A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. It is usually composed of laypeople and, in some orders, clergy. Such orders exist in many of the world's religions.

The Priory of St. Wigbert is a Lutheran monastery in the Benedictine tradition



In Buddhist societies, a religious order is one of the number of monastic orders of monks and nuns, many of which follow a certain school of teaching—such as Thailand's Dhammayuttika order, a monastic order founded by King Mongkut (Rama IV). A well-known Chinese Buddhist order is the ancient Shaolin order in Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism; and in modern times, the Order of Hsu Yun.



Catholic tradition


A Catholic religious institute is a society whose members (referred to as "religious") pronounce vows that are accepted by a superior in the name of the Catholic Church,[1] who wear a religious habit and who live a life of brothers or sisters in common.[2] Catholic religious orders and congregations are their two historical categories. Religious institutes are distinct from secular institutes, another kind of institute of consecrated life, and from lay ecclesial movements.

In the Catholic Church, members of religious institutes, unless they are also deacons or priests in Holy Orders, are not clergy but belong to the laity.[3] While the state of consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay, institutes themselves are classified as one or the other, a clerical institute being one that "by reason of the purpose or design intended by the founder or by virtue of legitimate tradition, is under the direction of clerics, assumes the exercise of sacred orders, and is recognized as such by the authority of the Church".[4]

Well-known Roman Catholic religious institutes, not all of which were classified as "orders" rather than "congregations", include Augustinians, Basilians, Benedictines, Bethlehemites, Bridgettines, Camaldolese, Carmelites, Carthusians, Cistercians, Conceptionists, Crosiers, Dominicans, Franciscans, Hieronymites, Jesuits, Minims, Piarists, Salesians, Olivetans, Theatines, Trappists and the Visitandines.

Francisco de Zurbarán's painting of a Mercedarian Friar, Fra Pedro Machado

Several religious orders evolved during the Crusades to incorporate a military mission becoming "religious military orders", such as the Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Knights of the Order of the Temple and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

Non-monastic religious institutes typically have a motherhouse or generalate with jurisdiction over any number of dependent religious communities, whose members may be moved by their superior general to its other communities as the institute's needs require.

In accordance with the concept of independent communities in the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Benedictines have autonomous abbeys (so-called "independent houses"). Their members profess "stability" to the abbeys where they make their religious vows; hence their abbots or abbesses may not move them to other abbeys. An "independent house" may occasionally make a new foundation which remains a "dependent house" (identified by the name "priory") until it is granted independence by Rome and itself becomes an abbey. Each house's autonomy does not prevent it being affiliated into a congregation—whether national or based on some other joint characteristic—and these, in turn, form the supra-national Benedictine Confederation.

Orthodox tradition


In the Eastern Orthodox Church, there is only one type of monasticism. The profession of monastics is known as tonsure (referring to the ritual cutting of the monastic's hair which takes place during the service)[5][6] and is considered by monks to be a Sacred Mystery (Sacrament).[7] The Rite of Tonsure is printed in the Euchologion (Church Slavonic: Trebnik), the same book as the other Sacred Mysteries and services performed according to need.

Lutheran tradition

Ebstorf Abbey continued as a Lutheran convent in the Benedictine tradition since 1529

Martin Luther had concerns with the spiritual value of monastic life at the time of the Reformation.[8] After the foundation of the Lutheran Churches, some monasteries in Lutheran lands (such as Amelungsborn Abbey near Negenborn and Loccum Abbey in Rehburg-Loccum) and convents (such as Ebstorf Abbey near the town of Uelzen and Bursfelde Abbey in Bursfelde) adopted the Lutheran Christian faith.[9]

Other examples of Lutheran religious orders include the "Order of Lutheran Franciscans" in the United States. Also, a Lutheran religious order following the Rule of St. Benedict, "The Congregation of the Servants of Christ", was established at St. Augustine's House in Oxford, Michigan, in 1958 when some other men joined Father Arthur Kreinheder in observing the monastic life and offices of prayer.[10] This order has strong ties to Lutheran Benedictine orders in Sweden (Östanbäck Monastery) and in Germany (Priory of St. Wigbert).

