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Soteriology (/sˌtɪriˈɒləi/; Greek: σωτηρία sōtēria "salvation" from σωτήρ sōtēr "savior, preserver" and λόγος logos "study" or "word"[1]) is the study of religious doctrines of salvation. Salvation theory occupies a place of special significance in many religions.[2] In the academic field of religious studies, soteriology is understood by scholars as representing a key theme in a number of different religions and is often studied in a comparative context; that is, comparing various ideas about what salvation is and how it is obtained.


Buddhism is devoted primarily to liberation from Duḥkha or suffering by breaking free of samsara, the cycle of compulsory rebirth, by attaining nirvana. Buddhism emphasizes the importance of the individual's meditation practice in this process, and their subsequent liberation from samsara, which is to be enlightened.

Thus, the fundamental reason that the precise identification of these two kinds of clinging to an identity – personal and phenomenal – is considered so important is again soteriological. Through first uncovering our clinging and then working on it, we become able to finally let go of this sole cause for all our afflictions and suffering.[3]

However, the Pure Land traditions of Mahayana Buddhism generally focus on the saving nature of the Celestial Buddha Amitābha.[4] In Mahayana Buddhist eschatology, it is believed that we are currently living in the Latter Day of the Law, a period of 10,000 years where the corrupt nature of the people means the teachings of the Buddha are not listened to.[citation needed] Before this era, the bodhisattva Amitābha made 48 vows, including the vow to accept all sentient beings that called to him, to allow them to take refuge in his Pure land and to teach them the pure dharma. It is therefore considered ineffective to trust in personal meditational and even monastic practices, but to only trust in the primal vow of Amitābha.[5]


Icon of The Ladder of Divine Ascent (the steps toward theosis as described by John Climacus) showing monks ascending (and falling from) the ladder to Jesus

In Christianity, salvation, also called "deliverance" or "redemption", is the saving of human beings from sin and its consequences.[6][7] Variant views on salvation are among the main lines dividing the various Christian denominations, being a point of disagreement between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as within Protestantism, notably in the Calvinist–Arminian debate. These lines include conflicting definitions of depravity, predestination, atonement, and most pointedly, justification. Christian soteriology ranges from exclusive salvation[8]: p.123  to universal reconciliation concepts.[9]

Christology plays a key role in debates about soteriology. In Catholic tradition the Church claims soteriological authority. Martin Luther rejected the soteriological authority of the church. Against this backdrop, the role of Christ's divinity takes so central a place in the theology of Søren Kierkegaard that it provides the basis for the proposition of Christ's power to save, and so in this way of thinking Christology precedes soteriology. In the debates over the ancient authorities Christ's divinity and power over salvation are interconnected theological concepts.[10][11]


Soteriology is discussed in Hinduism through its principle of moksha, also called nirvana or kaivalya. "In India", wrote Mircea Eliade, "metaphysical knowledge always has a soteriological purpose." Moksha refers to freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth. There are various principles and practices that can lead to the state of moksha including the Vedas and the Tantras being the basic scriptures for guidance along with many others like Upanishads, Puranas and more.[citation needed]


Muslims believe that everyone is responsible for their own actions. So even though Muslims believe that Adam and Hawwa (Eve), the parents of humanity, committed a sin by eating from the forbidden tree and thus disobeyed God, they believe that humankind is not responsible for such an action. They believe that God (Allah) is fair and just and one should request forgiveness from him to avoid being punished for not doing what God asked of them and for listening to Satan.[12] Muslims believe that they, as well as everyone else, are vulnerable to making mistakes and thus they need to seek repentance repeatedly at all times.

Muhammad said, "By Allah, I seek the forgiveness of Allah and I turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times each day." (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 6307) God wants his servants to repent and forgives them, he rejoices over it, as Muhammad said: "When a person repents, Allah rejoices more than one of you who found his camel after he lost it in the desert." (Agreed upon. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 6309) Islamic tradition has generally held that it is relatively straightforward to enter Jannah (Paradise). In the Quran, God says: "If you avoid the great sins you have been forbidden, We shall wipe out your minor misdeeds and let you through the entrance of honor [Paradise]."[13]

However, by direct implication of these tenets and beliefs, Man's nature is spiritually and morally flawed such that he needs salvation from himself. Finding appreciation, forgiveness, and joy in Allah is the only (or best) practice to be saved from this terrible fate of corruption and meaninglessness. al-Tahreem 66:8


An illustration of the Gunasthanas

In Jainism, the soteriological concept is moksha, which is the final gunasthana. The Jain theory explains moksha differently from the similar term found in Hinduism.[14] Moksha is a blissful state of existence of a soul, completely free from the karmic bondage, free from saṃsāra, the cycle of birth and death. It is the highest state of existence of a soul, even higher than the gods living in the heavens. In the state of moksha, a soul enjoys infinite bliss, infinite knowledge and infinite perception. This state is achieved through realisation of self and achieving a completely desireless and unattached state.


