To claim that a location, structure, or geographical feature is sacred is to assert that it is ‘…set apart and regarded with special reverence…’ (Wolffe, 2017(a), p.213). Yet there are many ways to understand this sacrality, where it comes from, and how it is expressed by different groups of people. The term sacred has a strong religious association, and usually means that something serves a religious function, or holds importance for people by virtue of its religious associations (Oxford University Press, 2017).
The space delimited by its sacred designation participates in a relationship with religious adherents; Jonathan Z Smith suggests that sacred places such as temples are focusing lenses, ‘…marking and revealing significance … a place of clarification … where men and gods are held to be transparent to one another…’ (Smith, 1980, pp.113-114). In other words, people engage with the sacred via sacred spaces, and use them to find direction and meaning.
This relationship between humanity and the divine, mediated by sacred spaces, is considered by Mircea Eliade to be the foundation of order and meaning for society – sacred spaces are sacred because they represent a point at which chaotic and relative experience is fixed by a powerful religious event such as the first revelation of the Qur’an, or the site of Gautama’s awakening (Eliade, 1963, pp.20-22). This space provides a symbolic centre, around which the world is oriented (the axis mundi), and is thereafter empowering and alien: a place of communion with god or gods, unlike the profane world outside it. This symbolic centre is exemplified by the orientation of mosques across the world, which either through their architecture or the provision of a mihrab (prayer niche) point the individual back towards the Kaaba in Mecca, the holy house that Muslims believe was built by the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham); this defining Islamic centre forms the Muslim world into ‘…a gigantic wheel with Mecca as the hub, with lines drawn from all the mosques in the world forming the spokes’ (Dickie, 1995, in Sinclair, 2017, p.67).
Sacred buildings and shrines are examples of constructed sacrality, structures designed and built according to a plan – whether that plan was motivated by a hierophanic irruption of cosmic meaning, or something more mundane, like accommodating a larger congregation. Examples include churches, mosques, gurdwaras, and synagogues – as well as personal expressions of devotion such as the Buddhist butsudan, Hindu home shrine, or Christian home altar. The recurring theme, however, is that the space is in some way marked off and separate from non-sacred space.
In London, many traditions create their own sacred spaces, enclosed within buildings, but also kept separate in other ways. The Bevis Marks Synagogue is situated down an alleyway, away from the main road, having been built less than fifty years after the legalisation of Judaism. Its design and location were intended to be inconspicuous, and so the space retained a sense of seclusion and safety through apparent conformity with non-Jewish buildings (Wolffe, 2017(b), pp.14-15). In another part of the city (and several hundred years later), the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir embodies a bold reversal of this approach – it was constructed to stand separate from the surrounding residential streets by embracing its Hindu heritage and following a traditional design. The temple grounds are large and open, and are enclosed by a wall, but the temple itself is relatively small – not suitable for large congregations. Instead, the mandir is intended to bring individuals into contact with the divine images (murtis) that reside there, and to engage with the temple as a representation of the divine. Swaminarayan Aksharpith writes that the mandir can be regarded as ‘…a scaled-down model of the cosmos … where the divine is endowed with a form’ (2014, in Wolffe, 2017(b), p.25).
It is not only location that plays a role in sacralisation of a place, but how it is approached and the altered behaviour mandated within it. Many sacred buildings require that visitors make changes to their body or mental state before entering; before entering a mosque for salat (prayers), Muslims must wash their body (wudu) and remove their shoes to ensure that they enter in a state of purity (Sinclair, 2017, p.75); this purity also extends to their intentions – the Qur’an says ‘…do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying…’ (Qur’an 4:43). Visitors to a gurdwara are required to remove their shoes, and must also cover their head as a sign of respect to the Guru (Sikhs.org, 2011). The central point of focus is the Guru Granth Sahib, simultaneously the sacred text and living Guru of Sikhi; wherever it is installed and shown reverence can be called a gurdwara. It may be more appropriate to say that the gurdwara emerges as a scared space around the Guru, the sacrality of the building is therefore created by the inner sacrality of the text – without which it is just a building. The Guru must be approached in a state of humility on arrival, and individuals should make an offering to it before sitting down to pray (The Open University, 2017, p.28).
The installation of the Guru in the gurdwara (or the creation of a gurdwara via the installation of the Guru), is one example of how sacred buildings and places are constructed in the absence of a defining hierophany to establish them. A similar pattern is repeated in other traditions; Catholic churches are usually consecrated by the installation of a holy relic, while Hindu temples are marked by the presence of a murti, linga, or other representation of a god.
