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Glossary of religious terms
(Starting with "M")

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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Magic, Magick: The use of blessings, spells, incantations etc. to change outcomes of events. Wiccans and other Neo-pagans are limited to what is popularly called "White Magic" which is devoid of control, domination, harm or manipulation. Satanists are free to return harmful magic as vengeance for any harm done to them by others.
Mainline or Mainstream: This is a term that is often used to refer to Christian denominations which are more liberal than Evangelicals. It is not a well-defined word with a universally accepted meaning. In a study comparing Evangelical and mainline denominations, a Princeton University study included the following as large mainline groups: American Baptist Churches in the USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. 1 Some theologians and commentators divide Christianity into three groups: Evangelical, mainline and liberal.
Mala beads: This is a string of beads  - 108 is a common number - of uniform size. There is one larger bead, called the guru mother or focal bead. They are sometimes called "prayer beads," "worry beads" or "Buddhist rosaries". The beads can be made from a variety of materials, such as sandalwood, teak, glass, bone, gemstones, and coconut. The beads are used as counters to help Buddhists, Hindus, and yoga practitioners repeat their mantra a certain number of times. They can also help a person stay focused during meditation. 4
Mandala: An object that one can focus on during meditation. It is usually a painted diagram that shows the unfolding of the cosmos.
Mandap: A sacred wedding tent used by Hindus.
Manicheanism: A religion which synthesized elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Zoroastrianism. It was founded by Mani (a.k.a. Manicheus) in Mesopotamia during the third century CE. He believed in two two equal deities. One is the Judeo-Christian God who is good, and is responsible for human souls and minds. The other is Satan who is evil and is responsible for human bodies, passions and emotions. It considered sexuality to be evil. Its followers practiced asceticism. 6
Manifestation. The founder of the Christadelphians, John Thomas, taught his belief about deity. Rejecting the Trinity, he wrote that "...the Father is God and Jesus is God; and we may add, so are all the brethren of Jesus gods; and a multitude which no man can number'."
Mantra: A word or phrase which is repeated continually in order to achieve relaxation or meditation.
MРіra: The Buddhist devil.
Marianist: A group of Christians in the 5th century CE who believed that the Virgin Mary is the "queen of heaven." They believed in a Trinity composed of God, Mary and Jesus Christ.
Masjid: This is a Muslim term for a mosque - a house of worship.
Masonic order: See Freemasonry
Materialism: The belief that only material, physical objects exist. Such items as thoughts, soul, and spirit are properties of the human mind.
Meditation: "Meditation can be considered a technique, or practice. It usually involves concentrating on an object, such as a flower, a candle, a sound or word, or the breath. Over time, the number of random thoughts diminishes. More importantly, your attachment to these thoughts, and your identification with them, progressively become less. 5
Medium: An individual who claims to be able to make contact with the spirits of dead people.
Mennonites: A faith group which originated within the Anabaptist movement. They hold a variety of theological beliefs, but are all opposed to infant baptism and warfare.
Messiah: Derived from the Hebrew "meshiach" which means "consecrated person" or "anointed one." It is translated as the Greek word "Christos," and the English "Christ."
- In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the Messiah was an anticipated "anointed one": a king of Israel and military leader who would lead the Jewish people to independence from foreign oppression and occupation. The concept of a Messiah who was executed and later resurrected does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Talmud: "The only difference between the world today and the world after the messiah comes is that when the messiah comes we will be free of foreign subjugation." 1
- In Christianity, a title used to refer to Yeshua of Nazareth: Jesus Christ - considered the Son of God and second personality of the Trinity.
Messianic Judaism,: A conservative Christian religion which blends Jewish tradition and ceremonies with Fundamentalist theological beliefs about Jesus Christ.
Metaehics: A study of ethical systems to determine whether they are based on objective foundations.
Methodist: An individual, congregation, or denomination whose spiritual heritage can be traced to the teachings of John Wesley. He was an 18th century English preacher, who was influenced by the Pietist movement which started in the 17th century. "Methodist" was first used as a derisive title to refer to the very strict daily schedules observed by members of the Holy Club - a religious society which Wesley organized in Oxford.
