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For other uses, see Worship (disambiguation).
Detail from Religion by Charles Sprague Pearce (1896)

Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. Studying worship abstractly, one may contemplate the origin, fruits, and basic nature of worship, but fundamentally it can only be understood by being practiced. It is a conscious awareness of one’s inner nature within the greater ocean of conscious awareness belonging to other beings. It is an activity, a focusing on one’s own inner human nature, on the inner human nature of others past and present, and on the nature of divine beings and of God.

It can be subdivided into prayer, which is a sending out, and meditation, which is a receiving, although in many traditions worship is seen as a melding of the two. It can also be subdivided into adoration, which is a worship of the prime divine (God), and veneration, which is a worship of saintly human beings, past and present.

The name itself carries the meaning, as in the Salic Law weregild (money for the man), the folkloric werewolf (man-wolf), and the English subjunctive “were” (contemplating a possibility). Similar words are worth, world, and the Word of the Bible. The suffix –ship (eg. courtship and citizenship) implies a conscious participation in a meaningful activity. By combining wor- with the suffix –ship, it becomes the activity of consciously being aware of the true nature of being human, that is, recognizing oneself in the sea of conscious existence all around (mindfulness, German Erkenntnis, Greek gnosis).

Worship is not just practicing orderliness and harmony of one’s thoughts, feelings, and willfulness, but rather, it is a spiritual activity, so the study of worship lies properly within pneumatology and not within psychology.

The word "worship" is derived from the Old English weorþscipe, meaning worship, honour shown to an object,[1] which has been etymologised as "worthiness or worth-ship"—to give, at its simplest, worth to something.[2]

Worship asserts the reality of its object and defines its meaning by reference to it.[3]

An act of worship may be performed individually, in an informal or formal group, or by a designated leader.

Worship in various religions[edit]


Further information: Buddhist devotion and Puja (Buddhism)

Worship in Buddhism may take innumerable forms given the doctrine of skillful means. Worship is evident in Buddhism in such forms as: guru yoga, mandala, thanka, yantra yoga, the discipline of the fighting monks of Shaolin, panchamrita, mantra recitation, tea ceremony, ganacakra, amongst others.Buddhist Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists.[4] According to a spokesman of the Sasana Council of Burma, devotion to Buddhist spiritual practices inspires devotion to the Triple Gem.[5] Most Buddhists use ritual in pursuit of their spiritual aspirations.[6]In Buddhism, puja (Sanskrit & Pali: pūjā) are expressions of "honour, worship and devotional attention."[7] Acts of puja include bowing, making offerings and chanting. These devotional acts are generally performed daily at home (either in the morning or evening or both) as well as during communal festivals and Uposatha days at a temple.[8]


Anglican devotions are private prayers and practices used by Anglican Christians to promote spiritual growth and communion with God. Among members of the Anglican Communion, private devotional habits vary widely, depending on personal preference and on their affiliation with low-church or high-church parishes.Roman Catholic devotions are "external practices of piety" which are not part of the official liturgy of the Catholic Church but are part of the popular spiritual practices of Catholics.[9] Catholic devotions do not become part of liturgical worship, even if they are performed within a Catholic church, in a group, in the presence of a priest.[10] The Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican publishes a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.[11]In Christianity, a church service is a formalized period of communal worship, often but not exclusively occurring on Sunday, or Saturday in the case of those churches practicing seventh-day Sabbatarianism. The church service is the gathering together of Christians to be taught the "Word of God" (the Christian Bible) and encouraged in their faith. Technically, the "church" in "church service" refers to the gathering of the faithful rather than to the building in which it takes place.In Christianity, worship is reverent honor and homage paid to God.[12] In the New Testament various words are used for worship. The word proskuneo "to worship" means to bow down to Gods or kings.[13]

Adoration versus veneration[edit]

In the New Testament various words are used for worship. The word proskuneo "to worship" means to bow down to Gods or kings.[14]

Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Eastern Orthodoxy make a technical distinction between adoration or latria (Latin adoratio, Greek latreia, [λατρεία]), which is due to God alone, and veneration or dulia (Latin veneratio, Greek douleia [δουλεία]), which may be lawfully offered to the saints. The external acts of veneration resemble those of worship, but differ in their object and intent. Protestant Christians, who reject the veneration of saints, question whether such a distinction is always maintained in actual devotional practice, especially at the level of folk religion.

According to Mark Miravalle the English word "worship" is equivocal, in that it has been used in Catholic writing, at any rate, to denote both adoration/latria and veneration/dulia, and in some cases even as a synonym for veneration as distinct from adoration:

As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, adoration, which is known as latria in classical theology, is the worship and homage that is rightly offered to God alone. It is the manifestation of submission, and acknowledgement of dependence, appropriately shown towards the excellence of an uncreated divine person and to his absolute Lordship. It is the worship of the Creator that God alone deserves. Although we see in English a broader usage of the word “adoration” which may not refer to a form of worship exclusive to God—for example, when a husband says that he “adores his wife”—in general it can be maintained that adoration is the best English denotation for the worship of latria.

Veneration, known as dulia in classical theology, is the honor and reverence appropriately due to the excellence of a created person. Excellence exhibited by created beings likewise deserves recognition and honor. We see a general example of veneration in events like the awarding of academic awards for excellence in school, or the awarding of olympic medals for excellence in sports. There is nothing contrary to the proper adoration of God when we offer the appropriate honor and recognition that created persons deserve based on achievement in excellence.

