Glossary of Important Terms In World Religions
Q - Z
A - G | H - P
Q (Quelle, German for "source"): according to the Synoptic Tradition, a hypothetical body of literary material, either oral or written, that is believed to be a common source for the writers of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Q is sometimes referred to as the "sayings source," as it comprises the majority of Jesus' sayings and aphorisms, such as those recorded in Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" or Luke's "Sermon on the Plain."
Qin (Chin) Dynasty (221-206 BCE): a sort-lived rule that unified the fragmented China of the Warring States Period (700-221 CE). Governed by Qin Shi Huang Di , who proclaimed himself the first "emperor" of what we know as China (from the name Qin/Chin).
Quan Yin (Guan Yin, Kuan Yin): in Chinese Buddhism, a very popular female bodhisattva of compassion and mercy who "hears the cry of the world." She is the Chinese incarnation of the Indian male bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Quan Yin is also a protector of women, sailors, and children; many Chinese places of business will have a shrine dedicated to Quan Yin, or an image of her on a high place.
Qur'an (Koran; Qurran): in Arabic, "recitation;" the holy scriptures of Islam, believed to have been given to the prophet Muhammad from God (through the angel Gabriel) over a twenty-two year period (610-622 CE).
Quraish: according to Islamic traditon, the tribe from which Muhammad is said to have descended. The Quraish were the custodians or protectors of the Kaaba, the original "house of God," which stands in the center of the Great Mosque at Mecca. For further information on this, see lecture synopsis on Islam.
Raja Yoga: in Sanskrit, Raj means "royal;" as a Hindu yoga, it is "the path to God through psychophysical exercises." As a meditative process, it involves intense concentration and physical discipline as one proceeds through the levels of physical body, conscious thought, unconscious mind, finally to encounter the depth of Being itself.
Ramadan: the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which one fasts from sunrise to sunset, not only from food, drink and sexual relations, but also from impure thoughts and harsh actions. Similar to Lent in the Christian tradition, it is a time of intense introspection and reaffirmation of one's faith. In Islam, this fast, Siyam, is one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Rectification of Names (Chinese, Cheng Ming): in Confucian relational ethics, the importance of using language clearly and concisely, especially when addressing persons of various social rankings and/or ages in relation to oneself. Like many Asian languages, Chinese has an immense variety of personal pronouns that are employed in all types of interpersonal situations in order to acknowledge one's "position" in relation to those who are older/younger or higher/lower in social/professional status, etc. See also the Five Constant Relationships.
Reform Judaism: developed in the early-to-mid 19th century, the Reform sect advocated the updating of Jewish tradition and practice in order to conform and adapt to the conditions of contemporary life brought on by such things as historical-critical scholarship, advancements in scientific inquiry, and social theory. Moral law, for example, became more important than ritual law, while the Torah came to be understood as a document that must always be interpreted in relation to the given historical circumstances of its readers.
Relative: anything subject to external conditions or circumstances; temporal. Relative is the opposite of absolute, or unconditioned.
Religio: the Latin root of the English word "religion." Religio means "to have an obligation toward." A good way of looking at "religion" in its broadest terms as a "human," but not necessarily or by definition "theological," agenda or experience.
Ren: Chinese, "human-heartedness;" in Confucian thought, the most fundamental human virtue. It refers to such ideas as compassion, kindness, and reciprocity. Sometimes spelled "jen," but still pronounced with an initial "r."
Rig Veda: the oldest and most well-known of the Vedas. Veda means "sacred knowledge;" Rig Veda means "sacred knowledge of hymns and praise."
Rinzai: the Japanese sub-sect of Zazen Buddhism, founded by the monk Eisai (1141-1215). Rinzai Zen utilizes both seated meditation and koan.
Rite of Passage: any ritual of liminality, in which one "passes" from one realm or condition of life experience into another. Rites of passage include rituals of initiation into secret societies, adulthood, family, etc. Contemporary equivalents include school graduations, marriages, baptisms, confirmations, etc.
