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Up to this point, we have spoken about the "sacred," but we have not explored the concept that in many ways is at the very center of the sacred. In most (but not all) religions the sacred is the realm that is connected with one or more deities. In this unit, we will therefore explore the various ways that different religions have conceived of the divine. Notice that the author of your text uses the term "the divine" rather than "god(s)." The reason is simple: in the mind of many, the term "god" is associated with deity with whom one has a personal relationship. As we will discover in this unit, there are some traditions (such as Daoism) that view the divine not as a personal god, but as a rather impersonal force. We could also use the term "ultimate reality" rather than "the divine."

There are two basic ways to categorize the divine. First, scholars of religion use categories based on the number of deities or divine powers. For example, religions that focused on one god or divine force are categorized as monotheistic. In contrast, polytheistic religions believe in multiple deities or expressions of the divine.

Second, each of the previous categories can be classified as either immanent or transcendent. Transcendent deities are considered to be above and beyond this world. Immanent deities dwell within this world. As we will see, both concepts are present in each type of conceptualization of the divine.

Because of its importance in the three major faiths, we will devote some time to the emergence and characteristics of monotheism.