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The following text is from Irving Hexham's Concise Dictionary of Religion, first published by InterVarsity Press, Carol Stream, USA, 1994, second edition, Regent College Press, Vancouver, 1999.

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Copyright © Irving Hexham 1994, 1998

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To return to the INDEX PAGE

For further information about the book and the sources used to compile this text see the PREFACE.

For a Religious Studies READING LIST

Cross-references are indicated by the use of CAPITAL LETTERS.

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NAG HAMMADI: the site in upper Egypt where important manuscript discoveries were made in 1946. The texts are COPTIC translations of Greek GNOSTIC and HERMETIC texts. They included the Gospel of Thomas and are our main source of direct information about GNOSTICISM.

 

NAGANUMA, Mrs. Myoko (1899-1957): one of the founders of Rissho Ksei-Kai with NIWANO, Nikkyo. She was an energetic woman who played the role of SHAMAN to this important NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT in Japan.

 

NAGARJUNA (2nd century): Indian BUDDHIST philosopher who founded the MADHYAMIKA school of MAHYNA BUDDHISM. TRADITION says he was a BRAHMIN who CONVERTED to BUDDHISM. Central to his thought was the idea of VOIDNESS which he used to describe ultimate REALITY.

 

NAGASENA (?): a BUDDHIST MONK mentioned in the PALI text The Questions of King Milinda where he appears extremely learned. Some modern scholars doubt his historicity.

 

NAKATOMI: the SHINT priestly class in charge of RITUALS especially State ceremonies.

 

NANAK (1469-1504): first SIKH GURU and chief founder of the COMMUNITY. Born a MUSLIM he was influenced by SUFISM and BHAKTI from HINDUISM. He became a wandering teacher and began to preach the unity of GOD. He composed many hymns which are now part of Sikh SCRIPTURES and taught the formlessness of God whom he referred to as Sat Kartar (the True Creator) and Sat Nam (the True Name). Rejecting the CASTE system he sought to reconcile HINDUISM and ISLAM while reforming Indian society.

 

NASA'I, Ab 'Abd al-Rahman Ahmad B. Shu'aib (830-915): the compiler of one of the Six CANONICAL books of ADTH in SUNNI ISLAM. He was a traditionalist who died after provoking the wrath of SHI' in Damascus because of his refusal to acknowledge the superiority of ALI.

 

NATION: a term used in English since the thirteenth century with the primary meaning of a racial rather than political group. Since the eighteenth century it has acquired an increasingly political meaning. Both usages, however, readily lend themselves to pseudo-religious NATIONALISMS.

 

NATIONALISM: a political IDEOLOGY which seeks to glorify the NATION often using religious terminology and themes to promote crude and often racist political ends. It arose in European thought as a reaction to SECULARIZATION during the ENLIGHTENMENT and still plagues many situations today.

 

NATURAL LAW: a term borrowed from STOIC PHILOSOPHY used by CHRISTIAN philosophers to argue that a RATIONAL order can be detected underlying the universe which enables individuals to make informed judgements about RIGHT and WRONG on the basis of REASON. It is regarded as an unchanging law which expresses the divine NATURE. Although some twentieth century theologians, such as C. S. LEWIS have defended natural law, most have followed Karl BARTH in rejecting it.

 

NATURAL THEOLOGY: the effort to construct a doctrine of God without appeal to FAITH or REVELATION on the basis of REASON and experience alone. Thomas AQUINAS argued that in principle it is possible for philosophers to prove the EXISTENCE of GOD although certain truths about His BEING are incapable of discovery by reason alone. LUTHER and CALVIN argued that every man possesses some sense of DEITY and innumerable traces of God's glory appear in the created world. Nevertheless, human SIN and stupidity since the FALL make it necessary for God to move our hearts by a special revelation if we are to know Him.

 

NATURAL REVELATION: the REVELATION of GOD in CREATION apart from his specific revelation in the events of the HEBREW BIBLE and NEW TESTAMENT. It is synonymous with GENERAL REVELATION.

