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DSST Introduction to World Religions Study Guide

Updated: Feb 14

DSST Introduction to World Religions Exam Outline

Are you studying for the DSST Introduction to World Religions exam?

Our comprehensive study guide covers everything you need to know for the test.

We've got you covered, from the history and doctrines of different faiths to contemporary religious issues.

Get ready to ace your exam with our guide!


Table of Contents


1. Definition and Origins of Religion

A man reading scriptures from ancient text.
Definition and Origins of Religion (5% - 7%)

Basic Dimensions of Religion

Religion encompasses various fundamental aspects that shape its practice and beliefs.

These include:

  • Myths: Sacred narratives that explain the origins of the universe and humanity. For example, creation myths in various religions explain how the world and humans came into being.

  • Rituals: Formalized practices often involving gestures, words, and objects performed in a set sequence. For example, the Christian ritual of baptism symbolizes purification and entry into the faith.

  • Experiences: Personal encounters with the divine or transcendent. For example, mystical experiences in Sufism involve a direct connection with Allah.

  • Doctrines: Formal teachings and beliefs that define a religion's worldview. For example, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are core doctrines in Buddhism.

  • Ethics: Moral principles that guide behavior. For example, the Ten Commandments in Judaism and Christianity provide ethical guidelines for living righteous lives.


Approaches to Religion

Religion can be approached from different perspectives, each offering unique insights:

  • Historical Approach: This approach examines the development of religious traditions over time. It traces their origins, evolution, and interactions with other cultures. For example, studying how Christianity spread from its origins in Judea to become a global religion.

  • Theoretical Approach: The theoretical approach focuses on understanding religion's underlying principles and structures. It analyzes its functions, symbols, and meanings within societies. For example, exploring how the concept of "sacredness" is constructed and understood across different religions.


DSST Introduction to World Religions Trivia Question # 89


2. Indigenous Religions

An indigenous priest dancing.
Indigenous Religions (5% - 7%)

Native North American Traditions

Native North American traditions encompass a rich tapestry of cultures:

  • Hopi: Known for intricate ceremonial practices and a deep connection to the land.

  • Lakota: Renowned for spiritual ceremonies like the Sun Dance and Sweat Lodge.

  • Inuit: Unique cultural practices shaped by the Arctic environment.


Native South American Traditions

In South America, traditions vary widely, from the Guarani people with their rich mythology and emphasis on community ties to the diverse customs and languages of indigenous groups across the continent, each reflecting unique habits of mind and cultural practices.

  • Guarani: Rich mythology and emphasis on community ties.

  • Various Indigenous Groups: Diverse customs and languages reflecting unique cultural practices.


Native West African Traditions

West African traditions are diverse and vibrant, including the Dogon people, known for their complex cosmology and artistic traditions; the Lebe cult, which honors ancestral spirits; and the Binu cult, which focuses on healing and protection.

  • Dogon: Complex cosmology and artistic traditions.

  • Lebe and Binu Cults: Honor ancestral spirits and focus on healing and protection, respectively.


Native Middle Eastern Traditions

Middle Eastern traditions, including Mesopotamian and Egyptian, have ancient roots:

  • Mesopotamian and Egyptian: Enduring influence on global culture, particularly in religion, art, and governance.


Hellenic and Roman Traditions

Hellenic and Roman traditions refer to the ancient religious practices of the Greeks and Romans, which included elaborate mythologies, rituals, and festivals that shaped their societies' values and beliefs.

  • Elaborate Mythologies: Shaping societal values and beliefs.

  • Rituals and Festivals: Integral to community life.



Shintoism is the ethnic religion of the Japanese people, emphasizing reverence for kami (spirits) and a deep connection to the natural world, expressed through rituals, shrines, and festivals.

  • Reverence for Kami: Spirits in nature.

  • Connection to the Natural World: Expressed through rituals, shrines, and festivals.


3. Hinduism

Two Hindu women dancing.
Hinduism (9% - 11%)

Historical Development of Hinduism

Hinduism's historical development is deeply rooted in the concept of Brahman, the ultimate, unchanging reality and the principal source of the universe according to Hindu beliefs.

This concept evolved over millennia through various texts, philosophies, and cultural practices, shaping the diverse tapestry of Hindu traditions we see today.


Doctrine and Practice in Hinduism

Hinduism is characterized by recognizing various paths (margas) for spiritual realization, known as yogas.

These paths cater to the different temperaments and inclinations of individuals, emphasizing practices such as:

  • Bhakti Yoga: Devotion to a personal god or goddess.

  • Jnana Yoga: Pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

  • Dhyana Yoga: Meditation and contemplation.

  • Karma Yoga: Selfless action and service to others.

