Pronounced “KAY-luhf.” Successor or representative of the Prophet Muhammad, and the political leader of the Ummah, or Islamic community. A dispute over who should succeed Muhammad after his death prompted the Sunni-Shiite split that continues today. According to Sunnis, who make up the vast majority of Muslims, the first four caliphs were Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, Othman Ibn ‘Affan, and ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. These four are known collectively as the “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” Shiites believe that Muhammad’s relatives should have succeeded him. Another term for caliph is khalifah.
Pronounced “KAY-luhf-ate.” The lands of the Islamic state ruled by the caliph. In 1517, the Ottomans claimed the caliphate and held it until 1923, when the secular nation of Turkey was created. The terrorist Osama bin Laden spoke of restoring the caliphate.
According to the New Testament, the hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified. The location is also known as Golgotha, or the place of the skull. A common error is misspelling Calvary as cavalry.
A French lawyer who once studied for the priesthood, he settled in Geneva in 1536 and was a major force in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion, which spells out his key doctrines.
The theological doctrine of 16th-century French Protestant reformer John Calvin. It is most often associated with predestination, the belief that each individual’s eternal fate — salvation or damnation — is predetermined, but many contemporary Calvinists have backed away from that. Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty and holiness of God, the pervasiveness of sin, the powerful grace of Christ and the authority of Scripture. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and Congregationalist churches trace their roots to Calvinism.
The process in the Roman Catholic Church by which an individual is declared a saint. When a cause for canonization (as the process is known) is opened, the candidate is formally known as a “Servant of God,” such as Servant of God John Paul II. Three major steps follow: a declaration of heroic virtues, beatification and canonization. Candidates in those stages are called by the titles, respectively, of “Venerable,” “Blessed” and “Saint,” all uppercase, as in Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The Catholic Church says that all those in heaven are saints. Canonization is a solemn affirmation by the church to the faithful that a particular person is in heaven and that that person’s life and virtues are especially worthy of emulation and veneration. Canonization is also practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In Judaism, a synagogue official who leads the musical part of a service. Capitalize before a name, but lowercase otherwise.
A title of honor given to certain Catholics, nearly always archbishops, who are chosen as special advisers to the pope. Their primary function in today’s church is to elect a new pope, but they are assigned to serve as advisers to important offices in the Vatican bureaucracy. Some have a great deal of behind-the-scenes influence. Most cardinals are archbishops of “cardinalatial sees” — archdioceses that traditionally have a cardinal. However, the heads of important Vatican offices are usually also named cardinals, and occasionally the pope will name a respected theologian who is past 80 and thus ineligible to vote for a new pope. Cardinals are not required to be archbishops, bishops or even priests. In the U.S., Jesuit theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles is not a bishop. Cardinals should be referred to conventionally, as in Cardinal Avery Dulles, not Avery Cardinal Dulles. On second reference use only the cardinal’s last name.
A Roman Catholic contemplative order founded by hermits at Mount Carmel in Palestine in the 12th century. It is associated with St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, two mystics who lived in 16th-century Spain. The order’s reformed branch, the Discalced Carmelites, included St. Theresa of Lisieux. Carmelites disavow ownership of personal or communal property.
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.” See also Dalit, Harijan, jati, untouchable and varna.
The central church of a diocese in a denomination with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican churches. It serves as the seat of the bishop.
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 the catholic church. 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).
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. See Lubavitch.
Pronounced “kal-DEE-uhn.” An Eastern church retaining autonomy within the Catholic Church while remaining in full communion with the pope in Rome. Chaldeans are found primarily in Iraq. There has been a large migration of Chaldeans to the United States, particularly to Michigan.
A form of Christianity that emphasizes supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly speaking in tongues and healing. Branches of mainline Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches have absorbed charismatic teachings. See Pentecostalism.
The word means anointed one or messiah in Greek. For that reason, Christians refer to Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ or simply Christ.
The words in parentheses are part of the formal name. The church’s central belief is that the Bible should be the only basis for faith and conduct and that each person can interpret the Bible for himself. All clergy in the denomination may be referred to as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. before a cleric’s name. On second reference, use only the last name.
A group of political conservatives who generally also represent conservative theological views. It was founded in 1989 by televangelist Pat Robertson and is considered the successor to the Moral Majority, founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1979. See Moral Majority.
A denomination founded in 1879 based on interpretations of the Bible found in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures. The church’s official title is the Church of Christ, Scientist, and its headquarters are in Boston. Christian Science teaches a practice of spiritual healing, and teaches that Jesus was primarily a spiritual healer. It claims that sin, sickness and death are illusions that will be destroyed by a complete understanding of the divine principles of Jesus’ teaching and healing. Christian Scientists sometimes refuse medical treatment, and generally deny death, saying instead that it is a “passing over” into the realm of spirit.
