Hebrew word for teacher and the title used by Jewish clergy. On first reference, capitalize before a name. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name.
Pronounced “Raam.” In Hinduism, one of the two most popular incarnations of Lord Vishnu and venerated hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana. For most Ram devotees, his name refers to the unqualified absolute, or Brahman. Ram’s exemplary life helps to set high standards of dignity and nobility as an integral part of the Hindu way of life. Sita is his wife.
Pronounced “rah-mah-DAHN.” Islam’s holy month, during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. Ramadan commemorates the time during which the faithful believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in Mecca and gave him the teachings of the Quran. The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr. Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, Ramadan shifts each year as calculated by Western calendars. See Eid al-Fitr.
Pronounced “Raa-MAY-yah-nah.” One of the two Hindu epics; the other is the Mahabharata. Originally written in Sanskrit, it is the story of God taking a human form to destroy evil and teach the path of righteous behavior. The most popular telling of the story was written by Tulsidas in Hindi and is called the Ramcharitmanas. It is the predominant scripture in North India and in the Hindu diaspora.
In Christian eschatology, a term used to describe the sudden transportation of true Christians into heaven before other events associated with the end of the world take place. See premillennial dispensationalism.
An individual who relies on logic and reason for knowledge and a system of ethics, rather than on faith or religion.
A 20th-century movement, founded by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, that views Judaism as a social rather than a God-centered phenomenon. Reconstructionists generally do not believe the Hebrew Scriptures are divinely inspired, reject the idea of God as male or female, are less hierarchical and believe that Jewish law as a guiding principle isn’t binding. Reconstructionist rabbis are ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa.
In the Anglican and Episcopal churches, the priest in charge of a parish who is responsible for conducting worship and leading spiritual affairs. If there is more than one priest at a parish, the rector is the senior priest, elected by the vestry and approved by the bishop. If the rector lives in parish-owned housing, it is called the rectory.
The dominant branch of Judaism in the United States. Originated in Germany in the 1700s, Reform Judaism is a more liberal form of Judaism than the Orthodox and Conservative branches. It is rooted in the belief that an individual’s personal autonomy overrides traditional Jewish law and custom. The individual decides which Jewish practices, if any, to adopt. It also believes that both traditional rabbinic modes of study and less traditional ones are valid ways to learn about and from the Hebrew Bible. Reform Judaism also is more accommodating to modern lifestyles and ideas.
The Sikh code of conduct. It is designed to create uniformity in the religious and social practices of Sikhism and has been in place since the birth of Sikhism in the 15th century.
The belief that a person’s soul is reborn in another body after physical death. It is common in many Asian traditions — including Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism — as well as some Native American traditions. According to Hinduism and Buddhism, incarnation in the next life is determined by one’s previous actions. See karma.
A general term referring to religious practice. It should not be used in regard to different traditions within the same faith. For instance, Catholics and Baptists should not be referred to as belonging to different religions. They both belong to the Christian religion. The same goes for Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Reform and Orthodox Jews.
The measure of how religious a person or society is. Generally measured using factors such as how often one participates in religious activities and how significant a role religion plays in one’s life.
A federal law passed in 1993 that offers important protections for people’s right to the free exercise of religion. It prohibits the government from burdening a person’s religious practice unless a compelling state interest justifies the restriction. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the law did not apply to state or local governments, states began passing their own RFRA laws. RFRA is acceptable on second reference.
The traditional garment worn by members of religious orders, the habit is analogous to the cassock worn by diocesan clergy. Each order has a distinctive style. Franciscans, for example, wear a simple brown habit with a hood, along with sandals, similar to that worn by the order’s founder, St. Francis. The habit generally has its origins in contemporary dress of the period the order was founded. The habits of many sisters and nuns resemble clothing worn by widows in ancient times, for example. Wearing the habit used to be compulsory, but the regulations were relaxed after the Second Vatican Council, and many religious, men and women, wear regular street clothes.
Marriage between individuals from different religious traditions. According to Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, 39% of American marriages since 2010 have been religious intermarriages, compared with 19% of American marriages before 1960.