To this end, many religious buildings attempt to communicate religious narratives or embody sacred principles. Stained glass windows in churches often display religious figures such as saints and prophets, while the presence of crucified representations of Jesus help to reinforce the message of his death (and the implied resurrection and salvation) – ‘…the church was a building to be interpreted, or ‘read’ and understood by those who came to worship’ (Booth, n.d.). Another example is the Bahá'í House of Worship of South America in Chile, which utilises several features to embody the Bahá'í faith. The main entrance faces towards the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in Israel, the architecture is flowing rather than rigid, suggestive of the pluralistic Bahá'í attitude towards religious revelation, and the building itself appears to be moving around a central point, reinforcing the idea of a central truth around which various religions move (Catlett, 2017).
The sacred is not reserved solely for human constructions, and in many areas landscapes and geographical features are divinised. Often this is a result of a religious experience such as the meeting of Moses with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, or the encounter between Muhammed and Jibril on Jabal al-Nour; these sites become sacred by association.
Features may be treated as non-denominationally sacred by virtue of their aesthetics; many national parks are preserved (set aside) and cared for (regarded with special reverence) without reference to religion. Natural features may also resonate with an established mythology and therefore be considered metaphysically sacred not because humans encountered the divine there, but because the divine already manifested itself at that location – for instance a svayambhu-linga, or self-created pillar, that represents the Hindu god Shiva; these are considered objects of worship and especially powerful by virtue of their self-manifestation (Johnson, 2009).
The idea of a sacred landscape, or punya bhumi, is often applied to the whole of India by Hindus to describe the religious significance and cultural unity of the Indian subcontinent. The boundaries of the region are marked out by four ‘great dhamas’ or divine dwelling places, where Hindu gods live in the human world – Puri in the east, Dwarka in the west, Badrinath in the north, and Rameshwaram in the south. Devotees often make pilgrimages to these sites, either individually or in sequence, but they are not the only locations of heightened sacrality, and other areas such as forests, caves, and mountains can be viewed as homes for gods or ascetics – most notably the Himalayas (Beckerlegge, 2017, p.140).
Flowing down from the Himalayas are rivers sacred to Hindus, especially the goddess Ganga (Ganges), who was separated out into streams and tributaries by Shiva, whose matted hair provided channels to divert the otherwise catastrophic torrents of water. Accounts such as these help adherents to ‘read’ the sacred landscape just as congregations ‘read’ the architecture of their church.
India also has sacred sites known as tirthas, crossing places, where two rivers meet; it is believed possible for humans to ‘cross over’ to the realm of the gods here. A well-known tirtha is found in Varanasi; many Hindus believe those who are cremated in that sacred place will benefit from instant liberation (Beckerlegge, 2017, p.141). The sacrednature of these locations is reinforced by the mythology of Hinduism, and maintained by the continued practice of millions of adherents.
Buildings and places are considered to be sacred if some relationship can be established between that location and the divine, which creates a boundary between the newly defined sacred space and the external profane world. Yet these relationships are claims made by individuals and groups that may conflict with others, and the same location can be claimed simultaneously by different groups for different purposes. Jerusalem is a highly contested space, with Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claiming their own sacred relationships – in some cases these contested values can give rise to violent confrontation (Wolffe, 2017(a), p.212). Spaces can also be contested between religious and secular groups, for instance the site of Stonehenge, which is managed by a national charity for the public good, but is also claimed as a religious site with specific uses by modern Druids. The shape in which the sacred is expressed can also cause conflict; in 2009 minarets (but not mosques themselves) were banned in Switzerland in order to preserve the country’s cultural aesthetic, and ostensibly to resist ‘Islamisation’ (BBC, 2009).
The sacred is an amorphous quality, which is asserted by individuals and groups as a marker of divine presence, but the expression of the sacred is negotiated with a wider community, even if it is believed to originate from a higher authority. Sacred spaces can also be transformed, and religious buildings can often be converted for secular purposes such as cafes or museums, or else reimagined as sacred for another tradition – many mosques and temples in the UK were once churches that fell into disuse.
In conclusion, we can see that sacred spaces are both constructed and discovered, but in both cases they are in some way set aside from secular or profane space, and carry special importance and significance for religious adherents, they find expression in many forms, including architecture and mythology, and exist as part of a dialogue between the individual, society, and the natural world. The sacred is sensed or proclaimed by people, and without them the space reverts to an undifferentiated medium, and any meaning is lost.
We have seen that an assertion of the sacred is also an assertion of the non-sacred (or profane), which is necessarily a value judgement that may lead to conflict. The sacred and profane exist together, so a requirement of any sacred buildings or location is that the profane is defined and delimited, in fact the process of creating or discovering a sacred location can instead be conceived of as the process of creating or discovering disorder, meaninglessness, or impurity – an act of resistance against the external world. Sacred space is therefore relative, responsive, and emerges from a relationship between religious adherents and non-sacred space, the ideal and the mundane – it takes forms which communicate meaning, and negotiates its continued existence against conflicts with the wider world. In its segregation from the profane it mandates unique modes of behaviour and expression, and encourages religious adherents to relate to something outside of their normal experience, leading them back to the origin of its existence – the sacred.