The Church of Christ, Scientist is not recognized as Christian by the Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox churches for a number of doctrinal reasons, including its rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. Christian Science has no clergy, but its leaders are called readers, practitioners and lecturers. Capitalize these titles before a name and on second reference use only the last name. Do not use the Rev. in any references. The church also subsidizes the international newspaper The Christian Science Monitor. The terms Christian Science Church or Churches of Christ, Scientist are acceptable in all references.
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.
Western Christians celebrate Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, on Dec. 25. Most Orthodox Christians, using the Julian calendar, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7. Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, except in Jerusalem, where it is celebrated on Jan. 19. Never abbreviate Christmas to Xmas or any other form.
Has multiple meanings. It can mean a building, a gathering of people, a civilly incorporated body, the sum total of all Christians on the planet, or an idea in the mind of God. When reading formal documents of the Catholic Church, it is especially important to figure out which one of these definitions is operative. Capitalize as part of the formal name of a building. Lowercase in phrases where the church is used in an institutional sense, as in separation of church and state.
The largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. The majority of its members are African-American, in contrast with the Assemblies of God, the second-largest Pentecostal denomination, in which a majority of the members are Anglo. COGIC is acceptable on second reference.
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.
Also referred to as simply Scientology. A religious group founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based on his book Dianetics, published in 1950. Scientologists believe that the individual is first and foremost a spirit, or thetan, and that thetans can be cleared of negative energy through a process called auditing. The spiritual counselors who provide this service are called auditors. In part because members are charged fees to receive auditing, Scientology’s tenets have been challenged and its practices investigated by governmental agencies around the world. The Church of Scientology’s nonprofit status in the U.S. was the subject of legal wrangling for many years, but currently, the Internal Revenue Service accepts the church’s tax-exempt status.
A term that refers to the process of starting a new church. It is most commonly used in Protestant traditions.
There is no central headquarters or organization for the Churches of Christ, as each congregation is autonomous. Members have traditionally regarded their churches as a restoration of the New Testament church. They typically do not use instrumental music in worship because, they say, the New Testament does not command it, and whatever is not commanded is forbidden. Baptism by immersion is generally regarded as essential for salvation. The minister of a congregation is addressed by members as Brother. Do not use the honorific the Rev. for Church of Christ ministers. Do not refer to the space for worship as a sanctuary; auditorium is usually preferred. Do not refer to the Communion table as an altar; use Communion table.
A phrase made famous in 1630 by future Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop, who told Puritans sailing from England that the colonies would serve as a model, a “city upon a hill.” The phrase has come to encapsulate the idea, cited by politicians from John Adams to John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, that America has special blessing from God as well as a special responsibility.
The phrase, first noted in 1762 in Jean Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, has come to mean a collection of sacred beliefs Americans hold about their country – beliefs that transcend any particular faith or institution of religion. It was popularized by a 1967 essay by sociologist Robert Bellah.
A civil ceremony that gives same-sex couples some of the rights married couples have in the areas of tax benefits, medical decisions and estate planning. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to allow civil unions.
Priests, ministers, rabbis and others who are ordained by specific religious bodies to perform official duties. Most denominations have specific requirements for education, training and the selection process. The singular form is cleric.
The collective term for Roman Catholic cardinals when they meet to advise the pope or to elect a new pope. See cardinal.
Most frequently refers to the commemoration of the meal that, according to the New Testament, was instituted by Jesus on the night before the Crucifixion. Other terms include Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper and Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is commonly used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and High-Church Anglicans, though some Protestants use it as well.
Belief and practice vary widely. Catholics and Orthodox Christians uniformly see the Eucharist as the central rite of Christian worship, and it is celebrated at least in every Sunday service. Some Protestants also celebrate at least weekly; others do so every other week, monthly, quarterly or less frequently. Catholics and the Orthodox, as well as some Anglicans, believe that the consecrated bread and wine themselves become the body and blood of Christ. They speak of Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist. Catholics and other Western Christians refer to this teaching as transubstantiation. Most Orthodox do not use the term because they believe it reflects Western ways of thinking that are foreign to Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, even some Protestants who do not believe in transubstantiation nonetheless speak of Christ’s “real presence.” Many others see the Lord’s Supper as a simple memorial meal in which bread and wine (or grape juice) remain unchanged and are no more than symbols. Do not use the word symbol to refer to the bread or wine unless you are sure that the church you are writing about considers Communion a purely symbolic act. When in doubt, use Communion, a term that has currency in just about every Christian tradition. Mass is the usual Roman Catholic term for a Eucharistic service. Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox typically speak of the Divine Liturgy. Some Protestant churches do not use the term sacrament and may rather refer to the Lord’s Supper (as well as baptism) as an ordinance.
Communion also can refer to a grouping of churches that share the same beliefs and practices, as in the Anglican Communion. For this usage, capitalize on first reference as part of the full name, but lowercase the word when used alone on subsequent references.
Lowercase the phrase communion of saints.
Previously known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The current name was adopted in 2001. Although holding some of the same beliefs (including use of the Book of Mormon as scripture) as the much larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ also differs markedly. For example, it does not baptize ancestors by proxy, it has always rejected polygamy, and it has ordained women since 1984. Do not refer to it as a Mormon church.
