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.
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.
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.
The elected head of a monastery. An abbess oversees a community of nuns; an abbot, a community of monks.
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.
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.
In Catholicism, a priest grants absolution to a confessed sinner as part of the sacrament of penance. The concept of absolution also exists in Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodox denominations.
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.”)
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.
act of God
Pronounced “Aad granthh.” See Guru Granth Sahib.
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.
A Christian doctrine that emphasizes the imminent return of Jesus Christ. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, for example, is known for this belief.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The “Lamb of God” prayer said three times at Catholic Mass during the breaking of bread. It is also a sacramental tablet of wax stamped with a representation of Jesus as a lamb bearing a cross.
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.
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.
Al-Isra Wal Miraj
The international network of militant terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden and an extremist form of Islam. In Arabic, al-Qaida means “the base.”
All Saints’ Day
Celebrated on Nov. 1 by most Roman Catholics, All Saints’ Day honors those in heaven, specifically those who have not been canonized and have no special feast day. It is a holy day of obligation, and all Catholics are expected to attend Mass.
All Souls’ Day
Celebrated Nov. 2 predominantly by Roman Catholics, it commemorates the faithful departed with special prayers.
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.
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.
Medical practices that are not widely accepted in the conventional medical profession; examples include acupuncture, homeopathy and Ayurveda.
A loosely defined term generally used to describe spiritual practices that don’t fit into “conventional” institutional religions. Largely characterized by syncretic spiritual practices and rituals that often are chosen by the participants independently to fit their individual needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A special cabinet constructed to house the Torah scrolls containing the Jewish text of the Books of Moses.
This is the site of the final cosmic battle between good and evil, generally referring to the prophecy in the Book of Revelation. The term can refer to an actual battlefield, which some place at Megiddo in what is now Israel. Others use it in a metaphoric sense, or to denote any cataclysmic clash.
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.
Pronounced “OW-sa-troo.” The modern iteration of pre-Christian Germanic religion; the Icelandic term for “Æsir faith” refers to belief in the Old Norse gods.
Ásatrú has a 4,000-year history; its gods, symbols and rituals have roots dating to approximately 2000 B.C. in Northern Europe. From Bronze Age beginnings through the Viking Age, local variants developed throughout continental Europe, the Nordic countries and the British Isles. While large-scale practice ended with Christian conversion, private worship is documented for several subsequent centuries. Some beliefs and rituals survived into the 20th century as elements of folk religion throughout the Northern European diaspora (including North America).
The contemporary revival began in 1972, with the founding of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”). Since then, practice has spread worldwide through a mixture of national organizations, regional gatherings, local worship groups and lone practitioners. In Iceland the Ásatrúarfélagið is now the largest non-Christian religion.
In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs responded to a petition by Ásatrúar in the United States and approved Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) as an available emblem of belief for government grave markers.
Beliefs and practices vary greatly and span a range from humanism to reconstructionism, from viewing the gods as metaphorical constructs to approaching them as distinct beings. Deities venerated in Ásatrú include Freya, Odin and Thor, but respect is paid to a large number of gods, goddesses and other figures (including elves and land spirits).
The common ritual is the blót, in which offerings are made to gods and goddesses. Major holidays include Midsummer and Midwinter (Yule). Practitioners tend to incorporate local elements into their praxis and are often quite studied in traditions dating to the pre-Christian era.
Ásatrú is also known by adherents as heathenry or the Old Way. Followers should be referred to as Ásatrúar (singular and plural) or heathens.
Although Ásatrú clergy are referred to as goðar (singular goði), the term is not placed in front of their proper names as an honorific.
A practice or set of practices characterized by physical self-discipline, such as fasting or sleep deprivation, intended to help the practitioner achieve spiritual fulfillment or union with God.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
A neopagan movement with rituals that emphasize the natural world and a firm set of ethics and principles, but which does not believe in gods, the divine or the supernatural.
Autonomous; self-governing. In certain hierarchical Christian churches, a designation of autocephaly means that that church’s ecclesiastical leader does not answer to any higher-ranking leader. The Orthodox Church in America has been designated an autocephalous church, meaning it is independent of but still in communion with other Orthodox churches.
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.
Pronounced “eye-ya-TOE-la.” A Shiite term for senior clergyman. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, but lowercase otherwise.
Pronounced “AY-seer.” A collective term for the principal gods of Ásatrú, including Odin and Thor. Since at least the 13th century, the term has been used to designate all the Norse gods — even those (such as Frey and Freya) who are considered part of the Vanir, a second group of deities.