Browse the Stylebook by letter


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.

Posted in Christianity, Religion and culture


Pronounced “AARa-tee.” In Hinduism, the most common ritual that is performed in front of the image of a deity, whether in a temple or in a home shrine. It typically consists of waving, in a clockwise motion, various items in front of the deity. It is done in conjunction with mantras or prayers.

Posted in Hinduism


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.

Posted in Islam


The practice of ritual washing in a religious rite to cleanse a person of sin or disease, to purify, or to signify humility or service to others. In Christianity, baptism and foot-washing are both forms of ablution. In liturgical churches, ablution can refer to purifying fingers or vessels related to the Eucharist. In Islam, ablution is ritual washing, known as wudu, before prayer. In Judaism, immersion in a mikvah is a form of ablution.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Orthodoxy


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.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Baptist/Southern Baptist, Catholicism, Christianity, Government and politics, Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Protestantism, Religion and culture

academic degrees

Follow AP style, which prefers phrases rather than abbreviations. For example: “She has a master of divinity degree.” (Instead of “She has an M. Div.”)

Posted in Religious titles


A term used to describe people or groups who believe that government should accommodate religion to some extent in legal matters. The degree of accommodation can vary greatly. See separationist, Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause.

Posted in Government and politics

act of God

An event caused exclusively by forces of nature that could not have been foreseen or prevented.

Posted in Religion and culture


The Islamic call to prayer.

Posted in Islam

Adi Granth

Pronounced “Aad granthh.” See Guru Granth Sahib.

Posted in Sikhism


In Western Christianity, it is the season before Christmas and opens the liturgical year of the Latin church; Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (the Sunday nearest Nov. 30) and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24). In Eastern Catholic churches, Advent begins Nov. 14, the feast of St. Philip the Apostle. Advent anticipates Jesus Christ’s birth as well as his Second Coming. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not observe Advent. Instead there is a period of fasting 40 days before Christmas.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


A Christian doctrine that emphasizes the imminent return of Jesus Christ. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, for example, is known for this belief.

Posted in Adventism, Christianity


See Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Posted in Adventism, Christianity

African Methodist Episcopal Church

The African Methodist Episcopal denomination was formed by a merger of black Methodist churches as a protest against slavery. AME Church is acceptable on second reference.

Posted in African-American, Christianity, Protestantism

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

The AME Zion Church traces its roots to the late 18th century, when free black Methodist preachers formed a church. In 1821, the church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church and the national organization was born. In 1848, Zion was added to the name to honor the first church in New York and to distinguish it from another black splinter Methodist church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church or AME. AME Zion Church is acceptable on second reference.

Posted in African-American, Christianity, Protestantism


Pronounced “uh-GAH-pay.” Derived from Greek, the word means love, and Christians use it to describe love, as revealed in Jesus Christ, that is spiritual and selfless. In early Christianity, it also was a religious meal shared as a sign of love and fellowship.

Posted in Christianity


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.

Posted in Atheism/Agnosticism


Pronounced “ah-HIM-saa.” The Sanskrit word meaning non-injury in any form, including action, thought or speech. This is an important principle of Hinduism and a core principle of Jainism. For this reason, many Hindus and most Jains are vegetarians, as are significant numbers of Sikhs and Buddhists.

Posted in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism


An eighth-century mosque in the old city of Jerusalem. Arabs sometimes use the term to designate the surrounding area; Jews refer to that area as the Temple Mount.

Posted in Islam


The international network of militant terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden and an extremist form of Islam. In Arabic, al-Qaida means “the base.”

Posted in Islam


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.

Posted in Islam

Allahu akbar

Pronounced “AH-luhu AHK-bar.” 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.

Posted in Islam


A raised structure, typically a table, used to perform religious rituals.

Posted in Religion and culture

American Baptist Churches in the USA

An association of Baptist churches that is considered to be part of the mainline Protestant tradition. American Baptist Churches is acceptable on second reference.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Christianity, Protestantism


Pronounced “ah-MEE-dah.” Japanese name of the Buddha of Infinite Light, a celestial Buddha venerated in Chinese and Japanese Mahayana Pure Land schools, which teach that calling upon the Buddha’s name (Namu-Amida-Butsu, “Veneration to the Buddha Amida”) will bring them into his paradise, or state of Buddhahood. His name is also seen in its Sanskrit form, Amitabha (pronounced “A-mi-TAH-bhah”). See Pure Land school.

Posted in Buddhism


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.

Posted in Amish/Mennonite, Christianity

amrit sanchar

Pronounced “ahm-RIT sahn-CHAR.” The Sikh initiation ceremony. A Sikh who “receives amrit” becomes a member of the Khalsa, an order established by the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1699. See Khalsa.

