List of Dune religions

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The Religions of Dune are a key aspect of the fictional setting of the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. Many of the names of religions mentioned in the novels indicate they are blends of current belief systems, some syncretic.[citation needed]


According to Appendix II: The Religion of Dune in the 1965 novel Dune, after the Butlerian Jihad, the Bene Gesserit composed the Azhar Book, a "bibliographic marvel that preserves the great secrets of the most ancient faiths". Soon after, a group made up of the leaders of many religions (calling itself the Commission of Ecumenical Translators) created the Orange Catholic Bible, the key religious text of the Dune universe, which "contains elements of most ancient religions".[1]

Azhar Book[edit]


Appendix II: The Religion of Dune in the novel Dune refers to the Azhar Book as "that bibliographic marvel that preserves the great secrets of the most ancient faiths," and notes that it predates The Orange Catholic Bible, the key religious text of the Dune universe which "contains elements of most ancient religions."[2] The creation of the Azhar Book is also attributed to the Bene Gesserit.[3] The appendix subsequently quotes Paul "Muad'Dib" Atreides, and references his words back to ancient texts, using the Azhar Book. For example:

Muad'Dib: "If a child, an untrained person, an ignorant person, or an insane person incites trouble, it is the fault of authority for not predicting and preventing that trouble."

O.C. Bible: "Any sin can be ascribed, at least in part, to a natural bad tendency that is an extenuating circumstance acceptable to God." (The Azhar Book traces this to the ancient Semitic Tawra.)

In Dune, Lady Jessica examines the manual included in a Fremen desert survival kit on Arrakis:

The glowing tab of the Fremkit manual between them on the tent floor caught her eye. She lifted it, glanced at the flyleaf, reading: "Manual of 'The Friendly Desert,' the place full of life. Here are the ayat and burhan of Life. Believe, and al-Lat shall never burn you."

It reads like the Azhar Book, she thought, recalling her studies of the Great Secrets. Has a Manipulator of Religions been on Arrakis?

The Bene Gesserit practice "religious engineering" through a faction called the Missionaria Protectiva, which spreads contrived myths, prophecies and superstition on primitive worlds so that the Sisterhood may later exploit those regions.[4] It is later confirmed that the Fremen religion has been thus influenced.

Children of Dune[edit]

In Children of Dune, Leto II quotes from "the Bene Gesserit Azhar Book" when discussing with Ghanima their suspicions about their aunt Alia:

It is with reason and terrible experience that we call the pre-born Abomination. For who knows what lost and damned persona out of our evil past may take over the living flesh?

The Azhar Book is also quoted via epigraph:

The one-eyed view of our universe says you must not look far afield for problems. Such problems may never arrive. Instead, tend to the wolf within your fences. The packs ranging outside may not even exist.

— The Azhar Book; Shamra I:4


The Azhar Book is also referenced several times in the prequel trilogies Legends of Dune and Prelude to Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, and the fictional text is also quoted in epigraphs in the Prelude to Dune series. Though the authors have stated that Frank Herbert left behind unused epigraphs which they later used in their prequels and sequels,[5] it is unknown if any used in these novels are from those notes.

Orange Catholic Bible[edit]

The Orange Catholic Bible (abbreviated to O. C. Bible or OCB) is the primary orthodox religious text in the Dune universe, created in the wake of the crusade against thinking machines, which Herbert calls the Butlerian Jihad. Its title suggests a merging of Protestantism and Catholicism.[6][7] The Orange Catholic Bible is described in the glossary of the 1965 novel Dune:

ORANGE CATHOLIC BIBLE: the "Accumulated Book," the religious text produced by the Commission of Ecumenical Translators. It contains elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Saari, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddislamic traditions. Its supreme commandment is considered to be: "Thou shalt not disfigure the soul."

