March 22, 2017



Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Abrahamic religions, Adventists, Bahai, bible, Buddhism, Christian Scientist, Christianity, Christians, Dao, Dharmic religions, faith, faith-based beliefs, god, goddess, higher power, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Koran, Latter-day Saints, Mennonite, moral codes, Muslim, New Thought, Paganism, Pentecostalism, prayer, Protestants, Quakers, Qu'ran, Roman Catholic Church, scriptures, Sikhism, spirituality, Tao, Taoism, Taoist religions, Tibetan Buddhism.


  • A religion is a set of faith-based beliefs and practices, which may involve following rituals, as well as ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, or mythology. Group rituals and communication may result from shared principles and may provide mystic experiences for followers.

  • Religion is often described as a system of thought based on belief in an unseen being, person, or object that is considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine, or of the highest truth. Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and scriptures are often traditionally associated with the core belief in this entity. Beliefs about the influence of the divine or ordering entity may influence non-religious codes of morals and ideas of appropriate behavior. Religion is also often described as a "way of life," a set of rules that a person and community may live by in order to lead what is considered a fulfilled life.

  • The development of religion has taken many forms. "Organized religion" generally refers to a community of people who regularly gather to exercise, acknowledge, or honor some aspect of their belief system in a divine or ordered entity. Other religions are more centered on individual practice, and in these religions the practice of worship may not require sharing these experiences with others.

  • Religion has been defined in a wide variety of ways. While some sources focus on the rules for personal and community conduct based upon or modeled after an ordering divine power or ordered force, others have emphasized the experiential and emotional aspects. For instance, some sources emphasize religion for its role in instructing individuals on how to behave and treat one another while other sources may view the same practice of religion as a way to grow closer to the divine power.

  • Religion may be defined as the presence of a belief in the sacred or the holy. Sociologists and anthropologists tend to view religion as an abstract set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural matrix.

  • Understanding a patient's religious belief system may be crucial in providing culturally-appropriate medical consultation. For instance, some individuals' religious beliefs may require healing practices which are given as an adjunct to or sometimes instead of what may be considered standard care. For instance, a religious practice may dictate that a newborn's placenta is taken home for burial under a corner of the house due to beliefs about the afterlife when the standard protocol is to dispose of it in a biohazard container after giving birth. In other situations, a person's religious beliefs may forbid such medical procedures as a blood transfusion.

Abrahamic Religions

  • The Abrahamic religions are the cluster of faiths with the largest number of followers in the contemporary world. The religions in this group are united by their belief in Abraham and in a single higher power. As a group, the Abrahamic religions include 3.4 billion followers worldwide. Abraham is considered the father of the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths because he is believed to be brought from Mesopotamia to Canaan and to have entered into a covenant with god. This covenant dictated that if Yahweh was recognized as the supreme universal authority and deity, then Abraham would be blessed with innumerably progeny.

  • Christianity: Christianity is an umbrella term that includes a variety of faiths, including the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Pentecostalism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-day Saints, Adventists, Apostolic Brethren, Christian Scientists, Mennonites, Quakers, and all Protestants. The different sects of Christians are very diverse in their belief systems and may not recognize the beliefs or religious authorities of others who fall into other Christian categories. Christianity has an estimated 2.1 billion followers worldwide, and it is considered the world's largest religion. Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism, and Christians believe that its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, is the son of god and the Messiah that was prophesized in a holy book called the Old Testament. Christian beliefs center on the idea that through the death and rebirth of Jesus, all humans were reconciled with god and will therefore receive eternal life upon their death. Christians believe that every person will be judged by god and will be rewarded with eternal occupancy in either heaven or hell upon their death. The Bible is the holy book of Christianity, and it is considered to have been written by humans who were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. In Christianity, God is considered a trinity of three unique manifestations of three entities who are united and act in concert.

  • Judaism: Judaism has its origin in the man named Abraham through his covenant with God and currently has 14 million followers worldwide. Judaism centers on the belief that god holds a covenant with the Jewish people, whose ancestor is Abraham. Religious Judaic practice involves observing god's laws as discussed in the holy books, known as the Torah and the Talmud. Judaism does not have a centralized authority dictating religious beliefs and practices, but communities follow a variety of long standing traditions of worship.

  • Islam: Major groups include the Ahmadi, Druze, Sunni, and Shia. Islam has its origin in the teachings of the 7th century political and religious figure Muhammad. Islam has between 0.9 and 1.4 billion followers worldwide and is considered the world's second largest religion. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet of many religions, and that the ultimately powerful god, known as Allah, sends prophets to bring his revelations to those who believe. The religious text of the Muslims is the Qu'ran (also written as Koran). Most Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam as a guide for how they should conduct their lives. Muslims believe in god, his revelations, his messengers, his prophets, his angels, and in a day of judgment. Muslims believe that there will be a time, unknown to humans, when god will resurrect all of his followers and subject them to judgment. This concept differs from the Christian concept of rapture in that individuals are considered to be judged by god as they die, and only those who are alive at the moment of god's return to earth will meet him on this planet.

