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Introduction to Religious Studies Prof. Felix Just, S.J. Western Religions Overview. Faith and Belief. Nouns: “faith; trust, confidence” Confidence in someone/something: She has faith in her doctor. A belief in a supernatural power: Have faith! He lost his faith.

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Introduction to Religious StudiesProf. Felix Just, S.J.

Western Religions Overview


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Faith and Belief

  • Nouns: “faith; trust, confidence”

    • Confidence in someone/something:She has faith in her doctor.

    • A belief in a supernatural power:Have faith! He lost his faith.

    • A religious system or institution: The Christian faith. The Jewish faith.

  • Verbs: “to believe; to have faith, to trust” (trans. & intrans.)

    • To accept something as real or true: I believe this story.

    • To affirm a statement or assertion: I believe (that) she will come soon.

    • To grant someone veracity or trust: I believe you; I believe in you.

    • To assert the value of something: I believe in democracy.

    • To have spiritual or religious faith. I believe.


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Faith and Believing

  • Word Derivations (from Latin):

    • fides = “faithfulness, firmness”; fidere = “to trust”

      • Cf. English: fidelity; infidel; confident, etc.

    • credere = “to believe”; credo = “I believe”

      • Cf. English: credible, credence, incredulous, credit, etc.

  • Scripture Texts on Faith/Believing:

    • Judaism: Gen 15:5-6; Josh 24:14-15

    • Christianity: Heb 11:1; John 3:16

    • Islam: Qur’an 10:99-100; 8:2-4


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Types of Belief in God(s) – lots of “isms”

  • Theism, Atheism

  • Agnosticism, Gnosticism

  • Deism, Pantheism

  • Polytheism, Paganism/Heathenism

  • Henotheism, Monotheism

  • Trinitarianism (vs.Tri-Theism)

  • Others?

  • Hint:Learn these in pairs or groups of similar terms.


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Types of Belief in God (I)

  • Theism

    • Belief in the existence of a God or any gods

    • The generic term, of which other –isms are subcategories

  • Atheism

    • The opposite: Belief that God and/or gods do “not exist”

  • Agnosticism

    • “Not knowing” whether God exists; overall non-belief

  • Gnosticism

    • A religious system that believes salvation comes through “knowledge” (Gk. gnosis) of one’s divine origin and destiny


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Types of Belief in God (II)

  • Deism

    • Belief that God created the world, but no longer influences it

      • Based on 18th-century rationalism (e.g. Thomas Jefferson)

  • Pantheism

    • Belief that divinity is “everywhere” / in “everything” (Gk. pan)

      • Whole universe is divine; but there is no “God” apart from the world

  • Polytheism

    • Belief in the existence of “many” (Gk. poly) gods

      • Egyptians & Mesopotamians: many gods, often in animal form

      • Greek & Romans: large family of gods, on Mount Olympus


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Types of Belief in God (III)

  • Monotheism

    • Belief in the existence of “only one” (Gk. monos) God

      • What others call “gods” are at most spirits, but not divine

    • Jews and Muslims believe in one God:

      • God is an indivisible unity; “no associates or partners”

    • Christians believe in one God, who is a “Trinity”

      • One divine “nature” in three divine “persons”

        • Father (Creator), Son (Jesus), Holy Spirit

      • “Trinitarianism” = “Trinitarian Monotheism”

        • not the same as “Tri-theism” (belief in 3 different gods)


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Types of Belief in God (IV)

  • Henotheism

    • Allegiance to “one” (Gk. hen) god over the others

      • All nations have their own “gods”; “Our god is better than your gods”

      • Assumes polytheistic worldview, but monotheistic worship

  • Paganism / Heathenism

    • All religions outside of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

      • Popular connotation is negative: unbelievers, hedonists, etc.

      • Academic meaning is neutral: all non-monotheistic religions


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Identifying God (Titles & Names):

  • Generic Titles:

    • God / god, Deity, Divine Power, El, Elohim, Allah, etc.

    • Father, Mother, Creator, Lord, King, etc.

  • Proper Names:

    • Jewish: YHWH (Yahweh? Jehovah?); Ya/Ja

    • Mesopotamian: Asherah, Baal; Ishtar, Marduk, Tiamat, etc.

    • Egyptian: Aten, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Ra, Seth, Thoth, etc.

    • Greco-Roman / Olympian: Zeus=Jupiter; Athena=Diana; etc.


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Talking about God (Philosophically):

  • God is Absolute (positive & negative):

    • ALL: omnipotent (all powerful); omniscient (all knowing); omnipresent (everywhere); omni-benevolent (all merciful)

    • NOT: invisible (not seen); immutable (unchanging); immortal (not dying); infinite (not limited); etc.

  • Language is Limited (analogies & opposites):

    • God is transcendent (beyond) & immanent (internal)

    • So God-talk is possible, but always analogical / inadequate

    • Both/And Approach:via positiva & via negativa


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Classifying World Religions:

  • Major Categories:

    • “Eastern” & “Western” & “Local” & New” Religions

  • Best term for Judaism, Christianity, Islam:

    • "Religions of the Book"?

    • "Monotheistic Religions"?

    • "Religions of Abrahamic Origin"?

    • "Religions of Judaic Origin"?

    • "Religions of Near Eastern Origin"?

    • Advantages & Drawbacks of each of these?


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The Three Western Religions (and their sub-branches)

  • Judaism (ca. 15 Million)

    • Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist

  • Christianity (ca. 2.1 Billion)

    • (Eastern) Orthodox: Greek; Russian; Armenian; etc.

    • (Roman) Catholic: Latin, Byzantine, and other “rites”

    • (Western) Protestant: many “churches/denominations”

  • Islam (ca. 1.3 Billion)

    • Suni; Shi’ite; [ Sufi ]


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The Three Western Religions(religion / members / adj. // Book // founder, leaders):

  • Judaism / Jews / Jewish

    • TaNaK (Hebrew Bible, esp. Torah)

      • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel) -- 2nd mill. BC/BCE

      • Moses, David, prophets, priests, kings

  • Christianity / Christians / Christian

    • Bible (Old Testament & New Testament)

      • Christ Jesus -- 1st century AD/CE

      • Peter & Paul, apostles, evangelists, bishops

  • Islam / Moslems / Muslim & Islamic

    • Qur’an (or Koran)

      • Prophet Muhammad -- 7th century AD/CE

      • Caliphs ("successors"), Imams ("leaders")


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Summary / Review

  • Types of Belief in God (“-isms”)

    • Theism vs. Atheism vs. Agnosticism

    • Deism vs. Pantheism

    • Polytheism & Paganism

    • Henotheism vs. Monotheism (and Trinitarianism)

  • Western / Monotheistic Religions:

    • Common Core: Faith/Belief in One God!

    • Differences: Judaism / Christianity / Islam?