This inclusivity reflects Hinduism's overarching belief in the unity of all beings and the ultimate goal of moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara).


4. Buddhism

Three buddhist monks chanting.
Buddhism (9% - 11%)

Historical Development of Buddhism

Buddhism traces its origins to Siddhartha Gautama, who was born around 583 BCE in Nepal.

Renouncing his princely upbringing, Siddhartha embarked on a spiritual quest culminating in his enlightenment as the Buddha, or "Awakened One."

His teachings formed the foundation of Buddhism, spreading throughout Asia and evolving into various traditions.


Major Traditions in Buddhism

Central to Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths, which outline the nature of suffering (dukkha), its causes, its cessation, and the path to its cessation.

The Noble Eightfold Path provides a practical framework for cultivating ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom to overcome suffering and achieve liberation (nirvana).


Doctrine and Practice in Buddhism

Buddhist doctrine emphasizes the impermanent and interconnected nature of existence.

Monastic communities, consisting of monks and nuns, play a crucial role in preserving and transmitting Buddhist teachings.

The ultimate goal for practitioners is to attain enlightenment, following the example set by the Buddha, through practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and ethical living.


5. Confucianism

A woman offering a candle and prayer.
Confucianism (5% - 7%)

Historical Development of Confucianism

Confucianism, originating from the teachings of Confucius (551-479 BCE), became a dominant philosophical and social force in China and East Asia.

Confucius emphasized the importance of personal and governmental morality, the correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity.

His teachings influenced Chinese society for over two millennia, shaping its culture, values, and governance.


Doctrine and Practice in Confucianism

Confucianism's core texts are the "Four Books and Five Classics," canonized by Zhu Xi, a prominent Neo-Confucian philosopher of the Song Dynasty.

These texts include the Analects (conversations and sayings of Confucius) and the works of Mencius (a follower of Confucius), among others.

The teachings focus on ethics, morality, and proper conduct, emphasizing the cultivation of virtues such as benevolence, filial piety, righteousness, and propriety.

Confucianism also emphasizes the importance of education and self-cultivation in achieving societal harmony.


DSST Introduction to World Religions Trivia Question # 340


6. Taoism

A woman lighting a candle.
Taoism (3% - 5%)

Historical Development of Taoism

Taoism, also known as Daoism, originated in China in the late 4th century BCE. It is attributed to the legendary figure Laozi, traditionally regarded as the author of the "Tao Te Ching," a foundational text of Taoist philosophy.

Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao, often translated as "the Way," representing the fundamental nature of the universe.


Doctrine and Practice in Taoism

Central to Taoist doctrine is the concept of the Tao, which is the underlying natural order of the universe.

Taoists believe that Tao is ineffable and can only be understood through direct experience and intuition rather than intellectual understanding.

Taoism advocates for a simple and natural way of life in harmony with the Tao.

It emphasizes meditation, breathing exercises, and cultivating qi (vital energy) to align oneself with the Tao and achieve spiritual enlightenment.


7. Judaism

A family celebrating and practicing Judaism.
Judaism (15% - 17%)

Historical Development

According to Jewish belief, Judaism is rooted in God's covenantal relationship with the Children of Israel.

This relationship is believed to have been established through figures like Abraham, Moses, and other prophets, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible.

Over millennia, Judaism has evolved through various historical periods and cultural contexts, shaping its beliefs, practices, and traditions.



Judaism encompasses diverse denominations, each with its own beliefs and practices.

Some major denominations include Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism.

These denominations vary in their approach to religious observance, with Orthodox movements typically adhering to traditional practices, Conservative movements blending tradition with modernity, Reform movements emphasizing individual autonomy, and Reconstructionist movements focusing on the evolving nature of Jewish identity.


Doctrine and Practice

Central to Judaism is the belief in the one, transcendent God who created the universe and entered into a covenant with the Jewish people.

The Torah, which includes the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, is considered the central text of Judaism, containing divine commandments, ethical teachings, and narratives of Jewish history.

In addition to the Torah, Judaism draws on various supplementary texts, including the Talmud, Midrash, and commentaries.

A rich tapestry of rituals, ceremonies, and ethical teachings characterizes Jewish religious practice.

These practices include observing the Sabbath, celebrating holidays and festivals, adhering to dietary laws (kashrut), and engaging in prayer, study, and charity.

Community plays a central role in Jewish life, with synagogues serving as places of worship, study, and communal gathering.


8. Christianity

Christians reading the bible together.
Christianity (17% - 19%)

Historical Development

Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

It emerged in the 1st century CE in the Roman province of Judea and quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Christianity originated as a sect within Judaism but gradually developed its distinct identity and beliefs.