Posted in Sikhism


A Christian movement rooted in the Protestant Reformation. Anabaptists believe in baptism for adults only, nonresistance, the separation of church and state, and simplicity. Early Anabaptists believed they should live separated from the world around them. The best-known Anabaptist churches in the United States are the Amish and Mennonite.

Posted in Amish/Mennonite, Christianity


Spirit messengers, both good and evil, accepted in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. They appear in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran. Capitalize angel when it precedes a name, such as the Angel Gabriel.

Posted in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Religion and culture

Anglican Communion

The worldwide affiliation of Anglican and Episcopal churches. Each national church, although in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury, is independent. The archbishop holds a place of honor among the member churches but does not have authority such as the pope has within Roman Catholicism. The U.S. church is called the Episcopal Church. The Church of England is an established state church. It split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century over the authority of the pope. Anglicanism embraces a wide range of belief and practice, from low-church evangelicalism to High Church Anglo-Catholicism. See Episcopal Church.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Christianity

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.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity


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.

Posted in Judaism


Capitalize when referring to an adversary of Jesus Christ or a false Christ who embodies evil. The apocalyptic literature of the Bible predicts that an Antichrist will rise up to challenge Christ in the end times. Some Christians believe the Antichrist is alive, others believe the Antichrist has yet to appear, and still others believe the Antichrist is a spiritual force that is always present in the world. The adjective anti-Christ refers more generally to being opposed to Christ and his message.

Posted in Christianity

Antiochian Orthodox Christian

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America was formed in 1975 through the merger of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of New York and All North America and the Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio, and Dependencies in North America. It is under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Antioch in Syria. Its ethnic heritage is Middle Eastern, but it has long been the most Americanized of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. and has attracted many converts for that reason.

Posted in Christianity, Orthodoxy

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.

Posted in Christianity, Judaism, Religion and culture


Pronounced “uh-PAHK-ruh-fuh.” The Apocrypha are Jewish writings that are included in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Old Testaments but excluded from most Protestant ones. Some Protestant Bibles include the Apocrypha as noncanonical writings, though, at the end of the Old Testament or in a separate section. (Note: Apocrypha is not a term used by Catholics for these texts. Instead, both Roman Catholics and the Orthodox generally refer to them as deuterocanonical books.) The additional books, which are not part of the Hebrew Bible, come from the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Orthodox regard them as occupying a lesser place than the rest of the Old Testament. The Orthodox also include several texts that are not part of the Catholic collection.

The word apocryphal (Greek for “things hidden”) is generally used to describe many early Christian and Gnostic works, such as the gospel of Thomas, that were never included in the official canon of Scripture. The New Testament canon is the same for all Christians.


Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy

Apostles, apostles

The most common Christian reference is to Jesus’ 12 disciples after he commissioned them to go and preach the gospel to the world. However, some churches have other usages. Some charismatic groups refer to certain powerful leaders who oversee groups of congregations as apostles. Among evangelicals, the word can be a generic term for any Christian who is commissioned by the church to accomplish a certain mission in the world.

Uppercase when referring individually or collectively to Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, as in Peter was known as Simon before he became an Apostle. Although not one of the original 12, this applies to the Apostle Paul as well.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refers to its highest-ranking members as apostles. They belong to what is called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Capitalize apostle when using as an LDS title before a name. The senior, or longest-serving, apostle becomes the church president and is then referred to by that title; capitalize president before his name but lowercase otherwise.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Mormonism, Orthodoxy

Apostles’ Creed

A profession of Christian faith that is accepted in the Roman Catholic Church as an official creed and has similar standing in many Protestant churches. Various sources trace its origins and evolution from between the first and seventh centuries. The core of the Apostles’ Creed is believed to pre-date the Nicene Creed, a slightly longer formula that was elaborated by church fathers at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The Nicene Creed is usually recited collectively at Catholic Masses.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Protestantism


Generally refers back to Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, or the time when they lived, their beliefs or their successors, the bishops. In Catholicism, the term usually refers to acts carried out by the pope as the successor of the Apostle Peter. Most New Testament scholars consider Paul an Apostle, although he was not one of the original 12.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity

apostolic administrator

The priest or auxiliary bishop chosen by the pope to lead a Catholic diocese between the time one bishop retires or dies and the appointment of a new bishop.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity

apostolic blessing

In the Roman Catholic Church, a diocesan bishop gives this blessing three times a year and the pope may give it at any time. The pope always gives the apostolic blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at Christmas and Easter and immediately after his election to the papacy.

