Interested in learning about religious traditions other than your own?

This page is a (non-comprehensive) list of major religious traditions in the US. It gives a basic synopsis of each, as well as including a jumping off point if you want to learn more.

Note: All of these religious traditions are much more nuanced than the short introductions we can write for this page. Not everyone from every tradition believes the same things, holds the same values, or practices the same way. As a result, we encourage you to reach out to friends and discuss what religion means to them.

Brief Summary: Agnosticism is a unique religious tradition, in the sense that its position is unsure as to whether or not there is a God (or Gods). The term was coined originally by T. H. Huxley, who argued that he as a human being could not determine with certainty any existence of a higher being; he couldn’t definitively say yes, but he couldn’t definitively rule it out, either. It is important to note, though, that Agnosticism means different things to different people, and individuals will probably have their own beliefs about what it means to them.

Major sects in the US: Non religious agnostics, religious agnostics

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Skeptic in the house of God, by James L. Kelley

Important text: the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, scriptures from other faiths

Major holidays: Martyrdom of the Báb, Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, Naw-Rúz, Ridvan

Major figures in this tradition: Manifestations of God- see summary for a full list

Place of worship: Mashriqu’l-Adhkár

Brief Summary: To Bahá’ís, “God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization.” These educators are well known in other faiths; they include Muhammed, Jesus, Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Adam, and Buddha. There are also two exclusively Bahá’í manifestations: the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. 

Major Values: Unity, Equality

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide to Bahá’í
  • The Baha’i Faith in America, by William Garlington
  • The Baha’i faith : the emerging global religion, by William S Hatcher

Important text: Which text someone may follow depends on the type of Buddhism they identify with

Major holidays: Vesak (alternatively Wesak) along with other regional holidays

Major figures in this tradition: Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)

Place of worship: Temple, or at home

Brief Summary: Buddhism began with a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama. He lived a very sheltered life, but didn’t want for anything. Eventually, he left his home and saw suffering for the first time in his life. After meditation and discussion and learning, he achieved nirvana. He teaches that to achieve nirvana, you must believe the four Noble Truths: all life is suffering, the source of suffering is desire, it is possible to end your suffering, and to do that you must follow the eightfold path. 

  1. Right view
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action 
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Buddhism doesn’t have a lot of fun festivals, and spiritual leaders don’t typically gain power the way that they do in other religions. However, Buddhism was very attractive to those who were born into a low caste in a Hindu country, because there was no caste system. One didn’t necessarily have to wait multiple lives to achieve nirvana; in theory, anyone can. 

Major Values: Moderation, wisdom, compassion, harmlessness

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide to Buddhism
  • Buddhism, by Louis Frederic
  • Rethinking the Buddha: Early Buddhist Philosophy as Meditative Perception, by Eviatar Shulman
  • A Buddhist Approach to International Relations: Radical Interdependence, by William J Long

Important text: the Bible

Major holidays: Easter, Christmas, Pentecost

Major figures in this tradition: Abraham, Moses, other Hebrew Prophets, Jesus Christ

Place of worship: Church

Brief Summary: Christianity has a basis in Abrahamic tradition, like Judaism and Islam. It’s holy book incorporates the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, as well as the New Testament, the stories of Jesus Christ and his followers, called disciples. Jesus Christ, according to the Holy Bible, was born in a stable below a bright star to the Virgin Mary, a major figure in a number of Christian denominations. He grew up, and began preaching radical kindness, even though his teachings disagreed with the Jewish authorities. He was ultimately betrayed by one of his disciples and put to death on a day that is today celebrated as Good Friday. For Christians, Jesus’s death symbolizes all sins being forgiven, as well as a pathway to Heaven. Two days later, he rose from the dead, and then ascended into Heaven. 

Today, there are many denominations of Christianity, which resulted from many schisms and reformations, the most well known being the Protestant reformation mentioned in more detail under ‘Lutheranism’.

