• 4-minute read
  • 19th May 2019

When to Capitalise Religious Terms

Knowing when to capitalise religious terms can be hell. Or should that be Hell? And there we get to the crux of the matter. Are words from religions always capitalised? Is it only when you use these terms in a religious context? Or should you just say ‘to heck with it’ and stop caring?

Well, before you do that, check out our guide to capitalising religious terms.

When to Capitalise Religious Terms

As a guideline, you should usually capitalise the first letter of religious terms when they are used as a proper noun. This is a noun that names a unique entity, such as ‘Barbra Streisand’ or ‘Donald Duck’.

In a religious context, proper nouns may include:

  • Religions and religious movements (e.g. Judaism, Methodism)
  • Religious figures and deities (e.g. Jesus, Zeus)
  • Holy texts (e.g. Bible, Quran)
  • Religious holidays (e.g. Easter, Diwali)
  • Titles when used with a name (e.g. Reverend Green)

However, there are some cases where the correct capitalisation depends on how you’re using a term. We will look at a few of these below.

God, Gods, Goddesses and Proper Nouns

As mentioned above, you should always capitalise the first letter in a proper noun. If you were referring to the Christian deity, for instance, you would need to capitalise the ‘G’ in ‘God’:

I am here only by the grace of God.

But some words, like ‘god’, can be either proper or common nouns depending on how we use them. So if you were referring to gods and goddesses in general, or any god or goddess where ‘god’ is not part of their name, you would need to use a lower case ‘g’ instead:

Prior to Christianisation, the Anglo Saxons worshipped the Germanic gods and goddesses, including Ēostre, the goddess of the dawn and spring.

Notice that we do, however, capitalise Ēostre in the example above, even though we use a lower case ‘g’ for ‘goddess’. This is because Ēostre is the name of a goddess, so it is a proper noun.

Other Inconsistent Capitalisation

‘God’ is probably the most prominent example of something we only capitalise in certain cases. However, there are many religious terms that have second meanings. And you should only capitalise these words if you use them in a religious context, not when they’re used elsewhere.

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For instance, we would capitalise ‘Catholic’ in ‘the Catholic Church’. But ‘catholic’ can also mean ‘all-embracing’. And we would not use a capital ‘C’ to write about someone with interests in a range of seemingly unrelated things (i.e. someone with ‘catholic tastes’).

'Catholic' tastes ≠ A liking for Gothic architecture and stained glass.
‘Catholic’ tastes ≠ A liking for Gothic architecture and stained glass.

Likewise, we would capitalise the ‘M’ in ‘Mass’ if we were talking about the religious ceremony. But we would not usually capitalise the same word when using it as an adjective in ‘mass market’ or ‘mass transit’. It pays, then, to double check whether religious terms have other uses.

Holy Pronouns

In the past, it was common to capitalise the first letters of pronouns when referring to religious figures. This is known as reverential capitalisation. For instance, if we used ‘his’ to refer to God, we might capitalise the ‘H’:

Our hearts shall rejoice in God and His holy name!

This is quite unusual in modern writing. However, if you do use reverential capitalisation, there are two key rules to follow:

  1. Only apply it to pronouns that refer to deities and divine beings.
  2. Apply it consistently throughout your writing.

To ensure consistency, you may also want to have your writing proofread. But if you do, let your editor know which terms you’ve chosen to capitalise.

Heaven and Hell

Finally, we have heaven and hell. As a rule, you do not need to capitalise these terms. This is true even when referring to the Christian concepts of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’. Take Matthew 5:18 from the NIV Bible, for instance:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

However, some religious institutions do prefer to capitalise the words ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’. And you should always capitalise ‘Heaven’ when referring to the famous gay nightclub in London.

Is this what Belinda Carlisle was singing about? (Photo: Nick Cooper/wikimedia)
Is this what Belinda Carlisle was singing about?
(Photo: Nick Cooper/wikimedia)

The capitalisation of ‘Heaven’ is, in fact, one of the few areas where evangelical Christians and the LGBT+ community truly see eye to eye. And that, at least, should be celebrated.

Comments (2)
30th May 2022 at 11:01
If I was to reference 'the god of Christians' or 'the christian god' should that be capitalised? I'm using god as a common noun rather than proper (and it could be replaced with diety in a different context) but my religion teacher constantly tells me off for not capitalising it constantly
    31st May 2022 at 09:55
    Hi, Maddie. You would need to capitalise 'Christian' regardless of the context (so it would be 'the Christian god' at least). As for the capitalisation of 'God', one thing to keep in mind is that it is a monotheistic religion, so many people who write about Christianity would capitalise 'God' to recognise this. Ultimately, then, it comes down to whether you want to respect this convention in your writing. You are right that (assuming you're not following a specific style guide) the generic 'god' is the more technically correct form of capitalisation when using it as a common noun, even in reference to Christianity or other monotheistic religions, especially if you're discussing the god of Christianity in the context of discussing gods more generally (or alongside discussion of other gods). But if your religion teacher is keen on capitalising 'God' in all cases, and especially if they're the person marking your work, you might want to just follow their preferences for now!

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