[Podcasts] #She Too A seven-part podcast series exploring some of the texts that include violence against women in the Bible.
[Reports] A Report into Anti-Sikh Hate Crimes The All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs 2020 [sikhi sikhism hate crime discrimination]
[Reports] A Report on the State of Hinduism in Religious Education in UK Schools Insight UK 2021 [hinduism religious education]
[Online Courses] A spiritual revolution? Wicca and religious change in the 1960s This free course looks at the 'crisis' of traditional religion in the Sixties in the Western world. It explores the process of religious renewal, looking at the development of Wicca, the prototypical form of modern Paganism. [wicca 1960s paganism]
[Figures] A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [stub iskcon hinduism vaishnavism bhakti]
About the project Understanding Religion is a website aimed at providing easy access to information about the study of religion. Always free, written clearly for a wide audience, grounded in academic study and supported by references for those who want to dive deeper.
[Websites] Access to Insight A freely available compendium of translations from the Pali Canon, along with a selection of other Theravada Buddhist texts. [buddhism theravada pali canon suttas]
[Scholars] Agnieszka Halemba
[Texts] Ahadith The ahadith are texts containing reported stories about Muhammad, and are frequently used to fill in details about the life of the prophet; they also provide guidance on points not directly addressed by the Qur'an. [islam stub]
[Traditions] Ahmadiyya Muslim Community [islam stub]
[Figures] Ahura Mazda The supreme deity in Zoroastrianism. [zoroastrianism deities stub]
[Concepts] Akashic records The Akashic records are a non-physical storehouse of information, proposed by Theosophists to contain a record of all thoughts, words, and actions in the past and future. [stub]
[Figures Scholars] Alan Watts [stub]
[Figures] Allah The supreme deity in Islam. [islam deities stub]
[Perspectives] Alternative Perspectives Alternative perspectives, due to their absence in mainstream texts and dismissal by historical scholars, are sometimes difficult to hear over the sound of traditional narratives – but this is increasingly changing for the better.
[Podcasts] An A-Z of Believing From Atheism to Zealotry, join Dr Ed Kessler, for a 26-week crash course on religion and society.
[Youtube Channels] Angela's Symposium [magic demonology paganism occultism]
[Concepts] Animism Animism is a term based on the Latin word for 'soul', which frames all religious belief in terms of how it imbues the natural world with agency and personality, but more recent scholarship has developed this understanding to focus more on the relationships and responsibilities which typically define animist perspectives. [indigenous]
[Online Courses] Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present Join 50 leading scholars in exploring antisemitism, from its roots to its contemporary forms. [antisemitism hate]
[Practices] Austerities A category of difficult, often painful, practices which may include restricting intake of food or water, or engaging in challenging rituals. [stub]
Authors Contribitors and editors.
[Entheogens] Ayahuasca A drink prepared by indigenous groups in the Amazon, containing a number of psychoactive chemicals. It is often used in groups to facilitate healing, visions, and insight. [dmt shamanism indigenous religion]
[Videos] BASR 2020 Worldviews in RS and RE Panel [religious studies religious education]
[Websites] BBC Bitesize BBC [religious studies religious education]
[Websites] BBC Teach BBC [religious studies religious education]
[Books] Be Love Now Ram Das 2010 [hinduism yoga]
[Concepts] Belief Religious systems often include beliefs about the world (both seen and unseen), which describe (or dictate) how the world operates. Subscribing to a set of beliefs (orthodoxy) is not always essential for belonging to a religion.
[Texts] Bhagavad Gita A popular Hindu text, part of the larger Mahabharata, which contains a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. [stub hinduism]
[Places] Blaauboschkraal stone ruins A series of stone circles in South Africa. [megaliths south africa stub]
[Places] Bodh Gaya The site of Buddha's enlightenment. [buddhism stub]
[Figures] Bodhisattva A figure in Buddhist traditions who is on the path to enlightenment. [buddhism mahayana theravada]
Books A collection of pages, organised around themes and topics, free to use and share.
