Agnosticism  From Greek, a- meaning without and gnosis, meaning knowledge, agnosticism is the contention that we cannot know whether or not there is a God. It does not deny God but only the knowledge that such things - which is to say, anything other than empirical knowledge - can be known.

Allah  Allah means simply “God” in the Arabic language. It does not refer to any special God but only the one God. Indeed Muslims believe that Allah is the same God whom the Jews and Christians pray to.

Animism  A religious practice that attributes souls and spirits to animals and inanimate objects such as rocks, trees or manmade objects, often of religious significance. Shinto is an example of a religion with animistic practices.

Apostate  One who leaves his/her religion or renounces a particular religious or political belief.

Arab  An ethnic distinction; Arabs are historically from the Arabian Peninsula, the largely desert region that is today the modern states of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and others. Mohammed was Arab and so the first Muslims were Arab. Because of the conquest that followed the rise of Islam, Arabs can be found as the dominant population throughout much of North America and the Middle East today (from Morocco to Iraq).

Arabic  The language spoken by Arab people, and therefore the language of Mohammed and the Quran. Today, Arabic is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages though the dialects from place to place are so distinct that many non-native speakers who learn Arabic cannot communicate with native speakers.


Atheism  From Greek a- meaning without and theos, meaning God, atheists are those without a belief in God.

Avatar  An earthly manifestation of a deity, often the human form taken on by a god. In Hinduism, stories abound about Krishna taking on avatars and interacting with human beings on earth.

Bhagavad Gita 

Bishop  An ordained member of the Christian authoritative hierarchy who generally exercises local authority over a city. The authority of this position is supposedly descended directly from Jesus through his apostles in a chain of transmission called Apostolic Succession.

Burden of Proof  The obligation to validate the truth of a particular fact or statement. This philosophical term means that it is never the responsibility of the skeptic to prove that something did not happen but the responsibility of the claimant to prove that something did; that is, the burden of proof is on the one making the (outrageous) claims. See episode 709, “All About Mormons,” and listen to the words of those listening to Joseph Smith.


Chi (a.k.a. qi)  A Chinese concept somewhat akin to “life force” or “spiritual energy.” In traditional Chinese medicine, problems with the proper movement and flow of one’s chi can cause illness, and dietary changes, massage, acupuncture and physical exercise are ways of resolving the blocked chi.


Deism  A religio-philosophical system popularized in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England; a deist simply believes in a higher power who set the world in motion but does not interfere with it. Deists are not concerned with theological doctrine and often believe that it only convolutes the beauty and knowledge of the higher power.

Diaspora  The dispersion of the Jewish people outside of their homeland. The original diaspora began in 586 BCE with the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians and the exile of the people of Judah from their homeland. Though they were eventually allowed to return (and were again exiled by the Romans in 70 CE and later in 135 CE) Jews have lived in exile for over 2500 years. Today, the diaspora refers to all those Jews who continue to live outside the state of Israel.

Documentary Hypothesis  This theory refers to the Torah (a.k.a. the Pentateuch or The Five Books of Moses), and states that these books are actually the interwoven works of multiple different authors living in different times and places. For more, see my Fun with the Bible post, 6 Great Reasons that Moses Could Never Have Written the Bible.

Dreidel  A four-sided top that Jewish children use to play a game during the holiday of Hanukah.

Eightfold Path  Following this path leads to the release from suffering. This path includes: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The perfection of these elements will end suffering and lead to, ideally, nirvana.

Etiology  A story about the past that is meant to explain present circumstances. Mythological and biblical stories often have this intention in mind: by telling history, the story is actually explaining some reality about the present day.


Five Pillars of Faith 

Four Noble Truths  The heart of the Buddha’s teaching was contained in the Four Noble Truths, which were allegedly delivered in his first sermon. They are 1. suffering, 2. the arising of suffering, 3. the cessation of suffering and, 4. the path leading to the cessation of suffering. This basically means that, the big problem is suffering, the cause of which is desire; a release from suffering is possible and that is achieved by following the Eightfold Path.


Hellenism  Greek-ness. Hellenism refers to all of Greek culture, its dress, art, systems of thought, etc. To Hellenize is to make Greek. Hellenistic culture is Greek culture.

Holy See

Infidel  One who denies religion generally or does not adhere to his own religion (syn. apostate).