Major Values: Love, Faith

Major sects in the US: Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentacostal

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide to Christianity
  • Christianity, by Keith Ward
  • Christianity, Islam, and Orisa Religion : Three Traditions in Comparison and Interaction, by J. D. Y. Peel
  • Blood and Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism, by Damon T Berry
  • On Being Rich and Poor: Christianity in a Time of Economic Globalization, by Willem H Vanderburg

Important text: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price

Major holidays: Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Pioneer Day, Christmas

Major figures in this tradition: Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith

Place of worship: Church (weekly meetings) or temple (special occasions)

Brief Summary: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith. The church’s story, however, begins in 1823, when Joseph Smith had a vision where he was visited by an angel and given directions to divine texts. These texts became the Book of Mormon. Smith set out to establish Zion, somewhere in the western United States. Smith and his followers struggled to find somewhere accepting to settle, however, and travelled in search of one. During this time, anti-Mormon sentiment was high, and Smith was killed. The next leader was Brigham Young, who settled the Mormon church in present day Utah. Since then, the church has grown to more than 16 million people worldwide. 

Major Values: Family, Order and authority

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • “I’m Not Your Stereotypical Mormon Girl”: Mormon Women’s Gendered Resistance, by Reid Leamaster and Rachel Einwohner
  • Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830–1853, by Merina Smith
  • Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and The Problem of Racial Innocence, by Joanna Brooks
  • Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia, by Ardis Parshall and Paul Reeve

Important text: the four Vedas- Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda, and the two great Epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Major holidays: Diwali, Janmashtami, Maha Shivaratri, Rama Navami, and Holi

Major figures in this tradition: Although there are many Gods in Hinduism, those worshipped most often are “Vishnu, Shiva, the Goddess in her various aspects, and Shiva’s sons Ganesha and Karttikeya”

Place of worship: Temple

Brief Summary: Hinduism began as both a religion and a way to keep the social order (as other traditions did as well.) A large part of Hinduism is focused on dharma, the idea that everyone has a job and should do their best to do that job. This gives divine support to the Indian caste system, which designates someone’s life purpose based on their birth and status. Those are the social reasons for doing your dharma, but there are personal motivations as well. Hindus also believe in a cycle of rebirth, called samsara. Having good dharma in one life means that in the next you will be higher in the social order, or better off in the caste system. And although your life is easiest when you are in the highest caste (the same way that other kinds of privilege simplify your life), the ultimate goal is to end your cycle of reincarnation. That release is called moksha. 

There are many kinds of worship within Hinduism, with the umbrella term being puja. Puja is individual or within family groups, not necessarily linked to a congregation or service. Temples are common places for puja, with priests there to assist those worshipping.

Major Values: Righteousness (dharma), working toward material prosperity (artha), love through the enjoyment of life (kama), and moksha.

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide to Hinduism
  • Hindu wife, Hindu nation, community, religion, and cultural nationalism, by Tanika Sarkar


Important text: None

Major holidays: Human Light

Major figures in this tradition: Enlightenment Scholars, scientists

Place of worship: None

Brief Summary: Humanists believe in the importance of treating others well, without believing that one needs a religious reason to do so. The history of Humanism stems from different social figures arriving at or building on similar conclusions, including the Lokayata and Carvaka, Epicurus, and Enlightenment thinkers. They don’t prioritize faith in information without investigating it. Instead, they assess information using tools like the scientific method or rational thought. 

Modern day humanists include a number of different groups, including atheists, nontheists, deists, and freethinkers, although there is some disagreement about who should fall under the humanist umbrella. 

Major Values: Reason, compassion, hope

Major sects in the US: Religious humanists, secular humanists

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Humanist Journal
  • Education and Humanism Linking Autonomy and Humanity, edited by Wiel Veugelers 

Important text: Quran, Hadith

Major holidays:  Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha

Major figures in this tradition: the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), other Hebrew prophets including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus

Place of worship: Mosque

A few to know about Islam: 

  • When some Muslims are discussing the Prophet Muhammad, they follow his name with “Peace Be Upon Him”, sometimes shortened to PBUH. 
  • About a quarter of the world’s total population is Muslim, and there is a huge range in political, economic, ethical, moral, and religious beliefs, just as there are for any group of that size. 
  • Islamophobia (acts of violence or hate against Muslims) are on the rise, both in the United States and Europe. 

