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Glossary of religious terms
(Starting with "I")

By B.A. Robinson,
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance,

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Note: Conservative Christian faith groups often define terms very differently than other faith groups and secular movements. The former are shown in italics in the below lists of words.

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I Ching: A Chinese technique of predicting the future, based on a book by the same name - one of the five foundational books of Confucianism. Yellow stocks or rods are cast in order to select one of 64 hexagrams (patterns of six lines which may be broken or continuous).
Idol: This has two main meanings:
- A drawing, statue, or other representation of an item in heaven or earth, that is used for worship.
- Anything in life that takes a position of priority over one's relationship with God.
Ihram: Clothing worn by a male Muslim during the Hajj (pilgrimate to Mecca). It consists of two pieces of plain, white, unsewn cloth.
- An acronym for Isis, Horus, and Seb - the Egyptian trinity consisting of the Mother, the Child and the Father.
- The first three letters of the name Jesus, the Greek version of Yeshua.
Illuminati: (a.k.a. the enlightened ones)
- A group or individual who claim to be unusually enlightened.
- A secret philosophical and political society established by Adam Weishaupt in Germany in 1776. They promoted free thought and democracy.
- A game involving trading cards.
- A sinister organization believed to consist of evil men who control world finances, and whose goal is world domination through world government. Many consider this group to be non-existent.
Imam: A Muslim term for a national leader or the leader of worship in a mosque.
Immaculate Conception: The belief that before the birth of Mary (the mother of Jesus) was born, she was preserved from original sin at the time of her conception, circa 20 BCE. It is widely but incorrectly believed to refer to Jesus' conception, circa 5 to 8 BCE.
Immanence: the concept that deity is very much associated with creation, is all-present in the world, and is close to believers.
Immerse, immersion:
- Baptists and some other Christian groups generally translate the Greek words baptizo and baptisma as implying the total immersion of a convert during baptism.
- Many other Christian denominations believe that the words can also imply washing, without any specific description of the method. Thus, a baptism by sprinkling is biblically valid.
Imminence: the belief that an event is about to occur in the near future. e.g. the Second Coming.
Immorality: Behavior which transgresses a given system of morals; incorrect behavior. Liberal and conservative Christians differ in many matters over what is moral, even though both sincerely believe that their positions are biblically based. Moral standards change over time, even within a given religious group. Church schisms were common in the mid 19th century over slavery because parts of a denomination considered slavery to be profoundly immoral, while other believers believed that it was condoned, regulated and accepted by the Bible. Major moral shifts over the past 150 years have involved slavery, inoculation of children, birth control, abortion, sexism, racial segregation, discipline of children through the use of pain, and homophobia.
- God has traditionally been considered to be immortal, there having been no point at which he has not existed.
- Humans who have been saved have traditionally been considered to be immortal in that they will continue to exist in Heaven after death.
- Most Christian groups teach that the unsaved are also immortal in that they will continue to exist in Hell for all eternity after death. Other faith groups teach annihilationism.
Impeccability: The concept that Jesus Christ could not have sinned, even if he had wanted to.
Imputation: Adam and Eve's sinful disobeying of Gods instruction when they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been assigned to their children, their grandchildren, and all the way to present-day humanity forever. Holding one person responsible for the sins of another individual is rare in the field of religion and in secular moral systems. However, it is quite common in the Bible.
Inability, total: Alternative term for Total Depravity.
Incarnation: The concept that God became a man and dwelt among other humans. This was rejected by the Gnostic Christians, the Ebionites and other Jewish Christians, but accepted by Pauline Christians.
Inclusion: In general usage, inclusion means to allow people into a group; i.e. excluding nobody. In relation to salvation, the "Gospel of Inclusion" means a belief that everyone - or almost everyone - will be saved, will attain Heaven and avoid Hell. This is a heresy according to conservative Christians, and an accurate interpretation of the Bible according to liberal Christians. 1
Inclusivism: The recognition that ones belief system is the only true and valid one. Beliefs of other religions contain some truth, and their followers are deserving of respect, even though those beliefs might be in conflict with one's own view of the truth. Opposing beliefs are exclusivism and pluralism. More details
Incubus: A male demon who would visit women at night and engage in sexual activity. This belief was commonly held during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. There were also female demons, called succubi who were believed to visit men.
Indulgence: The practice by which a person could pay money to the church or do a good deed and obtain remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. After the Protestant Reformation, cash no longer became an acceptable way to obtain an indulgence.
Inerrant: When applied to a sacred text like the Bible, inerrancy is the belief that, as originally written, its contents are infallible, totally free of error and totally authoritative. Many religions, particularly their conservative wings, believe in the inerrancy of their sacred texts.
Inerrancy, limited: This is the belief that the Bible is only inerrant on matters of moral, spiritual and religious truth. That is, biblical passages that describes cosmology, origins of life, the Earth and the rest of the universe, place names, some events, etc. are not necessarily accurate.
