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Religions and Their Adherents

Nothing is awkward about religions or those who practice them. The only awkward bit is that those of us who write about them sometimes cannot seem to keep the differences straight between the religion itself (Judaism, for example) and the religious practitioners (Jews).


  • My neighbors are Islams; our children go to school together.
  • I had forgotten that your aunt was a devout follower of Catholic.
  • Your surname is Bhattacharya? Isn’t that a Hinduism name?


Any map of world religions will reveal about a dozen different colors across the globe, representing variants of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and others. Buddhists practice Buddhism, Hindus practice Hinduism, Christians practice Christianity, Catholics practice Catholicism, Muslims practice Islam, and Jews practice Judaism. Each major religion includes multiple variants as well as individual branches; that is the norm. Our job is to differentiate between the religion and the practitioner. Your neighbors are Muslims who practice Islam. Bhattacharya is a Hindu name.


Although this is not specifically an issue of grammar, it is common to link a religion with both its practitioners and a specific place. It is best to separate them. Not all Arabs are Muslims; Arab Christians and Arab Jews also live in the Arab world. Not all Jews are Israelis, and not all Christians are Middle Easterners. Believers span the globe, and nonbelievers live in places with some of the most devout followers.

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