[Figures] Brahma The Hindu deity of creation. [stub deities]
[Figures Concepts] Brahman A Hindu deity and philosophical principle, viewed by some as the supreme reality, or by others as the creative effulgence of another deity. [deities]
[Figures] Brahmin A Hindu holy person, often officiates ceremonies. [stub]
[Journals] British Journal of Religious Education [religious education]
[Traditions] Buddhism Buddhism is a family of traditions which trace their lineage back to a figure known as Siddartha Gautama, a man who discovered a means of escape from the suffering of existence. It is said that he became 'awakened', and this is the meaning of his title: Buddha. [buddhism india china tibet japan]
[Books] Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction Damien Keown 1996 Provides a good overview of the essential points of Buddhism. [buddhism]
[Books] Buddhist Yoga Anonymous 1995 A translation of the Sandhinirmochana-sutra (Scripture Unlocking the Mysteries) - a classical sourcebook of Buddhist yoga. [buddhism yoga]
[Traditions] Candomblé [stub]
[Entheogens] Cannabis Cannabis is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes, however it can also be used for spiritual purposes. [marijuana weed pot herb ganja]
[Traditions] Caodaism Caodaism emerged in Vietnam during the 1920s and based its structure on that of the Roman Catholic Church, but drew its principles and practices from Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, and Confucianism. [vietnam new religious movements]
[Perspectives] Capitalist Spirituality A term used to describe the use of religious ideas, practices, and materials in the support of capitalist ideologies, for example the promotion of meditation in the workplace in order to boost productivity.
[Scholars] Carl Jung A Swiss psychologist who helped introduce and develop ideas about the human unconscious.
[Scholars] Catherine Bell An American religious studies scholar who specialised in the study of Chinese religions and ritual studies. [ritual chinese religion china]
[Practices Sounds] Chanting A vocal practice in which words or sounds are repeated, either alone or in a group.
[Articles] Chemically-Induced Visions in the Fourth Book of Ezra in Light of Comparative Persian Material Vicente Dobroruka 2006 [entheogens]
[Occasions] Chinese New Year [china]
[Traditions] Christianity Christians follow the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a man born around the beginning of the first century in the land which is now Israel. [christianity israel jesus]
[Places] Church The term 'church' can refer to subtraditions within Christianity, or a place of worship for Christians.
[Perspectives] Cognitive Theories
Commentary Pages These commentaries provide the glue which holds together pages into books.
[Videos] CRPL Seminar 15th October - Buddhist Responses to Sexual Misconduct [buddhism sex abuse sexual abuse]
[Objects] Crucifix A physical representation of Jesus dying on the cross, used by Christians as a reminder of Jesus's death and resurrection; the crucifix is used in a variety of contexts, often as a focal point within a church.
[Concepts] Cults One of the key aspects of religion – particularly in public discourse – is the relationship between 'organised religion' and small groups of devotees lead by charismatic individuals, commonly referred to as cults.
[Journals] Culture and Religion [religious education]
[Concepts] Dharma The Hindu concept of law, righteousness, or way of life.
[Scholars] Dimitris Xygalatas An anthropologist and cognitive scientist studying ritual and cooperation. [ritual anthropology cognitive science]
[Entheogens] DMT A chemical substance that occurs in many plants and animals and which has historically been prepared by various cultures for ritual purposes as an entheogen. [N,N-Dimethyltryptamine]
[Scholars] Douglas Marshall A scholar of religion and ritual.
[Articles] Early Christians Might Have Been High on Hallucinogenic Communion Wine Ed Prideaux 2020 A discussion on the early use of hallucinogenic chemicals mixed with alcohol to form so-called 'spiked' wine. [entheogens wine]
[Traditions] Eastern Orthodox Church
[Occasions] Eid-e-Shuja’ Eid-e-Shuja’, also known as Eid-e-Zahra, is a ritual festival observed by most Twelver Shi‘a Muslims. It marks the end of the two-month mourning period after the events of the Karbala massacre, which occurred in 680 AD. [islam]
[Figures] El The name for any god or deity in the ancient Near East, is also the name of specific deities in that region. [deities]
[Figures] Elohim [deities]
[Podcasts] Encounter Encounter is a discussion podcast produced by the Woolf Institute and presented by its Founder Director Dr Ed Kessler, exploring the relationship between religion and society.
[Practices Food] Eucharist
[Texts] Gathas A collection of 17 hymns, believed to have been composed by Zarathustra – the Gathas represent the core of the Zoroastrian liturgy (the Yasna). [zoroastrianism]
[Places] Glastonbury A town in Somerset, United Kingdom, which acts as a site of pilgrimage for many. [united kingdom somerset pilgrimage christianity pagan]
[Online Courses] Governing Religion: Global Challenges and Comparative Approaches Explore the relationship between religions and governments and learn how religions have come to be governed across the world. [diversity]
[Scholars] Graham Harvey
[Figures] Guru Amar Das
[Figures] Guru Angad
[Figures] Guru Arjan
[Figures] Guru Gobind Singh
[Figures] Guru Har Krishnan
[Figures] Guru Har Rai
[Figures] Guru Hargobind
[Figures] Guru Nanak
[Figures] Guru Ram Das
[Figures] Guru Tegh Bahadur
[Scholars] Gwilym Beckerlegge
[Figures] Hassan al-Banna Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is alternately praised as a leading social reformer, and decried as laying the foundations for modern Islamic terrorist groups. [islam egypt]
[Concepts] Henotheism Henotheism means the worship and veneration of one god, in a world where many gods exist – for example the worship of Artemis within the Greek Pantheon.