Koran  see Quran. To learn specifics about the Quran, please see Quran Read-A-Long.

Kipa (a.k.a. Yarmulke)  The headcovering worn by religious

Jews and pictured here on Gerald Broflovski.

Lebensraum  A German word that means living space. This was

a term used by Nazis during WWII to describe their need for more room and to justify the eastward expansion of the Reich. The Germany that remained after WWI’s Treaty of Versailles, it seems, was too crowded and small for this great race, and so Lebensraum referred to the need that would be filled by expanding into Poland and other Slavic lands.

Levant  The area of modern day Israel and Lebanon, including the Jordan Valley and a small bit of Syria. This is primarily a geographic term.

Mantra   (originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. For instance, in Hebrew, the word beseder means, okay, or quite literally, in order. To calm oneself and aid in breathing and concentration, one might repeat again and again, beseder, beseder.


Messiah  A Greek word from the Hebrew word mashiah (throaty final h), it means “anointed one.” This anointing was generally done with oil in ancient Israel and was meant to signify ascendence to a royal role. The word was only used once in the Old Testament, in reference to the king of Persia who allowed the Judeans to return to their homeland. In late Second Temple times (50 BCE - 70 CE), the people of Judea awaited the messiah, who was to be the descendent of the royal Davidic line and who would rescue them from Roman tyranny and restore their self-ruled kingdom. Believing that Jesus was of this line, he was considered by some to be the anointed one who would deliver peace - and the theology just snowballed from there. For more, please see Fun with the Bible: The Use of the Word Messiah/Christ/Mashiach/Savior in the Bible, Judaism and Christianity.

Mendoza, Daniel  Mendoza was the boxing champion of England in the late eighteenth century and changed the sport into a more calculated match rather than the previous game of beating the hell out of one’s opponent. Mendoza, as a Jew, changed the image of the Jew in England and one great acclaim as a Jew who was athletically gifted.

Menorah  A seven-branched candelabrum that was originally found in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem; it is one of the items commanded to be built in the Five Books of Moses. Now, one stands in synagogues as a reminder of this important object. The menorah is often confused with a hanukiah, the eight-branched candelabrum used during Hanukah and lit each night to commemorate what occurred in 167 BCE.


Mineret  The spire that is a noticeable feature of the mosque and the place from which the muezzin calls worshippers to prayer.

Mohammed  The prophet of Islam, considered the final prophets in a long line of divine communication that included Moses and the biblical prophets as well as Jesus. Born in Mecca in 570 CE, he lived until 632. Mohammed was a herder for most of his life until one day God spoke to him through the angel Gabriel in a series of revelations that were eventually compiled into the Quran. The Hadith are collections of the prophets words and actions that Muslims try to imitate. The first pillar of faith in Islam is a belief in God and in his prophet Mohammed.

Mosque  The Muslim house of prayer (in Arabic, masjid). A mosque contains no furniture; worshippers prostrate themselves on the floor facing a mark in the wall called a mihrab that indicates the direction of prayer, called the qibla. The direction is always towards the Ka’aba in Mecca. Mosques also serve a number of social functions in Islamic communities.

Muslim  An adherent of the faith of Islam. As a religious practitioner, Muslims can be any race or ethnicity and the word should not be confused with Arab. A Muslim believes in Allah and in his final prophet Mohammed.

New Testament  The Christian scriptures of the Bible. The term New Testament implies that the first Testament is the Old Testament and therefore outdated. Thus, the term New Testament is laden with theological implications. The New Testament is comprised of 4 gospels which tell the story of Jesus, the book of Acts, which tells about the early church, and a series of letters from Paul (and others) that discuss the early development of the church’s theology. The final book, Revelation, is about apocalyptic events.


Old Testament

Original Sin  A Christian belief that, because of Adam’s (the first man) original sin of eating fruit that was forbidden to him by God, every subsequent person is born with the stink of his sin. Therefore, no matter what you do or how good you are, it is still necessary to be baptized and atone because you have some sin in you - the Original Sin. It is worth noting that the actual story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3, does not mention original sin as part of the story.