Ritual: as presented in class, "an enactment of the myth," or a reminder of an ideal, of who and what one is (or ought to be) in terms of his/her culture, community, etc. Ritual action usually involves activities that are very fundamental or basic to human experience, e.g., eating, drinking, bathing/cleansing.
Sacrament: a ritual enactment or object in which the holy is understood as being immanently present to the participant, as opposed to transcendent and removed.
Salat: the Arabic term for prayer, specifically, five times per day; in Islam, one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Samadhi: the Sanskrit term for deep mental concentration or, more generally, "meditation" as a disciplined, spiritual exercise or practice. See also Raja Yoga.
Sanyasi: in Hinduism, one who renounces the world by breaking all formal ties with society in order to overcome samsara.
Samsara: in Hinduism and Buddhism, the endless cosmic cycle of birth and rebirth. See also Dependent Origination, Karma.
Samudaya: "The arising of suffering (is due to desire)," the second of The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha. See also Tanha.
Sangha: the community of Buddhist monks; one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism.
Sanzen: in Zazen or Zen Buddhism, the ritual meeting or daily consultation between master and student. See also Koan.
Satori: Japanese for "flower moment;" in Zazen or Zen Buddhism, it refers to the immediate experience of enlightenment.
Sawm: the Arabic term for fasting, from sunrise to sunset, during the ninth month of Ramadan; in Islam, one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Sect Shinto: designated as such in 1882 during Japan's Meiji Period (1868-1912), Sect Shinto referred to Shinto of a "religious" nature, in contrast to that which was associated with nationalist loyalty. See also Shrine Shinto.
Shabbat: Hebrew for "cessation" or "rest;" the Jewish "Sabbath" is the seventh day, set aside for worship. It lasts from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday.
Shahada: the Arabic term for confession of faith-- "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammed is his prophet;" in Islam, one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Shahkti: literally, "power," the creative energy of the universe. In Hindu theology, this power is conceptualized as the female consort or counterpart to a deity (e.g., Vishnu's Lakshmi, Shiva's Parvati). As well as embodying the creative energy of the universe overall, she is regarded as the god's source of potency and power, without whom he can do nothing.
Shaman: in primal religious traditions, one through whom supernatural powers are channeled for the spiritual welfare of the community or tribe. More precisely, the shaman might heal the sick, escort the souls of the dead into heaven and away from their corpses, or confer with gods by taking on the shape or language of an animal or bird.
Shang Ti: Chinese, literally "God on High;" Shang Ti was worshipped during the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1765-1120 BCE). State religion and worship centered around sacrifices offered to Shang Ti by the rulers who were regarded as the descendents and embodiments of Shang Ti.
Shema: (literally, the imperative "hear," "listen") from the Torah (specifically, Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 4), the Hebrew proclamation of God's monotheistic unity: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One." It constitutes the fundamental Jewish confession of faith. A similar declarative example of this radical monotheism is found in Islam's Shahada.
Shi'a (Shi'ite): literally, "partisan," the smaller of the two primary sects of Islam,. It comprises about twenty percent of all Muslims. Shi'ite Muslims trace their ruling lineage back to the family of Muhammed. Called imams, these descendents are traced through the twelfth imam of the ninth century, CE. Since then, the knowledge of the imam is said to be accessible through "agents" or "doctors" of the law. In Iran, for example, the most senior of these doctors are called ayatollahs. Located primarily in Iran, Iraq and the Indian subcontinent. See also Sunni.
Shen: in traditional Chinese religion, spirits or gods, usually benevolent in nature. See also guei.
Shinran: see True Pure Land Buddhism.
Shinto: based on the Chinese words shen and dao, "the way of the gods;" the indigenous religious tradition of Japan. Fundamentally threefold in scope, it centers around reverence for land (the country of Japan), for the natural environment and for ancestors (family). See also kami.