A term used to describe people of faith with liberal political views. Journalists can refer to the so-called “religious left,” but it is best to specify which groups they are referring to and what action they are promoting. See religious right and progressive.
Refers to a shift in the thinking, doctrine or practice of people within a specific religion. Also refers to the development of a new religion.
Religious orders are communities that live by a particular “rule” that guides their daily communal prayer and work lives. Members profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These rules are usually set forth by the founder of the order. For example, the Benedictines live by the Rule of St. Benedict, composed by the sixth-century monk who is considered the founder of Western monasticism. Franciscans, another well-known order, live according to the precepts and principles — especially service to the poor — set out by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Dominicans, founded by St. Dominic, are known for their vigorous preaching. Many orders have communities of men and communities of women. Men’s religious orders often have priests, who are ordained, and brothers, who have taken vows but are considered lay people. The Jesuits, the largest Catholic order today, is all-male, with priests and brothers. There are many manifestations of vowed religious life in Catholicism, and each order often has different communities that live according to reforms instituted through the centuries. Some religious communities are contemplative or cloistered, meaning their days are spent apart from the world and largely in prayer.
Religious life is believed to have originated with desert monks and hermits whose ascetic practices were brought to Europe in the early centuries of Christianity. In the United States, many religious orders operate schools and universities, in addition to running some parishes. (Most parishes are overseen by diocesan priests.) Orders are under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, but they have a great deal of autonomy.
Members of religious orders have initials after their names that indicate the official title of their order. For example, the best-known group of Franciscans is known as the Order of Friars Minor, and its members have O.F.M. after their names. Similarly, the formal name for the Jesuits is the Society of Jesus, denoted by S.J. Accepted style does not include the initials, but rather names the person’s order as part of the identifier. For example, “C.S.J.” stands for “Congregation of St. Joseph,” but in referring to a member of that order one would write: Sister Helen Prejean, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, works for the abolition of the death penalty.
In general, follow AP’s guidelines on religious references.
- deities: Capitalize the proper names of the deities from monotheistic religions — God, Allah, the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. Lowercase pronouns referring to the deities. When referring to the deities of polytheistic religions, lowercase the words god and gods, but capitalize the proper name of a specific deity, such as Zeus or Odin.
- life of Christ: Capitalize the names of major events in Jesus Christ’s life, such as the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Nativity, the Resurrection. Crucifixion and Resurrection should always be capitalized when referring to Jesus — a departure from AP style.
- rites: Capitalize proper names for rites commemorating the Last Supper or that signify a belief in Christ’s presence, such as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist. The word communion alone is lowercase. Lowercase the names of other sacraments. Capitalize Benediction when referring to the Catholic religious service with that name, but not when referring to other rites or acts of blessing. Capitalize Mass, but lowercase preceding adjectives, such as funeral Mass.
- holy days: Capitalize the names of holy days.
- other references: Lowercase heaven, hell and devil. Capitalize Hades and Satan. Lowercase angel unless it precedes a name, such as the Angel Gabriel. Lowercase apostle unless it precedes the name of one of the original Twelve Apostles or of Paul, or refers to those Apostles collectively.
A term used to describe people and groups whose religious beliefs inform their conservative political and social views. The term dates to 1979, when the Rev. Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority. Since then, politically active religious conservatives have diversified in their goals and approaches. Journalists should refer to the so-called “religious right” or religious conservatives. It is best to specify which groups the term refers to and what they are promoting. See religious left.
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.
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.
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.
Those who identify with a particular religious group. As of 2017, the majority of Americans (77%) identify with a particular religious faith.
Those who do not identify with any religious group. Includes those who identify as atheists or agnostics. As of 2017, accounts for 24% of the adult public. This group has tripled in size in the last 25 years.
In monotheistic religions, revelation is the process through which God reveals or communicates truths about God’s self or will. Uppercase when referring to the final book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. (Note that Revelation is singular.)
