Proposed Structure and Guidelines for Religious Categories [closed]

+13 votes

For several months, I have been studying categories related to religion and working (with a great deal of help from Jackson Day and recently from the Latter Day Saints Project and the Quakers Project) on a proposal for structure and guidelines for categories related to religion and spiritual traditions.  You will find the document here . It has been through a period of comment by the Categorization Project and is now ready for general release on G2G for comment by all Wikitreers.

What we currently have is a tangled mess that has mostly developed ad hoc.  Jackson Day has previously worked out a set of principles for Professions related to religion.  I have not tinkered much with that and have adopted much of it as a pattern for a broader group of categories covering religious figures.  As I see a need for multiple parts of the category structure to interface and lead to each other like a web, where other principles exist, I have tried to adapt them to this area.   In short, where I could find sense and order elsewhere in our category structure that I could make adaptable to these religion related categories, I borrowed and adapted it.  Even borrowing and referring to other guidelines, this is a complex subject and a long document. Hopefully the contents section will help people get to the areas they are looking for. 

I know there are some types of categories in this document that some Wikitreers do not think are necessary.  I have taken the approach that if samples of a type of category have already been created, more are likely to be created and it is better to set aside a spot for them than to have people putting them just anywhere where they can gum up the works of other parts of the category structure.

closed with the note: reopened to update links to their permanent location
in Policy and Style by Mary Jensen G2G6 Pilot (106k points)
closed by Mary Jensen

Hi Mary,

What types of sub-group religious tradition would you envisage appearing under the fifth-level Christianity sub category of Reformed Faiths?

As a (Scottish) Presbyterian, I could argue that Presbyterianism is a reformed faith and I know that some Anglicans (but by no means all) living in England could argue that the Church of England is a reformed church.

I'm not trying to start a religious or theological discussion here, merely trying to clarify the logic of placement of religious groups in the various categories. I'm also very aware that I have no idea how members of the Presbyterian or Anglican traditions in other parts of the world outside the UK would describe their respective traditions.


The recommendation for the category Reformed Faiths grew out of the existing category Reformed Churches.  That category page points to the Wikipedia article on World Communion of Reformed Churches.  That article includes a list of churches which belong to that communion. This list does not appear to include any Anglican churches that I can recognize. So I would assume the intent was not to include the Anglican churches in this category especially given the existence of separate Anglican categories.

The category for Reformed Churches currently includes subcategories for 

All of these churches are on the list of members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.  The list also contains many Presbyterian churches in the UK and the United States including 
  • Church of Scotland
  • The Presbyterian Church in Ireland
  • Presbyterian Church of Wales
  • Cumberland Presbyterian Church
  • Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church
  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
From that, I would assume that at least some, if not all Presbyterian churches fit within this definition of reformed faiths. Some of these, notably the Cumberland Presbyterians are currently under the category for Presbyterians.  That category has a link to a picture of the "Family Tree" of Presbyterian Denominations in North America . From that image, it looks to me like some of those consider themselves to be "Reformed" while others may not.
Another possibility is that when these Presbyterian categories were created, the person creating them either thought that the Presbyterian group of churches was large enough to separate them from the Reformed Churches.  A third possibility is that the person who created the Presbyterian categories did not know that the Presbyterians fit within the Reformed Churches category.
So far, I haven't found any existing categories for Scottish Presbyterian churches. Is that the same as Church of Scotland? Those categories do not appear to have been created yet, but I'd guess the Scottish Clan Project is likely to create some of them soon.  I would think they would have more expertise than I would on whether the Church of Scotland would be a better fit under Presbyterianism or Reformed Faiths.
By the way, there are other groups of Christian faiths that may logically be added to the Fifth Level list in the future.  I did not attempt to create a comprehensive list.  What I did was try to massage what was already there into a logical order and derive principles from what was there, figure out what was not logical or was tangled and try to write principles to untangle the problems, and to address issues I knew had already come up in G2G discussions on religious categories.  So there will be areas where there is nothing now and people will add on later as they add categories for things which are not there now.

Thanks for that Mary.  The Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian church.  Unfortunately the history of the various churches in Scotland (as with many countries) is complicated with many splits and re-unions - it'll be fun trying to categories these when the time comes!

