist teachers or masters are capitalized when used with a name but lowercase otherwise. The title of lama generally precedes a name; rinpoche, sensei and roshi generally follow the name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. (For example, a well-known Japanese Zen teacher is always referred to as Maezumi Roshi; a well-known American Zen teacher is Roshi Bernard Glassman.) To determine how to refer to a particular Buddhist teacher, ask or try looking up the name through a database or other Web tool. Teachers may be addressed by their titles (e.g., “Rinpoche, may I ask a question?”). Dalai Lama is capitalized when referring to the man who holds the title and no name is used; dalai lama is lowercase otherwise. Buddhists address the Dalai Lama as Your Holiness in person and His Holiness in writing. Ordained monks in Theravada Buddhism are given the honorific Venerable before their names. Church of Christ, Scientist: This denomination, also called the Christian Science Church, has lay leaders called readers who lead its worship services. The faith also has  practitioners, who are self-employed healers. Capitalize these titles before a name, and on second reference use only the last name. Do not use the Rev. in any references. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Apostle is a title used for the church’s highest-ranking members. The senior, or longest-serving, apostle serves as the church president and carries that title. Other titles used by Mormons are bishop, elder and sister. Capitalize all of these when used before a name. The terms minister and the Rev. are not used. Eastern Orthodox churches: The patriarch of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) is known as the ecumenical patriarch; he is regarded as “the first among equals.” Capitalize this title if used before a name, but not otherwise. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, a metropolitan heads an ecclesiastical province, a metropolitan see, and ranks below the patriarch. Capitalize metropolitan when used as a title before a name. Eastern Orthodox archbishops and bishops frequently follow a monastic tradition in which they are known only by a first name. In those cases, repeat the title before the name in subsequent references. Archbishop may be replaced by the Most Rev. on first reference. Use the Rev. before the name of a priest on first reference; on second reference use only his last name. Episcopal Church: Among Protestant churches, the Episcopal Church has titles that are particularly challenging. Capitalize titles before a name but lowercase otherwise. Note that some positions have more than one title or honorific. Because some U.S. congregations have broken ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliated with Anglican bishops, be sure to make clear in stories about such disputes whether a bishop is Anglican or Episcopal. The presiding bishop is the chief pastor and primate who leads the national Episcopal Church. She is addressed as the Most Rev. All other bishops use the title the Rt. Rev. before their name. Priests and deacons use the title the Rev. Priests who head a chapter, or governing body of a cathedral, are called deans and are addressed as the Very Rev. Archdeacons are addressed with the honorific the Venerable, as in the Venerable Jill Smith. Women and men in religious communities are called brother or sister and may be ordained. A diocesan bishop has jurisdiction over a diocese and is sometimes known as the Ordinary. They may be assisted by other bishops, known as bishops suffragan. In addition, bishops who retire or resign from their diocese may assist in another diocese in some capacity; the church variously refers to them as assistant bishops, bishops assisting or assisting bishops. The archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part. Capitalize the title when used before the holder’s name. He is also referred to by the honorific the Most Rev., as in the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, but it is sufficient to refer to him as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Hinduism: Hindus have no formal clergy but do have spiritual teachers, or gurus. Capitalize guru before a name on first reference, and use only the last name on second reference. Swami is a title of respect and reverence conferred on a religious teacher and, in particular, one who has taken vows of celibacy and renunciation; it, too, should be capitalized before a name. Islam: Capitalize all Islamic titles when used before a name and lowercase otherwise. Use the title and name on first reference and only the person’s last name after that. Shiites and Sunnis use a few of the same religious titles but differ on