Posted in Catholicism

Apostolic Camera

The Roman Curia office headed by the chamberlain of the Roman Catholic Church.

Posted in Catholicism

apostolic church

Historically, the term refers to the whole Christian church in the era of the Twelve Apostles or to any of the ancient local churches founded by one of the Apostles. In theology, the term means a church faithful to the beliefs of the original Apostles and/or linked to them through historical continuity. A number of denominations use this as part of their title, but they are often quite different from one another. Be certain which “apostolic” church you are dealing with. Lowercase unless part of an official title.

Posted in Christianity, Pentecostalism, Protestantism

apostolic delegate

A Roman Catholic diplomat chosen by the pope as his envoy to the church in a nation that does not have formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican. See papal nuncio.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Religious titles

apostolic succession

The idea in Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal and some Lutheran churches that their bishops are direct spiritual descendants of Jesus’ Apostles, often due to a chain of laying-on-of-hands that can be traced back to Jesus.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


The highest-ranking clergy person in a hierarchical religious jurisdiction. The distinction between a Catholic bishop and an archbishop is an honorary one, and an archbishop has no power to tell the bishop of a neighboring diocese how to run his churches. In some Eastern churches, the corresponding title is metropolitan. In the Anglican Communion, the title archbishop also is used. Capitalize only when used as a formal title before a name, such as Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl. (See exception in archbishop of Canterbury.) On second reference, use only the last name. Lowercase archbishop when it stands alone.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Religious titles

archbishop of Canterbury

The archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part, and is the most senior bishop of the Church of England. He has no authority over other national Anglican/Episcopal churches but does hold a place of honor among them.

Capitalize the title when it precedes the holder’s first and last name; on second reference use only the person’s last name. Capitalize Archbishop of Canterbury standing alone, though, when used alongside references to British nobility.

The archbishop of Canterbury 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.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Religious titles


The largest administrative unit of some churches with an episcopal government. It is generally overseen by an archbishop. Capitalize as part of a proper name. Lowercase when it stands alone.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


Pronounced “ark-EP-ahr-kee.” The Eastern Catholic term for an archdiocese.

Posted in Catholicism


Pronounced “AAR-het.” In early Buddhism, one who has attained full realization and transcended desires and defilements and who thus will not be reborn. It is the ideal goal in the Theravada tradition. In Pali, it is called arahant.

Posted in Buddhism


A special cabinet constructed to house the Torah scrolls containing the Jewish text of the Books of Moses.

Posted in Judaism

Armenian Church

A branch of the Oriental Orthodox Church of Christianity. The Armenian Church of America encompasses the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America for areas outside California, and the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, which serves California.

Posted in Christianity, Orthodoxy

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.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Protestantism


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.

Posted in Judaism

Assemblies of God

A denomination that arose in the 20th century out of the Pentecostal movement. It emphasizes the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues. It is the second-largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States and is quickly growing worldwide with an estimated more than 50 million followers outside the U.S.

Posted in Pentecostalism


A tradition or system dating back to ancient times in which the apparent position of celestial bodies is used to understand, interpret and organize knowledge about reality and predict the future.

Posted in Other faiths, Religion and culture


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).

Posted in Atheism/Agnosticism


Pronounced “AV-uh-taar.” Avatars are incarnations of God, who Hindus believe come to Earth at various times to promote dharma and righteousness and to alleviate suffering.

Posted in Hinduism


Pronounced “eye-ya-TOE-la.” A Shiite term for senior clergyman. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, but lowercase otherwise.

Posted in Religious titles, Shiite


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.

Posted in Christianity, Religion and culture


See B.C.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Religion and culture

B’nai B’rith

One of the oldest continually operating Jewish service organizations in the world. It was founded in New York City by Henry Jones and 11 others in 1843. The organization is engaged in a wide variety of community service and welfare activities, including promoting human rights, assisting hospitals and victims of natural disasters, and opposing racism and anti-Semitism through its Anti-Defamation League.

Posted in Judaism


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.

Posted in Bahá’í Faith


A Christian sacrament, ordinance or ceremony marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community. Christians practice three forms of baptism: immersion, where the believer is totally submerged in water; sprinkling, where the believer is sprayed with water; and affusion, where the believer has water poured on his head at a font. There may be variations within a tradition: Roman Catholics are generally baptized by affusion, though some modern fonts allow a candidate for baptism to stand partially immersed. Different Christian bodies have very different ideas about what baptism accomplishes in the person who receives it. Some see it as a symbolic way of publicly proclaiming faith in Christ; others see it as necessary for salvation. They vary on whether it is required for membership.