I see that Michael also raised a point about some Anglicans regarding themselves as being in the reformed tradition - I'll leave that area to others who are better qualified than me to comment.

Any arrangement of faith groups into categories is going to have a degree of artificiality because faith groups are dynamic entities which are frequently influenced by others.  So those of us in the Methodist tradition are in a church which arose in the Anglican tradition but is significantly influenced by the Reformed tradition.  And churches change over time.  There is a 1000 year old church in Shrewsbury, England that has beautiful stained glass windows.  A close inspection reveals, however, that they are inscribed in German.  The back story is that at the time of the Reformation, the existing stained glass windows were trashed and replaced by clear glass;  a hundred years ago a prominent priest of the congregation went to London twice a year to buy stained glass to re-install in the windows, and the beautiful stained glass he found to buy came from Germany.   Once again the church has stained glass windows.   The role Mary Jenson has taken on is a bit like "herding cats."  The most important thing is to have reasonable "landing categories" that are actually placed on profiles and which do a reasonable job of grouping profiles together in ways that assist our genealogical work, and I think she's done that admirably.

3 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer

Thank you to everyone who commented on this proposal and to everyone who helped in the process of working out this proposal.

The Principles and Formatting Guidelines for Religious Categories have been moved from my sandbox to their permanent home.

It will take a while to get through the process of fully implementing this proposal especially in areas where some untangling has to be done, but I will be working on it steadily with the help of Aleš and his edit-bot and the religious movement projects. But rest assured, I will be doing a lot of human review in the process to make sure that edit-bot only does grunt work after it has been reviewed and approved.

I will also be monitoring the G2G tags for categorization and religion to keep up with any questions that are asked.

by Mary Jensen G2G6 Pilot (106k points)
selected by Doris Miller
+5 votes
Hi Mary,

Thanks to you and everyone for developing these guidelines. I look forward to having them implemented, and hopefully soon.

Note that I have a small Free Space Project for Seventh Day Baptists, here:

I would be happy to help get any of these categories reorganized, with some guidance from your project. I wasn't happy with the existing categories and their organization anyway.

Please let me know how I can help in this area.


by Eric Weddington G2G6 Pilot (324k points)
Thank you Eric.  It would be most helpful if you and anyone else from this free space project were to work with implementing these guidelines in your area of interest after the final version is through discussion and adopted.

It is one of the goals of the Categorization Project to encourage other projects to adopt categories in their areas of expertise and add information on the category pages indicating these projects interests in and sponsorship / maintenance of categories within their areas.
Thanks, Mary. As far as I know, it's just me on this project, and I only started it to do a little bit of organization and to highlight some common sources.

I'll need some guidance on where things should go once the final version is adopted.
Okay. I'll put it on my followup list of things to do.
+4 votes
Lots of really good work here. Thank you very much to everyone who has been involved. In what follows I am not trying to be theological - just to draw attention to some possible complications, awkwardnesses and sensitivities.

On a quick think about all this, I think I have identified three areas of difficulty. All are on relative detail. One is, what counts as Reformed Faith? Anglicanism is a particularly difficult example: in the UK at least, some Anglicans may see themselves as in the reformed tradition while others would emphatically not. There may be other denominations with similar difficulty. Do we need to use Reformed Faiths? Might it be better just to use individual denomination names in Fifth Level Christianity subcategories?

The second difficulty relates to how we categorise institutions like dioceses which have changed from one denomination to another, or where there may be two dioceses of different denominations based in the same place (eg Portsmouth, Hampshire, England). Let’s take Rochester as an example of the first. Clearly there needs to be a geographical component to the category nomenclature to distinguish between Rochester dioceses in different locations. Now take the Diocese of Rochester in Kent, England. It is now in the Church of England. In the 16th century it switched from being Roman Catholic to something independent of Popes but not called Anglican back to being Catholic but with the Pope’s role limited. It was not until the religious settlement of the reign of Elizabeth I that the diocese settled down as being what we would now call part of the Church of England. If we distinguish (as I think the document suggests) between the Rochester (Kent) diocese when it was Roman Catholic and the diocese when it has been part of the Church of England, can we expect someone dealing with a 16th century profile to negotiate their way through this, how would we deal with the in-between period between Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the Elizabethan settlement, and how would we deal with religious professionals in the diocese who lived through the changes and adapted to them? Might it be better just to have a category for Diocese of Rochester, Kent, England? For individual churches we would not, I think, attempt to distinguish between pre-Anglican and Anglican periods of their history. I suspect similar issues will arise in mainland Europe, where the religious history of the 16th and 17th centuries was in places quite complicated.

