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I.5.2 Monotheism and polytheism;

The evolutionary school of thought believe that religion evolved from simplistic basic monotheism to complex Unlimited polytheism through various stages like Exclusive Monotheism, Pluriform Monotheism, Religious Dualism, Polytheism, Henotheism.

Monotheism is a belief in the existence of one god, or in the oneness of God while Polytheism is the belief in the existence of many gods. However, Atheism is the belief that there is existence of no god.

Many western scholars believe monotheism is a later development to polytheism and is a higher form of religion– but this claim is unsubstantiated. Further, it is not one god that is affirmed in monotheism but his uniqueness and divine might and power

Basic Monotheism

  • The God of monotheism is the one real god that is believed to exist
  • His essence and character are believed to be unique  and fundamentally different from all other beings e.g., the gods of other religions.
  • God in monotheism is conceived of as the creator of the world and man;
  • history is a manifestation of the divine will.
  • God has not only created the natural world and the order existing therein, but also the ethical and social order
  • God is holy—supreme and unique in being and worth, and can be experienced as a mysterium tremendum (“a fearful mystery”)
  • But the same time as a mysterium fascinans, (“a fascinating mystery”), as a mystery with attitudes of both repulsion and attraction, of both fear and love.
  • The God of monotheism is personal as exemplified by the great monotheistic religions— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • Negatively, monotheistic conviction results in the rejection of all other belief systems as false religions
  • This rejection partly explains the exceptionally aggressive or intolerant stance of the monotheistic religions in the history of the world.

Exclusive Monotheism

  • For exclusive monotheism only one god exists; other gods either simply do not exist at all, or, at most, they are false gods or demons. Other gods, if exist, cannot be compared in power with the one and only true God.
  • Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • Two types of exclusive monotheism – Ethical and Intellectual
    1. Ethical Monotheism – Man chooses one God because he only needs him and no body else and this God enforces all the ethical order in the world
    2. Intellectual Monotheism – Logical result of all questions pertaining to origin of the world and this God rules through dogmas and doctrines
  • African Religions – One God is intellectually superior to all the other Gods that operate in the world

Pluriform Monotheism

  • Here the various gods of the pantheon, without losing their independence, are considered to be manifestations of one and the same divine substance.
  • It is one of the efforts to solve the problem of the coexistence of divine unity and divine pluriformity (multiplicity of forms).
  • Nilotic Religions like among Nuer – “Kwoth” / Oglala Sioux of US – “Wakan Tanka”

Religious Dualism

  • In this belief system, the universe is seen as comprising two usually opposed principles, such as good and evil or spirit and matter.
  • Here there are no two Gods – but one God and an anti-God
  • Ex. Zoroastrianism – Ormazd (the good God) and Ahriman (the evil God) and are implacable enemies


  • Polytheism is the belief in many gods.
  • Typically, polytheistic cultures include belief in many demonic and ghostly forces in addition to the gods
  • Some polytheistic religions have one supreme creator and focus of devotion, sometimes some gods are considered less important and sometimes some gods are more dominant than the other gods


  • Henotheism (from Greek heis theos, “one god”)— is a belief in worship of one god, though the existence of other gods is granted
  • Also called kathenotheism (Greek kath hena theon, “one god at a time”)
  • It is possible to address this god as if he were the one and only god, without, however, belittling the real existence of the other gods (Polytheism is not abandoned)
  • Ex. Early Egyptian religion

Unlimited Polytheism

  • This form constitutes extreme polytheism and is seen in the classical religions of Greece and Rome:
  • Each god has his own name and his own shape, and cannot be exchanged with those of any other god
  • The number of divinities is large and in principle unlimited.
  • There are differences of status and power among the gods, of function and sphere of influence, but they are all equally divine.
  • Indian Pantheon – Millions of Gods

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