others. Shiites have a more-defined hierarchy than Sunnis. For example, Sunnis call people who lead congregational prayers imams, while Shiites almost exclusively reserve imam to refer to any of the 12 descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who Shiites believe were his rightful successors. Sheikh, on the other hand, is used in both communities, but can be used either as a term of respect – to address older men, for example — or for a formally trained scholar. Among Sufi Muslims, sheikh holds a more exclusive status that is reserved for highly trained scholars and heads of Sufi orders. Among Shiites, mullahs are lower-level clergy who generally have only rudimentary religious education. A hujjat al-Islam is more learned than a mullah but does not have the authority to issue legal rulings. Mujtahids and faqihs are jurists with the authority to issue rulings. A higher-level mujtahid is a marja, the most educated of whom are called ayatollahs. In addition to imam and sheikh, Sunni titles include mufti and grand mufti, which indicate a higher status usually conferred by an institution. Grand muftis are usually the top religious scholar in a country. Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jehovah’s Witnesses have no formal clergy titles and do not use honorifics such as the Rev. They refer to baptized members who evangelize as publishers and those who devote greater time to ministry activities as regular pioneers. Full-time workers are called special pioneers. Judaism: Rabbi and cantor should be capitalized before a name on first reference. On second reference, use only the person’s last name. Nation of Islam: Its clergymen use the title minister, which should be capitalized on first reference before a name. On second reference, use only the person’s last name. Pentecostalism: There are dozens of Pentecostal denominations as well as many nondenominational churches that are Pentecostal, so titles vary greatly. Common titles are bishop, minister, elder and superintendent; capitalize them before a name. Evangelist is another common title, but do not capitalize it, even with a name. Some clergy use the title of the Rev., but some do not. Protestant churches: Customs vary in different traditions. Many, but not all, use the Rev. before a clergy member’s name on first reference. Do not include the honorific unless you are certain it is acceptable in that tradition. Among those that do not use the Rev. are Churches of Christ and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Some Protestants use other titles for their clergy, including pastor, bishop or brother. Capitalize when used before a name. Quakers have no recognized ranking of clergy over lay people. Their meeting officers are called elders or ministers, and these terms should be capitalized when used before a name. Many Quaker ministers in the Midwest and West use the Rev. before their names. On subsequent references to Protestant clerics, use just the last name. Roman Catholic Church: A pope should be referred to by his full papal name on first reference, as in Pope Benedict XVI. On subsequent references, use the pope, the pontiff or just his papal name (without Roman numerals), as in Benedict. Catholics also refer to the pope as the Holy Father, a term that should be used only in quotes. For cardinals, archbishops, bishops and deacons, capitalize the title when used with a name on first reference, as in Cardinal Bernard Law, but lowercase otherwise. On second reference, use just the person’s last name. For priests, use the Rev. before the name on first reference; on subsequent references, use just the last name. Monsignor can be substituted if a priest has received that title. Catholics commonly address priests as Father; use this only in quotes, and capitalize it with or without a name attached, as in She said, “We asked Father what we should do.” For nuns, sisters and brothers, capitalize sister, mother or brother before the name on first reference. In subsequent references, use just the last name for those who keep surnames; otherwise, continue to use the full name, as in Mother Teresa. The title Venerable is applied to a person posthumously if a pope has approved the first stage in his or her official cause for canonization, as in Venerable Fulton Sheen.
  • reverse discrimination, reverse racism
    These phrases are used in lawsuits and in accusations that affirmative action puts men and non-minorities at a disadvantage for college admission, scholarships and jobs. Research shows that this scarcely happens. A 1995 Brandeis University study of 3,000 discrimination suits found that about 100 had charged reverse discrimination. The course ordered relief in six of those cases.
