What do you call a person who believes in a higher power?

There are a few common terms used to describe someone who believes in a higher power or divine entity. The most general terms are “religious person” or “spiritual person.” More specific labels depend on the particular religion or belief system.


One of the most widely used terms is “theist.” A theist is someone who believes in the existence of at least one god or divine being. Theism is the belief that at least one deity exists.

Theists belong to many different religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and others. The specific god or gods that a theist believes in depends on their particular religion.


Another common term is “deist.” Deists believe that one or more gods created the universe but does not interact directly in the world. Deists believe that God created the laws of nature and allows the world to run itself without divine intervention.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, deism gained some popularity in Europe among intellectuals of the Age of Enlightenment. Deism largely declined by the 19th century as new philosophical and scientific ideas challenged traditional religious beliefs.


A monotheist is someone who believes in a single god. Many of the major world religions are monotheistic, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Hinduism is generally considered polytheistic, involving belief in multiple gods.

Monotheists believe that their god is the one true god that created the universe. However, monotheists of different religions often have very different conceptions of God and religious doctrine.


In contrast to monotheism, polytheism is the belief in multiple gods or deities. While Hinduism is the largest contemporary example of polytheism, ancient religions like those of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Norse cultures were also polytheistic.

Polytheists have elaborate mythologies around their pantheon of gods, with different deities governing various aspects of the world and human life. Adherents often pray to specific gods that relate to their needs and life circumstances.


Pantheism is the belief that God and the universe are identical – that God is everything. Pantheists do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god. Rather, to them, God is the natural world in its entirety.

Pantheism draws from Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as ancient Greek and Roman philosophies. The transcendentalist movement of the 19th century promoted pantheistic beliefs.


Panentheism has some similarities with pantheism but maintains key distinctions. Panentheists believe that God interpenetrates every part of nature but also extends beyond time and space. Unlike pantheism, panentheism maintains that God is greater than the universe.

Panentheism resonates with some Eastern religious beliefs, as well as process theology in contemporary Christian thought which sees God as intrinsically related to or invested in the world.


Animism commonly refers to indigenous tribal religions centered around the belief that all material objects and living things possess a distinct spiritual essence. Animists believe that spirits inhabit objects of the natural world.

Contemporary animistic religions are common among indigenous communities in Africa, Australia, Asia and the Americas. Animism was also historically practiced in ancient European pagan cultures before the spread of Christianity.


An agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God or a higher power due to lack of evidence or certitude. Agnostics claim it is impossible to know for sure if any deities exist.

Agnosticism grew in the 19th century as a response to advances in modern science and philosophy that challenged traditional religious dogma. While not a religion itself, agnosticism represents skepticism about spiritual questions.


An atheist does not believe in any gods or spiritual beings. Atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist.

Modern atheism has its roots in 18th and 19th century philosophy. Atheist thought grew in the 20th century as increasing secularization accompanied the rise of rationalism, skepticism, humanism, and modern science.


“Non-religious” is a broad term that can include atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, and anyone else who does not follow an organized religion or believe in a higher spiritual power.

Today over 15% of the global population identify as non-religious. Many developed countries have substantial non-religious populations, ranging from 20-50% in countries like Australia, Japan, Norway and Germany.

Spiritual But Not Religious

“Spiritual but not religious” describes people who believe in some higher power or divine force but associate with no organized religion or denomination. This concept has become popular in recent decades.

Those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” often draw upon ideas from various traditions and eschew dogma or rituals. Yoga, meditation, appreciation of nature, and interest in mysticism are common among this group.


“Believer” is an umbrella term for anyone who has faith in a higher power. The term can apply to those who belong to an established religion or who practice more loosely defined individual spirituality.

Surveys show that the vast majority of the world’s population identifies as a believer in some divinity or higher spiritual reality. However, the specific nature of what people believe varies enormously across cultures.


The “faithful” refers to those who devote themselves to a religion or spiritual path. Faith and devotion are central values in most world religions. Being faithful implies having strong conviction in a higher power that guides one’s life.

The faithful not only profess belief but belong to spiritual communities, follow rituals, advocate faith to others, and orient their values around their religious or spiritual commitments.


“Pious” describes someone strongly dedicated to religious faith and observance. Piety refers to solemn, reverent devotion to a deity and religious duties.