 

NATURALISM: the view that denies the existence of any REALITY which transcends NATURE. It is opposed to SUPERNATURALISM.

 

NATURE: a complex term with three essential meanings: (a) the quality or character of something, (b) the material world, or (c) the ultimate force which directs either human beings, the world, or both. Today nature is often DEIFIED in a ROMANTIC fashion which creates a new RELIGION out of a SECULAR WORLDVIEW.

 

NATURE-FREEDOM: one of the GROUNDMOTIVES of DOOYEWEERD'S philosophy which he uses to explain the development of WESTERN PHILOSOPHY. NATURE represents the physical world of SCIENCE and mathematical determinism while FREEDOM expresses the realm of the SPIRIT, individual FREEDOM and a ROMANTIC vision of life.

 

NATURE-GRACE: the DOOYEWEERDIAN GROUNDMOTIVE which expresses the medieval synthesis in WESTERN THOUGHT. Here NATURE is contrasted with GRACE which is the realm of RELIGION and the sphere of the CHURCH.

 

NAZARENE, THE CHURCH OF: an international CHRISTIAN denomination growing out of METHODISM which was organized in 1908 as a protest against WORLDLINESS and lack of HOLY living.

 

NEANDER, Johann August Wilhelm (1789-1850): German CHRISTIAN theologian CONVERTED from JUDAISM who wrote a standard work on CHURCH HISTORY.

 

NECROMANCY: evoking the dead in DIVINATION RITUALS.

 

NEE, Watchman (1903-1972): Chinese CHRISTIAN writer who greatly influenced contemporary EVANGELICALISM through his highly MYSTICAL writings such as The Normal Christian Life (1969).

 

NEEDLEMAN, Jacob (1934-): American college professor and author of The New Religions (1970). He was one of the earliest commentators and promoters of NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS.

 

NEO-CALVINISM: the term used to describe modern CALVINIST movements which is usually associated with the thought of Abraham KUYPER although it is sometimes used of the followers of Karl BARTH.

 

NEO-ORTHODOXY: a modern THEOLOGICAL movement sometimes called CRISIS THEOLOGY in Europe which rejects theological MODERNISM in an attempt to restore the validity of FAITH in a TRANSCENDENT GOD by emphasizing the relation between time and eternity referred to as the DIALECTIC. It is usually thought to have begun as a theological movement following the publication of Karl BARTH's Epistle to the Romans (1918) and emphasizes the infinite qualitative distinction between GOD and mankind, and SIN attempts to obscure this distinction and that only God can bridge the gap by saving FAITH.

 

NEO-REFORMED THEOLOGY: see NEO-ORTHODOXY.

 

NESTORIANISM: a religious and PHILOSOPHICAL movement which emerged in Graeco-Roman society as a blend of essentially PLATONIC, PYTHAGOREAN, STOIC, and ARISTOTELIAN elements: its chief exponent was PLOTINUS. The philosophy had a strong MYSTICAL inclination and was easily adapted to the needs of CHRISTIAN thinkers seeking to reconcile Christian and PAGAN thought.

 

NEVIUS, John L. (1829-1893): highly successful American PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY who worked first in China and then Korea. He developed the so-called "Nevius System" which promoted self-sufficient CHURCHES run by local people. His most important writings are The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (1899) and Demon Possession (1894).

 

NEW AGE MOVEMENT: a movement which arose in the 1970s and gained notoriety in the 1980s that promotes a MYSTICAL OCCULTISM based on a synthesis of YOGIC and ABRAMIC RELIGIONS and PHILOSOPHIES. It began as a self-conscious movement with the publication of the East West Journal in 1971 and found its most forceful advocate in the writings of actress Shirley MACLAINE.

 

NEW CHURCH: the religious organization founded by the followers of Emanuel SWEDENBORG.

 

NEW HARMONY: the town in Indiana where Robert OWEN established a UTOPIAN SOCIALITSITIC COMMUNITY in 1825.

