Patheos answers the question:

What Religions Have Temples?

The answer to this question really depends on whom you ask. One Wikipedia article defined “temples” as basically any house of worship and, therefore, categorized just about any building used by a religion as a “temple.” For the sake of this article, we will be defining “temples” in a narrower way.

Temples were certainly common in antiquity, and among various peoples, including the Egyptians, Greco-Romans, Mesopotamians, and Pagans. Today, however, the use of temples—in the sense of being cultic centers in which priests and/or priestesses seek to appease the gods on behalf of the people—is less common among the Abrahamic traditions, and more frequently seen among the various Asian traditions.

Churches as Temples

You certainly have a number of Christian Churches—often denominations of Pentecostalism—who speak of their Church as a “temple” (e.g., Faith Temple Pentecostal Church, Emmanuel Temple Pentecostal Church, The Temple of Pentecost Apostolic Church, Pentecostal Temple Church of God, Bethel Temple Pentecostal Church, etc.). However, these function primarily as houses of worship, rather than as temples (in the more ancient sense of that term). Similarly, because of their size, historical importance, or influence, there are also a number of well-known Christian churches that are sometimes referred to as “temples” (e.g., The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Bulgaria, Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Russia, the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, and the Temple of Saint Sava in Servia). But, again, each of these functions more like a traditional Christian church, and not at all like some of the ancient temples mentioned above. (The Hagia Sophia today is a museum, rather than a church or mosque, though it has serves as both of those in times past.)


Judaism has had several temples that functioned as cultic centers during its long and rich history (i.e., Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel’s Temple, Herod’s Temple, etc.). While Judaism does not have those kinds of temples today, it does have synagogues; but their synagogues function much like church buildings do in Christianity. Staring in the 19th century, in Germany, the Jewish Reform movement began the practice of calling their synagogues “temples”—and they continue to do so today (as do some Conservative Jews). However, Orthodox Jews will often push back on that practice, feeling that it is almost sacrilege to compare the synagogue with the Temple, and acknowledging that the two buildings have had very different functions within Judaism.

Modern Paganism

Paganism has never been easy to define, and those who consider themselves “practitioners” of one of those loosely connected traditions hold a variety of beliefs and variant practices. Thus, what “paganism” means to one person is not what it means to another. Historically speaking, Pagans have most often worshiped in “groves” or “temple-forests”not buildings made by human hands. Because nature worship (or reverence for nature) has long been a focus of many Pagan traditions, the outdoors has consistently been seen as their ideal “temple.” Being in nature is equated (by many) as being as close as possible to divinity (regardless of what form the divine takes). That being said, there were pagan temples in the past, and there have been movements in recent years to build actual buildings for Pagan practice—though the fact that Paganism has so many “flavors” has made it difficult to accomplish this. Buildings are costly to design, erect, and maintain—and most Pagans do not belong to what one might call a “denomination.” Thus, the lack of cohesiveness of this set of traditions makes building temples much less feasible than worshiping in out-door temples created by the divine. That being said, most pagans still believe that their religion has temples, in the form of nature.


Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion which dates to at least 1,000 BCE, though some think it goes back much earlier—perhaps as early as 6,000 BCE. They have temples known by the Greek name Pyratheia, which means “fire temple.” While these sacred sites are commonplace in Zoroastrianism today, some think that the first Zoroastrian temple probably dates to as late as the first century CE—much later than the religion’s founding. The name “fire temple” stems from the fact that Zoroastrians keep a flame burning in their temples continuously. (Many practicing Zoroastrians try to do the same in their homes.) The fire is a symbol of God (Ahura Mazda) and, thus, by having that flame constantly burning, it functions as a symbolic reminder that God’s presence is in the temple and accessible via the temple. Zoroastrians don’t have a “sabbath” day, nor do they traditionally gather each week for “worship services.” Thus, their temples usually do not function like Church buildings in the Christian tradition. Because Zoroastrianism in numerically on the decline, as of 2021, “there were” only “167 fire temples in the world, of which 45 were in Mumbai, 105 in the rest of India, and 17 in other countries.”


Hinduism is one of the oldest religions, and one of the most prone to use temples as part of their worship. Hindu temples dot the landscape of the Asian subcontinent of India, with approximately two million in that part of the world alone. Hindu temples are typically dedicated to a specific deity—though one is not obligated to worship a specific deity in a given temple. While not all Hindus feel that visiting a temple is a necessary part of being a good or faithful Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi (himself a Hindu) is said to have taught, “To reject the necessity of temples is to reject the necessity of God.” Some Hindus worship at public temples, some at home shrines, and some use neither. One source described the function of Hindu temples as follows: “Humans [go there to] make offerings to gods and nourish them with food and devotional offerings of prayers, songs, etc., while the gods reciprocate by protecting [their devotees] from diseases, misfortunes and calamities, removing their difficulties, cleansing their sins.”


Jainism, a religion that scholars believe spun off from Hinduism around the 6th century BCE, also uses temples that look very much like Hindu temples. However, whereas Hindu temples have statues of their gods inside, most Jains have no deity and, thus, their temples have no statues or images of the gods. Rather, it is more common to find in Jain temples statues of their twenty-four Tirthankaras (i.e., ford-makers or divine teachers)—Vardhamana Mahavira (born circa 599 BCE) being the most important of them. “Worship” in Jainism, if you can appropriately call it that, is directed to these twenty-four Tirthankaras. As with Hindus, Jains too seek intervention through their temple offerings.


