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Revision as of 22:13, 19 March 2007

The term "god" has a very wide range of uses — so wide, indeed, that no single definition can hope to capture it. Examples include living human beings such as certain Roman Emperors and Egyptian Pharaoahs, humanlike beings with superhuman powers such as the gods of the Ancient Greeks, personal but omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent creators such as the god of the Abrahamic religions, and impersonal abstractions such as the Hindu concept of Brahman.

As well as types of god, there are many different views on how many gods there are, and on what the believer's attitude to them should be; these range from the view that there is only one god to the view that there are many, and from the view that the god or gods in which one believes should be worshipped to the view that worship is irrelevant to god.

Capitalisation and the word "god"

Whether or not the term "god" is capitalised has at times been the subject of debate; this is not merely a matter of typography, but of the rôle of the term. For many scripts, including forms of Greek, no distinction between upper and lower case is possible. In scripts that do allow the distinction, such as Latin, terms such as "deus", "dominus", and "christus" were generally not capitalised until the mid-seventeenth century.[1]

There was intense debate over whether "god" was a proper or a common noun in mediæval times. Some theologians denied that it was a proper noun, because a true proper noun has direct reference, like a demonstrative, and they thought such direct reference would bring the one who grasped it into such intimate union with god that he would die.

Varieties of belief




Pantheism is the view that the whole world is god and god is the whole world; the totality of existence forms a unity, which is divine. Panentheism is a variant of pantheism according to which the world is part of god, but god is more than the world. Pantheists rarely if ever see god as a person, and a frequent complaint made against the view is that there is no more than a linguistic distinction between it and atheism.

The Hindu notion of Brahman lies somewhere between standard theistic monotheism and pantheism.



Henotheism involves the belief in many gods, but the worship of only one. The one god that is worshipped might be seen as having a special attachment to or responsibility for one's own nation, race, or tribe (as was the case in early Judaism, or as being thought to be more powerful or important than the others (the latter is often called "monolatry").[2]

Henotheism may involve the belief in various numbers of gods; when two gods are believed in it is called "ditheism". Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism are examples of this. Monotheism is the limiting case of henotheism.

Kathenotheism is a version of henotheism in which many gods are believed in and one worshipped, but which god is worshipped varies according to the time or place rather than remaining the same across the believer's lifetime.


  1. In, for example, this early-fourteenth-century, "deus" is uncapitalised, as in the second column halfway down, with the blue paragraph mark, beginning "quicumque autem", and just before that "hoc enim deus" can be seen in lower case. Again, this fifteenth-century manuscript by Bonaventura, "Augustine" and "Boethius" are capitalised, but not "deus". In the photograph of a page from this undated, but probably mid-seventeenth-century book (from Roger Pearse's Tertullian website), the lower case is still in use. See also "The Wife Bath's Tale" (Caxton 1483) and the Gutenberg Bible (Gutenberg, fifteenth century).
  2. Some Christian sects take this view of the Trinity, holding that only the father should be worshipped, not Jesus or the holy spirit.


  • Gerard J. Hughes The Nature of God. London: Routledge, 1995. ISBN 0-415-12075-6
  • Peter J. King "Gods", in H. James Birx [ed.] Encyclopedia of Anthropology Volume 3. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2006. ISBN 0-7619-3029-9
  • Michael P. Levine Pantheism: A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity. London: Routledge, 1994. ISBN 0-415-07064-3
  • Thomas V. Morris [ed.] The Concept of God. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-875076-5
  • H.P. Owen Concepts of Deity. London: Macmillan, 1971