Shinto Directive of 1945: following Japan's defeat in the Pacific War, the prohibition of the funding of Shrine Shinto or of any ideology that promoted ultra-nationalism or militarism, and that Shinto as a whole is to be treated as any other religion (Buddhism, Christianity, etc.), with no political associations.
Shirk: literally, "association;" in Islam, the association of any visible or finite thing with God or to place any thing, concept or entity above God. Thus, to commit "shirk" is to commit idolatry. Compare the English sense of this term when it is said that one "shirks" one's responsibility.
Shiva: one of the three principal figures of the Hindu trinity; while usually associated with destruction, Shiva also represents the ambiguity of creation and destruction as aspects of one another. See also Brahma and Vishnu.
Shrine Shinto: designated as such in 1882 during Japan's Meiji Period (1868-1912), Shrine Shinto referred to Shinto of a political or nationalist nature, in contrast to that which was associated with personal religious practice. See also Sect Shinto.
Shruti: "what is heard;" in Vedic religion/Hinduism, the primary revelation, as found in the Vedas, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. Held to be of divine and not human authorship, Shruti emphasizes the importance of scriptural "word-as-sound." See also Smriti.
Shudra: the lowest of the four basic levels of the caste system of Hinduism, traditionally composed of unskilled laborers.
Sign: a physical object or image that has a direct, discursive relationship to its object. The referenced object of a sign must be immediately present in order for the sign to have meaning. See also Symbol.
Smriti: "what is remembered;" in Vedic/Hindu tradition, the legendary and epic literary forms that bring out and illustrate the meaning of Shruti. These include the Laws of Manu, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata (which includes within it the Bhagavad Gita).
Soto: the Japanese sub-sect of Zazen Buddhism founded by the monk Dogen (1200-1253). Soto utilizes only seated meditation, and not koan.
Space and Place: refers to the conceptual experience of space as abstract and unnamed, while place is concrete and identified. In primal religious traditions, for example, the "place" of one's community or tribe has certain characteristics and spiritual qualities, while anything beyond the articulated boundaries of that community is ambiguous "space." Thus the suggestion that primal religion is intimately tied to a particular location (sometimes called "the pivot of the universe") and cannot be taken or practiced elsewhere.
Structuralism: an approach to religious studies in which one examines and analyzes the manner(s) in which religious consciousness and ritual practices are explicit reflections of the implicit values and assumptions by which a society or culture defines itself. The focus is not on what religion does for a group (instrumental), but rather on what religion says about a group (expressive).
Sunni: the larger of the two primary sects of Islam, comprising eighty percent of all Muslims. Sometimes referred to as "the community of concensus," Sunnis have historically selected their Koranic interpretors, or caliphs, through community election. The role of caliph was transnational. In 1924, however, the caliphate was abolished. Since then, the interpretation of Sunni Islamic law has been placed in the hands of the governments of the respective Islamic states. See also Shi'a.
Sutra: a textual discourse purportedly spoken by the Buddha or, following his death, one of his disciples.
Sutra in Forty-Two Sections: the first Buddhist sutra from India to be translated into Chinese, during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE).
Svetambaras: literally, "white clad;" the more liberal ascetic sect of Jainism; its monks are allowed to wear a simple white robe, as opposed to the Digambaras, who traditionally wear nothing. Svetambaras acknowledge that women can achieve liberation, and also allow for their ordination as nuns.
Symbol: a cognitive image or object that has an indirect, nondiscursive relationship to its object. As the qualitative character of the symbol allows one to conceptualize the object or idea in one's mind, the object or idea does not have to be "present" in order for the symbol to have meaning. See also Sign.
Sympathetic Magic: any ritual action through which one attempts to control or influence the behavior of an animal, deity, person or the outcome of a situation by imitating the likeness, character or movement of the entity(s) involved. See also Contagious Magic.