Anglican tradition


Religious orders in England were dissolved by King Henry VIII upon the separation of the English church from Roman primacy. For three hundred years, there were no formal religious orders in Anglicanism, although some informal communities – such as the Little Gidding community – occasionally sprang into being. With the advent of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England and worldwide Anglicanism in the middle of the 19th century, several orders appeared. In 1841, the first order for women was established. The first order for men was founded 25 years later.

Anglican religious voluntarily commit themselves for life, or a term of years, to holding their possessions in common or in trust; to a celibate life in community; and obedience to their Rule and Constitution.[11]

There are presently thirteen active religious orders for men, fifty-three for women, and eight mixed gender.

Methodist tradition


The Methodist Church of Great Britain, and its ancestors, have established a number of orders of Deaconesses, who are now ordained as clergy and are Ministers in equal standing alongside their presbyteral colleagues.The Methodist Diaconal Order (MDO) currently admits both men and women to the Order and all are now known as Deacons. Since the functions of a deacon are primarily pastoral, the MDO may therefore be regarded as an order of Regular clerics.

The Order of Saint Luke is a religious order in the United Methodist Church dedicated to sacramental and liturgical scholarship, education, and practice.

Anabaptist tradition


Some Protestant religious orders follow Anabaptist theology. These would include the Hutterites and Bruderhof, who live in full community of goods[12] and living as a peace church.[13]

Jehovah's Witnesses


Among their corporations, the Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses cares for matters specific to Jehovah's Witnesses special full-time servants. In a particular branch, traveling overseers, special pioneers, and branch staff are considered members of the Order of Special Full-time Servants and the Bethel Family.[14] Globally, their order is the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah's Witnesses.[15] Male and female members of such religious orders typically make a formal vow of poverty and are granted certain status and exemptions by many governments. While Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider members of their religious orders to be a clergy separate from other Witnesses, who are also ordained ministers, they do recognize that a government may consider them such for administrative purposes.

Jehovah's Witnesses do not have a separate clergy class, but consider an adherent's qualified baptism to constitute his ordination as a minister.[16] Governments have generally recognized that Jehovah's Witnesses' full-time appointees qualify as ministers[17] regardless of sex or appointment as an elder or deacon ("ministerial servant"); the religion itself asserts what is sometimes termed "ecclesiastical privilege" only for its appointed elders.





A tariqah is how a religious order is described in Sufism. It especially refers to the mystical teaching and spiritual practices of such an order with the aim of seeking ḥaqīqah "ultimate truth". Such tariqas typically have a murshid (guide) who plays the role of leader or spiritual director. Members and followers of a tariqa are known as murīdīn (singular murīd), meaning "desirous", viz. "desiring the knowledge of knowing God and loving God" (also called a faqīr فقير). Tariqas have silsilas (Arabic: سلسلة) which is the spiritual lineage of the Shaikhs of that order. Almost all orders trace their silsila back to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Tariqas are spread all over the Muslim world.



Among Shias, Noorbakshia Islam is an order that blends Sufi principles with Shia doctrine. It claims to trace its direct spiritual lineage and chain (silsilah) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad through Ali, the first imam of Shia Islam.



There is some historical connection between certain schools of Sufism and the development of Wahhabism and Salafism due to the history of these denominations.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was inspired by Ibn Taymiyyah, a 14th-century scholar and dedicated Sufi, who is however remembered mainly as an outspoken critic of the excesses of certain schools of Sufism during his time.[18]



Other traditions


A form of ordered religious living is common also in many tribes and religions of Africa and South America, though on a smaller scale, and some parts of England.[citation needed] Due to the unorganized character of these small religious groups, orders are not as visible as in other well-organised religions.