  • Roman Catholic Church
    It is the largest Christian community in the world and in the U.S. The Roman Catholic Church considers itself to be the one, true, and full expression of the church founded by Jesus Christ. (The word catholic means “universal.”) It traces its origins to the Church of Rome, which was one of several pre-eminent churches in the apostolic age of the first century. (Others were in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and elsewhere.) The Catholic Church believes that through St. Peter — considered the first bishop of Rome, where he was martyred — the Church of Rome early on exercised a primacy and authority over the other churches. That authority continued to be exercised under the successors to Peter, bishops who later came to be known by the title of pope. The Catholic Church says the basis of the Petrine and papal authority starts with Jesus’ commission to Peter in Matthew 16:18. The assertion and its practice were always matters of dispute. The first major fracture came in the 11th century, when Western, Latin-Rite Christianity under the bishop of Rome split with the patriarchs of the Orthodox churches in the East, based in Constantinople. The Catholic Church still considers Eastern Orthodoxy a true church with which it has few significant doctrinal differences — the authority of the pope being one of them. Rome characterizes much of Protestantism as not comprising true churches but rather “ecclesial communities.” The Roman Catholic Church was known simply as the Catholic Church until the Protestant Reformation, when the authority of the pope became a source of contention. Catholics began to use the Roman appellation to reinforce their unity under the pope, and the primacy of the papacy has become one of the distinguishing marks of modern Catholicism. Catholic belief and practice are ordered around seven sacraments — Holy Eucharist, baptism, confirmation, penance (confession), matrimony, holy orders (ordination) and the sacrament of the sick. The pope’s seat of power is the Holy See at the Vatican. He selects bishops and members of the College of Cardinals. Cardinals usually are bishops, but that is not a requirement. When a new pope must be chosen, the cardinals gather in a conclave to select him.Outside of Rome, the church’s principal organizational units are archdioceses, headed by archbishops, and dioceses, headed by bishops. Both report directly to Rome. The highest office in the Catholic Church is that of bishop; the pope is the bishop of Rome. In reality, the hierarchical structure among ordained clergy is pope, cardinal, archbishop, bishop, monsignor, priest and deacon. Women are barred from holy orders.
  • Rosh Hashanah
    Pronounced “rohsh-huh-SHAH-nuh.” The Jewish New Year, celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar sometime between the middle of September and the middle of October. To find the date for the holiday in the current or an upcoming year consult the Jewish holidays page on Hebcal.
  • rumspringa
    Some Amish allow their youth, after age 16, to spend a couple years free of the most intense restrictions of their faith while still living with their parents. The purpose is to make sure they are committed to their faith before they are baptized. The vast majority decide to remain within the Amish community.
  • Russian Orthodox Church
    Branch of the Eastern Church of Christianity with headquarters in Moscow. It is the largest of the national and ethnic churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. See Eastern Orthodox.
  • Sabbath
    The day of the week observed for rest and worship. Most Christian traditions observe the Sabbath on Sunday. Judaism — along with some Christian traditions such as Seventh-day Adventists — observes the Sabbath on Saturday. (Jews’ observance of the Sabbath begins at sundown Friday [and is often referred to by the Hebrew word Shabbat].) Capitalize in religious references but lowercase when talking about periods of rest.
  • sect
    Refers to a group that has broken off from another. Avoid this label unless you are sure it fits; it often carries negative connotations.
  • secular humanism
    An outlook that emphasizes human rather than religious values. Secular humanism stresses reason, scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.
  • secularism
    The belief that religion and religious considerations have no place in public life and education.
  • seder
    The ritualized dinner held in Jewish homes on the first night or first two nights of Passover. The word seder means “order” in Hebrew. It commemorates the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt as described in the book of Exodus, and it features special foods and the reading of the Haggadah, a compilation of biblical passages, prayers, hymns and rabbinic literature.
  • Sephardi
    Pronounced “suh-FAR-dee.” A Jew of Portuguese, Spanish or North African descent. Originally, Sephardi meant a Jew descended from the Iberian Peninsula, but it has now come to mean Jews who are not Ashkenazim, including Jews from Arab countries and Greece. Sephardic Jews are estimated to make up 20 percent of the world’s Jewish population. The plural form of Sephardi is Sephardim. See Ashkenazi.
  • Shabbat
    Hebrew word for Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Shabbat is observed by lighting candles on Friday night (this is usually done by the woman of the house) and sharing a special family meal. Religious services that include a reading from the Torah happen on Saturday morning, after which families gather for a Shabbat lunch. Shabbat ends with the lighting of a three-wicked “havdalah” candle and the passing around of a fragrant spice box, the scent of which is supposed to carry the peace of Shabbat into the work week. Orthodox Jews refrain from driving, turning lights on or off and a number of other activities that are considered “work” on Shabbat.
  • shaman
    A spiritual leader in a tribal society who heals people by channeling spirits, often in an altered state. Sometimes referred to as a medicine man or witch doctor. It is a description rather than a formal title; do not capitalize, even when used with a name.  