Physical appearance[edit]

In Dune, Dr. Yueh gives Paul Atreides his copy of the Orange Catholic Bible before their initial trip to Arrakis. This copy is a space-traveler's miniaturized edition of the book, set in tiny print on fragile pages made from "filament paper." It is described as "black, oblong, no larger than the end of Paul's thumb" but contains eighteen hundred pages. Yueh instructs Paul in its use:

It has its own magnifier and electrostatic charge system ... The book is held closed by the charge, which forces against spring-locked covers. You press the edge — thus, and the pages you've selected repel each other and the book opens ... the charge moves ahead one page at a time as you read. Never touch the actual pages with your fingers. The filament tissue is too delicate.


The appendix to Dune also notes that the chief commandment of the Butlerian Jihad remains in the Orange Catholic Bible as "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."[8] It is further explained in the Dune appendix that the passage "Paradise on my right. Hell on my left, and the Angel of Death behind" describes human life as a journey across a narrow bridge.

Original Dune series[edit]

In the Dune universe, many references are made to the Orange Catholic Bible, sometimes in the form of epigraphs. The original Dune series also includes quotations from the Orange Catholic Bible Commentaries by the Commission of Ecumenical Translators.

Prequels and sequels[edit]

The Orange Catholic Bible is also quoted in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (1999–2001), as well as their 2007 conclusion to the original series, Sandworms of Dune. Though the authors used epigraphs and notes left behind by Frank Herbert after his death in their prequels and sequels,[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] it is unknown which of these (if any) are from those notes.



The term for those religions derived from a syncretic fusion of denominations of Buddhism and Islam. The connection of the Zensunni with Buddislam suggests the latter arose during the Third Islamic Movement associated with the Maometh Saari (see below under Third Islam).


A hybrid of the religious principles of Zen (a school of Mahayana Buddhism) and Shia Islam. It does not occur in the original Dune series, appearing only in the later books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and mentioned to be defiant fanatics unlike the Zensunni pacifists; Zenshiite slaves are behind the uprising on Poritrin.[citation needed]


Zensufism is a hybrid of Zen and Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism which, based on epigrams in Chapterhouse: Dune, would have figured in Dune 7. There are only two Zensufi epigrams in Chapterhouse: Dune:

  • The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in a new way can terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel threatened by such demands. "I already know the important things!" we say. Then Changer comes and throws our old ideas away. ―The Zensufi Master
  • Uproot your questions from their ground and the dangling roots will be seen. More questions! ―Mentat Zensufi admonition

Heretics of Dune states that this was the religion of the Bene Tleilaxu, who had originally been part of the Zensunni Wanderers.


Zensunni is a syncretic religious belief combining principles of Zen Buddhism and Sunni Islam. In the fictional far future of human civilization portrayed in the series, various ethnic and political groups adhere to this worldview, including the Fremen, originally the "Zensunni Wanderers".[citation needed]

In Terminology of the Imperium (the glossary of the novel Dune), Frank Herbert provides the following definition:

ZENSUNNI: followers of a schismatic sect that broke away from the teachings of Maometh (the so-called "Third Muhammed") about 1381 B.G. The Zensunni religion is noted chiefly for its emphasis on the mystical and a reversion to "the ways of the fathers." Most scholars name Ali Ben Ohashi as leader of the original schism but there is some evidence that Ohashi may have been merely the male spokesman for his second wife, Nisai.

According to Terminology of the Imperium, the planet Poritrin is "considered by many Zensunni Wanderers as their planet of origin, although clues in their language and mythology show far more ancient planetary roots".[18] The former Imperial capital (and later prison world) Salusa Secundus was "the second stopping point in migrations of the Wandering Zensunni. Fremen tradition says they were slaves on S.S. for nine generations."[19] The "third stopping place" is noted as Bela Tegeuse,[20] and Harmonthep was the "sixth stop".[21]

The ascension of Paul Atreides as Emperor in Dune and the expansion of Fremen influence throughout the Imperium widely popularized the study of Zensunni beliefs. It is noted in Terminology of the Imperium that the Orange Catholic Bible "contains elements of most ancient religions, including ... Zensunni Catholicism".[1]

Herbert "sprinkled Zen ideas throughout Dune",[22] as when Reverend Mother Mohiam queries Paul:

"Ever sift sand through a screen?" she asked.