Synoptic Tradition: literally, "same sight;" the scholarly suggestion that the gospels of Matthew and Luke are each independent expansions of the gospel of Mark, while both Matthew and Luke share a common though as of yet unsubstantiated "sayings source" known simply as "Q." The gospel of John is unique among the four and therefore of a separate origin and evolution.
Taboo: from the Polynesian word tabu; any act, condition or type of physical contact that, if undertaken or manifested, could result in adverse consequences for the well being of the given tribe or community. Traditional examples would include an uninitiated person's contact with sacred places, persons or objects, or unacknowledged incest or adultery. In contemporary Asian cultures, for example, it is generally considered taboo to touch the head of one who is older than oneself. In the West, many acts which are now considered more or less as "bad form" were probably at one time regarded as taboo in the stricter sense of the term.
Talmud: massive rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah, produced from c. 200 to 600 CE. One was produced in Palestine and one in Babylon, the latter becoming the primary source of authority. Both Mishnah and Talmud affirm the fundamental authority of rabbinic consensus, and tend not to acknowledge the authority of any subsequent "miracles" or divine revelation.
Tanakh: the Hebrew scriptural canon; the word is derived from the three consonants T, N and K, standing for Torah (law or instruction), Nevi'im (prophets), and Khetuvim (writings).
Tanha: "Desire;" in reference to the second of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha. See also Samudaya.
Teleology: a doctrine of final purpose, i.e., that creative developments are due to the purposes, designs or "plans" that are served and/or carried out by them. See also Aetiology.
Temporal: of or relating to chronological time, temporary; not absolute or eternal.
Tetragrammaton: the four Hebrew consonants that comprise the name of the God of Israel; in English, YHWH. See also Yahweh.
Theology: from the Greek theos (god) and logos (word); a developed doctrine or rational analysis of the nature of one or many gods, the divine relation to the creative phenomena of the physical world, and the revelatory experience of humankind as to such matters as worship, ethical conduct and salvation.
Theravada: literally, "the way of the elders;" it focuses on the devotion to and support of the Sangha (the monastic community) as the primary source of teaching and example for the laity. Theravadin Buddhism was given definitive form and substance in Sri Lanka during the 3rd century BCE, due to the missionary efforts of India's King Ashoka. From Sri Lanka, the Theravada tradition spread to Southeast Asia, where it continues to be the dominant form of Buddhism. Theravada is the more proper term for Hinayana. See also Arhat and Mahayana.
Three Jewels: in Theravada Buddhism, one takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings), and the Sangha (the community of monks). Also known as the Triple Gem."
T'ien Ming: a Chinese term usually translated as "Mandate of Heaven" during the Chou Dynasty (1100-220 BCE). Political leadership sought to legitimize the moral authority of its rule by claiming this Mandate of Heaven. If a ruler's actions or administration was poor or unjust it was understood that the Mandate of Heaven could be withdrawn and conferred upon another, more deserving ruler or family.
Tientai Buddhism: created during the Six Dynasties Period (220-589 CE), a Chinese sect of Mahayana Buddhism that sought to harmonize the plethora of Buddhist sutras that had entered China from India into a kind of progression of revelation, culminating in the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching (in Japan, Tiendai).
Tipitaka: literally, "the three baskets;" a primary Buddhist scriptural collection, also sometimes referred to as the Pali Canon (Pali is held to be the original West Indian language of the Buddha's teachings). The Tipitaka is most closely associated with the Theravada sect of Buddhism. These "baskets" are as follows:
Torah: Hebrew, meaning "law" or "instruction;" the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, traditionally called the "Books of Moses."
Totem: an animal with which an individual or a group perceives a particular relationship or source of power and identity. Such a relationship might be initiated through a vision, a dream, or even a violent life-threatening encounter. The name of the animal is often incorporated into the name of the individual or the clan/group. A contemporary example of this is found in the custom of utilizing animal mascots and animal names for athletic teams.