[Traditions] Himalayan Institute Of Yoga Science And Philosophy The Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy was founded by Swami Rama, and is dedicated to sharing so-called Himalayan Yoga. [hinduism india]
[Books] Hindu Myths Wendy O'Flaherty 1975 A collection of Puranas - stories about Hindu deities and mythological figures. [hinduism india mythology]
[Traditions] Hinduism A diverse range of Indian religious systems, which regard the Vedas as authoritative scripture. [india]
[Books] Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction Kim Knott 1998 [hinduism]
[Books] History of Western Philosophy Bertrand Russell 1946 [philosophy greece catholicism]
[Scholars] Hugh Beattie
[Practices Sounds] Hymns
[Reports] Improving Religious Literacy: A Contribution to the Debate The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education 2016 [religious education religious literacy]
[Books] Indian Philosophy: Volume 1 Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan 1923 This volume of Radhakrishnan’s two-volume work on Indian philosophy goes into detail on the Rig Veda and Upanishads, Jainism, Buddhism, and the theism of the Bhagavad Gita. [india philosophy buddhism hinduism jainism]
[Podcasts] Inside Fundamentalism Four-part podcast series reflecting on aspects of strictly observed religion.
[Online Courses] Interfaith Dialogue for Combating Extremism among Young People Explore the role of interfaith education in preventing forms of violent extremism and building resilient communities. [interfaith extremism young people violence]
[Reports] Interim Report: Religious Education for All The Commission on Religious Education 2017 [religious education]
[Books] Introducing World Religions Victoria Kennick Urubshurow 2008 A textbook on religious studies, surveying traditions from around the world. [religious studies world religions]
Introduction to Religious Studies Explore the world of religion with this in-depth course and develop a thematic understanding of contemporary religious studies.
Introduction to Religious Studies | Welcome
[Figures] Isaiah Shembe
[Traditions] Islam A monotheistic tradition that developed during 7th century Arabia, and which traces its roots back to the one god of the Hebrews. [arabia muhammad]
[Traditions] Jainism The Jain religious tradition focuses on liberation from the suffering of rebirth, and in this sense has common ground with its near geographic neighbours - Hinduism and Buddhism. [india]
[Scholars] James George Frazer
[Figures] Jehovah [deities]
[Figures] Jesus The founding figure of Christianity, Jesus was a Jewish mircle-worker and teacher who proclaimed a divine message in the 1st century CE.
[Scholars] Jonathan Z. Smith
[Places] Kanniyakumari A town in southern India, named after Kanya Kumari, a Hindu goddess. Also the site of a memorial to Swami Vivekananda. [india hinduism tamil nadu vivekananda]
[Scholars] Karen Armstrong
[Practices Concepts Food] Kashrut Jewish dietary law.
[Podcasts] Keeping it 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion Aimed at a general audience who want to get to grips with contemporary religious studies, this podcast explores a range of topics, including the concept of religion as category, and the significance of race, gender, and sexuality.
[Practices Sounds] Kirtan
[Figures] Korean Martyrs
[Practices Concepts Food] Kosher Food which is appropriate to eat in Jewish traditions.
[Texts] Lankavatara Sutra
[Figures] Lao Tzu
[Youtube Channels] Let's Talk Religion [islam sufism philosophy religious studies]
[Scholars] Linda Woodhead
[Perspectives] Liquid Religion
[Perspectives] Literary Bias Texts (of all kinds) are controlled and mediated by people, and therefore restrictions can sometimes be made about which texts are preserved and shared, and which are ignored or destroyed. This can lead to an erasure of certain material from a religious tradition, or from the public understanding of that tradition, particularly if the material disagrees with the perspective of those in positions of power. [texts scripture bias]
[Perspectives] Lived Religion
[Podcasts] Living in Harmony The role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East.
[Texts] Lotus Sutra
Luke Burns Luke Burns is the founder and director of the Online Centre for Religious Studies.
[Occasions] Mabon Mabon is a pagan festival that takes place on the autumnal equinox, during which foods are harvested and thanks is given to the Earth.
[Occasions] Maghi This is an annual festival commemorating the forty Sikh martyrs who originally deserted Guru Gobind Singh, but later returned to fight alongside him at Muktsar.
[Traditions] Mahayana Buddhism A form of Buddhism which is focused on attaining liberation for all beings out of compassion for the suffering of the world. [buddhism india]
Main Pages Information about the site.