  • Shariah
    The way or path that Muslims follow to achieve God’s will on Earth. It requires Muslims to live righteously, to protect and expand their community and to establish a just society. Shariah describes the ideal relationship between people and God and in their interactions with each other. Shariah’s principles come from the Quran, the hadith and other considerations, depending on the sect.
  • sheikh
    Most Islamic clergymen use the title sheikh like a Christian cleric uses the Rev. Sheikh also is used as a secular title. Capitalize it when used before a name, but lowercase otherwise. [According to 100 Questions & Answers About Arab Americans, the term can also be used for the leader of a family, a village or a tribe in Arab and Arab-American communities.]  
  • Shiism, Shiite
    Shiism is the name of the smaller of the two major branches of Islam. It developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, when his followers split over who would lead Islam. The Shiism branch favored Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. Its followers are called Shiites. Use Shiite instead of Shi’ah unless in a quote or as part of a name. Uppercase in all uses. See Islam, Sunni.
  • Shinto
    Japan’s indigenous religion. It has no formal doctrine and stresses nature, harmony and personal cleanliness. In 1868, it was declared Japan’s official religion after the emperor regained power from the shoguns. After World War II, the religion was separated from the state. Uppercase in all references.
  • shiva
    The Jewish term for the seven-day period of mourning in which close relatives “sit shiva” after a person’s funeral. During shiva, mourners abstain from work, sex, learning and following other rules. Mourners often sit on low stools or benches to symbolize how they are brought low by grief, and they cover all mirrors in the shiva house to focus on the deceased rather than on their own vanity. The purpose of shiva is to honor the dead and to help the mourner grieve. Others visit a home where someone is sitting shiva.
  • Sikhism
    The traditional pronunciation is “SICK-ism,” but it is commonly pronounced “SEEK-ism.” The Sikh religion is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. Followers are called Sikhs (meaning students). It originated in 15th-century Punjab (now North India and Pakistan) when Guru Nanak, the first Sikh teacher, turned against the caste system, forced conversion and empty ritual in medieval Hinduism and Islam. Through devotional (bhakti) poetry and music, he taught that all religions lead to One Formless God, that all people, including women and the poor, are equal, and that all may realize liberation here and now through living an honest life of love and service (seva). Nine gurus succeeded him, and in 1699, the 10th teacher, Guru Gobind Singh, formed Sikhs into the Khalsa: a spiritual sister- and brotherhood where men share the last name Singh (“lion”) and women share the name Kaur (“daughter of kings”). All were given five articles of faith (the Five Kakaars), including long uncut hair, which men and some women wrap in a turban. The 11th and lasting Sikh teacher is the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, also known as the Adi Granth. Sikhism has no clergy, but spiritual guides may be called gurus; capitalize this title before a name.
  • skullcap
    A small, close-fitting headpiece worn in some religious traditions, particularly by men. Other names for it include yarmulke or kippa (worn by Jews), zucchetto (worn by Roman Catholic prelates) and kufi (worn by Muslims).                  
  • suicide bombing
    Use of explosives carried to a target on the body of the attacker or in a vehicle operated by him or her. Especially fearsome attack because the attacker cannot be bargained with since he or she is determined to die. Similar to the Japanese kamikaze attacks of World War II. Thought to have been invented in the early 1980s by the Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka.
  • Sunni
    Pronounced “SOO-nee.” The largest denomination in Islam, followed by about 85 percent of Muslims. The plural form is Sunnis. See Shiism, Shiite
  • Tao
    Pronounced “Dow.” The ever-changing energy of the universe that flows all around in the form of nature. In Taoism, Tao is unknowable and therefore cannot be defined. In Confucianism, Tao is the correct manner of conduct that stems from universal standards and ideals that govern right and wrong.
  • Taoism, Daoism
    Pronounced “DOW-ism.” A school of philosophical and religious teachings that stem from Tao. Taoism is one of the major religions in China, although it was forcefully suppressed during Maoist Communist rule. When tolerance of some religions was restored in China in the early 1980s, Taoism began to flourish again.
