The following list includes brief descriptions of some religious groups and other terms used in the survey report that may be unfamiliar to readers.
Meaning “True Pure Land School,” Jodo Shinshu is a Japanese branch of Mahayana Buddhism. Shinran, a disciple of the Buddhist monk Honan, established the branch, which focuses on the celestial Buddha Amida, seen as the embodiment of wisdom and compassion. Practitioners of Jodo Shinshu chant Amida’s name as an expression of gratitude and joy.
Meaning “great vehicle” in Sanskrit, Mahayana is one of two major forms, or “vehicles,” of Buddhism. It emphasizes that all followers (Mahayanists)—lay and monastic alike—can work toward and attain enlightenment. Mahayanists strive to become bodhisattvas, or “wisdom bodies,” who work toward enlightenment for themselves and all beings. Sects include the Madhyamika, Yogachara, Nichiren, T’ien-t’ai, Zen, Jodo Shinshu and Vajrayana schools. Mahayana is sometimes known as Northern Buddhism because of its popularity in China, Japan and other northern Asian nations.
Defined in the survey as “the ultimate state transcending pain and desire in which individual consciousness ends.” Also defined by some experts and practitioners as the ultimate state transcending suffering and escaping the cycle of rebirth. In Buddhism, the ultimate goal of all beings is to reach nirvana.
Meaning “the way of the elders” in Sanskrit, Theravada is the most traditional vehicle of Buddhism. In Theravada Buddhism, the monastic community, or sangha, is considered primary. Monks and nuns work toward enlightenment, while lay practitioners support and sustain them in exchange for spiritual merit. Theravadin work toward becoming arhats, or “worthy ones,” who have attained enlightenment through study, insight, meditation and observance of the more than 200 precepts of the monastic code. Theravada is sometimes known as Southern Buddhism because of its prevalence in Sri Lanka and other South Asian nations.
Also known as Tibetan or Tantric Buddhism, Vajrayana developed from the Mahayana tradition but is often considered as a distinct form, or third vehicle. Followers use meditative practices, mantras (chanted syllables), mudras (ritual gestures) and mandalas (symbolic diagrams) in attempts to reach enlightenment in one lifetime. The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa order of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Meaning “insight,” vipassana is an ancient technique of meditation that Theravada Buddhists practice to understand the complete nature of things, liberate the mind and, ultimately, reach nirvana. It is also the name of a modern movement within Theravada Buddhism.
A Christian who engages in spiritual practices that are considered gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, but is not a member of a Pentecostal denomination. Most charismatics belong to Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant or evangelical Protestant denominations.
A Christian who belongs to a denomination or independent church that emphasizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues, divine healing and direct receipt of divine prophecy. These experiences are seen as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
An umbrella term used to refer to Pentecostals and charismatics. These movements place great emphasis on God’s ongoing, day-to-day intervention in human affairs through the person of the Holy Spirit. Renewalists believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is manifested through such supernatural phenomena as speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, exorcisms and prophetic utterances and revelations.
The Hindu “festival of lights,” Diwali is also an Indian national holiday that is often celebrated by non-Hindus, including Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. The holiday represents the triumph of good over evil.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement) was founded in the U.S. in 1966. It is considered by many to be a sect of Hinduism devoted to the Hindu deity Krishna. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is among the movement’s best-known devotional practices. Followers also practice bhakti, or devotional, yoga. The group’s central Scripture is the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita.
Defined in the survey as “the ultimate state transcending pain and desire in which individual consciousness ends.” Hindus believe moksha is the ultimate goal for all beings—the liberation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
While Hinduism does not have a central authority, scholars recognize four major sects or traditions, including Shaivism. Followers emphasize reverence for god in the form of Shiva, the lord of time and change. Other sects include Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism.
One of the four major sects or traditions of Hinduism, Shaktism views the Supreme Being as a goddess in the form of the Divine Mother, also known as Shakti or Devi. Shakta practices include chanting, holy diagrams, yoga and various rituals.
One of the four major sects or traditions of Hinduism, Smartism follows the teachings of ninth century monk and philosopher Adi Shankara. Smartas accept all six major Hindu gods as forms of one Supreme Being and believe that moksha is achieved through scriptural study, reflection and sustained meditation.
Another of the four major sects or traditions of Hinduism, the Vaishnava tradition emphasizes devotion to god in the form of Vishnu, the preserver, who followers believe has at least 10 incarnations. The tradition has a strong monastic community.
From the Sanskrit words meaning “the goal of knowledge,” Vedanta is the philosophical basis for Hinduism, though many followers believe it is universal in its application. The philosophy is based on interpreting ancient Sanskrit scriptures, particularly the portion of the Vedic texts known as the Upanishads.
Christianity, Islam and Judaism are monotheistic traditions—that is, their theologies are built on belief in one God—that recognize Abraham as their first prophet; they are therefore known as the Abrahamic religions.
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion with the core belief that living a life of harmlessness and renunciation is the path to the ultimate goal of bliss and liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Jains believe that any soul that has reached bliss and liberation becomes a god-like being without physical form. The religion’s theology does not include a creator god. Jains believe that all living beings—including animals and plants—have souls and should be treated with respect and compassion.
A religion that traces its origin to the late 15th century in the Punjab region, which today straddles the border between India and Pakistan. Sikhs (from the Sanskrit for “disciples”) follow the teachings of a line of 10 gurus who lived from 1469 to 1708. Their Holy Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, is considered the religion’s 11th and perpetually living guru, or spiritual authority. Sikhs believe in a single, formless god and share some beliefs and practices—such as reincarnation, meditation and chanting—with Hinduism and other religions with Asian origins. But they reject idol worship, the caste system and what they consider “blind rituals” such as fasting and pilgrimages.
Photo Credits from left to right: © Radius Images/Corbis, © Image Source/Corbis, Istockphoto and © 2010 Getty Images