Trinity: in Christianity, the three "persons" or experienced realities of God, i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
True Pure Land Buddhism: a "splinter" sect of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. Led by the monk Shinran (1173-1263), True Pure Land taught that one needed to chant the mantric phrase of devotion to the Amiddha Buddha but one time. Furthermore, in his disdain for what he regarded as unreasonable monastic discipline, Shinran married and raised a family, encouraging all monks to do the same. Today Buddhist monks in Japan may marry. See also Amiddha Buddha and Pure Land Buddhism.
Upanishads: literally, "sitting below or beneath;" an interpretive teaching commentary on the Vedas, the Upanishads center primarily upon the concept of Brahman as the absolute principle of creation that is present within every living thing as Atman.
Vaishya: the second of the four basic levels of the caste system of Hinduism, traditionally composed of skilled laborers or crafts-persons.
Vajrayana: literally, the "indestructable vehicle" or "diamond vehicle;" the northern form of Buddhism that took root in Tibet.
Varna: literally, "color," the more conventional term for caste in traditional Indian/Hindu culture.
Vedanta: literally, "the end of Veda," i.e., the core teaching of the UIpanishads. It focuses on the final emancipation, or Moksha, from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. See also Advaita Vedanta and Samsara.
Vedas: literally "sacred knowledge;" the most ancient of the Hindu religious texts. For example, the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedic texts, is composed primarily of songs and hymns of praise, as well as ritual chants used by priests during sacrifices.
Vishnu: one of the three principal figures in the Hindu trinity; associated primarily with the temporal maintenance or preservation of creation, Vishnu is the most popular of the three, having numerous incarnations or avatars. See also Brahma and Shiva.
Warring States Period (700-221 BCE): the last 500 years of the Chou Dynasty, a period of cultural fragmentation and civil strife. Confucius lived during this period.
Wu Wei: in Daoist thought, "actionless action;" related to the concept of de as efficient power, Wu Wei refers to action that is in accordance with the Dao ("Way"), which is therefore seen as ultimately more productive than energy-depleting friction that pushes too hard, i.e., against the Dao, for its goal.
Xiao: see Filial Piety.
Xin (Shin): in the Confucian teachings of Mencius, the concept of one's innate goodness as "heart" or "mind," which gives rise to proper social virtue.
Yahng: in traditional Chinese thought, the male aspect or force of the universe. It includes light, the heavens, dryness and dominance. Yahng is the balanced and yet dynamic counterpart of Yin.
Yahweh: from the Hebrew verb "hayah" (to be), "the one who causes to be." The God of Israel, whose name was revealed to Moses (Exodus 3.14).
Yantra: a visual (often geometric) configuration which contains sacred power or energy. A yantric pattern involving the spatial relationship between the cardinal directions often serves as the basis of the foundation in the construction of a Hindu or Buddhist temple. More commonly seen in the design of a mandala, a geometric pattern designed to guide one visually through prayer and meditation.
Yasukuni Shrine: established in 1869 in Tokyo, the Shinto shrine that commemorates (and within which are enshrined) Japanese war dead. Yasukuni Shrine has been a source of international political controversy over the years, particularly when Japanese political figures have in the past made official visits there, as many soldiers, officers and officials from the Pacific War (1931-45) are enshrined here as well.
YHWH: the Tetragrammaton; Yahweh.
Yin: in traditional Chinese thought, the female aspect or force of the universe. It includes darkness, the earth, moisture and passivity. Yin is the balanced and yet dynamic counterpart of Yahng.
Yoga: in Hinduism, a "method" or "path" for achieving spiritual enlightenment. See also Four Paths to God.
Yogi: in Hinduism, one who practices a yoga or yogic technique.
Zakat: the Arabic term for charity, specifically, an annual gift of 1/40th or 2.5% of one's assets for the relief of the poor; in Islam, one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
Zazen (Zen): Japanese, "seated meditation;" the tradition of Buddhism that emphasizes enlightenment, or satori, as the immediate and subjective experience of one's own Buddha nature.
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