Cults and coercive groups such as Scientology and Moonies often rely heavily on devout religious orders as a tactic to indoctrinate and control their followers.[19] Scientology's Sea Org, for example, are required to sign a one billion year contract[20] and pledge allegiance to founder L. Ron Hubbard and are responsible for senior management positions within the Organization.[21]

See also



  1. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 1192 §2
  2. ^ Code of Canon Law, canons 607 §2
  3. ^ cf. The Code of Canon Law 1983, canon 207
  4. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 588
  5. ^ "An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism".
  6. ^ "Orthodox Nuns".
  7. ^ Michael Prokurat, Michael D. Peterson, Alexander Golitzin (editors), The A to Z of the Orthodox Church (Scarcrow Press 2010 ISBN 978-1-46166403-1), article: "Monasticism"
  8. ^ "The Benedictines".
  9. ^ "Kloster Ebstorf". Medieval Histories. 8 August 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2017. The monastery is mentioned for the first time in 1197. It belongs to the group of so-called Lüneklöstern (monasteries of Lüne), which became Lutheran convents following the Protestant Reformation. […] It is currently one of several Lutheran convents maintained by the Monastic Chamber of Hanover (Klosterkammer Hannover), an institution of the former Kingdom of Hanover founded by its Prince-Regent, later King George IV of the United Kingdom, in 1818, in order to manage and preserve the estates of Lutheran convents.
  10. ^ "Saint Augustine's House Lutheran Monastery in Oxford, Michigan".
  11. ^ Anglican Communion Office. "Religious Communities". Anglican Communion Website.
  12. ^ Bruderhof (2015-10-29), What is the Bruderhof?, archived from the original on 2021-11-18, retrieved 2017-05-26
  13. ^ "Learning from the Bruderhof: An Intentional Christian Community". ChristLife. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  14. ^ "Nigeria: Governor's Visit", EBS TV News, August 3, 2001, transcript, "Broadcast lasted: 3 minutes Newscaster: "The State Governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, today undertook a facility tour of the religious center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nigeria, otherwise known as Bethel, at Igieduma in Uhunmwode Local Government Area. He was accompanied in the tour by some commissioners and Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Mat. Akhionbare. For details, over to Government House correspondent, Benjamin Osagie: "Welcoming the Governor and his entourage, Mr. Albert Nwafor Olih disclosed that in harmony with its name, everything done in Bethel was guided by Bible principles and the fear of God. Mr. Olih explained that all residents are baptized Jehovah's Witnesses and members of a religious Order known as the Order of Special Full-time Servants and the Bethel Family. He said they have voluntarily taken a sacred vow to perform their duties geared towards promoting the preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom""
  15. ^ "Preaching and Teaching Earth Wide—2008 Grand Totals", 2009 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 31, "All are members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah's Witnesses."
  16. ^ "Beliefs—Membership and Organization", Authorized Site of the Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses, As Retrieved 2009-09-01 Archived 2012-08-26 at the Wayback Machine, "Jehovah's Witnesses have no clergy-laity division. All baptized members are ordained ministers"
  17. ^ For example, the U.S. Supreme Court case Dickinson v. United States (1953) found that Dickinson should have been considered a minister by his draft board because of his ordination by baptism as a Jehovah's Witness and his continued service as a Jehovah's Witness "pioneer". Online
  18. ^ Today, Wahhabism is often represented as inimical to Sufism. This is not the original conception of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who accepted Sufism as a genuine part of Islam. See e.g.: nsweringwhabismandsalafism.wordpress.com "Ibn `Abd al- Wahhab said in the third volume of his complete works published by Ibn Sa`ud University, on page 31 of the Fatawa wa rasa'il, Fifth Question: Know — may Allah guide you — that Allah Almighty has sent Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, with right guidance, consisting in beneficial knowledge, and with true religion consisting in righteous action. The adherents of religion are as follows: among them are those who concern themselves with learning and fiqh, and discourse about it, such as the jurists; and among them are those who concern themselves with worship and the pursuit of the Hereafter, such as the Sufis. Allah has sent His Prophet with this religion which encompasses both kinds, that is: fiqh and tasawwuf."
  19. ^ Hassan, Dr. Steven (1990). Combatting Cult Mind Control. New York: Park Street Press. ISBN 0892813113.
  20. ^ Margery Wakefield. "Understanding Scientology". For the Next Billion Years. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  21. ^ "The Sea Org". The Sea Organization. Retrieved 8 May 2023.