 

NEWMAN, John Henry (1801-1890): one of the most controversial and important English ANGLICAN theologians of the nineteenth century who eventually became a Roman CATHOLIC Cardinal (1879). His Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864) is a spiritual classic while The Idea of a University Defined (1873) is still read by educationalists. One of the authors of Tracts for the Times (1834-1841) he sought to return the CHURCH OF ENGLAND to a medieval theology but after the publication of Tract 90 (1841), he abandoned the OXFORD MOVEMENT for Catholicism.

 

NEWTON, Isaac (1642-1727): English physicist and philosopher who formulated the law of gravitation and helped create MODERN SCIENCE. His mechanistic model of the UNIVERSE, often refered to as the "Newtonian WORLDVIEW" held sway until the advent of QUANTUM THEORY. In addition to scientific work, he spent many years in the study of the BIBLE particularly the PROPHETIC books.

 

NEWTON, John (1725-1807): English ANGLICAN Clergyman who spent four years in the African slave trade before experiencing an EVANGELICAL CONVERSION which led him to renounce slavery and became an advocate of abolition. A prolific HYMN writer he is best known for "Amazing Grace" and "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken" His works include the popular pastoral Letters of John Newton (1810).

 

NICHIREN BUDDHISM: Japanese MAHYNA BUDDHIST SECT which trace their origin to the thirteenth century Buddhist PRIEST NICHIREN who sought to restore what he saw as ORTHODOX Buddhism. Members of this religious family stress that: (a) the BUDDHA is eternal; (b) SAKYAMUNI's personal ENLIGHTENMENT guarantees the enlightenment of all sentient BEINGS; (c) the LOTUS SUTRA was given by the BUDDHA to replace all other teachings; (d) Nichiren is the INCARNATION of a BODHISATTVA through whose suffering his followers may attain SALVATION.

 

NICHIREN, Shsh (1222-1282): Japanese BUDDHIST PRIEST and founder of NICHIREN BUDDHISM. When he was twelve, his family placed him under the care of Seichoji Temple of the TENDAI sect. Later he journeyed to Mount Hiei near Kyoto where he pursued his studies of the SUTRAS. Driven out of Mount Hiei because of his radicalism, he moved on to Mount Koya to study the ESOTERIC teachings of SHINGON. He finally came to the conviction that the only TRUE FAITH was taught by Dengyo DAISHI who had introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan and taught the ultimate superiority of the LOTUS SUTRA over all other SUTRAS.

 

NIEBUHR, Helmut Richard (1893-1971): American NEO-ORTHODOX theologian and brother of Reinhold NIEBUHR. He was Professor of CHRISTIAN ETHICS at Yale University. Wrote: The Meaning of Revelation (194l); Christ and Culture (195l); Radical Monotheism and Western Culture (196l).

 

NIEBUHR, Reinhold (1893-197l): American theologian and brother of Richard NIEBUHR. He was professor at Union Theological Seminary. Active in the creation of the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, the New York Liberal Party, and Americans for Democratic Action. He wrote: Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), The Nature and Destiny of Man (194l). He was critical of Karl BARTH for what he called "bibliolatry" and for his aloofness from society. He ran for Congress as a Socialist in 1930. The New Deal and Second World War caused him to reject SOCIALISM and pacifism. In 194l he founded the magazine Christianity and Crisis to bring realism into American Christianity's view of world problems.

 

NIEMÖLLER, Martin (1892-1984): First World War naval hero and LUTHERAN minister who was a leader of the CHRISTIAN opposition to the Nazis and was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau. He was the President of the EVANGELICAL CHURCH in Hessen and Nassau and the WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES from 1961-1968 and the author of many books including From the U-Boat to the Pulpit (1934).

 

NIETZSCHE, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844-1900): German philosopher who profoundly influenced modern thought by his radical rejection of CHRISTIANITY and the WESTERN INTELLECTUAL TRADITION. In The Gay Science (1887) he told the parable of the madman which contains the prophetic phrase "God is Dead" to describe the condition of modern life. Rejecting the mob, he advocated a heroic ethic which despised women and looked for the coming of the "superman." A brilliant essayist, his work is a profound critique of modernity and modern ideologies which anticipates many twentieth century themes.