Major Traditions

One of the central beliefs of Christianity is the concept of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christians believe that Jesus, as the Son of God, died on the cross to atone for the sins of humanity and rose from the dead, offering eternal life to those who believe in him.


Doctrine and Practice

The Bible serves as the sacred scripture of Christianity and is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The New Testament contains the teachings of Jesus Christ and the early Christian community and letters written by early Christian leaders.

Christianity encompasses many denominations and traditions, each with its beliefs and practices.

Some of the major Christian denominations include Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Despite theological differences, all Christians share a common faith in Jesus Christ as the savior and the belief in the Trinity—God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


9. Islam

Islam servants worshiping.
Islam (15% - 17%)

Historical Development

Islam originated in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century CE with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims believe that Muhammad received revelations from God, which were later compiled into the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

Muhammad's teachings emphasized monotheism, social justice, and moral conduct.


Major Traditions

One of the central tenets of Islam is the belief in the oneness of God (Allah) and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad.

Muslims also believe in the existence of angels, the Day of Judgment, and divine predestination.


Doctrine and Practice

The Quran is the primary religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be the literal word of God, as revealed to Muhammad.

The Hadith, a collection of sayings and actions of Muhammad, serves as a supplementary source of guidance for Muslims.

Islam is divided into two main sects: Sunni and Shia. Sunni Islam is the largest denomination, comprising the majority of Muslims worldwide.

While smaller in numbers, Shia Islam is predominant in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, among other regions.

Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam, which include the declaration of faith (Shahada), prayer (Salah), almsgiving (Zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (Sawm), and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) for those who are able.

Islam has a rich cultural and intellectual heritage, with contributions to art, architecture, science, and philosophy.

Today, Islam is practiced by over a billion people worldwide and continues to be a significant force in global society.


DSST Introduction to World Religions Trivia Question # 1009


10. Religious Movements

Woman with arms in the air toward God.
Religious Movements (7% - 9%)

Religious Constructs Before 1000 A.D.

Before 1000 A.D., several major world religions had already emerged, each with its own beliefs, practices, and cultural significance.

Some of the most notable religions during this period include:

  • Hinduism: One of the world's oldest religions, with roots dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse range of beliefs, practices, and deities, including the concepts of karma and dharma.

  • Buddhism: Founded by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) in the 6th century B.C. Buddhism emphasizes overcoming suffering and achieving enlightenment through meditation and ethical living.

  • Judaism dates back over 3,000 years. Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion, focusing on the covenant between God and the Jewish people as outlined in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and the Talmud.

  • Christianity: Emerging from Judaism, Christianity is based on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as described in the New Testament. It became a major world religion by the 4th century A.D.

  • Islam: Founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century A.D., Islam is based on the Quran, which Muslims believe to be the literal word of God. It is characterized by the Five Pillars of Islam and a robust monotheistic belief.


Newer Religions After 1000 A.D.

After 1000 A.D., several newer religions and belief systems emerged, often as offshoots or reformations of existing traditions.

Some examples include:

  • Sikhism: Founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia, Sikhism emphasizes the worship of one God, equality of all people, and community service.

  • Bahá'í Faith: Originating in 19th-century Persia, the Bahá'í Faith teaches the essential worth of all religions, the unity of all people, and the need for a universal language and system of weights and measures.

  • Jainism: An ancient Indian religion that emphasizes non-violence (ahimsa), Jainism teaches self-discipline and non-possessiveness towards all living beings.

  • Shinto: An indigenous religion of Japan, Shinto focuses on the veneration of kami (spirits or gods) and the importance of rituals and ceremonies in maintaining harmony with the natural world.

These ancient and modern religions reflect the diverse ways human societies have sought to understand and connect with the divine throughout history.


11. Conclusion: DSST Introduction to World Religions

Woman sitting at Buddhist temple.

Significance of Religions

Religions have been integral to human societies for centuries, shaping cultures, values, and identities worldwide.

They provide frameworks for understanding the mysteries of existence and offer guidance on moral and ethical behavior.

DSST Introduction to World Religions Exam

The DSST Introduction to World Religions exam assesses your knowledge of various religious traditions practiced around the globe.

It covers indigenous religions from different regions, such as Native American religions, African traditional religions, and Australian Aboriginal religions.

Preparation with Our Online Prep Course

If you want to delve deeper into the study of world religions, our online prep course is an excellent resource.

It provides comprehensive coverage of the topics you'll encounter on the exam, including detailed explanations of key concepts and practice questions to test your understanding.

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Sign up for our online prep course today and better understand the diverse religious traditions that shape our world.

Prepare yourself to excel on the DSST Introduction to World Religions Exam and broaden your knowledge of global cultures and beliefs.


12. Student Resources


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