In contemporary Judaism, redemption (Hebrew ge'ulah) is God's gathering in the people of Israel from their various exiles.[15] This includes the final redemption from the present exile.[16] Judaism does not posit a need for personal salvation in a way analogous to Christianity; Jews do not believe in original sin.[17] Instead, Judaism places greater value on individual morality as defined in the Law and embodied in the Torah—the teaching given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and sometimes understood to be summarized by the Decalogue (Biblical Hebrew עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים, ʿĂsereṯ haDəḇārīm, lit. 'The Ten Words'). The tannaitic sage Hillel the Elder taught that the Law could be further compressed into the single maxim popularly known as the Golden Rule: "That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow".[18]

In Judaism, salvation is closely related to the idea of redemption, or rescue from the states and circumstances that destroy the value of human existence. God, as the creator of the universe, is the source of all salvation for humanity (provided an individual honors God by observing God's precepts). So, redemption and/or salvation depends on the individual. Furthermore, Judaism stresses that one's salvation cannot be obtained through anyone else, invoking a deity, or believing in any outside power or influence.[18]

Some passages in Jewish religious texts assert that an afterlife exists for neither the good nor evil. For example, the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes tells the reader: "The dead know nothing. They have no reward and even the memory of them is lost."[19] For many centuries, rabbis and Jewish laypeople have often wrestled with such passages.

Mystery religions[edit]

In the mystery religions, salvation was less worldly and communal, and more a mystical belief concerned with the continued survival of the individual soul after death.[20] Some savior gods associated with this theme are dying-and-rising gods, often associated with the seasonal cycle, such as Osiris, Tammus, Adonis, and Dionysus. A complex of soteriological beliefs was also a feature of the cult of Cybele and Attis.[21]

The similarity of themes and archetypes to religions found in antiquity to later Christianity has been pointed out by many authors, including the Fathers of the early Christian church. One view[citation needed] is that early Christianity borrowed these myths and motifs from contemporary Hellenistic mystery religions, which possessed ideas such as life-death-rebirth deities and sexual relations between gods and human beings. While Christ myth theory is not accepted by mainstream historians, proponents attempt to establish causal connections to the cults of Mithras, Dionysus, and Osiris among others.[22]

Epicurean philosophy[edit]

More than a century after the establishment of the Garden, the school in which Epicurus taught philosophy, some people in the Roman world were calling Epicurus their Savior. The most prominent soul saved by Epicurus was the Roman Empress Pompeia Plotina.[citation needed] Lucretius, author of De Rerum Natura, also depicts the salvific power of philosophy, and of his Scholarch Epicurus, by employing literary devices like the "Broken Jar parable" (where the Scholarch is credited with helping mortals to easily enjoy pleasure), poetry, and imagery.[citation needed]

The salvation of Epicurus has no otherworldly connotations whatsoever. Judging from his Principal Doctrines and Letter to Menoeceus, he salves his disciples from supernatural fears and excessive desires for what is not natural and gives his disciples clear ethical guidelines that lead to happiness. Lucretius says Epicurus has set the boundaries for the limits of nature. His followers in Roman times developed Epicurus into a cultural hero and revered him as the founding figure of his School, and as the first to have developed a fully naturalistic cosmology that emancipated mortals from all fear-based superstition.[citation needed]


Becoming an enlightened person is what is considered salvation in many Taoist beliefs.

Some Taoist immortals were thought of as deceased humans whose souls achieved a superior physical form.[23] Enlightened people were sometimes called zhenren and thought to be the living embodiment of the supernatural characteristics of the faith.[24][25]


Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the Naam Japo (name) and message of God, meant to bring one into union with God. But a person's state of mind has to be detached from this world, with the understanding that this world is a temporary abode and their soul has to remain untouched by pain, pleasure, greed, emotional attachment, praise, slander, and above all, egotistical pride. Thus their thoughts and deeds become nirmal or pure, and they merge with God or attain union with God, just as a drop of water falling from the skies merges with the ocean.[26][27]

Other religions[edit]

Shinto and Tenrikyo similarly emphasize working for a good life by cultivating virtue or virtuous behavior[citation needed].