[Practices Sounds] Mantra
[Scholars] Marion Bowman Marion Bowman is a scholar of religion at the Open University
[Scholars] Mary Douglas A British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism, whose area of speciality was social anthropology. [culture symbolism anthropology]
[Perspectives] Material Religion
[Entheogens] Mescaline Cacti
[Scholars] Mircea Eliade
[Figures] Mohandas Gandhi A figure of Indian independence against British rule, Gandhi was a revered Hindu activist. [hinduism india]
[Figures] Muhammad Muhammad is the revered prophet of Islam, who was active during the 6th Century in Arabia.
[Objects] Murti Used by Hindus, a murti is a physical representation of a deity, which that deity can inhabit, and through which the deity is worshipped. [hinduism]
[Online Courses] Muslims in Britain: Changes and Challenges Develop your understanding of Muslims and their faith through an exploration of communities in Britain. [islam muslims britain united kingdom]
[Places] Nabta Playa An ancient North African megalith. [megaliths]
[Podcasts] Naked Reflections Reflecting on recent science news stories and current events, authoritative thinkers unpack the implications for society.
[Scholars] Nancy Ammerman
[Traditions] Nazareth Baptist Church
[Figures] Neem Karoli Baba
[Perspectives] New Animism
new religious movements
[Texts] New Testament
[Podcasts] New Testament Review Influential works of New Testament scholarship discussed by two Duke PhD candidates.
[Scholars] Ninian Smart Smart was a Scottish writer and educator who developed the field of academic religious studies, and helped to distance it from theology. He took the investigation away from which religion was 'true', and instead looked at the lived experiences of religious adherents. [phenomenology religious studies]
[Podcasts] NT Pod Podcast about the New Testament and Christian Origins. Condensed comment from an academic perspective for everyone interested in historical approaches to the New Testament. By Mark Goodacre, Frances Hill Fox Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University.
[Occasions] Obon A Japanese celebration of people's ancestors, which developed out of Buddhist and Confucian traditions. [japan buddhism confucianism]
[Texts] Old Testament
Pages All pages, all categories
[Concepts] Panpsychism The belief that the universe is one, collective intelligence or consciousness.
[Concepts] Pantheism The belief that everything is god.
[Figures] Paramahansa Yogananda
[Scholars] Pascal Boyer
[Practices] Pilgrimage Pilgrimage is a practice of journeying to a significant location, but the location, method of travel, and meaning attached can vary widely. There is often a close relationship, or even overlap, with tourism.
[Concepts] Polytheism Polytheism is any system of belief involving multiple deities.
[Practices] Practice Religious practices are those behaviours and actions that have religious meaning for those who perform them; there are many different types and examples of such practices, including pilgrimage to holy sites (such as the tomb of Imam Husayn for Shi'ite Muslims), prayer, and song – to name a few.
[Texts] Principia Discordia The Principia Discordia is a semi-satirical work on the nature of divine chaos. [discordianism eris fnord stub]
[Entheogens] Psilocybin Mushrooms [magic mushrooms shrooms cubes]
[Books] Psychology and Religion G. S. Spinks 1963 A detailed review of the psychological study of religion, touching on the theories of Freud and Jung, and exploring the psychology of prayer, worship, and mystical experiences. [psychology]
[Figures] Ram Dass
[Occasions] Ramadan Ramadan is the period of fasting and contemplation undertaken by Muslims in the ninth lunar month of the year. [islam]
[Texts] Ramayana The Ramayana (literally Rama's travels) is about the character Rama, prince of a kingdom called Ayodhya (and later its king), but Rama is actually the god Vishnu who has taken birth in a human form, or avatar. [hinduism india]
[Traditions] Rastafari Movement
[Traditions] Ravidassia religion A tradition with roots in Sikhi, which reveres Ravidass as Guru. [sikhi]
[Figures] Regina Jonas
[Podcasts] Rejected Religion Discussions on religious topics typically viewed as alternative, forbidden, or heretical. [religious studies hermeticism occult esotericism alternative religion]
[Online Courses] Religion and Conflict Understand and analyse the role of religion in conflicts and peacebuilding in present-day societies, with this free online course. [violence terrorism]
[Reports] Religion and Worldviews: the way forward. A national plan for RE The Commission on Religious Education 2018 [religious education]
[Podcasts] Religion Bites This is a podcast by Malory Nye on the study of religion.