We must make a further clarification regarding the use of the term “worship” in relation to the categories of adoration and veneration. Historically, schools of theology have used the term “worship” as a general term which included both adoration and veneration. They would distinguish between “worship of adoration” and “worship of veneration.” The word “worship” (in a similar way to how the liturgical term “cult” is traditionally used) was not synonymous with adoration, but could be used to introduce either adoration or veneration. Hence Catholic sources will sometimes use the term “worship” not to indicate adoration, but only the worship of veneration given to Mary and the saints.[15]

Orthodox Judaism and orthodox Sunni Islam hold that for all practical purposes veneration should be considered the same as prayer; Orthodox Judaism (arguably with the exception of some Chasidic practices), orthodox Sunni Islam, and most kinds of Protestantism forbid veneration of saints or angels, classifying these actions as akin to idolatry.

Similarly, Jehovah's Witnesses assert that many actions classified as patriotic by Protestant groups, such as saluting a flag, are equivalent to worship and are therefore considered idolatrous as well.[16]


Further information: Puja (Hinduism), Yajna, Bhajan, fasting and kirtan

Worship in Hinduism involves invoking higher forces to assist in spiritual and material progress and is simultaneously both a science and an art. A sense of bhakti or devotional love is generally invoked. This term is probably a central one in Hinduism. A direct translation from the Sanskrit to English is problematic. Worship takes a multitude of forms depending on community groups, geography and language. There is a flavour of loving and being in love with whatever object or focus of devotion. Worship is not confined to any place of worship, it also incorporates personal reflection, art forms and group. People usually perform worship to achieve some specific end or to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit in order to help the performer evolve into a higher being.[17]


Main article: Ibadah
Afghan men at prayer

In Islam, worship refers to ritualistic devotion as well as actions done in accordance to islamic law which is ordained by and pleasing to Allah (God). Worship is included in the Five Pillars of Islam, primarily that of salat, which is the practice of ritual prayer five times daily.

According to Muhammad Asad, on his notes in The Message of the Qur'an translation on 51:26,

Thus, the innermost purpose of the creation of all rational beings is their cognition of the existence of Allah and, hence, their conscious willingness to conform their own existence to whatever they may perceive of His will and plan: and it is this twofold concept of cognition and willingness that gives the deepest meaning to what the Quran describes as "worship". As the next verse shows, this spiritual call does not arise from any supposed "need" on the part of the Creator, who is self-sufficient and infinite in His power, but is designed as an instrument for the inner development of the worshiper, who, by the act of his conscious self-surrender to the all-pervading Creative Will, may hope to come closer to an understanding of that Will and, thus closer to Allah Himself.[18]


Further information: Jewish services

Worship of God in Judaism is called Avodat Hashem. During the period when the Temple stood, the rites conducted there were considered the most important act of Jewish worship.[19] However, the most common form of worship was and remains that of prayer. Other forms of worship include the conduct of prescribed rituals, such as the Passover Seder and waving the Four Species, with proper intent, as well as various types of Jewish meditation.

Worship through mundane activities[edit]

Jewish sources also express the notion that any appropriate mundane activity can be performed as the worship of God. Examples would include returning a lost article and working to support oneself and ones family.

The Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chayim, Chapter 231) cites Proverbs (3:1), "in all your ways, know him" (Hebrew: בכל דרכיך דעהו (b'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu)), as a biblical source for this idea.


In Sikhism, worship takes place after the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the work of the 10 Sikh Gurus all in one. Sikhs worship God and only one God, known as "One Creator", "The Wonderful Teacher" (Waheguru), or "Destroyer of Darkness".


Wiccan worship commonly takes place during a full moon or a new moon. Such rituals are called an Esbat and may involve a magic circle which practitioners believe will contain energy and form a sacred space, or will provide them a form of magical protection.[20]

Modern worship[edit]

In modern society and sociology, some writers have commented on the ways that people no longer simply worship organised religions, but many now also worship consumer brands,[21] sports teams, and other people (celebrities).[22] Sociology therefore extends this argument to suggest that religion and worship is a process whereby society worships itself, as a form of self-valorization and self-preservation.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  2. ^ Kay, William K., Religion in education, Gracewing Publishing, 1997, 372 pages, ISBN 0-85244-425-7
  3. ^ Nagata, Judith (Jun 2001). "Beyond Theology: Toward an Anthropology of "Fundamentalism"". American Anthropologist 103 (2). 
  4. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  5. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  6. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  7. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  8. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  9. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  10. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  11. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  12. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  13. ^ Bosworth and Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, "weorþscipe"
  14. ^ Called to Worship: The Biblical Foundations of Our Response Vernon Whaley - 2009 - In the Greek, the word for worship, proskuneo, means to express deep respect or adoration—by kissing, with words, or by bowing down. Associated words include epaineo, “to commend or applaud”; aineo, “to praise God”; and sebomai,"
  15. ^ Miravalle, Mark (November 24, 2006). "What Is Devotion to Mary?". Mother of all peoples. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  16. ^ Mitchell K. Hall (2009), Vietnam War Era : People and Perspectives, ABC-CLIO, 2009, p. 97
  17. ^ "Worship", Krishna Maheshwari, Hindupedia, the online Hindu Encyclopedia
  18. ^ Muhammed Asad (Leopold Weiss). p918, 2003. The Message of the Quran. 
  19. ^ Shmuel Safrai, Centrality of the Temple during the Second Temple period (Hebrew)
  20. ^ Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - Page 114, Scott Cunningham - 1993
  21. ^ http://concen.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=40110
  22. ^ http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=10384
  23. ^ http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/durkheim6.html