Religious Etiquette

This page gives a brief overview of etiquette in and around the holy places of some major religions.

Buddhist Holy Places

Buddha atop Lantau Island   Larry Marotta photo

Avoid extending your feet towards other people, in particular the bottom or soles of your feet or shoes. Shoes are removed before entering a temple or monastery. “Namaste” (nah-mah-stay) is an appropriate greeting. Women should not offer to shake hands with a Buddhist monk. Women should wear clothing with sleeves or cover their shoulders with a large scarf before meeting with a monk.

Monks wearing the bright orange robes of an ascetic typically practice strict self-denial as a measure of spiritual discipline. They often avoid contact with women altogether.

Vera once took a commuter train in downtown Bangkok during the middle of the day, so there were few people on board. Even though she left three empty seats between her and a group of ascetic monks, they were apparently uncomfortable. A man from the other end of the train got up, and sat between her and the monks.

Christian Holy Places

Men should remove any head coverings in shrines and churches. Women have traditionally covered their heads with a hat or scarf. In Catholic or Orthodox religions, priests are addressed as “Father”, nuns as “Sister,” and monks (who are not also priests) as “Brother”. Monks who are also priests are addressed as “Father”. Protestant ministers may be addressed as “Reverend”.

Confucian Holy Places

Nice dress is preferred at Confucian temples. A bow from the waist is an appropriate greeting.

Hindu Holy Places

Shoes are removed before entering a temple or attending a puja (religious ceremony). “Namaste” (nah-mah-stay) is an appropriate greeting, usually done with the hands held together, palms flat against each other. Hindu ministers are called purohita, and may be addressed as “Panditji” (pan-deet-jee). People usually sit on the floor of a temple, or for meetings with purohita or religious leaders. When sitting, do not extend your feet towards the religious leader or towards an altar.

Islamic Holy Places

Shoes are removed before entering a mosque or shrine. Women should wear a scarf or other head wrap or covering. Women should not offer their hand when greeting a man. In general, the greeting is “Salaam aleikum”, with the right hand placed over the heart.

Jewish Holy Places

Men cover their heads in Synagogues. The classic covering is a kepot (skull cap), but any hat will suffice. Women should wear a scarf over their hair. Women should not offer their hand when greeting a rabbi. An appropriate and courteous greeting is “Shalom aleicum, rabbi”.

Our thanks to Religious Youth Services for much of the information on this page.


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