Religious Norms: Their 8 Types, And Examples

A summary of the types of religious norms, with examples of how they apply to society.

Religious norms

All religions have rules that define how their believers should behave appropriately. It is about religious norms, which are very varied depending on the creed and can involve various consequences at the social level.

Although there are many religions, almost as many as there are cultures, all their norms have a series of characteristics in common. If you want to discover what these characteristics are, we invite you to continue reading this article.

What are religious norms?

Religious norms are sets of rules that define a series of behaviors and habits that believers of a religion must carry out. Normally, these norms are stipulated in some sacred text or are dictated by people who consider themselves the representatives of the will of God or deities.

Not following these norms can be interpreted as an offense by other believers, a disobedience to God’s will or a sin. That is why, through the use of these rules, an attempt is made to prevent believers from carrying out acts that violate the designs of religion. It may also be the case that not following these rules is not seen as such a bad thing by society, but by the individual, who acquires a deep sense of guilt.

Traditionally, religious norms have tried to regulate people’s behavior, and they have acquired a key importance in the correct functioning of the society of yesteryear.


Religious norms have a series of characteristics, which are present in most organized religions. Let’s see the most remarkable ones.

1. Origin

Traditionally, the appearance of religious norms precedes legal ones, and they have laid the basis for the configuration of the legal system

That is why in many cultures, even though there is a more or less secular legal system that regulates the correct behavior of citizens, their laws are usually based on old norms formulated from a religious perspective.

2. Timeless

Religious norms are difficult to change over time. Unlike social and legislative norms, which admit a greater degree of change, religious norms can remain for hundreds of years without any modification.

This is because, within the context of obedience to a specific divinity, changing that norm or admitting a certain freedom could be interpreted as not respecting God’s designs and acting on one’s own.

3. Internal

Compliance with these rules is not expressed openly and externally, but rather has more to do with agreeing to follow them or not, and, consequently, behaving according to how these rules mark.

Each norm must be internalized and accepted by the believer himself, doing so out of devotion to God or the gods in whom he believes.

4. Incoercible

Religious norms do not allow, in most cases, that they be imposed on people by force. Each believer is free to follow the established norm or not.

Nobody forces the believer to follow the religious norm. Although each norm, according to the religion that marks them, implies a series of consequences in case they are not fulfilled, they cannot be followed outside the will of the person.

5. Unilateral

Unilateral refers to the fact that in religious norms there is no third person who has the ability to decide whether or not to respect that particular norm.

That is to say, each person who believes in a religion has the obligation to follow the norms established by his creed, but this obligation is not determined by other people, but is a decision of the believer himself towards his belief.

6. Permitted behaviors

Religious norms are, in essence, those behaviors that God or the deities of a religion allow to be done and those that are not tolerated.

7. Heteronomous

The fact that they are heteronomous refers to the fact that it has been a third party, such as a prophet, a priest or another religious figure, who has dictated these norms, ensuring that they were being indicated by the deity whom he claimed to represent.

The person who dictates religious norms, but does not impose or force compliance, usually says that it has been through divine revelation. The believer does not have the power to change the norms or add new ones, but simply must limit himself to complying with them.

8. Religious promise

In most religions, in case of respecting all the norms that have been dictated from that belief, some type of benefit or privilege is promised in life or in the afterlife.

But promises of good things are not only made by obeying heavenly designs. In many cases hell, eternal suffering and unhappiness are also promised in case of sin or act against the divine will.

Some examples and social implications

All religious norms have the objective of modifying the behavior of the population in such a way that it is appropriate and according to the designs of what is interpreted as the will of God.

Of examples there are many, many more than existing religions. Next we will see a series of examples of real religious norms, followed by believers of such influential religions as Islam, Judaism and Christianity, in addition to explaining their social implications.

