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Monotheism: Islam, Judaism & Christianity

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  • 0:05 Monotheism
  • 1:01 Judaism
  • 2:55 Christianity
  • 5:05 Islam
  • 7:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
In this lesson, we define monotheism and identify three significant monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We also discuss the ideology of each of these three religions.

Monotheism

Sociologists study a wide variety of religions to understand how they affect society as a whole. They study religion objectively and do not attempt to say whether any religion is right or wrong. There are approximately twenty major religions that are observed worldwide. In this lesson, we'll discuss three significant monotheistic religions that sociologists study.

Monotheism is belief in a single god. This is different from polytheism, which is belief in multiple gods. Three of the most well-known monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three of these religions believe in the same God, who is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. However, their other beliefs, ideologies, and doctrine differ greatly. Let's discuss each religion in more depth.

Judaism

Cultural traditions are important for establishing Jewish identity.
Jewish Traditions

As far as number of followers, Judaism doesn't even make the top ten religions. Jews make up a majority of the population in only one country - Israel. However, Judaism is one of the oldest religions still existing today and has special importance to the U.S. because the largest concentration of Jews is found in North America.

A central religious belief of Judaism is the covenant, a special relationship with the one and only God, by which the Jews became God's chosen people. The covenant, which is symbolized by circumcision, is an agreement of the Jews to follow God's Ten Commandments. As reward, the Jewish people would possess the Holy Land and be blessed with prosperity and victory over their enemies.

The Ten Commandments, believed to have been given to the prophet Moses by God, play a fundamental role in both Judaism and Christianity. They include a set of principles regarding worship and ethics - rules like keeping the Sabbath and not committing murder, theft, and adultery. The Ten Commandments are listed in the sacred text of Judaism: the Hebrew Bible. Most people know the Hebrew Bible as the Christian Old Testament. Of special importance are the first five books - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy - called the Torah. Jews regard it as both a record of their history and of the moral behaviors they must follow.

Jewish identity arises primarily from the culture and traditions of their people. Jewish beliefs vary widely on theological matters. However, there are three main 'movements' that represent certain theological beliefs: Orthodox Judaism, which is very traditional; Reform Judaism, which is the most liberal; and Conservative Judaism, which is the middle ground between the other two denominations.

Christianity

Christians believe Jesus is the savior of humanity.
Jesus

The second monotheistic religion we'll discuss is the largest. Christianity is the most widespread religion in the world, with two billion followers - that's almost one-third of the people on the planet! However, most Christians live in Europe or the Americas. As already noted, Christianity believes in the same God as Judaism. Yet, Christianity views Him as a Holy Trinity :

  1. God, the Creator and Heavenly Father
  2. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Redeemer
  3. The Holy Spirit, a Christian's personal experience of God's presence

Christianity began as a sect of Judaism. However, it was based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who spread a message of personal salvation. Christians believe that Jesus is divine and the savior of humanity. During the first century, Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion. His death is considered the reason for salvation and eternal life for all people, through divine grace. This is why the cross became a sacred Christian symbol. According to Christian belief, three days after his execution, Jesus arose from the dead, showing that he was the Son of God.

The sacred text of Christianity is the Holy Bible, which consists of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament - which, among other things, narrates the life of Jesus. As mentioned earlier, the Ten Commandments play a fundamental role in Christian doctrine. Most Christians believe those who accept salvation through Jesus and follow the Ten Commandments will be rewarded in Heaven. Sinners who do not repent or who reject God will be punished in Hell.

Over time, Christianity has taken various forms, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and Protestantism. Today, there are hundreds of Protestant denominations. In the U.S., dozens of these denominations - the Baptists and Methodists are the two largest - command sizable followers.

Islam

The final monotheistic religion we'll discuss in this lesson is Islam, which is the second largest religion in the world. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Although we tend to associate Islam with Arabs, the highest populations of the world's Muslims live elsewhere: Northern Africa and Indonesia. There are also millions of Muslims who live in the U.S.

The Quran is the sacred test of Islam.
Koran

Muslims believe in God, who revealed himself to Muhammad, the prophet. The sacred text of Islam is the Qur'an, which, according to Islam belief, is the word of Allah (their name for God) as transmitted through Muhammad. Unlike Jesus to Christians, Muhammad is not a divine being to Muslims. But, similar to Christianity, Islam holds people accountable to Allah for their deeds on Earth. Those who live obediently will be rewarded in Heaven, and evildoers will suffer unending punishment.

The word 'Islam' means 'submission,' which reflects the doctrine of submitting to the will of Allah. Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam:

  1. Recognizing Allah as the one, true God and Muhammad as God's messenger
  2. Daily prayer
  3. Alms-giving to the needy
  4. Fasting during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar)
  5. Pilgrimage to the Sacred House of Allah in Mecca

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