  • Torah
    The Jewish sacred writings found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Also called “the Five Books of Moses,” the Torah is copied by specialized scribes onto parchment scrolls and is treated with great care and respect by Jewish congregations. The term Torah is sometimes also used to describe the larger body of Jewish law and Scripture.
  • totem
    A representation of a person or likeness such as an animal or plant that is revered by a tribe or group. It is a part of many American Indian and African religious practices.  
  • Transcendental Meditation
    A form of meditation made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced it in 1955. TM is acceptable on second reference.
  • Trinity
    This key doctrine in Christianity says that God, the Son and the Holy Spirit together make up the one Godhead. The exact nature and definition of the Trinity were central in the split between the Eastern and Western Christian churches.
  • ultra-Orthodox
    A term sometimes applied to strictly observant Jews such as Hasidim who are distinguished by their style of dress, physical appearance and attention to religious ritual. Some Jewish communities described as ultra-Orthodox, such as the Lubavitch Hasidim, find the term offensive. Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella group that includes other Hasidic and many non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews, also objects to the term. Other groups do not. The term is also commonly used to describe right-wing religious parties in Israeli politics. Haredi (or Charedi) is another term sometimes used as an alternative to ultra-Orthodox, though it is not widely known. Be aware that Modern Orthodox is a separate category of Orthodox Judaism, and it is an acceptable term.
  • Unification Church
    The formal name of this organization founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, but Unification Church is acceptable in all references. Moon launched it in 1954 in South Korea, six years after the Presbyterian Church of Korea excommunicated him for beliefs it said were incompatible with traditional Christianity. Among other beliefs, followers reject the Trinity, saying instead that God is a single being with male and female aspects. Members are often called Moonies, but the term is considered derogatory; they call themselves Unificationists. Use Moonies only in direct quotes.
  • Unitarian Universalist
    The Unitarian Universalist Association encourages a wide spectrum of belief. Many members believe in God, but atheists also find a home in this denomination. Unitarian Universalists do not believe Jesus was divine and are not considered Christians, although they would welcome Christians — or just about anyone — in their churches. They employ a congregational form of government.
  • United Church of Christ
    A mainline Protestant denomination and the largest of the Congregationalist denominations. The word church is applied only to individual, local churches. Clergy members are known as ministers. Pastor is used if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. before the name. On second reference, use only the last name.
  • United Methodist Church
    The largest Methodist denomination and the second-largest Protestant body in the United States. Officially, the denomination is The United Methodist Church, but the Religion Stylebook follows Associated Press style in not capitalizing “The” as part of the name.
  • Unity Church
    A denomination that says it promotes “practical Christianity.” It is the primary church in the “New Thought” movement, which teaches belief in monism, the universal presence of creative energy, or God, within the world and within all people. Some adherents accept traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus, but many do not.
  • Untouchables
    Dalit (capitalized) is a more respectful and current term for castes once called “untouchables.” M.K. Gandhi coined the term Harijan (“children of God”) to refer to these castes.  
  • Vatican, Vatican City
    The pope and his administrative clergy live in this 108-acre city-state that is the temporal headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is an independent state in the center of Rome. The cathedral of the pope — the bishop of Rome — is the Basilica of St. John Lateran on the other side of Rome. In recent centuries popes have resided more often at the Vatican, which is built around St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s Basilica sits above the tomb where the remains of St. Peter, who Catholic tradition regards as the first pope and bishop of Rome, are believed to rest. The popes were for centuries temporal rulers of a large swath of central Italy. But when Italy was united as a single nation in 1860, the Papal States became part of the new secular government, and the pope’s kingdom was reduced to the city of Rome. In 1870 Italian troops defeated the last papal forces and took Rome as the nation’s capital. The pope refused to recognize the new situation and became a self-declared “prisoner of the Vatican” until 1929, when the Vatican and the government of Benito Mussolini resolved the impasse in a concordat. The Vatican was given a sum of money as compensation for the confiscation of its holdings, and Vatican City was recognized as a legal governing entity. Popes were also allowed to travel outside the Vatican’s confines. The Vatican has its own flag, coins, postage stamps, media, train station and police, as well as the ceremonial troops known as the Swiss Guard. Vatican City includes St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo, the Vatican Museums and other priceless works of art. Vatican City stands alone in datelines. For more about the Vatican, see its official website.