Brief summary: One of the Abrahamic religions, Islam also has a basis in the Hebrew Bible, although like Christianity it believes that there is a significant religious stage after the Hebrew Bible was finished. Muslims believe that Abraham, Moses, and others (including Jesus) are all prophets sent from God, with Muhammad (PBUH) being the last of the prophets. He was born and lived in Mecca, until he was exiled and travelled to Medina. There, he continued to gain supporters, eventually returning to Mecca to rule. 

There are five main acts of worship for Muslims, called the five pillars of Islam. The first is the profession of the faith (shahada). The second is the ritual prayer said five times each day, and the third is the fast during the month of Ramadan. The fourth is almsgiving or zakat, when Muslims give a percentage of their income to the poor. And the last is the pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are expected to travel once in their lifetime, finances and circumstances allowing. Muslims also have a body of law, called sharia, which has many different interpretations, just as the legal system in the US has many different interpretations.

Major Values: Love for God and God’s creatures, kindness, and charity to those less fortunate

Major sects in the US: Sunni, Shia

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

Major text: The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, the Talmud, and interpretations of the Tanakh and Talmud 

Major holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Purim, Hanukkah

Major figures in this tradition: Moses, Abraham, Hebrew prophets

Place of worship: Synagogue

Brief summary: One of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism is based on the teachings of YHWH (Hebrew for God) through Abraham and his descendants. The Tanakh gives the most full history of the Jewish people, telling the story of the Israelites from the beginning until 535 BCE. It follows Abraham’s descendants, telling their stories and history. It is a covenantal or agreement based religion; YHWH agreed to protect Israel as long as they follow YHWH’s rules, which were given to Moses. According to Jewish tradition, this agreement gives the basis for how the Jewish people should live their lives.

Major Values:  Justice, Truth, Peace, loving-kindness, Compassion, Humility, and Self-Respect

Major sects in the US: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide for Judaism
  • Judaism, by Dan Cohn-Sherbok

Important text: Holy Bible, Book of Concord

Major holidays: Nativity, Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, the Transfiguration, the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, All Saints, and Christ the King.

Major figures in this tradition: Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Abraham

Place of worship: Church

Brief summary: The Lutheran tradition began after a split from the Catholic church, led by Martin Luther. He believed that the Roman Catholic Church was straying from its original purpose, especially because of the ways that sin could be forgiven through financial donation to the church. Although he didn’t originally mean to totally split from the Catholic Church, his 95 Theses were hugely controversial and ended with him being excommunicated. After a few decades, Lutheranism began being legally recognized, and spread rapidly throughout Europe. After disagreements by Church leaders, the Book of Concord was agreed upon to represent much of Lutheran beliefs.

Major Values: Education, service to one’s neighbor, forgiveness

“Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification “by Grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Scripture alone”, the doctrine that scripture is the final authority on all matters of faith.” 

Major sects in the US: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Pacific Lutheran University is supported by the ELCA. 

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • The future of Lutheranism in a global context, by James W. Aageson, and Arland Dean Jacobson
  • An Introductory guide to Lutheran archives and collections, by Helen M Knubel
  • The church of the Lutheran Reformation; a historical survey of Lutheranism, by Conrad J. I. Bergendoff
  • Click here for the library guide to Lutheranism

Important text: Many Indigenous populations use oral traditions over written ones. Because there are so many traditions and tribal variations even in just the modern day US, it is difficult to just pin down one story.

Brief Summary: Indigenous religion uses a different framework than most other religions, because there are no non-sacred things. “For native communities religion is understood as the relationship between living humans and other persons or things, however they are conceived.” Everyone and everything deserve the same respect, including those which are seen in the West as inanimate (Mountains, rivers, etc.) There are also a large number of different traditions within the umbrella of Native American religions, because there are hundreds of Indigenous groups. 

