Apart from Christianity and Islam all more wide-spread religions seem to end in "-ism", such as Hinduism, Confucianism or Judaism.

According to Wikipedia

It means "taking side with" or "imitation of", and is often used to describe philosophies, theories, religions, social movements, artistic movements and behaviors.

which makes absolute sense, but why are Christianity and Islam exceptions?

  • 1
    But the suffix "...ity" has a similar meaning to "...ism" - in conformity with e.g. jollity, stupidity, Latinity, civility etc.
    – WS2
    Dec 21, 2018 at 8:50
  • According to Wiktionary -ity is just to make it a noun though: "Used to form a noun from an adjective; especially, to form the noun referring to the state, property, or quality of conforming to the adjective's description.", "Used to form other nouns, especially abstract nouns." Dec 21, 2018 at 8:53
  • But doesn't "...ism" do essentially the same thing? Incidentally I have seen and heard "Islamism" used.
    – WS2
    Dec 21, 2018 at 8:57
  • 1
    'Islam' is apparently Arabic for 'submission [to God]' and is the term Muslims prefer. English speakers used to call them 'Mohammedans', from which you could derive 'Mohammedanism'. Dec 21, 2018 at 8:58
  • @WS2 While some people regard it as the same thing, others see it in a more radical fashion, see the Wikipedia article for more detail. Dec 21, 2018 at 9:01

2 Answers 2


“Islam” is really just the one term for the religion that is most popular. Throughout the ages English has had many other terms for it, including some ending in -ism (definitions from the OED):

  • Allahism: “The Islamic conception of the attributes of God; (also) the Islamic religion, Islam.”
  • Islamicism: “Islam; (also) the quality of being Islamic in faith, culture, or character.”
  • Islamism
  • Mohammedanism (and varying spellings thereof)
  • Muslimism (and varying spellings thereof)

I’m not sure the reason why all of these went out of fashion. The forms that include Muhammad’s name are considered offensive because they put a mere human above god. “Islamism” and “Islamicism” are now also terms for fundamentalist or militaristic Islam, so it should be obvious why those two terms aren’t more used.

As for Christianity, the religion was originally called “Christendom”. The word “Christianism” was first used in 1576 and is still used as a nonce word when you need an -ism form according to the OED. There’s also “Christism” but that’s much rarer.

Surprisingly the term Judaism was only first attested in a1425 according to the OED. A slightly earlier term for it is “Jewry”.


Isms are just philosophies. Hinduism and Buddhism are both philosophies based on the Vedas. Hinduism has several philosophies which are all based on the Vedas and adopt the vedas as their basis. Buddhism on the other hand uses the vedas to say what its philosophy is not. It refutes the vedas and tries to take the opposite point of view from all Hinduism philosophies, such as dwaitha, vishistadwaitha or advaitha and many other such.

Neither Buddhism not Hinduism can be called religions. What we call Hindu religion is simply a collection of differrent practices of rituals which are all based on what is prescribed in Vedic literature.

The buddhists on the other hand developed practises which are contrary to the Vedic literature because they did not believe in any of those rituals or any ideologies or philosophies derived from Vedic literature.

Buddhists tend to mock the Vedas using vedic terminology and condemn all rituals prescribed therein. But they do have their own rituals which is contrary to their core beliefs!

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    Dec 9, 2021 at 23:06
  • 2
    "Isms are just philosophies". I don't see how this can be defended. Both Hinduism and (usually) Buddhism have gods. Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism: The list of monotheistic "ism" religions is long too.
    – Laurel
    Dec 9, 2021 at 23:18
  • 1
    This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – livresque
    Dec 9, 2021 at 23:46
  • Thanks for contributing! But keep in mind that Stack Exchange isn't just a discussion; try to offer objective answers, preferably with documentation. I don't think the original author of the question intended to compare major world religions or philosophies, but asked about the etymology of how such systems are named. I don't think there's support for the notion that "-ism" has a linguistic mechanism that distinguishes between belief systems; its own etymology is pretty neutral, boiling down to "practicing or teaching a thing." Dec 9, 2021 at 23:48

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