Religious Exclusivism

Religious exclusivism, or exclusivity, is the doctrine or belief that only one particular religion or belief system is true. This is in contrast to religious pluralism, which believes that all religions provide valid responses to the existence of God.

Christian exclusivism

A number of Christian denominations assert that they alone represent the one true church – the church to which Jesus gave his authority in the Great Commission. The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox communion and the Assyrian Church of the East each understands itself as the one and only original church. The claim to the title of the “one true church” relates to the first of the Four Marks of the Church mentioned in the Nicene Creed: “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”. The concept of schism somewhat moderates the competing claims between some churches – one can potentially repair schism. For example, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches each regard the other as schismatic rather than heretical.

One way

One Way

Similarly, a number of groups, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), view apostolic succession as an essential element in constituting the one true church, arguing that it has inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority and responsibility that Jesus Christ gave to the Apostles. Other groups, such as Iglesia ni Cristo, believe in a last-messenger doctrine, where no such succession takes place. A few believe they have restored the original church, in belief or in practice. The Seventh-day Adventist Church regards itself to be the one true church in the sense of being a faithful remnant.

Many mainstream Protestants regard all baptized Christians as members of the Christian Church; this belief is sometimes referred to by the theological term “invisible church”. Some other Christians, such as Anglicans of Anglo-Catholic churchmanship, espouse a version of branch theory which teaches that the true Christian Church comprises Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, Scandinavian Lutheran, and Roman Catholic branches.

Islamic exclusivism

Further information: Islam and other religionsDivisions of the world in Islam, and Islamism

Muslims believe that Islam is the original and primordial faith, or fitrah, that was revealed by Muhammad. Muslims maintain that previous messages and revelations have been partially changed or corrupted over time and consider the Quran to be the unaltered and the final revelation from Allah. Religious concepts and practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are basic concepts and obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, encompassing everything from banking and welfare, to warfare and the environment.

Symbols of the three main Abrahamic religions

Symbols of the three main Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Islam began its history with an exclusivist attitude toward polytheist religions, but an inclusivist attitude toward monotheists, including Christians and Jews. Believers in the oneness of God were given the status of dhimmi, conferring on them certain rights, including the right to practice their religions openly and not to be pressured to accept Islam.

In practice, however, neither the inclusion of Jews and Christians nor militant exclusivism toward “pagans” was always practiced. Trinitarian Christians were accused of idolatry because of their veneration of icons and were also sometimes treated as polytheists because of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. As strict monotheists, Jews generally fared better than Christians under Islamic rule. Jews and Christians are viewed largely favorably as compared to any other religion.

The basic attitude of Islam toward other religions remains unchanged today, and certain Islamic nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, are more exclusivistic toward other religions than are others, such as Indonesia and Egypt.

Islam does accept sincere Jews, Christians, and Sabians as “People of the Book” along with Muslims.


Although most Jews are pluralist or inclusivist some Jews believe that the God of Abraham is the one true God. The Jews believe the God of Abraham entered into a covenant with the ancient Israelites, marking them as his Chosen People, giving them a mission to spread the concept of monotheism. Jews do not consider their chosenness to be a mark of superiority to other nations, but a responsibility to be an example of behavior for other nations to emulate.


Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha Quotes

Buddhist religious exclusivism may be seen in the implication that those who do not accept the teachings of the Buddha, such as the Eightfold Path, are destined to repeat the cycle of suffering through endless reincarnations; while those who practice the true way can reach enlightenment. Neo-Buddhist groups sometimes consider their tradition the true path to enlightenment and engage in strong evangelical efforts to influence those they consider to be in darkness. Several sects associated with Nichiren Buddhism may be included in this category.

However, many followers of Eastern religions are not exclusivist. For example, there are millions of Buddhists who would also consider themselves to follow Confucianism or Taoism.


  • Corney, Peter, and Kevin Giles. Exclusivism and the Gospel. Kew, Vic: St. Hilary’s Anglican Church, 1997. OCLC 38819137
  • Dickson, Kwesi A. Uncompleted Mission: Christianity and Exclusivism. Orbis Books, 1991. ISBN 978-0-88344-751-2
  • Griffiths, Paul. Problems of Religious Diversity. Exploring the Philosophy of Religion. Blackwell Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-631-21150-0
  • Küng, Hans. Christianity and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Doubleday, 1986. ISBN 978-0-385-19471-6
  • Quinn, Philip, and Kevin Meeker. The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-19-512155-1

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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