In an age[timeframe?] that still saw salvation as primarily collective - based on the religion of the family, clan, or state - rather than the emerging province of the individual[clarification needed] (as popularized by Buddhism and the mystery religions such as Mithraism) and Hellenistic ruler cults from about 300 BCE sometimes promoted the revering of a king as the savior of his people. Prominent examples included Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt and the Seleucids Antiochus I Soter and Demetrius I Soter. In the Egyptian context, the deification of a ruler was built on traditional pharaonic religious ideas.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "soteriology", definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary which erroneously gives neuter nominative of the corresponding adjective, σωτήριον, as the base.
  2. ^ Stetler, Emily (2014), "Soteriology", in Leeming, David A. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 1688–1689, doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-6086-2_654, ISBN 978-1-4614-6085-5, retrieved 2023-01-11
  3. ^ Brunnhölzl, Karl (2004). The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyü Tradition. Nitartha Institute Series. Snow Lion. p. 131. ISBN 978-1559392181.
  4. ^ Olson, Carl (2005). The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. p. 185. ISBN 0813535611. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  5. ^ Shinran, "Hymns on the offense of doubting the primal vow".
  6. ^ "The saving of the soul; the deliverance from sin and its consequences" OED 2nd ed. 1989.
  7. ^ Wilfred Graves, Jr., In Pursuit of Wholeness: Experiencing God's Salvation for the Total Person (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2011), 9, 22, 74-5.
  8. ^ Newman, Jay. Foundations of religious tolerance. University of Toronto Press, 1982. ISBN 0-8020-5591-5
  9. ^ Parry, Robin A. Universal salvation? The Current Debate. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-8028-2764-0
  10. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Process Philosophy and Organization Studies. (2014). United Kingdom: OUP Oxford.
  11. ^ Gouwens, D. J. (1996). Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ In Az-Zumar (The Groups) chapter, in verse 7, in the Qur'an, "No bearer of Burdens shall bear the burden of another" [39:7]. So repentance in Islam is to be forgiven from the poor decisions sent forth by one's hand. In Islam, for one to repent, s/he has to admit to Allah that they were disobedient, feel regret for their behavior, be willing not to do the same again and finally to ask for repentance through prayer. S/he does not need to go to speak to someone to deserve the repentance, simply during the prayer, s/he speaks to her/his God, Allah (prays) asking His forgiveness. Allah said in the Qur'an "O you who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance! It may be that your Lord will expiate from you your misdeeds, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise)". al-Tahreem 66:8 Muslims believe that God is merciful and thus believers are expected to continuously seek forgiveness so that their misdeeds may be forgiven. "Say: O my servants who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds) Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily, Allah forgives all. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” al-Zumar 39:53 and also "And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but afterward seeks Allah’s forgiveness, he will find Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" al-Nisaa 4:110.
  13. ^ An’Nisa 4:31
  14. ^ Christopher Key Chapple (2006). Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 90–92. ISBN 978-81-208-2045-6.
  15. ^ "Reb on the Web". Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning. Archived from the original on July 21, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  16. ^ Salvation, Judaism. [1] Accessed 4 May 2013
  17. ^ "How Does a Jew Attain Salvation?" [2] Accessed: 4 May 2013
  18. ^ a b Malekar, Ezekiel Isaac. "The Speaking Tree: Concept of Salvation In Judaism". The Times of India. [3] Accessed: 4 May 2013
  19. ^ Ecclesiastes 9:5
  20. ^ "Theologies of Immanence / Soteriology". pagantheologies.pbworks.com.
  21. ^ Giulia Sfameni Gasparro. Soteriology and mystic aspects in the cult of Cybele and Attis.
  22. ^ "POCM Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth". pocm.info.
  23. ^ "xian". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  24. ^ "zhenren". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  25. ^ Lagerway, John (2005). "Zhenren". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  26. ^ Singh, Jagraj (2009). A Complete Guide to Sikhism. Unistar Books. p. 266. ISBN 9788171427543.
  27. ^ "ਸਾਗਰ ਮਹਿ ਬੂੰਦ Ocean in the Drop". Sikh Research Institute. February 20, 2019. Retrieved December 16, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • John McIntyre, Shape of Soteriology: Studies in the Doctrine of the Death of Christ, T&T Clark, 1992.
  • Kumar, Santosh (2019), Salvation: In the Light of the Cross and the Crescent, Notion Press, ISBN 9781647604974