  • veiling
    This is a religious practice, related to Islam, and not a specifically Arab tradition. While some say that veiling denigrates women, many women who dress this way say it liberates them. Some say it is more oppressive to be expected to dress in revealing ways. This practice of modesty, called hijab, is not universally observed by Muslim women and varies by region and class. Some governments have, at times, banned veiling and at other times required it. In American families, a mother, a daughter or a sister might decide to cover her head while the other does not. Most Arab Americans dress like other Americans.          
  • Vodou, Voodoo
    A religious tradition born in West Africa that is derived from animism, ancestor worship and polytheism. Slaves brought from West Africa transplanted Vodou to the New World. As practiced in the Caribbean and areas along the U.S. Gulf Coast, Vodou merged West African traditions with Roman Catholic beliefs, adding saints to rituals. The term Vodou, which should always be capitalized, is the acceptable spelling in academic circles and the Haitian community. Other common spellings include Vodun, Voodoo and voodoo, but generic uses of voodoo can be offensive to those who practice the religion. Avoid using phrases such as “voodoo economics,” except in direct quotes. The Associated Press Stylebook continues to use Voodoo.
  • Wicca
    There are many forms of Wicca, but most share a worship of the divine feminine, or Goddess, and a reverence for nature and its cycles. It is traditionally believed to be based on the symbols, celebrations, beliefs and deities of ancient Celtic peoples. Many scholars consider it the largest segment of neo-paganism, saying it can be traced back to Gardnerian Witchcraft, founded in the United Kingdom during the late 1940s.
  • witch
    A practitioner of natural magic; often a follower of a pagan religion, such as Wicca.
  • worship, worshipped, worshipper
    Worship is the act of offering devotion and praise to a deity or deities. It is most often used in reference to formal religious services, but also applies to private prayer and other acts done to honor or revere the sacred. Many evangelical Protestants have a tendency to use it specifically in reference to music – especially contemporary praise music – sung in church. Thus, the leader of the contemporary singing group may appear in the church bulletin as “praise and worship leader.”
  • Xmas
    Do not use this shortened form of the word Christmas.
  • yarmulke
    Pronounced “YAH-mi-kuh.” Yiddish name for the skullcap traditionally worn by Jewish men in synagogue, and by some Jews at all times. It is a symbol of humility and submission to God. It is sometimes also referred to by its Hebrew name, kippah (or kippa), which means “dome.”
  • yellow journalism
    Archaic, possibly anti-Semitic rather than anti-Asian. Refers to the “Yellow Kid,” a young boy from a cartoon strip popular in New York tabloids of the 1890s and, thus, synonymous with tabloid sensationalism. The boy wore a yellow nightshirt. He was Eastern European, possibly Jewish, and was bald because his hair had been shorn because of lice, a common sight in Lower East Side tenements.
  • yin/yang
    A symbol from Chinese philosophies such as Taoism and Confucianism representing two forces continually interacting in humans and in the universe; balance between the two is ideal. Yin is the darker, female, passive force; yang is the lighter, male, active.
  • Yom Kippur
    Pronounced “yohm ki-POOR.” The Jewish Day of Atonement, which takes place on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishri — September or October of the Gregorian calendar. Yom Kippur is marked by spending the day in prayer; forgoing food, drink and work; and repenting for misdeeds of the past year. To find the date for the holiday in the current or an upcoming year consult the Jewish holidays page on Hebcal.
  • Zionism, Zionist
    A modern movement in Judaism rooted in the establishment of a separate Jewish nation, based on God’s biblical promise that Israel would forever belong to Abraham and his descendants as a nation. Many Zionists do not have religious motives, but believe a Jewish state is necessary because of the long history of persecution of Jews. That goal was realized with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Zionism refers to Mount Zion, the site of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. A Zionist is a supporter of Zionism.