The tangential slash of her question shocked his mind into a higher awareness: Sand through a screen, he nodded.

"We Bene Gesserit sift people to find the humans."

The Reverend Mother's query is reminiscent of a Zen kōan, which generally contains aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to intuition. Zen masters "developed this trick to 'open up' the mind of their students without filling it with their own opinions".[22] Herbert himself noted in "Dune Genesis", his own analysis of the development of the novel, that:[23]

"As in an Escher lithograph, I involved myself with recurrent themes that turn into paradox. The central paradox concerns the human vision of time. What about Paul's gift of prescience—the Presbyterian fixation? For the Delphic Oracle to perform, it must tangle itself in a web of predestination. Yet predestination negates surprises and, in fact, sets up a mathematically enclosed universe whose limits are always inconsistent, always encountering the unprovable. It's like a kōan, a Zen mind breaker."

In the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson Legends of Dune prequel trilogy, before and during the Butlerian Jihad the Zensunnis were brought as slaves from their homeworlds (like Harmonthep) to places like Poritrin. After the slave revolt on Poritrin, many Zensunnis escaped to Arrakis; these Zensunni wanderers would become the first Fremen.

Terminology of the Imperium also defines several Zensunni terms:

AULIYA: In the Zensunni Wanderers' religion, the female at the left hand of God; God's handmaiden.
FIQH: knowledge, religious law; one of the half-legendary origins of the Zensunni Wanderers' religion.
ILM: theology; science of religious tradition; one of the half-legendary origins of the Zensunni Wanderers' faith.
MISR: the historical Zensunni (Fremen) term for themselves: "The People."
SHAH-NAMA: the half-legendary First Book of the Zensunni Wanderers.
ULEMA: a Zensunni doctor of theology.

These concepts are all more or less identifiable with Islamic concepts:[citation needed]

  • Auliya (Arabic: أولياء) is the Arabic word for saints,
  • Fiqh (Arabic: فقه) is Islamic jurisprudence,
  • Ilm (Arabic:علم) is the Arabic word for theological knowledge, theology, Ilm
  • Miṣr (Arabic: مصر) the Arabic word for a settlement and also the Arabic name for the nation of Egypt (providing a play on the "gypsies" who were thought incorrectly by Europeans to have come from Egypt);
  • the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), is a Persian epic account of the Persian Shahs through the twelfth century,
  • Ulema (Arabic: علماء) are Muslim doctors of the science of religious law.


In Chapterhouse: Dune it is revealed that Jewish communities continue to exist, scattered across the galaxy. In sharp contrast to the drastic changes which have occurred in other religions in the 25,000 years between the 20th century and the time of the Honored Matres invasion, Judaism has undergone comparatively little change. Jewish characters also feature in Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's sequels, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune.

These Jewish communities are led by rabbis, at least some of whom have working relationships with the Bene Gesserit. Heretics of Dune suggests that Jewish thought may have influenced the development of Bene Gesserit philosophy. The Jewish community described in the novels defines itself as part of "Secret Israel", which, in conjunction with the sparse historical information given in the novel, suggests that the Jewish people had decided to conceal themselves to follow their religion and avoid the recurrent atrocities of their past. Long ago, the Bene Gesserit and the hidden Jewish communities came to an understanding of sorts: the Bene Gesserit would provide aid to hidden Jews if they were ever threatened, and help hide the fact that the Jewish religion survives in secret; in return, if ever a Bene Gesserit acolyte is lost and threatened on an isolated planet, the local Jewish community give her aid and shelter. A simple arrangement, but one which endured between both groups for millennia. Moreover, the Torah and Talmudic Zabur are listed in Appendix II of Dune as having contributed to the Orange Catholic Bible; the appendix also notes that these books were preserved on Salusa Secundus.