 

NIHIL EST INTELLECTU NISI PRIUS FUERIT IN SENSU: the EMPIRICIST maxim that there is nothing in the intellect which is not first in the senses.

 

NIHONGI: the earliest chronicles of Japan and prime source for our knowledge of the origins of SHINT.

 

NIKON (1605-1681): Russian MONK and REFORMING PATRIARCH of MOSCOW although his LITURGICAL reforms were accepted, he was unsuccessfully in seeking to establish the complete freedom of the CHURCH from STATE control. He regarded by many as the greatest RUSSIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP.

 

NIMBRKA (14th century ?): Indian HINDU religious leader in the VAISNAVITE TRADITION who incorporated the WORSHIP of both Rdh and KRISHNA in his devotions. Following RMNUJA he taught that SOULS are offshoots of GOD and are eventually absorbed back into God even though they remain distinct from Him.

 

NINIAN (360-432): a MISSIONARY and educator from Cumbria, England, who established missions to Scotland and other parts of the British Isles.

 

NIRVNA: the complex SANSKRIT term which expresses the ideal in BUDDHISM. Its meaning is "blowing out" or "cooling" and is called Nibbna in PALI. Western writers sometimes describe it as annihilation although BUDDHISTS often deny as the meaning. The problem here is that Nirvna is correctly described as "the unconditioned" which means that because everything we experience is conditioned, we cannot really know the true nature of Nirvna although by MEDITATION, we may experience it.

 

NIWANO, Nikkyo (1906-): joined the REIYUKAI where he was introduced to the LOTUS SUTRA and to the group counselling practice called Hz. Eventually he became dissatisfied with the attitude of the leader toward the LOTUS SUTRA and together with Mrs. Myoko NAGANUMA formed a new organization called Rissho Ksei-Kai and which is one of the leading new RELIGIONS of Japan.

 

NOAH: according to the HEBREW BIBLE in Genesis 6-9 he saved mankind from a UNIVERSAL flood by building an Ark which housed two of every creature found on earth.

 

NOMINALISM: the theory of knowledge which teaches that UNIVERSAL CONCEPTS, such as "human" "tree" etc., have no independent separate REALITY but are simply names used to identify things with similar characteristics. The most extreme nominalist was WILLIAM OF OCKHAM who argued that only individuals exist and that universal concepts are no more than sounds.

 

NON-BEING: the "nothingness" from which finite BEING emerges and into which being passes. The term and idea is popular in various FORMS of EXISTENTIALISM.

 

NON SEQUITUR: a LOGICAL FALLACY which involves drawing a conclusion which does not follow from the premise.

 

NORITO: priestly RITUAL PRAYERS in SHINT.

 

NORM: a criterion, standard or rule for evaluation.

 

NOYES, John Humphrey (1811-1886): religious and SOCIAL REFORMER who developed PERFECTIONIST and ADVENTIST views contrary to CALVINISM. Pronounced himself "Sinless" in 1834. Established two communes--Putney, Vermont (1840-1848) and Oneida, New York (1848-1881)--to practice and propagate his ideas of perfectionism, biblical COMMUNISM, complex marriage, male continence, population control, mutual criticism, and education. Emigrated in 1876 to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Author of History of American Socialism (1870).

 

NUNS: female religious devotees living in communities devoted to the service of the CULT. They are usually CELIBATE. The earliest evidence about the institution comes from BUDDHISM from where the practice seems to have spread to HINDUISM and eventually appeared in CHRISTIANITY.

 

NUSAYR, Muhammad bin (9th century): SHI' religious leader whose followers formed the extremist NUSAYIS sect of ISLAM.

 

NUT: the EGYPTIAN sky GODDESS who gave birth to ISIS and OSIRIS through incest with her brother.

 

NYYA: one of the Six TRADITIONAL PHILOSOPHICAL schools in HINDUISM concentrating on questions of LOGIC and the rules of ARGUMENT. It produced a FORM of theism based on proofs for the existence of GOD. The main text of the school is the Nyayuasutra which was probably written in the second century.