Many Christian traditions, particularly Baptists, consider baptism a ceremony or ordinance instead of a sacrament. Some Christian traditions insist that candidates for baptism be accountable adults who have personally professed faith in Christ. The Catholic Church and others that accept or practice infant baptism may object to the term believer’s baptism because it implies that baptized infants are not believers. These churches prefer the term adult baptism. Baptism is considered one of the three sacraments of initiation, along with confirmation and the Eucharist, by Catholic and Orthodox churches. The term baptism also is used by some non-Christians to describe ritual purification using water.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy

baptism of the Spirit

Christian Pentecostal and Holiness groups use this phrase to refer to a believer being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Pentecostals associate it primarily with speaking in tongues, others with empowerment to faithfully serve God. Most non-Pentecostal Christian groups believe that the baptism of the Spirit happens at conversion or water baptism.

Posted in Christianity, Pentecostalism


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.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Christianity

Baptist churches

A major division of Christianity. In the United States there are more than 70 distinct Baptist denominations or associations. Baptists practice baptism by immersion of persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ. They do not practice infant baptism and generally reject the notion of sacraments. They describe baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances carried out in obedience to Jesus’ commands in Scripture. Baptists are noted for their emphasis on personal religious experience and the authority of Scripture, which individuals are free to interpret according to conscience. Some Baptists do not like to be called Protestant because they trace their tradition’s origins to John the Baptist, but most historians say the Baptist tradition began with several early 17th-century breaks from English congregationalism.

The local congregation is the highest church authority for Baptists. No leader from a regional or national headquarters can tell a congregation what to do, and it is incorrect to refer to any body other than a congregation as the Baptist church. Baptists refer to their church connections as voluntary “ropes of sand.” The most tangible link between a local church and any convention or association is money: Local churches contribute to the state or national organizations and are considered “members” of the organizations they donate to.

There are dozens of associations of Baptist churches. The largest in the United States by far is the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. The smaller and more liberal American Baptist Churches USA is based in the northern United States. Prominant black Baptist associations include the National Baptist Convention of America, the National Baptist Convention USA and the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. Other major U.S. Baptist organizations include the Baptist General Conference, the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the General Association of General Baptists and the North American Baptist Conference. The Baptist World Alliance, made up of more than 200 Baptist bodies throughout the world, organizes the Baptist World Congress, which generally meets every five years. The Southern Baptist Convention, a founder of the BWA, left the alliance in 2004 when the SBC leaders accused the BWA of becoming too liberal.

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.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Christianity, Religious titles

Baptist Faith and Message

The confessional statement of the Southern Baptist Convention. The statement lists specific biblical interpretations about a variety of issues, including the nature of God and Jesus, the role of women and men in the family and the church, and the end times. The most recent revisions were an important step in the so-called conservative resurgence that shifted the leadership and direction of the denomination. It was written in 1925 and revised in 1963, 1998 and 2000.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist

Baptist General Convention of Texas

The largest state Baptist convention is nominally aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, but most ties were broken during the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s and 1990s. The BGCT is often referred to as “moderate” when compared with the SBC, but compared with other American Christian denominations, it would be considered conservative.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Christianity

bar mitzvah

Means “son of commandment” in Hebrew and Aramaic. 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.

Posted in Judaism


A church to which special privileges have been given by the pope. A few of special importance are called major basilicas. Among these are St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, all in Rome. Many basilicas, including St. Peter’s, are not cathedrals (the seat of a diocesan bishop). Capitalize basilica only when used as part of a proper name.

Posted in Catholicism


See canonization.

Posted in Catholicism, Orthodoxy

Beatitude, Beatitudes

Beatitude is a formal title of respect for a Catholic patriarch or an Orthodox metropolitan. It should not be used except when it appears in quotations. The Beatitudes is the name given to a well-known portion of the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (5: 2-12) and Luke (6: 20-23). In this section, Jesus describes the qualities of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Capitalize when used as a title or when referring to the Beatitudes, but lowercase in other forms of reference. Beatitude means “blessed” but can also be translated as “happy.”

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Religious titles


Blessing. Capitalize when referring to a Catholic religious service with prayers, hymns and the adoration of the displayed Eucharist. Lowercase when referring to other rites or acts of blessing.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity

Bhagavad Gita

Pronounced “BAH-gah-vahd GEE-tah.” One of the most popular Hindu scriptures, it literally means “Song of the Lord.”

It is in the form of a conversation between Lord Krishna (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) and Arjuna on the great battlefield at Kurukshetra just before the famous war in the Mahabharata. In the conversation, Lord Krishna illuminates Arjuna on righteous action that is conducive to the well-being of the world and spiritual liberation (moksha), and instructs him on karma yoga (the path of self-transcending action), samkhya yoga (the path of discerning the principles of existence correctly), jnana yoga (the path of wisdom), raja yoga (the path of knowledge) and bhakti yoga (the path of devotion).