An integral part of historic Christian practice. Confession can mean either to admit one’s sins or to profess the Christian faith. In the Roman Catholic Church, individual confession is part of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, in which a baptized person admits his or her sins to a priest, who can then absolve the person in the name of Christ through the power conferred through ordination. Absolution is granted if a penitent displays genuine remorse and a commitment not to repeat the sin. A penitential act may be attached to the absolution, such as an exhortation to pray or do good works. Anglicans confess their sins communally in church, and a private rite is available to them. In Eastern Orthodoxy, individuals confess their sin to God before an icon and a priest; however, the priest does not act as an intermediary to God. A confession also refers to a statement of faith, such as the Westminster Confession. In Nazi Germany, the Confessing Church was an underground church that resisted Adolf Hitler, and its name has been taken by a wide variety of Protestant groups since then, often when they are in opposition to their own denomination’s policies.
A reaffirming of faith in Christ. It is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church, typically conferred in the early teens, although it may be received as young as 7. Eastern Catholics confer it with infant baptism. Other churches, particularly those that practice infant baptism, consider it a formal rite of passage that includes education in the faith. Some Protestant churches, particularly those that require believer’s baptism, do not practice confirmation.
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.
Chinese teacher and philosopher whose teachings are the foundation of Confucianism. See Confucianism.
Congregationalist churches are autonomous Protestant congregations that trace their roots to 16th-century England. The Puritans were Congregationalists. In modern America, the United Church of Christ denomination is the most prominent example of the Congregationalist tradition (though not all of its churches call themselves Congregationalist). A more general term, congregationalism, refers to a form of church governance practiced by many Baptists and others. When used this way, the term is lowercase.
A branch of Judaism that usually takes a more centrist position on worship and religious behavior than liberal Reform Judaism and the more traditional Orthodox Judaism. It is the second-largest branch of Judaism in the United States, behind Reform Judaism. See Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism.
The doctrine that Jesus becomes spiritually present in the bread and wine when it is blessed by an ordained minister during Communion. It is followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and other denominations. Consubstantiation contrasts with transubstantiation, practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that the bread and wine miraculously become the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist. Other churches believe the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood. See Communion, transubstantiation.
According to tradition, the Apostle Mark established the church in Egypt in the middle of the first century. It is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches and its leader is the pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of the Holy See of Saint Mark. Coptic Christians are most numerous in Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea but are found throughout the world.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions was first held in 1893 to create unprecedented global discussion around faith. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions was formed in 1988 as a host organization to the 1993 centennial celebration, which developed into a series of subsequent conferences in 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2009.
The Washington-based advocacy group challenges stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and aims to provide an Islamic perspective on matters of public importance to Americans. Note the hyphen in the name and that it is the Council on, not of. CAIR is acceptable on second reference.
A movement to reaffirm, reform and clarify the doctrine and structure of the Catholic Church that climaxed with the decisions at the Council of Trent. The Counter-Reformation was partly in reaction to the growth of Protestantism, but there is evidence that it began before Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. The Counter-Reformation was aimed at protecting Catholic institutions and practices from heresy and Protestantism. But it also was committed to reforming the church from within to stem the growing appeal of Protestantism.
A gathering or association of witches. A medieval Scots word meaning a gathering, its first recorded use in connection with witches was in 1662 at a witch trial in Europe. The word was used in association with Wiccans in the early 20th century. See Wicca.
In Hinduism, the cow represents values of selfless service, strength, dignity and ahimsa (nonviolence). Hindus respect and honor the cow but do not worship it in the same sense they worship a deity. Also, the avatar Lord Krishna was a cowherd and protected cows. For these reasons, Hindus traditionally respect and honor the cow and abstain from eating beef. Since Hindus understand God to exist in all, animals are deserving of respect and compassion.
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.
A statement of religious belief or faith that encapsulates official teaching. Most have developed over time amid religious and political debates. The word creed is based on the Latin word credo, which means I believe. The most common creeds in Christianity are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
A universal sign of Christianity associated with Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion by the Romans. Making the sign of the cross with the hands is a ritual of Christian devotion for Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans and some Methodists and Presbyterians. A cross is different from a crucifix, which has an image of the crucified Jesus.
A term that has come to be associated with religious groups far outside the mainstream that have overly controlling leadership or dangerous practices. For that reason, journalists should use it with the greatest care and only when they are certain it fits. On rare occasions, cult is an appropriate description. Two groups whose members committed mass suicide are examples: the Peoples Temple (Jonestown in Guyana, South America, 1978) and Heaven’s Gate (1997, California). Another example is the Branch Davidians, whose founder, David Koresh, died along with 75 followers in a 1993 standoff with government officials.
Shortened and acceptable form for the Roman Curia, the Roman Catholic Church’s central administrative offices. Also used for diocesan administrative offices. Capitalize when used as part of a formal name for diocesan offices. Lowercase in other uses.