Midrash: From a Hebrew word "darash," meaning "to seek out." According to Rabbi Donna Berman, "Midrash uses allegory and additional narrative to fill in the gaps left by an often terse biblical text. Midrash is creative and imaginative. It can take the form of artwork, dance, music, as well as poetry and prose." 8 Midrash can also refer to a book which contains a compilation of Midrashic teachings.
Mihrab: This is a niche in the wall of a mosque. It points in the direction of Qibla - the direction of the shorter great circle route to the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Minaret: A tower located beside a mosque. It is often used when Muslims are called to prayer.
Mind control cult: a religious group which uses severe domination and manipulation to rigidly control its followers. Some in the anti-cult movement believe that members of these groups lose their will to think clearly and almost become zombies. There is little or no evidence of that actually happening. 
- Religious meaning: an interval of 1000 years after Armageddon when, according to Revelation, Jesus Christ will rule on earth. 
- Secular meanings: the beginning of a year ending in "000" or "001" as in "2000" or "2001."
Millennialism: The belief that current society will disintegrate and be replaced with a perfect new world. Some 24% of American adults believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth during their lifetime; most believe that this event will usher in a new world order.
Mind control: A spiritually abusive environment in which followers of a faith group are manipulated in order to reduce their ability to think critically. The goal is to turn the membership into near robots who are incapable of independent reasoning and judgment. There is no consensus on whether new religious movements utilize mind control techniques. The existence of mind control is a major part of the belief system of the anti-cult movement (ACM). Those in the ACM teach that new religious movements (which they call "cults") widely practice mind control and other psychologically abusive methods. Sociologists and psychologists who have studied new religious movements generally deny that it exists.
Mind sciences: A religious movement which beliefs that humans are divine beings who can change reality through their mind and thoughts.
Minimalism, minimalists: A group of historians, archaeologists and theologians who view the biblical account of creation, the flood, the tower of Babel, the patriarchs, the exodus as religious myth without any historical reality. They believe that the histories in the Hebrew Scriptures were of recent creation.
Minyan: A quorum of ten or more male Jewish adults - the number required to conduct a communal worship service.
Miracle: An event in which God suspends one or more natural laws and makes an impossible outcome happen. The stopping of the apparent movement of the sun across the sky, as mentioned in the Bible, is regarded by some as a miracle.
Missal: A Roman Catholic book which contains all of the mass prayers and readings for three years of Sundays and two years of weekdays.
Modalism: The belief that God is a single entity who has appeared in different modes at different times. He appeared as the Father in the Old Testament, as Jesus during the first century CE, and has since taken the form of the Holy Spirit.
Modernism: In a religious sense, the term refers to a movement which started in the 19th century which was skeptical of traditional Christian dogma, such as the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Modernists applied rationalistic thinking to studies of the Bible and of religious belief. The Bible was studied as a historical document rather than as the Word of God. The Fundamentalist movement within Christianity was created largely as a response to modernism.
Mohammed: See: Muhammad, the preferred spelling.
Moksha: A Hindu term that means liberation and release from samsara - the changing world and the cycle of birth and rebirth. "...this liberation seemed to involve some sort of absorption into the Universal Spirit or the Absolute and the loss of one's individual identity." 2
Monarchianism: A Christian heresy which taught that God is a single entity and that Jesus was a pure man, born of a virgin, who was adopted by God.
Monastery: A building where an intentional religious community lives according to a lifestyle which often includes vows, religious exercises, contemplation, meditation, and prayer.
Monism: The belief that what people perceive as deity, humanity and the rest of the universe is in fact all of one substance - that divisions among the body, mind, flesh, spirit, material, physical are not real. All are simply aspects of one being. 
Monolatry: Belief that multiple deities exist, although only one is to be worshiped.
Monophysite: A a person or religious group which believes in Monophysitism. The Ethiopian Church holds to this belief and is thus regarded by many Christian denominations as heretics or schismatics. They prefer the term "non-Chalcedonian" rather than "monophysite."
Monophysitism: A belief that Jesus Christ only had a single nature, and that it was divine. This contrasts with Diophysitism and the hypostatic union.
Monotheist: One who believes in the existence of only one deity, usually male. See also henotheism.
Morality: A system which differentiates between right and wrong conduct. In practice, it often refers to sexual conduct.