Move on to Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, where there are two cathedrals and two dioceses, one Church of England and one Roman Catholic. We do need to distinguish between them. For Portsmouth, where both dioceses are historically relatively recent creations, it would be straightforward just to label one Church of England and the other (Roman) Catholic, because none of the historical problems which arise with Rochester, Kent will apply. I think that will be true of almost all areas in the UK where there are Roman Catholic and Anglican dioceses with the same name. But there are probably exceptions. I am sure different denominations have dioceses with the same name elsewhere in the world.

I am afraid I do not have totally neat answers on all this.

The third point I would like to flag is that the terms Catholics and Catholic Church may also be a bit awkward. In the UK, if I am striving to be accurate, I use ‘Roman Catholic’, because members and ministers of a number of other denominations, including the Church of England, often think of themselves as part of the (wider) Catholic Church, and the creeds used regularly in Church of England worship refer to belief in the holy catholic church.

I am sorry if some of this sounds pedantic. But I hope it is helpful to explore these points.
by Michael Cayley G2G6 Pilot (136k points)
edited by Michael Cayley
Thank you Michael.  These are thoughtful points that deserve well considered responses.  It may take me a bit, but I will come back with more information to consider on these points.
The issue Michael raises about Reformed Faiths and Anglicanism is not confined to just this area.  There are other areas where a group itself would say it belonged to one area while others would put them in a different area. Which faiths fit in the Anabaptists group is another area open to debate.  I don’t think we can expect to entirely resolve these issues where different groups have different ideas on what a particular term means. We can avoid some confusion by adding descriptions to category pages and adding terms to category names which clarify what they are intended to cover.

What I did at this level was normalize the forms of the categories we currently have, mostly leaving specific religions where those who had created the categories earlier had put them on the theory that hopefully the people who originally created the categories knew something about the religion or at least more than I did.  I wish there had been more religion related projects to consult when working on this structure.  Although I learned a lot in my six month study of religious categories, I am no expert on religions. And most of those who helped mostly had knowledge about only one religion or one branch at most.  One of the reasons this area developed in such an ad hoc manner as it did is that there is no corresponding project as there are in some areas like Military and War categories or Cemetery categories.  But that was one of the reasons I decided to take it on - there was no logical group to ask to take it on.

I think it will also help if various projects with an interest, such as the projects associated with English History were to adopt areas of the Religious Categories tree and lend more expertise to development of categories within their expertise following these principles.

I may help to understand that a major funciton of Fifth Level Christianity subgroups is to aid in finding more specific lower level categories and there are other ways to find those lower level categories as well including the category search function (which could use some improvement) and the Category Navigation tool. Hopefully those other ways plus the encouragement of cross references between categories will help users find the lower level category they are looking for.  Also, if a particular lower level category might fit within more than one upper level grouping of Christianity, it can be included in both to make it easier to find.

As to the suggestion of eliminating the Christianity subgroups, here are some competing issues to consider:

*The denominations suffer from many of the same issues of poor definition and lack of knowledge among the public.  It is much harder to figure out what is and what isn't a denomination or the one you want, as I learned during my study, than to pick which of larger groups of faith families a category belongs with. And it gets even stickier in faith groups that are decentralized, follow congregationalist principles, or have a very large number of denominations.

*"Denomination" is considered to be a word with major negative connotations by some religions, especially those of the movements which see themselves as a return to the original church of Christianity after the Catholic and other churches strayed from the original path.

