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The verb "to believe" has a very weak religious connotation: it can mean "to believe in God" or "to believe that God can work wonders", but it most oftenly is used in a general context, concerning all kinds of things and facts.

Exactly the same holds for the German verb "glauben".

But in German the noun "Glauben" is more often than not used in a somehow religious context and thus has a rather strong religious connotation.

Does the same hold for the English noun "belief"? I suppose not, but I am not a native speaker and unable to "hear" the nuances.

If you are both an Englisch and a German native speaker: Do you know of a German equivalent to the neutral "belief".

(Note that the German words "wissen" and "Wissen" are both connotationally neutral, just like English "to know" and "knowledge".)

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  • I am afraid I don't know any German, but in English belief is equally weak as a noun as it is as a verb. People often say things like It's my belief that the meeting is on Wednesday. Even when used in a religious context it does not necessarily connote any deeply held faith or commitment.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 11:53
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    @WS2 I don't agree with all you say here. While 'belief' is often – perhaps usually – matched with mental assent rather than an active faith, I believe the religious (though that in itself is an ill-defined term) connotation is very strong outside set expressions like the one you select. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:13
  • Thanks. This means that a "belief system" is a network of things and facts (in) which I do believe. (In German the term "Glaubenssystem" sounds strange, it would have to do with church and religion.) Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:15
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    I would venture that "beliefs" in the plural is rarely used outside of a religious context. Talking about someone's "beliefs" doesn't refer to them believing a meeting is on wednesday, but their core, usually religious (or perhaps other deeply held ideological) beliefs.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 15:03
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    "Belief" certainly has a gradient of meanings. A father can believe in his daughter - he knows she will do well. A person can believe in a fundamental principle that defines their life. I can believe a lie is true. I am reminded of a Bible verse: James 2:19: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. Here in Koine Greek, "believe" appears to have a variety of meanings that translates very well to how English speakers use it. Do you believe, or do you believe?
    – Tallima
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 20:50

2 Answers 2

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I believe that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is essentially correct. Note that I do not know it to be correct -- maybe ten people on Earth fully understand the theory, and even they would likely admit that there may be further as yet unknown details that would slightly modify the theory.

Some argue that assuming something is true without fully understanding it, and without a rigorous scientific/mathematical proof of it's validity implies some degree of faith. In this sense, virtually everything one believes implies they have faith in that thing, to some degree, but some ideas demand more faith than others (as they have less of a scientific/mathematical foundation).

I believe the sun will rise this morning (though it's certainly taking its own sweet time this time of year). But this belief is based on an untold amount of experience and information. Believing in a god, on the other hand, generally has little if any "hard" evidence to back it up, so the degree of faith required is much larger.

Generally we say we believe something when we do not have rigorous proof of it (it's not quite a "fact"), but we feel reasonably confident of it. Only if that belief is based largely on faith (rather than personal experience or other reasonably trustworthy information) does it take on a religious connotation. (But note that this definition of "religious" would apply to many political theories and medical doctrines, in addition to theories of a supernatural world.)

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  • This explains quite well the difference between knowledge, belief and faith. Interestingly enough "belief" in German is "Glauben" and "faith" is "Glaube". This makes the distinction more difficult in German. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:07
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    The words 'believe' and 'belief' (and especially 'beliefs') have very different connotational leanings. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:03
  • If this is so, then it is like in the German language. I believed (smiley) that it was not so. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:09
  • @EdwinAshworth - I agree that there is a specific sense of "belief" (and which is, as you say, stronger when used in the plural) that implies "faith", but the word can also be used in the secular sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 21:16
  • But the question asks about connotations, not the different denotations. Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 23:03
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"Belief" in modern English is a fuzzy word; more often than not, it's a way of expressing a firm opinion, and has nothing to do with religion.

"I believe in one God" = "I have a monotheistic religious faith"

vs.

"I believe the mayor" = "My opinion is that the mayor is telling the truth" (as opposed to other people)

"I believe in the mayor" = "My opinion is that the mayor is a good person" or "My opinion is that the mayor's platform is a good one for the city" or "My opinion is that the mayor is doing a good job"

"I believe in the US Constitution" = "My opinion is that the US Constitution is a good thing"

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  • Great answer. But why don't you add: "I believe that the next US president will..." (not "believe him" or "believe in him" but "believe that he ..." Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:12
  • Yes, that's also an example - that's a more straightforward, traditional use of "believe". "I believe that (something in the future)" = "I predict that ..."
    – John Feltz
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:13
  • But the traditional use is exactly the one I have in focus! Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:14
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    I could also say "I believe that the next US president is in fact a not so bad guy". Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:15
  • @HansStricker Sorry, your question was "does English belief = German glauben as far as religious connotations go?". My answer is, "English belief is broader than just religion". Verb & noun in English have the same breadth. "I believe in X" = "My belief is that X"
    – John Feltz
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 17:17

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