1. Clothing

One of the most famous religious norms of Islam is the one that concerns the use of a certain type of clothing if you are a woman. Whether in the form of a veil that covers the hair to a burka, a garment that covers the entire body, women in Islamic society must wear some type of garment that hides their attributes and, thus, does not provoke lust in men, of according to your religion.

Although there is a great variety among Islamic countries in the degree to which this religious rule is followed, in those where Sharia or Islamic law is still in force, this rule has legal consequences, such as jail, flogging or stoning.

In Christianity, both nuns and priests must wear special garments according to their position in the religious hierarchy, in addition to these being modest and not making them sin of pride.

Another example of this is the case of Christian women when they get married, who must wear white as a symbol of their purity and virginity.

2. Food

Returning to Islam, during the month of Ramadan, the consumption of food is prohibited during the hours when the sun is in the sky. At night, the consumption of food is allowed. This religious rule allows exceptions: children, pregnant and menstruating women and the sick can eat and drink according to their needs at the time they require it.

Another Islamic regulation related to food, shared with Judaism, is the prohibition of consuming pork, considered an impure animal. The consumption of alcohol is not well seen either.

In Christianity, the wine of the mass represents the blood of Christ, although it does not mean that the use of this drug is viewed with good eyes.

During Holy Week, in most Catholic countries red meat is not eaten, replacing it with chicken or fish. This is done coinciding with the anniversary of the death of Jesus, representing the suffering she had to suffer before her crucifixion.

3. Intervention on the body

Religions like Christianity do not accept to intervene on the body, since it is seen as a creation of God and, therefore, only he has the right to modify what he has created.

Thus, Christians generally frown on tattoos and piercings, and in more radical cases, blood transfusions and vaccinations. This has as a consequence the association of individuals with this type of body mark with crime or belonging to areas not very consistent with faith.

As for blood transfusions and vaccines, not accepting them for religious reasons not only poses a danger to the individual himself, but also to those close to him who may be affected by the disease from which they do not protect themselves.

On the other hand, in religions such as Hinduism and in several religions of the Pacific, body modification is a religious symbol. Hindu women wear nose piercings, and ceremonial tattoos are common in Polynesian religions.

In Judaism, the newborn is circumcised, while in Islam a similar procedure is performed, although it can be said that this was already done before the appearance of the Islamic religion.

This type of procedure, in which basically surgery is performed on the penis for no medical purpose, can be perceived as a male version of female genital cutting, something that in the West is considered mistreatment of women.

4. Animal worship

As we were already saying, there are religions like Judaism and Islam which flee from certain animals, in this case the pig.

Others, on the other hand, adore certain animals. In India, cows are considered sacred animals, which cannot be touched. As a consequence, on more than one occasion, cattle, who roam the cities at ease, can paralyze traffic by standing in the middle of the street and without anyone doing anything to move them away.

In Ancient Egypt, cats were seen practically as gods, and great sphinxes and statues were erected in honor of them, in addition to having certain privileges that lower-level citizens had no right to enjoy.

The worship of felines was such in Egypt that even after the kittens died, they were paid homage, building tombs and placing their mummies in them. In those same tombs they were accompanied by offerings to the gods, which were very expensive.

5. Punishment of crimes

In certain Islamic countries, theft is punishable by a law that is a re-adaptation of the old Hammurabi code, which can be basically summed up with the principle of an eye for an eye. The thief, who has used his hand to commit a crime, will see his amputated hand as just punishment for his criminal act.

It goes without saying that in most religions, both robbery and murder are considered sins and are not accepted in any way.

6. Pilgrimage

In Islam there is a religious rule to visit Mecca, a holy Arab city, at least once in your life. Every year millions of Muslims visit this city to gather in the square where the Kaaba is located and pray around it.

In the Christian world, there is the Camino de Santiago, which also moves thousands of people each year through northern Spain to honor Santiago el Mayor, who is buried in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela.

Bibliographic references:

  • Jaki, SL (1985). The Road of Science and the Ways to God. 3rd ed.

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