*These Fifth Level categories also serve as a gathering place to pull into one group not only the denomination and congregation categories but also categories related to a group of faiths that are not denominations and which are often common to the history of multiple current and/or past denominations in the group of faiths. For example, Act of Uniformity;  Early LDS Adherents; Holiness Movement; Huguenot Migration; LDS Mexican Colonias; LDS Project; Nauvoo Temple; NNS Huguenot Ancestor; Quaker Abolitionists; Category: Quaker Act; Quaker Emigration to America; Category: Quaker Notables; Quakers Project; Valiant Sixty.  What would we do with them without the fifth level categories to gather them together with their related denominations and movements?

*There are a great many individual Christian religions which already have categories, not to mention all those for which no categories have yet been created, and a major aim of these principles was to provide for orderly expansion in the future.  I have counted more than 45 individual denomination categories already in existence for Christian religions and I probably did not count them all.  What is most notable about them is that the denomination structure is not fully filled out for any of the groups of Christian religions and most of the world outside the United States is just getting started with category development. Even within the United States, there are a great many denominations that do not have categories.  As I categorize my own family’s ancestors, I will be adding a good many more. I believe that approximately 50 subcategories will display upon a single category page.  Even with the limited development so far, we are near or over that number already. Its gets difficult to find the subcategories when they are spread over more than one page.  

This suggestion would also lump them all together in alphabetical order without regard to others they are related to or others they are not related to but which sound very similar.  It would look something like the following: African Methodist Episcopal Church; Anglican Church of Australia; Bible Christian Circuit; Brethren in Christ; Catholic Church, Christian Science Faith; Church of Christ (which one as there are several?); Church of England;  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Church of the Brethren; Church of the Nazarene; Community of Christ; Cumberland Presbyterians; Dutch Reformed Church; Eastern Orthodox Churches; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (formed from 3 other denominations in 1988 that don’t yet have categories); Episcopal Church, United States of America; Friends General Conference; German Baptist Brethren; Hungary Reformed Church; Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod;  Mennonite Faith; Methodist Church of Australasia; Methodist Episcopal Church; Methodist Protestant Church; Methodist Church of New Zealand; Moravian Church; North American Lutheran Church (formed in 2010); Primitive Methodist Church; Methodist Church in Indonesia; Methodist Church in Malaysia; Methodist Church of Great Britain; Plymouth Brethren Assemblies; Presbyterian Churches, United States of America; Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Seventh-day Adventists; Seventh Day Baptist Faith; Shakers; Southern Baptist Convention; United Brethren in Christ; United Brethren, Moravian; United Church of Christ; United Methodist Church; Uniting Church in Australia.

*The denominations have a lot more change over time than the suggested fifth level categories which greatly multiplies the number of categories at the next level.  I also learned that the public generally does far better at recognizing the larger groups than the individual denominations especially with the denomination mergers and splits and name changes over time.

As Michael says, there are no neat solutions.

I did recognize the issue of Roman Catholic versus Catholic.  However, when I researched it, I found that the term Roman Catholic was not broad enough to cover the entire church that is headed by the Pope.  Here is the explanation of it from the Catholics themselves:

The Catholic religion is the religion of the Catholic Church—i.e., that group of churches in communion with the pope. If a group isn’t in communion with the pope, it isn’t part of the Catholic Church.

Within the Catholic Church there are a number of individual churches, sometimes called rites. One of these is the Roman rite or Roman church. It includes most of the Catholics in the Western world. A Roman Catholic is a Catholic who is a member of the Roman rite.

There are many Catholics in the East who are not Roman Catholics, such as Maronite Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, and Chaldean Catholics. These are all in communion with the pope, but they are not members of the Roman rite, so they are not Roman Catholics.

We have categories for some of the Catholic churches in the other rites already, particularly the Ukrainian branch.  So we can't call the category for the church headed by the Pope the Roman Catholic Church.  The wider group of churches following the creeds is usually referred to as the catholic church in lower case.

Yes, it is awkward. But at least the other churches usually have some other word in their titles which make it plain they are not the Catholic Church which is headed by the pope.  And however awkward it may be, there were no tangles to be sorted out on this point indicating that most people recognize the terms Catholic Church and Catholics to refer to the church and religion headed by the Pope. 

Michael, on the issue of  where there may be two dioceses of different denominations based in the same place. I tried to address that point with the principle which requires some indicator of the faith. We do have such tangles that need to be untangled.