Mahayana Christianity[edit]

A hybrid of Mahayana Buddhism and Christianity, which presumably interpreted Jesus Christ as a Buddha.

Mahayana Lankavatara[edit]

This is a minority religion in the Imperium, which is clearly based on the Lankavatara Sutra, a text of the Mahayana.


The Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson Legends of Dune prequel trilogy notes that "Muadru" is an ancient religion predating the Old Empire before the Time of the Titans. Its prophetic writings are used out of context by Iblis Ginjo during the Butlerian Jihad; there is also some indication that the Muadru and the Cogitors shared the same origin. In Paul of Dune, Paul Atreides shows Count Fenring an ancient Muadru room buried deep under his Arrakeen residence. He further explains to him that the Muadru are an ancient people who once settled through the entire galaxy but became suddenly extinct. They are believed to have settled on Arrakis while it was still a verdant planet and to have introduced the sandworms there long before the arrival of the Zensunni Wanderers.[citation needed]


According to the Legends of Dune trilogy, Navachristianity is the religion of the ruling class on Poritrin. However, according to Dune it is found on the planet Chusuk, but there is no explanation of its tenets. Three tenable etymologies have been suggested. One treats it as a portmanteau of Navajo with Christianity and assumes Herbert was alluding to a movement comparable with the Native American Church; another treats it as a worn down fusion of Nauvoo with Christianity in reference to the Latter-Day Saints; the third derives "nava-" from 'new' in Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, often being used in the same sense as 'neo'. Thus, Navachristianity may simply mean 'neo-Christianity', or represent a blend of Christianity with the religions of the Indian subcontinent. In light of the syncretic forms of Buddhism listed, the Indian religion most likely is the little-mentioned faith of Hinduism.[citation needed]

Third Islam[edit]

According to Appendix II: The Religion of Dune, there had been three Islamic Movements in the time before the Corrino Imperium, and "Third Islam" is just a shorthand term for "The Third Islamic Movement". Clearly, the First Islamic Movement was that of Muhammed. Herbert does not go into details about the Second Movement, though it can be inferred that it too had a prophet named Muhammed (it may be suggested too that the "Muadh Quran" of Caladan was the scripture of "Second Islam"). Third Islam's prophet was Maometh (a form of Muhammed) and it was from his teachings in the Maometh Saari that the Zensunni Wanderers schismed. As this happened in 1381 B.G., it follows that the Third Islamic Movement occurred before this date; the association of the syncretic Zensunni with Third Islam implies that the latter saw the fusing of Buddhism with Second Islam. The scripture of the Maometh Saari likely derives its name from the Arabic "saari", meaning "woven cloth", and alludes to the interweaving of koranic surah or ayat with Buddhist sutras (note that sutra itself means a thread).[citation needed]

Zen Hekiganshu[edit]

This is Herbert's rendering of the Blue Cliff Record, a collection of Chan Buddhist (i.e., Zen) koans compiled in Song China in 1125 that formed the basis of an associated cult in the Dune cosmos (or so we may infer). Curiously, Herbert renders the Japanese name of the Blue Cliff Record, Hekiganroku, as Hekiganshu, which appears to use the character 書 "document" and is notably used in the alternate title for the Book of Documents, Shangshu. Thus, in traditional Chinese the phrase Zen-Hekiganshu would be Chán-Bìyánshū (禪碧巖書).