Moral Rearmament: An inter-religious group organized by Frank Buchman to reform the world, one person at a time. It was founded in 1929 as the Oxford Group and renamed Moral Rearmament in 1938. It promoted absolute prity, unselfishness, honesty and love.
Mormonism: A group of denominations including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Founded by Joseph Smith in New York state in 1830, they teach that Jesus spent time in Central and South America after his crucifixion, spreading the gospel to Aboriginal peoples throughout the Americas. Smith stated that as a result of an angelic visitation, hw was shown the location of golden plates containing the Book of Mormon, one of the denominations'  sacred texts. He also found the Urim and Thummin which enabled him to translate the plates into English. Both latter dissapeared. They abandoned the practice of polygyny during the 19th century and racial discrimination within the priesthood in 1978. They have about 11 million members worldwide and are growing rapidly.
Mortal sin: A Roman Catholic classification of serious offenses against God or the church. Unless cleared by through confession and absolution, it would cause an individual to end up in Hell after death. Lighter offenses are called venial sins, and can be expiated by various good works and activities.
Mosque: "Masjid" is the name used by Muslims to refer to their house of worship. Mosque is the English version of that term. It literally means "place of prostration." There are about 1,209 masjids in the U.S. and on the order of 100 in Canada.
Muhammad: Within Islam, he is considered the final and greatest prophet. He is the founder of Islam.
Multi-faith (a.k.a. multifaith): An attempt to initiate dialog, cooperation, and understanding among individuals of many different faiths. It is occasionally used as a synonym for "interfaith." Unfortunately, the term "faith" is defined differently by various religious groups. For example, some conservative Christians regard a person who is not of their denomination to be from a different faith. Other conservative Christians would regard liberal Christians as being of a different faith. Still other Christians interpret "multifaith" as involving other religions, as in a Christian-Jewish-Muslim exchange.
Multiverse: A concept accepted by some scientists that our universe is only one of "multiple universes bubbling, colliding and budding off each other." 10
Murtadd: Literally: "one who turns the back." In Islam, this refers to an apostate - one who rejects the religion.
Murtad Fitri: Literally: apostate - natural. A person born of a Muslim parent who later rejects Islam.
Murtad Milli: Literally: apostate - from the community. A person who converted to Islam and later rejected the religion.
Muslim: a follower of Islam. It is sometimes misspelled "Moslem" which is offensive to some Muslims.
Mystery religion: This term is most often used to refer to a group of religions in ancient Greece and Rome which existed in competition with the official state religions. They "...offered personal salvation through initiation into an enlightened group bound by some special secret, often involving the promise of an afterlife, a recompense for present miseries. Hence mystery religions had great appeal to the powerless and dispossessed." 9 Some consider the primitive Christian movement to have been a mystery religion. Contemporary faith groups, such as Gnosticism, Mormonism, Wicca, other Neopagan groups, etc., are sometimes called mystery religions today.
Mysticism: The belief and practice of a third form of knowledge - one which is beyond sense knowledge and knowledge by inference. "The immediate feeling of unity of the self with God; it is nothing, therefore, but the fundamental feeling of religion, the religious life at its very heart and centre." Otto Pfleiderer, 19th-century scholar.
Mysticism: The third major way of knowing reality - the other two being faith and science. Mysticism involves "...inward perception of the mind, internal illumination, or special revelation..." 7
Myth: A traditional story that is not literally true, but which generally portrays fundamental spiritual and religious truths. There are probably on the order of 500 creation myths among the many faith groups in the world. Most, or all, do not represent reality. But many contain much wisdom.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rabbi Tilsen, "Material and Spiritual Emancipation," at:
  2. "India Glossary: Moksha," at:
  3. Robert Wuthnow, "Study on Religion and Politics Finds Widespread Interest in Progressive Issues: Survey Suggests Political Potential of Mainline Protestants," at:
  4. "Mala frequently asked questions and instructions," at: 
  5. Dinu Roman: "Mystery Meditation"
  6. "Western North African Christianity: fourth Century Mahicheanism..." at:
  7. "Watchman Fellowship's 2001 Index of Cults and Religions: Mysticism," at:
  8. "Midrash" at:
  9. "Cults ancient and modern," Arion journal, at:
  10. "One universe or many? Panel holds unusual debate," World Science, 20060MAR-30, at:

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