But the problem is actually bigger than that because diocese level categories appear in many places such as where a faith's professionals are organized by the hierarchy of the faith, where its congregations are organized by the hierarchy of the faith, and/or where its schools or other institutions are organized by the hierarchy of the faith.  Now multiply by the number of faiths with similarly named dioceses or geographic divisions.  All those areas can't use the same generic diocese category at intermediate levels. 

Categories which reflect divisions like dioceses can easily get tangled up if they are not made distinctive enough to prevent circular structure and that creates problems for Wikitrees software.  Add to that how confusing it can be when religions get combined in a religious structure of categories except where separate provision has been made for it like in the Religious Institutions by Location stream.  The goal of categories is to group profiles sharing a particular characteristic of genealogical significance.  When religious categories mix religions, it usually defeats that purpose.  So that is why they need to be separated. I think you get that, but it bears repeating.

Getting back to the issue of periods of change and when full information will not likely be known by the users using the categories.  I have a suggestion for how that might be handled. Looking to how sogn (parish) changes over time affect location categories in Denmark's location structure, what we did was add date factors to some categories where it was needed to prevent confusion or segregate periods which didn't clearly fit one place or the other. Take a look at the religious history section where things get segregated by time. If there are likely to be a fair number of profiles to be categorized in a period where it will be difficult to tell whether the person was associated with the Catholic diocese or with the protestant reformation diocese, a category could be created called something like Diocese of Rochester, England (16th Century) or Diocese of Rochester, England (Protestant Reformation)  for that short period when it makes genealogical sense not to separate the religions if that is what the English History Project decides would be a good idea for that period in history.  It would not be a substitute for either the Catholic or the appropriate protestant church hierarchy category especially in streams like those for clergy and religious professionals, but it might make a lot of sense for the profiles of individuals in the area in that time whose families were baptized, married and buried in the local church at the given time regardless of who was in control at the time. 

On the other hand, it might not be necessary because that time frame might be handled through the religious institutions by location stream.  Whatever churches or congregations that fall within that time frame would still be accessible under Rochester, Kent, Religious Institutions regardless of whether they were protestant or catholic at the time.  

It may also be that this issue may not come up very much because of how far back in history it was.  For example, many churches in Denmark were built in the period between 1100 and 1300 when they were clearly Catholic.  Those same churches are still in use today for the state church which is a Lutheran church.  However, the break came before the oldest surviving church records.  Since there are no church records surviving from the Catholic period, I doubt that we will need to categorize any profiles by church in the transition period. At most, there may be a very few profiles of priests or abbots, but that information will come from sources that will provide information on the religion.

These types of special situations are why category structures and principles are principles and not rigid rules. There are places where adaptations will need to be made when the categories are created to meet the needs which prompt creation of the category.  Thankfully, we don't have to foresee them all and cover them all at this stage.  This sort of issue is one of the reasons the Categorization Project is pushing to get category pages to show which projects and possibly people are most interested in them so when questions come up later as to why something was done or whether it should be revised, the appropriate people are consulted.  Having that sort of information will also help the person creating categories in the type situation you raise know who to contact for ideas on how to handle the special situation without mucking up some other part of the structure someone else is relying on.  


I think use of the word "Catholic" has to be resolved in favor not of theology, but in terms of what people use most commonly, which is to call "Catholic" those churches which are in communion with Rome.  I'm OK with that so long as it's clear we're simply reflecting common usage.

The Catholic definition you quoted is written for Roman Catholics and reflects the polemics which many of us hoped belonged to an earlier century.  The word "Catholic" simply means "universal" and to many of us means a much larger whole, but the site you quoted reflects the position that they are the only true faith and therefore the only people entitled to use the word.  

In my United Methodist congregation we repeat the "Apostles Creed" each Sunday morning and say we believe in the catholic church.  We are obviously using the word differently, and we are of course offended by those who claim exclusive word for themselves.  In practice, though, my music director is Roman Catholic and we all get along quite well.

Obviously, WikiTree's categorization effort is an effort to arrange things in a meaningful order, not to take sides in who is right and who is wrong!

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