The connection between Buddhislam and this sect is unexplained, but contextually, the inference is that the Zen Hekiganshu tradition rejected any fusion with Islam, thus retaining its purity and minority status.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Herbert, Frank. Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Orange Catholic Bible).
  2. ^ Herbert, Frank. Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Orange Catholic Bible)
  3. ^ Herbert, F. Dune, Appendix II: The Religion of Dune. "The Bene Gesserit role is more obscure. Certainly, this is the time in which they consolidated their hold upon the sorceresses, explored the subtle narcotics, developed prana-bindu training and conceived the Missionaria Protectiva, that black arm of superstition. But it is also the period that saw the composing of the Litany against Fear and the assembly of the Azhar Book..."
  4. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Missionaria Protectiva)
  5. ^ Dune 7 Blog ~ Archived 2006-09-04 at the Wayback Machine "Frank Herbert wrote a detailed outline for Dune 7 and he left extensive Dune 7 notes, as well as stored boxes of his descriptions, epigraphs, chapters, character backgrounds, historical notes—over a thousand pages worth."
  6. ^ Herbert, Brian (2004-07-01). Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. Macmillan. p. 187. ISBN 9780765306470.
  7. ^ Roberts, A. (2005-11-28). The History of Science Fiction. Springer. p. 235. ISBN 9780230554658.
  8. ^ This edict is attributed directly to Rayna Butler in the Legends of Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (2002-2004).
  9. ^ Liptak, Andrew (September 13, 2016). "The authors of Navigators of Dune on building an epic, lasting world". The Verge. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  10. ^ Quinn, Judy (November 17, 1997). "Bantam Pays $3M for Dune Prequels by Herbert's Son". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2014. The new prequels ... will be based on notes and outlines Frank Herbert left at his death in 1986.
  11. ^ "Dune 7 blog: Conspiracy Theories". December 16, 2005. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2008. Frank Herbert wrote a detailed outline for Dune 7 and he left extensive Dune 7 notes, as well as stored boxes of his descriptions, epigraphs, chapters, character backgrounds, historical notes—over a thousand pages worth.
  12. ^ Neuman, Clayton (August 17, 2009). "Winds of Dune Author Brian Herbert on Flipping the Myth of Jihad". Archived from the original on September 21, 2009. Retrieved March 31, 2014. I got a call from an estate attorney who asked me what I wanted to do with two safety deposit boxes of my dad's ... in them were the notes to Dune 7—it was a 30-page outline. So I went up in my attic and found another 1,000 pages of working notes.
  13. ^ "Before Dune, After Frank Herbert". 2004. Archived from the original on April 9, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2008. Brian was cleaning out his garage to make an office space and he found all these boxes that had 'Dune Notes' on the side. And we used a lot of them for our House books.
  14. ^ "Interview with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson". 2004. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved November 12, 2008. We had already started work on House Atreides ... After we already had our general outline written and the proposal sent to publishers, then we found the outlines and notes. (This necessitated some changes, of course.)
  15. ^ Ascher, Ian (2004). "Kevin J. Anderson Interview". Archived from the original on July 3, 2007. Retrieved July 3, 2007. ... we are ready to tackle the next major challenge—writing the grand climax of the saga that Frank Herbert left in his original notes sealed in a safe deposit box ... after we'd already decided what we wanted to write ... They opened up the safe deposit box and found inside the full and complete outline for Dune 7 ... Later, when Brian was cleaning out his garage, in the back he found ... over three thousand pages of Frank Herbert's other notes, background material, and character sketches.
  16. ^ Adams, John Joseph (August 9, 2006). "New Dune Books Resume Story". Archived from the original on December 19, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2007. Anderson said that Frank Herbert's notes included a description of the story and a great deal of character background information. 'But having a roadmap of the U.S. and actually driving across the country are two different things,' he said. 'Brian and I had a lot to work with and a lot to expand...'
  17. ^ Snider, John C. (August 2007). "Audiobook Review: Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson". Archived from the original on March 24, 2008. Retrieved February 15, 2009. the co-authors have expanded on Herbert's brief outline
  18. ^ Herbert, Frank. Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Poritrin).
  19. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Salusa Secundus).
  20. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Bela Tegeuse).
  21. ^ Dune, Terminology of the Imperium (Harmonthep).
  22. ^ a b Frank Herbert's inspirations for Dune: Zen Buddhism ~
  23. ^ Herbert, Frank (July 1980). "DuneGenesis". Omni. Archived from the original on 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2014-02-14.