- When applied to a sacred text like the Bible, infallible means that the text is fully trustworthy. i.e. it does not deceive the reader into falsehood. There are problems with this concept, because even within the conservative wing of Christianity, Bible experts reach many different conclusions about divorce, hell, the millennium, Book of Revelation, and creation/evolution, etc. Since these theologians' beliefs are mutually exclusive, most must be wrong. Since they were all derived from the Bible, the concept of biblical infallibility is suspect.
- Within the Roman Catholic Church, the belief that the pope can speak on matters of faith and morals without error. This belief was promulgated in 1870. The pope stripped Hans Kьng of his credentials as a teacher of Catholic theology, largely because of his questioning of the doctrine of Papal infallibility.
Infidel: a person who does not believe in your particular religion, denomination or religious tradition. Similar to "Unbeliever" but more of a "snarl" word.
Initial evidence: A doctrine formed from the Book of Acts. It holds that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Both the United Pentecostal Church and the Assemblies of God believe this doctrine. The, UPC further believes that this experience is essential to salvation. i.e. if you haven't spoken in tongues, you haven't been saved. 2
Inquisition: An organization within the Roman Catholic Church which was responsible for the elimination of heretics. They were the final court of appeal for those charged with heresy. Those who could be proven to be heretics were turned over to the civil authority for execution. This arm of the church was created in 1542 as the "Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition." It went through two name changes, being called the "Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei" (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in 1965. "Sacred" was dropped in 1983. It was headed by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger until his election as pope in 2005.
INRI: An acronym for the Latin phrase "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" which means: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"
Inspiration: When applied to a sacred text like the Bible, inspiration means that the God affected the thought processes of the writers and prevented them from writing any material that was in error. A logical result of inspiration is that the original text of the Bible was inerrant. 
Intention: The belief in the Roman Catholic church that the efficacy of the administration of a sacrament is dependant on the priest having the proper intent.
Intercession: An activity of Christ in which he advocates to God the Father the in favor of saved individuals
Interdict, Interdiction: A prohibition by the pope that can deprive individual persons, groups, communities and even nations of all priestly ministry. Thus, they no longer had access to the sacraments of the church.
Interfaith (a.k.a. inter-faith): An attempt to initiate dialog, cooperation, and understanding among individuals of two different faiths. It is also used to refer to a relationship or marriage between people of different faiths. It is occasionally used as a synonym for "multi-faith." Unfortunately, the term "faith" is defined differently by various religious groups. For example, some conservative Protestants regard a marriage to a person who is not of their denomination to be an interfaith marriage. Other conservative Protestants would regard liberal Christians, Roman Catholics, Mormons, etc. as being of a different faith. Still other Christians interpret "interfaith" as involving another religion, as in a Christian-Buddhist exchange.
Interfaithism: A belief that all religions are equally valid; they all lead to God. This word is used almost entirely among conservative Protestants. One of the two main meanings of the word "pluralism" is a synonym for "interfaithism."
Interreligious: A synonym for "interfaith."
Intincture: To some Christians, this is the communion practice in which the believer takes the bread or host, carries it to the wine, dips it, and then consumes it. In the Roman Catholic church, intincture involves the priest dipping the host in the wine and placing it on the tongue of the communicant.
Irresistible Grace: This is the fourth of The Five Points of Calvinism: the belief that it is impossible for a person whom God has elected to avoid coming to a knowledge of God.
Irtidгd: Literally: "turning back". In Islam, this is the act of apostasy - leaving Islam for another religion or for a secular lifestyle.
Islam: The second largest religion in the world. It has over 1,164 million followers, about 20% of the world's population, and is rapidly growing. It is based on the Qur'an, which is said to have been dictated to the Prophet Mohammed by the angel Jibril (a.k.a. Jibreel; Gabriel in English) in 622 CE. This is the largest of the purely monotheistic faiths. Members are found in large numbers throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Islamic: Synonym for "Muslim," a follower of Islam.
Islamists: These are Fundamentalist Muslims who are attempting to replace secular governments with Islamic theocracies. Mainstream Islamists do this by peaceful means of persuasion. Violent, extremist, radical, militant Fundamentalist Islamists use violence and terrorism as their main means of effecting change.
Islamophobia: Fear of Muslims, hatred of Muslims, or a desire to limit the civil liberties of Muslims. This word corresponds to sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia in areas related to gender, race, sexual orientation and nationality. It is often caused by a person attributing the actions of a few extreme, violent, Fundamentalist Muslim terrorists to the entire population of Muslims.
Isogesis: Reading something into a document. One starts with a belief and searches a document for supporting passages. Often used with reference to the Bible. A potential hazard is that the interpreter may quote a verse out of context with considering the rest of the passage or the rest of the Bible.


  1. Carlton D. Pearson, "Jesus: The savior of the World (The Gospel of Inclusion)," at:
  2. Mark MvNeil, "Is speaking with tongues the initial evidence of the spirit baptism?," at:
  3. "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,", at:

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