[Youtube Channels] Religion for Breakfast [religious studies]
[Online Courses] Religion, Radicalisation, Resilience Understand religious radicalisation and violence and learn strategies to build resilience in communities and schools. [violence radicalisation terrorism]
[Online Courses] Religions From The Inside: Improving Interreligious Dialogue Explore the value of cooperation between faiths and learn how the five main world religions’ core beliefs relate to each other. [interreligious dialogue]
[Online Courses] Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures Learn how to better understand the rich and complex ways that religions function in historic and contemporary contexts. [religious literacy]
[Books] Revelations of Divine Love Julian of Norwich 1966 [christianity women mystic mysticism religious experience]
[Scholars] Richard King Co-author of 'Selling Spirituality'
[Practices Concepts] Ritual Some religious practices have specific rules about how they are performed, these practices are sometimes called rituals. There is no hard line between 'religious practice' and 'ritual', but practices with more rules can be described as more ritualistic. [ritual order meaning]
[Scholars] Robin Horton An English social anthropologist and philosopher, he carried out specialised study in comparative religion which challenged and expanded views in the study of the anthropology of religion. [anthropology philosophy africa indigenous religion magic myth ritual]
[Scholars] Ronald Grimes A ritual theorist who founded the interdisciplinary field of ritual studies. [ritual anthropology american religion media]
[Scholars] Rudolf Otto
[Youtube Channels] Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen [nordic animism denmark animism]
[Traditions] Santo Daime
[Experiences] Satori An experience of enlightenment within Zen Buddhism. [zen buddhism enlightenment]
[Perspectives] Self-Religion Self-religion is a term used by scholars to describe the modern phenomenon of highly individualised religious practice, which draws from diverse spiritual traditions in order to create a unique form of religion that is acceptable to the individual.
[Concepts] Seva Within the Sikh religion, one of the important practical aspects is seva or selfless service, which takes the form of charitable actions.
[Perspectives] Seven Dimensions of Religion The seven dimensions of religion are a framework for exploring and understanding religion, developed by the Scottish scholar of religion, Ninian Smart. [phenomenology religious studies]
[Practices] Shechita A form of ritual slaughter in Jewish traditions.
[Figures] Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha) The founder of Buddhism. [buddhism india nepal]
[Scholars] Sigmund Freud
[Traditions] Sikhi (Sikhism) Sikhi is the name of a religious tradition which emerged in the Punjab, initiated by Guru Nanak, and led by a series of Gurus who acted as divine intermediaries between God and humanity. The final human Guru bestowed spiritual authority onto the community's scriptures and the community itself. [punjab india]
[Concepts] Six Articles of Faith Within Islam, there are three aspects which are generally agreed upon - these are islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (perfection). In this article, we're going to focus on iman and see how it is understood in relation to Islam as a religious tradition, but it's clear from this threefold division that faith by itself isn't the whole story. [islam]
[YouTube Channels] SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies: YouTube Channel Run by SOAS University, the Centre of Yoga Studies researches and shares information about yoga practices and history.
Sources Useful articles, books, and online resources.
[Texts] Sri Guru Granth Sahib The Sikh holy text, revered as a guru.
[Figures] Swami Vivekananda
[Traditions] Sámi indigenous religion [indigenous]
Terms and Conditions The boring bits...
[Podcasts] Text Talks Text Talks provides teachers and students (and anyone else who’s interested) with weekly podcasts and resources based around the GCSE and A Level Syllabuses for Buddhism and Hinduism. [hinduism buddhism religious education gcse a level]
[Texts Concepts] Texts Although the word 'texts' might imply a written document, the term has a wider scope in the field of religious studies. [texts scripture art material religion]
[Texts] The Bible The Christian holy text, which includes accounts of the creation of the world and God's dealings with humanity.
[Podcasts] The Classical Ideas Podcast The goal of The Classical Ideas Podcast is to empower students with the core knowledge of major world religions to improve citizenship and agency in a diverse society.
[Websites] The Database of Religious History The world’s first comprehensive online quantitative and qualitative encyclopedia of religious cultural history.
[Podcasts] The Faith and Belief Forum: Podcast Produced by the Faith and Belief Forum, an organisation dedicated to building good relations between people of different identities.
[Books] The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion James George Frazer 1922 [comparative religion mythology]
[Books] The Indian Theogony Sukumari Bhattacharji 1970 A work on comparative mythology, focusing on Indian deities and mythologies - particularly with reference to the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. [hinduism india comparative mythology]
[Traditions] The International Church of Cannabis The International Church of Cannabis is a religious group based in Denver, Colorado, USA, which uses cannabis during its ceremonies in order to help members have a better understanding of themselves. [stub entheogens]
[Journals] The Journal of Religion, Nature and Culture [religious studies social science cognitive science nature]
[Books] The Last Days of Socrates Plato 1954 A collection of Plato's writings, centered around the life and death of Socrates, including Euthyphro, The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. [greece philosophy]
[Books] The Life of Milarepa Rechung 1928 An abridged version of Evans-Wentz’s translation, telling the life story of the Tibetan Buddhist monk Milarepa. [tibet buddhism biography]
[Podcasts] The Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast A weekly philosophy podcast inspiring and supporting students, teachers, academics, and free-thinkers worldwide.