Paganism  The word pagan is a derogatory term that means something akin to our modern day “hick.” It was used to refer to those who worshipped many gods, each of whom ruled over some different aspect of life. People who believed in this fashion, according to Christians, were essentially unsophisticated boors. Today, a pagan refers to someone who does not worship big-G God, but who worships (or worshipped, if we’re speaking historically) either a pantheon of gods or some combination of spirits and natural phenomena (sometimes conflated with or similar to animism and pantheism).

Peyyot  This is the plural form of the Hebrew word, peyya, which translates to something like corner or side but actually refers to the curly sidelocks that can be found on religious Jews. In Leviticus 19:27, the Israelites are commanded not to cut the hair at their temples, and though the practice has earlier origins, its popularity among ultra-orthodox Jews today can be traced to this line.

Pharisee  The sect of Jews in ancient Judea during the Second Temple period that eventually developed into the rabbis. Jesus, despite speaking against the Pharisees in the New Testament, could likely have been counted among their ranks. The Pharisees developed much of the earlier Oral Law and were politically opposed, for the most part, to the Sadduces, who were the priestly class.

Polytheism  The belief in many gods (or just more than one god). Examples of polytheists include the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. This word is often conflated with paganism, and though in modern parlance they mean something similar, that was originally a design to slight those who believed in more than one god.

Pope  The bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is supposed to be God’s mouthpiece on earth.

Quran  The holy book of the Muslim religion. The Quran was revealed to the Muslim prophet Mohammed in the hijjaz, the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula, during the 620s of the Common Era. For Muslims, the Koran is the exact word of God, spoken by God to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel in Arabic. Though Mohammed himself never wrote down the words that were spoken to him, he did reiterate them to many people who recorded them. During the reign of the first four caliphs, or Muslim community leaders, all of Mohammed’s revelations from God were collected and assembled in order from longest to shortest. The division of the Koran is suras, of which there are 114.



Sura  The way that the Quran is divided. In a sense it means chapter, though they are not regularly sized as we would imagine. There are 114 suras in the Quran and they are ordered from the longest sura, which is The Cow, to the shortest, which is Men.


Syncretism  The act of borrowing and incorporating other peoples’ religious elements.

Tao Te Ching  The Taoist text that was allegedly written by Lao Tzu.

Tochis Yiddish word meaning, rear-end, posterior or butt.

Torah  (a.k.a. The Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch) The first five books of the Bible, which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books, though they tell the story of the world and the ancient Israelites from the biblical perspective, are nonetheless intended as a law-code and are presented as those books handed down by Moses to the Israelites to know how to act and live. The very word Torah literally means instruction or teaching.

Transubstantiation  The notion that, when the communion wafers and wine are blessed and placed in the mouth of the person taking them, these objects actually change into the body and blood of Jesus. Catholics believe in transubstantiation as do some Protestant sects, though this is one of the issues that Protestants opposed during the Reformation and still today.

Trinity  This doctrine states that God is at once one God, but that he has three natures, or substances. These natures manifest themselves in the form of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All three aspects of the Trinity are equally God at every moment, inseparable from each other - and yet distinguishable. They are three in unity and in unity three. There is nothing explicit in the Bible that makes this doctrine known, and it was actually a matter voted on in 325 at the Council of Nicea by hundreds of church bishops. Because the doctrine was vague, its specifics were fleshed out further a few hundred years later.



Yeshiva  A traditional institution of higher Jewish learning. Yeshivot were once the place that talented Jewish students went to study and learn how to become rabbis and community leaders. Today, yeshivas, in their most traditional form, are found in Israel (though some exist in the U.S.) and are the institutions that religious Jews send their children for all of their formal education, which is primarily religious in nature.

Yiddish Yiddish is a Jewish language that is primarily High German written in Hebrew characters with a smattering of other languages mixes in like Hebrew and Polish. Jews spoke this language throughout Eastern Europe up until the Holocaust. Yiddish is a largely dead language now, though it is still spoken in certain Brooklyn communities. Examples of Yiddish that you may have heard in English are klutz, and kvetch.

Sometimes South Park uses complicated and somewhat esoteric terms related to religion - and occasionally things are only depicted visually! - and while I seek to explain most of them in The Zen of South Park, I thought it prudent to include a glossary here for convenience’s sake.

If there are any words that I use in my book that you are curious about please send me an email at with the page number and word and I will explain the way that I have used the word and what it means, and if I deem it necessary, I will include it on this page.

For additional discussion on these words, please see attached blog posts.

Glossary of Terms

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