The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Theism is the belief in one or more gods or goddesses. More specifically, it may also mean the belief in God, a god, or gods, who is/are actively involved in maintaining the Universe. This secondary meaning is shown in context to other beliefs concerning the divine below.

The term is attested in English from 1678, and was probably coined to contrast with atheism attested from ca. 1587 (see the etymology section of atheism for details).

The primary meaning sees four major views of the role of the divine in the world in this context:

  • deism, the view that God created the world but does not interact with it; emphasis on deities' transcendence
  • theism, (second definition), the view that God is immanent in the world, yet transcends it;
  • panentheism, the view that the world is entirely contained within God, while at the same time God is something greater than just the world.
  • pantheism, the view that the world is identical to God; emphasis on deities' immanence

Within the primary meaning of theism there can be differentiated a number of quantitative definitions:

Within Polytheism there are “Hard” and “Soft” varieties. Hard polytheism views the gods as being distinct and separate beings, Soft polytheism views the gods as being subsumed into a greater whole.

Within Polytheism a number of attitudes to the worship of the gods can be discerned.

  • monolatry (there are several gods, but only one of them is worshipped)
  • henotheism (several gods are worshipped, but one is seen as supreme)
  • kathenotheism (worship of one god at a time, seeing each as supreme in turn)

Within monotheism there are exclusive and inclusive forms. Exclusive monotheism can be monistic (Judaism, Islam), dualistic (Parsis/Zoroastrian) and pluralistic (Christianity). Some forms of Hinduism and Neopaganism could be considered Inclusive monotheism.

Finally, the distinction can be made between belief in the existence of gods, and assertions about their benevolence or morality, or the belief in God as the summum bonum: see eutheism and dystheism.

Typical theistic religions are Zoroastrianism, Saivism, Vaishnavism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bahá'í, and Sikhism.

Compare: Atheism, Agnosticism

See also

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