Although there are not unifying holidays in the way there are with other religious traditions, NA and Indigenous people still have celebrations and rituals. To learn more about the largest NA traditions in the US, choose a link below. There is also a link included to learn more about the Puyallup people, a tribe local to PLU.

Major Values: Cooperation, Generosity

Major sects in the US: Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, Pueblo

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Native American religion, by Joel W Martin
  • Seeing with a native eye : essays on native American religion, by Åk Hultkrantz
  • The land looks after us : a history of Native American religion, by Joel W Martin
  • Native American Religions, by Rob Staeger

Important text: The Bible, but specifically an ancient translation to Greek called the Septuagint

Major holidays: Easter, Christmas, and each day of the year is sacred and dedicated to a specific saint

Major figures in this tradition: Jesus Christ

Place of worship: Church

Brief Summary: The Orthodox Church is made up of a number of regional congregations, with similar views of theology, tradition, and worship. While some people who identify as Orthodox Christian say they do not practice, it is both a religious tradition and a cultural/societal tradition.

Although Orthodox Christians have similar beliefs to Catholics and Protestants about the majority of Christian theology and history, they worship and live differently than either group. Major parts of Orthodox life include prayer, monasticism, fasting, and reflecting on self-denial. There are also seven sacraments at the heart of the Orthodox Church: Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, orders, penance, anointing of the sick, and marriage. 

Major Values: Service, discipline, faith

Major sects in the US: Orthodox Church in America, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church, by Daniel Buxhoeveden
  • The Orthodox Church, by Kallistos, Bishop of Diokleia
  • The Greek Orthodox Church : faith, history, and practice by Demetrios J. Constantelos

Important text: Guru Granth Sahib, which is treated with the same respect as a human Guru would be

Major holidays: Maghi, Vaisakhi, Bandi Chhor Divas, Guru Nanak Gurpurab, and celebrations remembering the martyrdom of certain Gurus 

Major figures in this tradition: Guru Nanak, his nine Guru followers

Place of worship: Gurdwara

Brief Summary: Sikhism was started by Guru Nanak in modern day India and Pakistan during the 1500s. It is a monotheistic religion based on the idea that “all paths lead to one God, all people are equal, and each of us can experience freedom through loving and serving others.” Gurdwaras are open to all people, regardless of religion, race, or gender, because equality is incredibly important in Sikhism. “Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to: keep God in heart and mind at all times, live honestly and work hard, treat everyone equally, be generous to the less fortunate, serve others.”

Major Values: Service, Charity, Equality

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide to Sikhism

Although this is not a traditional religion, many people identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. We chose to include it on this list because a large part of the PLU community identifies this way, and we believe it is important for those people to see themselves represented in this list. 

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Spiritual, but not religious : understanding unchurched America, by Robert C. Fuller

Important text: Book of Shadows, Charge of the Goddess

Major holidays: Summer and Winter Solstice, Spring and Fall Equinox, Lughnasad, Imbolc, Beltane, Samhain

Major figures in this tradition: Triple Goddess

Place of worship: The circle, a consecrated space

Brief Summary: Paganism is an umbrella term for a wide spectrum of traditions, one of which is Wicca, which this entry is focused on. Modern Wicca is a return to an Indigenous tradition of Europe, with a focus on the natural world, the Triple Goddess, and God.  It is not a centrally organized religion; rather, single witches or small groups meet and perform rituals together. Some of the central tenets of Wicca include magic, rebirth, Nature, and Goddess worship. 

Major Values: Freedom as long as one’s actions don’t harm others

To learn more: 

Books available at the PLU library: 

  • Click here for the library guide to Wicca
  • The sign of the witch : modernity and the pagan revival, by David Waldron
  • Wicca and the Christian heritage : ritual, sex and magic, by Joanne Pearson
  • Women In New Religions, by Laura Lee Vance

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