Dharmic Religions

  • Dharmic religions are all centered on the concept of dharma, a belief in the existence of an underlying order in human existence. This family of religions has its origin in India and is most prominent across East Asia, South East Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. These religions include Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

  • Buddhism: Theravada, East Asian Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism are the primary sects of Buddhism. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th Century BC. His teachings focused on the holy life and liberation from suffering. Though Siddhartha Gautama is often referred to as the Buddha, he is recognized as being but one of many Buddhas. Buddhas are defined as teachers who have liberated themselves from the cycle of rebirth and suffering by following the practices of Buddhism and achieving supreme awakening. These Buddhas are considered role models and teachers for other adherents of this religion. Buddhist teachings are aimed at helping individuals reach what is considered a form of supreme awakening, called enlightenment. Perfect enlightenment is said to occur when all dualities fuse and separate entities cease to exist. Buddhism stresses moderation and flexibility as ways of achieving this state of enlightenment. Meditation is also practiced as a way of liberating the mind from suffering. Enlightenment is thought to eliminate the person's suffering. The Buddhist body of scripture is known as the Tripitaka in Sanskrit and as the Tipitaka in Pali.

  • Hinduism: Hinduism is not based on one belief, but a variety of beliefs, traditions, and practices. It is the world's third largest religion. While some Hindus worship one god, others worship multiple gods. Examples of gods which may be worshiped in Hinduism include Brahma, Shakti, Ganesh, Tara, Vishnu, Durga, and Devi. There is no one deity that is worshiped by all Hindus. It is impossible to identify one universal belief system for Hinduism, but all of its variants have their origins in the Indian subcontinent. Most Hindus believe that the true self of every person is eternal, and that a person is reincarnated or reborn into another person or entity after each physical death. Karma is central to the belief systems of most Hindus. This concept, broadly defined, relates to the idea that actions of past lives affect circumstances in the next life, and that a person should act correctly in their current life in order to improve the situation of the next. Many Hindus have shrines and icons dedicated to their god or gods, which serve as a tangible link to their believed higher power.

  • Sikhism: Sikhism was first practiced in the Punjab region of northwest India. It is influenced by ideas of Bhakti Hinduism and Islamic Sufism. Practicing this religion involves a quest for salvation by practicing a personal and disciplined meditation on the message and name of god. By doing this, a person is able to conquer the ego and join with god. The aim of this practice is to free one's self from the cycle of karmic rebirths in order to merge with the spirit of god. However, Sikhs believe that completely understanding god is beyond the ability of any human because their religion was directly inspired by god. Communication with god is considered possible by the rigorous practice of meditation.

Taoic Religions

  • Taoist religions all have their origins in East Asian religions, which believe in a natural life force, called the Tao or Dao.

  • Taoism: Taoism is a broad term applied to a diverse body of Chinese folk religions, which together have about 225 million followers worldwide. The founding of Taoism is attributed to Lao Zi (also written Lao Tzu) in 500 BC Lao Zi stressed living in harmony and synchronicity with the natural world and believed that encountering the Tao could occur directly through mystical experience. The Tao is not a god, but rather a universal ordering principle involving two opposing but inseparable forces, the yin and the yang, which are believed to interact and thereby guide everything that occurs. Taoist religion stresses living in harmony with the life force that it thought to direct both the outer world and the individual's inner world. The human body is seen as a microcosm of the forces of the Tao in the universe. Many practices of Taoism have esoteric, mystical, and sectarian aspects. For instance, these practices may involve astrology. They also emphasize health and healing as a way to gain a long life or even achieve immortality. The most recognized religious text in Taoism is the Dao De Jing, but the Taoist canon is much larger.

Other Religions

  • Bahai: Bahai (also written Baha'i) is a religion derived from Babism, which is in turn derived from a sect of Islam. This faith has about 6 million followers worldwide and was founded in the mid-nineteenth century by Marza Husayn Ali, also known as Baha'ulla. Bahai has no formal set of scriptures, and it also has no formal ritual or priesthood. However, Baha'ulla's writings, called Kitab al-Aqdas or "The Most Holy Book", provide direction on Bahai life. Followers of this religion believe that all of the world's religions are manifestations of god, and that new religions arise which are appropriate for a certain time and place. Because the Bahai faith promotes the unity of all humankind, it does not encourage prejudices and stresses ethical practices, which include world peace and education. Bahai believes that the twelfth in the series of great imams (religious leaders) will return to establish an era of peace and justice.

  • New Thought: The New Thought movement is a broad, unorganized, and practically oriented spiritual practice. Encounters with god are accomplished by meditation, prayer, constructive thinking, and realization of the living presence of god. New Thought borrows from the belief systems and histories of many Eastern religions, such as Taoism, but does not embrace a particular dogma. God is seen as a principle, an all-knowing entity, from which the universe unfolds. Suffering is believed to result from failure or lack of knowledge of a person's true nature from what is known as a Perfect Mind and Love, a manifestation of god. Some New Thought followers are licensed practitioners who may offer spiritual healing services, such as intercessory prayer.

  • Pagan and earth-based religions: This is a broad term for a series of cultic or spiritual practices and belief systems, which view a god or multiple gods as a living mythology that orders, explains, and directs phenomena in the world. Connection with nature is often emphasized as a way to live in synchronicity with god. Many indigenous non-Abrahamic religious practices fall into this category. Neo-paganism is a term applied to those who practice some form of Paganism in industrialized countries, but which may borrow from the faith traditions of peoples in other times and places.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Catholic Online. www.catholic.org

  2. Christianity.com. www.christianity.com

  3. DharmaNet. www.dharmanet.org

  4. Understanding Islam. www.understanding-islam.com

  5. World Religions Library. www.worldreligions.co.uk.

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017