Historically, piety was seen as a virtue in many cultures. However, the term “pious” may have developed some negative connotations in modern times, as it can imply self-righteousness or lack of independent thought.


Mysticism centers on the pursuit of communion with or conscious awareness of a higher power through contemplation, meditation, insight or revelation. Mystics gain spiritual knowledge experientially, rather than through logic or reason.

Major religious traditions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism have their own rich mystical traditions. Mysticism also encompasses broader spiritual traditions outside established religions.


The occult refers to supernatural, mystical or magical beliefs, practices or phenomena. An occultist is someone who studies, practices or advocates occult principles. The occult covers subjects like astrology, witchcraft, tarot, and satanism.

Historically, established religions condemned occultism and associated it with heresy. Occult movements grew in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many new religious movements today draw upon occult spirituality.


A cultist is a member of a cult or new religious movement. The term often carries negative connotations of fanaticism and extremism. Cults differ from mainstream religions in novel beliefs, charismatic leadership, and perceived excess zeal.

However, the line between religions and cults is not always clear. Established religions were once new religious movements. The categorization of a group as a “cult” is often subjective and controversial.


Heresy refers to belief that rejects or conflicts with established religious dogma. A heretic is someone who spreads or promotes heretical beliefs. Traditional religions often condemned heretics.

However, one person’s heresy may be another’s revelation. History shows that today’s heresy may become tomorrow’s orthodoxy, as with the Protestant Reformation’s challenge to Catholicism. The concept of heresy depends on point of view.


Skepticism indicates doubt about religious or spiritual claims. Skeptics question the veracity of supernatural beliefs, miracles, and divine revelations lacking empirical evidence.

Skepticism is integral to agnosticism and atheism. But a skeptic may still be open-minded about spirituality, suspending judgment rather than outright rejecting faith claims. Healthy skepticism helps evaluate spiritual beliefs logically.


Freethought promotes skepticism and critical examination of religious, spiritual and philosophical ideas. Freethinkers reject dogma or unreasonable claims to spiritual authority.

Freethought has roots in ancient Greek philosophy but grew during the Age of Enlightenment. Freethinkers question traditional beliefs based on reason, empiricism and pragmatism rather than faith, mysticism or spirituality.


Historically an infidel referred to someone who does not believe in a certain religion, typically someone not Christian or Muslim. Some religions used the term pejoratively against those deemed heretical or immoral.

Today the term infidel has developed an association with intolerance, chauvinism and religious extremism. Most avoid using it for its connotations of bigotry against those outside one’s own faith tradition.


Heathen originally referred to someone believing in pre-Christian or non-Christian polytheistic religions. Some Christians came to use it negatively against anyone not belonging to an Abrahamic faith (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

While heathen has a somewhat derogatory tone, some polytheists, particularly Germanic neopagans, have reclaimed the term to describe their own religious identity and practices.


Irreligious people lack religious or spiritual belief. It serves as a broad term including atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and anyone indifferent or apathetic towards religion.

While some associate irreligion with immorality, ethical philosophies like secular humanism show one can lead a moral life guided by reason, empathy, and shared human values without supernatural beliefs.


There are a wide variety of terms used to describe different types of religious, spiritual, and irreligious beliefs. The most common labels refer to whether someone believes in a higher power (theist), multiple gods (polytheist), or no gods at all (atheist).

More specific terms add nuance around how strongly one believes and practices their faith. The diversity of terms reflects the complexity of human beliefs about divinity and spirituality across cultures and history.

Term Definition
Theist Believes in one or more gods
Deist Believes in a non-interventionist creator
Monotheist Believes in a single god
Polytheist Believes in multiple gods
Pantheist Believes everything is God
Panentheist Believes God interpenetrates universe
Animist Believes spirits inhabit objects
Agnostic Unsure if gods exist or not
Atheist Does not believe gods exist
Non-religious No adherence to religion
Spiritual But Not Religious Spiritual without organized religion
Believer Has faith in higher power
Faithful Devoutly committed to religion
Pious Strongly reverent of deity
Mystic Seeks communion via contemplation
Occultist Studies mystical or magical topics
Cultist Member of new religious movement
Heretic Believes in contradiction to dogma
Skeptic Doubts religious truth claims
Freethinker Rejects dogma and authoritarianism
Infidel Outside one’s own religion
Heathen Ancient pagan or polytheist
Irreligious Lacking religious beliefs

Leave a Comment