Soteriology (//; Greek: σωτηρία sōtēria "salvation" from σωτήρ sōtēr "savior, preserver" and λόγος logos "study" or "word") is the study of religious doctrines of salvation. Salvation theory occupies a place of special significance in many religions.
In the academic field of religious studies, soteriology is understood by scholars as representing a key theme in a number of different religions and is often studied in a comparative context; that is, comparing various ideas about what salvation is and how it is obtained.
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Buddhism is devoted primarily to liberation from suffering, ignorance, and contaminated rebirth. The purpose of one's life is to break free from samsara, the cycle of compulsory rebirth, by attaining moksha and nirvana. Many types of Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana (or Tantric), emphasize an individual's meditation and subsequent liberation from samsara, which is to become enlightened.
Thus, the fundamental reason that the precise identification of these two kinds of clinging to an identity – personal and phenomenal – is considered so important is again soteriological. Through first uncovering our clinging and then working on it, we become able to finally let go of this sole cause for all our afflictions and suffering.
However, the Pure Land traditions of Mahayana Buddhism generally focus on the saving nature of the Celestial Buddha Amitābha. In Mahayana eschatology, it is believed that we are currently living through the Age of Dharma Decline, a period of 10,000 years where the corrupt nature of the people means the teachings of the Buddha are not listened to. Before this era occurred, the Bodhisattva Amitābha made 48 vows, including the vow to accept all sentient beings that called to him, to allow them to take refuge in his Pureland and to teach them the pure Dharma. It is therefore considered ineffective to trust in personal meditational and even monastic practices, but to only trust in the Primal Vow of Amitābha.
Variant views on salvation are among the main lines dividing the various Christian denominations, being a point of disagreement between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as within Protestantism, notably in the Calvinist–Arminian debate. These lines include conflicting definitions of depravity, predestination, atonement, and most pointedly, justification.
According to Christian belief, salvation is made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which in the context of salvation is referred to as the "atonement". Christian soteriology ranges from exclusive salvation:p.123 to universal reconciliation concepts. While some of the differences are as widespread as Christianity itself, the overwhelming majority agrees that salvation is made possible only by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross and being resurrected from death.
Soteriology is discussed in Hinduism through its concept of moksha. “In India,” wrote Mircea Eliade, “metaphysical knowledge always has a soteriological purpose.” Moksha refers to freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth.
Islamic soteriology focuses on how humans can repent of and atone for their sins so as not to occupy a state of loss. Muslims believe that everyone is responsible for his own action. So even though Muslims believe that Adam and Hawwa, the parents of humanity, committed a sin by eating from the forbidden tree and thus disobeying God, they believe that humankind is not responsible for such an action. They believe that God is fair and just and one should request forgiveness from Him to avoid being punished for not doing what God asked of them and for listening to Satan.
Muslims believe that they, as well as everyone else, are vulnerable to making mistakes and thus they need to seek repentance repeatedly at all times. Muhammad said "By Allah, I seek the forgiveness of Allah and I turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times each day." (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 6307)
Not only that[clarification needed] God wants his servants to repent and forgives them, he rejoices over it, as Muhammad said "When a person repents, Allaah rejoices more than one of you who found his camel after he lost it in the desert." (Agreed upon. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 6309)
Islamic tradition has generally held that the vast majority of humanity shall receive punishment in hell upon death and that only a small few will enter paradise. For example, the Hadith, as recounted in the Sahih al-Bukhari, decrees that out of every one thousand people entering into the afterlife that nine hundred and ninety-nine of them will end up in the fire of despair.
Moksha is a blissful state of existence of a soul, completely free from the karmic bondage, free from saṃsāra, the cycle of birth and death.
Judaism holds that adherents do not need personal salvation as Christians believe. Jews do not subscribe to the doctrine of Original sin. Instead, they place a high value on individual morality as defined in the law of God — embodied in what Jews know as the Torah or The Law, given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, the summary of which is comprised in the Ten Commandments. The Jewish sage Hillel the Elder states that The Law can be further compressed in just one line, popularly known as the Golden Rule: "That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow".
In Judaism, salvation is closely related to the idea of redemption, a saving from the states or circumstances that destroy the value of human existence. God as the universal spirit and Creator of the World, is the source of all salvation for humanity, provided an individual honours God by observing his precepts. So redemption or salvation depends on the individual. Judaism stresses that salvation cannot be obtained through anyone else or by just invoking a deity or believing in any outside power or influence.
Some sections of Jewish religious texts appear to argue that no afterlife exists even for the good and just, with the Book of Ecclesiastes telling the faithful: "The dead know nothing. They have no reward and even the memory of them are lost." For many centuries, rabbis and Jewish laypeople have often wrestled with such passages.
In the mystery religions, salvation was less worldly and communal, and more a mystical belief concerned with the continued survival of the individual soul after death. Some savior gods associated with this theme are dying-and-rising gods, often associated with the seasonal cycle, such as Osiris, Tammus, Adonis, and Dionysus. A complex of soteriological beliefs was also a feature of the cult of Cybele and Attis.
The similarity of themes and archetypes to religions found in antiquity to later Christianity has been pointed out by many authors, including the Fathers of the early Christian church. One view is that early Christianity borrowed these myths and motifs from contemporary Hellenistic mystery religions, which possessed ideas such as life-death-rebirth deities and sexual relations between gods and human beings. While Christ myth theory is not accepted by mainstream historians, proponents attempt to establish causal connections to the cults of Mithras, Dionysus, and Osiris among others.
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Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God, meant to bring one into union with God. But a person's state of mind has to be detached from this world, with the understanding that this world is a temporary abode and their soul has to remain untouched by pain, pleasure, greed, emotional attachment, praise, slander and above all, egotistical pride. Thus their thoughts and deeds become "Nirmal" or pure and they merge with God or attain "Union with God", just as a drop of water falling from the skies merges with the ocean.