Buddhism has buildings it also commonly refers to as “temples,” though the way they are used today may be different than how they were used in antiquity. Today, Buddhist temples are used kind of like a Christian church and kind of like a Hindu temple. They are places of worship, sermons, meditation, and community. But they are also places for making offerings to the image of the Buddha, lighting candles, and burning incense. Buddhists also have shrines—sometimes within their temples and sometimes as freestanding buildings (which house an image or statue of the Buddha) and stupas or mausoleums (which usually house a relic of one of the great Buddhas). In addition, in many locations, there are Buddhist meditation halls as well. These four edifices should not be confused, as they have different purposes—even when there is some overlap.


The Confucian tradition has temples, though—since Confucianism is more of a philosophy than it is a religion—these are not quite the same as the temples of the various religious traditions we have discussed. They are sometimes referred to as “a temple of Confucious,” but also as “Temples of Literature” and “Halls of the Sage.” The reason for these last two names has to do with the fact that Confucian temples used to be used to administer the civil-service exam (or keju) for those seeking government employment. While that examination is no longer mandated for those working for the government, Confucian temples are still used for other purposes—such as making offerings or sacrifices to the spirit of Confucius (often believed to be accessible in the temple). In addition to honoring Confucious, practitioners will visit these temples for the purpose of honoring the “Four Sages” of Confucianism or the “Twelve Wise Ones” of Confucianism—each being seen as “sainted” philosophers of renown in the Confucian tradition.


While Taoism (or Daoism) does have temples, they are used for a variety of purposes in various parts of the world and in the various schools of Taoism. Sometimes Taoist temples are called dàoguàn, which means a place “where the Tao is cultivated”—and these are seen as places of worship. At other times, Taoist “temples” function as the equivalent of monasteries (or guàn)—where celibate Taoist priests live, meditate, and practice rites of purification and offerings intended to restore order and bless the community. Gōng (meaning “palace”), on the other hand, are Taoist temples which are traditionally very large, and which have been built through funding provided by the emperor (or government). While some Taoist temples have a unique function, the three kinds of temples mentioned above can also have the same overarching function and purpose, contingent upon their location and the sect of Taosim they are associated with.


While practitioners of Shinto typically refer to their sacred edifices as “shrines” (in order to distinguish them from Buddhist temples), they very much function like temples—dedicated to the kami (or divine spirits), and used to appease them (so that the land and people will be protected and blessed). These Shinto shrines are not used as “houses of worship,” as churches are in Christianity. One source notes, “Japanese people don't visit shrines on a particular day each week. People go to the shrine at festival times, and at other times when they feel like doing so. Japanese often visit the local shrine when they want the local kami to do them a favour [sic] such as good exam results, a good outcome to a surgical operation for a relative, and so on.” These “shrines” are the Japanese equivalent of a temple, and are central to the efficacy of Shinto in the lives of its practitioners, even though many have their own kamidana (i.e., altar/mini-shrine) in their homes.


Sikhism has houses of worship, typically referred to as a “gurdwara”—which means “doorway to the Guru.” They are called this because they are the location where copies of their scriptures—the Guru Granth Sahib—are housed). While these buildings are also frequently referred to as “temples,” they primarily function like a church or traditional house of worship. Thus, they are not places designed to appease the divine so much as locations to worship the monotheistic God of Sikhism. That being said, Sikhs do have the Harmandir Sahib (i.e., “sacred house of God”) or Durbār Sahib (i.e., “sacred audience”)—which are titles use for the Sikh “Golden Temple,” located in Amritsar, India. The Golden Temple is the chief gurdwara of Sikhism, and the primary pilgrimage site for Sikhs. While it is technically still a gurdwara and, thus, a house of worship, it functions a bit more like a traditional temple (rather than church) when compared to the other gurdwaras in this particular tradition.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are unique (among Christian denominations) in that they have church meeting houses (or “chapels”) and also temples—the two buildings being used for entirely different purposes. (In this sense, they are a bit like the Jews of the first century, who had a functioning temple and synagogues at the same time.) Church buildings, for Latter-day Saints, are used for traditional Sunday worship, and also weekday meetings and activities, much as they would be in most Christian traditions. Temples, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, are used for the performance of “higher ordinances” and the making of “sacred covenants”—such as “eternal marriages” or “sealings” (wherein a husband, wife, and their children, are “sealed” our bound to each other as a family, “for time and for all eternity”). Latter-day Saint temples are not designed as many ancient temples were—for appeasement of God on behalf of the people. However, they are places of pilgrimage, seen as unique among their various buildings, and considered as performing a function requisite for salvation. Thus, in those regards, they do qualify as temples rather than just church buildings.

Hare Krishna

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), traditionally known as Hare Krishnas, is often confused with Hinduism, largely because the tradition broke from the Hindu faith in 1966, shares many doctrines with Hinduism, and even uses the Bhaagavad Gita as their primary scriptural text. Being much smaller than Hinduism, ISKCON has just over 600 temples (also sometimes referred to as “centers”) throughout the world. Nonetheless, the activities which take place in those temples are seen as central to their pursuit of enlightenment and worship. While Krishna temples function, in some aspects, as a Hindu temple would; they are also used as houses of worship, with a set schedule for “Sunday services,” architecture that sometimes looks pretty Christian, weekly sermons for the congregation, and a number of practices that feel more like a western Church than a break-off of Hinduism.

3/14/2023 7:03:37 PM
About Alonzo L. Gaskill, PH.D.
Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology/comparative religion, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion; with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.
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