Glossary - S

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sacrament: term typically used in Christian traditions to refer to rites that serve as an outward and visible sign of an invisible process deemed to be sacred, such as the receipt of grace.

sacred: set apart and regarded as worthy of special attention or veneration.

sacrifice: ritual offering (e.g. slaughtered animal, food or drink, valued possession) directed to gods or spirits to thank, propitiate, or exchange for guidance or blessing.

sacrilege: intentional violation of a sacred site or object.

saint: one of the terms for a revered and highly accomplished religious person.

sanctuary: protected or sacred space, such as a church or temple.

salvation: being saved; varying notion in many religions that human beings need to be safely delivered from the perils they face now or in an after-life.

sceptic: a person who doubts and questions accepted opinions, religious beliefs, or even the possibility of knowledge in some sphere.

Scholasticism: movement of philosophical theology in the West, originating as early as the 9th century CE and enduring till the 17th century CE; attempted to validate religious teachings with rational philosophical methods.

science: any organized body of knowledge gained through experience; in modern usage it refers to knowledge derived through the application of the scientific method.

scientific method: orderly approach to confronting a question concerning the functioning of the natural world: involving formulating hypothetical solutions, devising experiments to test the hypotheses, observing the experimental tests, and reaching conclusions based on rational analyses of the data collected.

scientism: generally a pejorative term referring to the inappropriate application of the methods and values of the scientific method to areas of human activity, often to attempt to grant these the status that accompanies science, or alternately, to demean their value as unscientific.

scripture: religious literature of a particular community, generally deemed sacred and originating from some supernatural source; often originally orally transmitted before being committed to writing.

sect: term used for a religious group or school within the larger tradition, for example, Zen is a sect of Buddhism and Rinzai is a sect within Zen; can also have pejorative connotations of a heretical or dangerous subgroup.

sectarian: refers to the views or identity of a particular sect and reinforces the differentiation between groups; can include a sense of narrow-minded adherence to one group or actions taken on behalf of that group.

secular: term used to indicate anything that is of a worldly, rather than spiritual, nature.

secularization: sociological term for a process through which something loses its spiritual value and becomes more worldly.

seminal: person, text, event, or idea that importantly influenced later developments.

semiotics: systematic study of signs and symbols.

shaman: specialist in supernatural affairs who typically mediates between the worldly and otherworldly realms; often found in small-scale societies.

Shinto: ritual-based tradition, with political overtones, indigenous to the islands of Japan, centered on the appeasement of spirits known as kami.

Sikhism: tradition primarily based on the moral and religious instructions contained within a revered book, the Guru Granth Sahib, which includes the teachings of ten teachers (guru), the first of whom was the founder, Guru Nanak.

socialism: typically a political philosophy in which resources are moderately shared by a members of a society for the welfare of all.

society: any group of people who share some cohesive feature.

somatic: relating to the body.

soteriology: the study of conceptions of salvation (being saved); often used to refer to the doctrines of salvation in particular religious traditions.

soul: the essential, life-giving principle within living beings, often believed to endure after death of the physical body; frequently thought of as immortal and linked to the moral imperatives of a religion.

spirit: a generally incorporeal supernatural being; one’s essential being or animating, life-giving principle.

spiritualism: beliefs and practices consistent with the notion that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living.

structuralism: theoretical approach in the social sciences concerned with uncovering the fundamental structures within an object of study, such as a myth; these structures often involve embedded binary oppositions, such as good/evil, nature/culture, or sacred/profane.

sui generis: of its own kind; unique; irreducible to other categories.

supernatural: something that seems beyond the natural order of reality.

syncretism: merging of different religions or elements of different religious traditions.




  1. (C)Hillary Rodrigues and John S. Harding 2008; Courtesy Routledge


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