Posted in Hinduism


Pronounced “BUK-tee.” A Sanskrit term meaning “loving devotion to God,” bhakti inspired major Indian religious movements, including Sikhism, by focusing on the individual’s relationship to the divine.

Posted in Hinduism, Sikhism


Pronounced “BHIK-koo.” A fully ordained monk in the Theravada Buddhist tradition; a nun is a bhikkhuni. In the Mahayana tradition, the Sanskrit forms (bhikshu, bhikshuni) are used. Capitalize when used with a name.

Posted in Buddhism, Religious titles


Capitalize when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament. The Bible is a collection of writings compiled through centuries and authorized by various church councils, rather than a single book. The Old Testament is a Christian designation for the Hebrew Bible. The term Hebrew Bible should be used in articles dealing solely with Judaism. Lowercase biblical in all uses and bible as a nonreligious term. When citing biblical verses, use AP style for numbering chapter and verse, as in Luke 21: 1-13.

  • In Protestant Bibles, Old Testament books, in order, are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
  • Hebrew Bibles contain the same books but in different order.
  • Roman Catholic Bibles follow a different order, use some different names and contain seven additional, or deuterocanonical, Old Testament books (called the Apocrypha by Protestants): Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch.
  • The books of the New Testament, in order, are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation (in Catholicism, the traditional name for this last book is Apocalypse, but the Catholic News Service advises using Revelation except in direct quotations). See Apocrypha.
Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism

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.

Posted in Christianity


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.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Christianity, Protestantism


Pronounced “BIN-dhee.” The decoration worn on the forehead by many Hindu women. There are various explanations for the bindi: It can be a blessed symbol that signifies female energy and is believed to protect women and their husbands; a traditional symbol of marriage; a third eye, the eye of inner vision or spiritual wisdom; or simply a decoration like jewelry. It is worn by Indians of all religions.

Posted in Hinduism


In Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches and some Protestant denominations that have an episcopal or hierarchical form of government, bishop is the highest order of ordained ministry. The distinction between a Catholic bishop and an archbishop is an honorary one, and an archbishop has no authority over a neighboring diocese. Some groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Amish and some Pentecostals, use the title bishop for someone who is the pastor of a congregation. Capitalize when used as a formal title before a name. On second reference, use only the cleric’s last name. Lowercase bishop in other uses.

Posted in Amish/Mennonite, Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Mormonism, Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Protestantism, Religious titles

Black Muslims

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. See Islam and Nation of Islam.

Posted in African-American, Nation of Islam

Blessed Virgin

See Virgin Mary.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, Orthodoxy

Bodh Gaya

Pronounced “Bohd guh-YAA.” The site in northeast India of the tree under which the meditating Buddha attained realization.

Posted in Buddhism


Pronounced “bohd-hi-SAHT-tvah.” In Mahayana Buddhism, one who strives to attain Buddhahood through the practice of prescribed virtues, while postponing his or her own entry into nirvana for the sake of helping others to enlightenment. The term also refers to various celestial beings who are venerated in some schools for their special ability to help those on the Buddhist path. See enlightenment and nirvana.

Posted in Buddhism

bodhisattva vow

The resolve in Mahayana Buddhism to become a Buddha for the sake of aiding all beings.

Posted in Buddhism

Book of Common Prayer

An official book of prayers and liturgical services for churches within the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church. It has been revised and adapted from place to place. The original was compiled by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, in the mid-1500s.

Posted in Anglican/Episcopalian

Book of Mormon

One of four books of scripture for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” The LDS church believes that Mormon, an ancient American prophet, inscribed the contents of the Book of Mormon on golden plates, which his son Moroni buried on a hill in what’s now upstate New York. The church teaches that Moroni returned as an angel and led church founder Joseph Smith to the plates, which he translated and published in 1830. Mormon scriptures also include the Bible (King James Version), Doctrine and Covenants (divine revelations given to Smith and other prophets) and the Pearl of Great Price.

Posted in Christianity, Mormonism


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. Rather let the person label themselves, as in, who calls herself a born-again Christian.

Posted in Baptist/Southern Baptist, Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism

religious titles

Guidance on titles in specific faith traditions can be found below. More explanation is usually offered under the individual entry on that group, or, sometimes, under an entry on the title itself. Not all faith traditions are listed here. This entry highlights 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.

Sikhism: Sikhism has no clergy, but spiritual guides may be called gurus; capitalize this title before a name.

Posted in Religious titles