An attributive form of address given to many but not all ordained Christian and Buddhist clergy. Do not use this honorific form unless you are sure that the particular denomination accepts its use. Follow AP style of using the article the to precede the abbreviation Rev. Never use the Rev. Dr. together before a name. See religious titles for guidance.
Of the Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda is the earliest and among the most revered. See Vedas.
Pronounced “RAHN-poh-shay.” Literally “precious one,” rinpoche is a title of respect for a Buddhist teacher, often signaling one considered to be an incarnate lama. The title of rinpoche generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Capitalize when used before or after a name. See lama and tulku.
It is the largest Christian community in the world and in the U.S. The Roman Catholic Church considers itself to be the one, true, and full expression of the church founded by Jesus Christ. (The word catholic means “universal.”)
It traces its origins to the Church of Rome, which was one of several pre-eminent churches in the apostolic age of the first century. (Others were in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and elsewhere.) The Catholic Church believes that through St. Peter — considered the first bishop of Rome, where he was martyred — the Church of Rome early on exercised a primacy and authority over the other churches. That authority continued to be exercised under the successors to Peter, bishops who later came to be known by the title of pope.
The Catholic Church says the basis of the Petrine and papal authority starts with Jesus’ commission to Peter in Matthew 16:18. The assertion and its practice were always matters of dispute. The first major fracture came in the 11th century, when Western, Latin-Rite Christianity under the bishop of Rome split with the patriarchs of the Orthodox churches in the East, based in Constantinople. The Catholic Church still considers Eastern Orthodoxy a true church with which it has few significant doctrinal differences — the authority of the pope being one of them. Rome characterizes much of Protestantism as not comprising true churches but rather “ecclesial communities.”
The Roman Catholic Church was known simply as the Catholic Church until the Protestant Reformation, when the authority of the pope became a source of contention. Catholics began to use the Roman appellation to reinforce their unity under the pope, and the primacy of the papacy has become one of the distinguishing marks of modern Catholicism.
Catholic belief and practice are ordered around seven sacraments — Holy Eucharist, baptism, confirmation, penance (confession), matrimony, holy orders (ordination) and the sacrament of the sick.
The pope’s seat of power is the Holy See at the Vatican. He selects bishops and members of the College of Cardinals. Cardinals usually are bishops, but that is not a requirement. When a new pope must be chosen, the cardinals gather in a conclave to select him.
Outside of Rome, the church’s principal organizational units are archdioceses, headed by archbishops, and dioceses, headed by bishops. Both report directly to Rome. The highest office in the Catholic Church is that of bishop; the pope is the bishop of Rome. In reality, the hierarchical structure among ordained clergy is pope, cardinal, archbishop, bishop, monsignor, priest and deacon. Women are barred from holy orders.
A form of repetitive prayer and meditation used by Roman Catholics. The beads of the rosary are separated into five decades, with each decade representing a mystery or event in the life of Jesus Christ. The Apostles’ Creed is said while holding the rosary’s crucifix; the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) is said on each of the large beads; the Hail Mary is said on each of the small beads; the Glory Be is said after the three Hail Marys at the beginning of the rosary and after each decade of small beads. In 2002, Pope John Paul II made the unprecedented move of introducing a fourth, optional set of mysteries. The rosary is recited or said, not read. Always lowercase rosary.
Pronounced “rohsh-huh-SHAH-nuh.” The Jewish New Year, celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar sometime between the middle of September and the middle of October. See Jewish holidays.
Title for Zen Buddhist master, literally “old teacher.” It generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Capitalize when used before or after a name.
A tenet held by some Wiccan practitioners and other followers of the occult; states that whatever energy is put out into the world by a person, that energy will be returned to that person three times.
Some Amish allow their youth, after age 16, to spend a couple years free of the most intense restrictions of their faith while still living with their parents. The purpose is to make sure they are committed to their faith before they are baptized. The vast majority decide to remain within the Amish community.
Branch of the Eastern Church of Christianity with headquarters in Moscow. It is the largest of the national and ethnic churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. See Eastern Orthodox.