[Texts] The Pañcadaśī The Pañcadaśī is a Hindu philosophical text, in the tradition of advaita vedanta, also known as non-dualism. [hinduism vedanta]
[Podcasts] The RE Podcast [religious education]
[Books] The Religious Experience of Mankind Ninian Smart 1969 A comprehensive survey of religious experiences from around the world. [comparative religion]
[Podcasts] The Religious Studies Project The Religious Studies Project (RSP) is an international collaborative enterprise producing weekly podcasts and resources on the social-scientific study of religion.
[Podcasts] The Sacred Listen to Theos in conversation, and interviewing other thought leaders, about Christianity and faith in the world today.
[Books] The Science of Self-Realization A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada 1977 A collection of essays on Vaishnavite devotional yoga, or bhakti. [bhakti yoga vaishnavism iskcon]
[Books] The Serpent Power Sir John Woodroffe 1918 An introduction to the concept of laya yoga, along with translations of two Sanskrit works - the Sat-Chakra-Nirupana and the Paduka-Pancaka. [yoga kundalini hinduism india]
[Online Courses] The Sharia and Islamic Law: An Introduction Discover Sharia and Islamic law, and learn more about some of the diverse roles they play in Muslim life. [islam sharia fiqh]
[Books] The Study of Religion: An Introduction to Key Ideas and Methods George D. Chryssides and Ron Greaves 2007 [religious studies world religions]
[Books] The Upanishads Anonymous 1965 Mascaró presents a selection of the Hindu Upanishads in English translation. [hinduism]
[Books] The Varieties of Religious Experience William James 1902 Published at the beginning of the twentieth century, The Varieties of Religious Experience is a far-ranging exploration of the psychology and philosophy behind different kinds of religious experiences. [religious studies world religions religious experience]
[Perspectives] The World Religions Paradigm When the category of religion is used to describe 'world religions', it is often in a way that turns multiple diverse traditions, philosophies, and practices, into one single entity for the sake of simplicity. [religious studies]
[Books] Theogony and Works and Days Hesiod 1988 [greece mythology]
[Traditions] Theravada Buddhism Theravada is a form of Buddhism that venerates the Buddha but does not deify him, follows the teachings of the old scriptures (the Pali Canon), and values the aspirational figure of the arhat. [buddhism india]
[Figures] Thomas Aquinas
[Practices] Trimarga The trimarga are three methods of liberation found within Hindu traditions.
[Concepts] Trinity The so-called 'holy trinity' is a Christian formulation of the order or structure of god, comprised of the father, the spirit, and the son.
[Occasions] Tu BiShvat A Jewish holiday occurring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the 'new year of the trees'. [new year trees judaism israel]
[Traditions] Vajrajana Buddhism
[Traditions] Wana people [indigenous]
[Scholars] Wendy Doniger
[Questions] What is religion? Although at first glance, you might think that religion is an easy to understand concept - it becomes very difficult to pin down, the more you look at it. There are lots of possible definitions, but none of them are 100% right.
[Questions] What is religious literacy? Religious literacy is a term that has become more popular in recent years, but what exactly do we mean when we talk about it? [religious studies religious literacy]
[Questions] What is religious studies? Religious studies is the academic study of religion - but what does that really mean? [religious studies]
[Questions] What makes a place sacred? To claim that a location, structure, or geographical feature is sacred is to assert that it is set apart and regarded with special reverence, yet there are many ways to understand this sacrality, where it comes from, and how it is expressed by different groups of people. [sacred place geography]
[Questions] Who creates religion? The modern study of religion, beginning in the 19th Century, has been traditionally driven by male European scholars, who have carried their own cultural biases and assumptions - some unconscious, others less so. [religious studies]
[Online Courses] Why Religion Matters: Religious Literacy, Culture and Diversity A free online course from the Open University, exploring the importance of religious literacy. [religious studies religious literacy]
[Podcasts] Wise Studies Podcast
[Podcasts] Woolf Research What's the leading research in the field of religion and society? And how are we contributing to it?
[Reports] Worldviews in Religious Education Theos Think Tank 2020 This report interprets and develops the idea of worldview and explores its implications for the classroom. [religious education]
[Videos] Worldviews in Religious Education launch This is a recording of 'What are worldviews and why should schools teach them?' on 21st October 2020. [religious education]
[Reports] Worldviews: A Multidisciplinary Report Céline Benoit, Timothy Hutchings and Rachael Shillitoe 2020 As part of the Worldview Project, the REC commissioned a multidisciplinary academic literature review on the worldview concept. This was prepared by three academics working in different disciplines in different universities. [worldviews religious education]
[Traditions] Yazidism Yazidism is a monotheistic tradition, which believes that the universe was created by a single deity, Xwedê, and is governed by seven angels.
[Videos] Yoginī temples and their antecedents: reassessing the textual evidence A live recording of an online talk and Q+A via zoom on 21st October 2020 for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. [yoga]
[Scholars] Émile Durkheim