Before I get to doctrine, there’s something we need to briefly cover which precedes it – theology.
Doctrine is just a word for the set of beliefs held by an establishment, but it mostly refers to religion. It can also be political.
Theology precedes doctrine, because you cannot define doctrine until you know who/what is being worshipped and why.
And with that, let’s dig in!
Theology, in its literal definition, is the study of God and how God relates to the world. We’re going to assume a broader definition for the purpose of worldbuilding religions, though, and say that theology is the study of the divine.
If you have completed any worldbuilding for your religion(s) already, take a minute and just look over that information. Make note of anything you’ve already done that reveals information about the nature of gods in your world and how they interact with each other (if you have more than one god that exists), with the worlds, and with whatever sentient life forms you have.
Once you know their characteristics, you can start to define why and how they are worshipped.
Doctrine, in one sense, is the rules about how worship is properly done. It is usually derived from theology, and this is where the existence of sacred texts can be so vital—what better way to derive proper worship than from first-hand knowledge of any gods? Or, perhaps in some cases, instructions written down by the deity?
Doctrine is also about how one can know the divine within proper limits. It is about defining how to tell if something is True or if something is not.
A creed is a formal statement based on the parameters of doctrine. In many ways, it is a summary or outline of what the doctrine of a particular religion is. They are usually designed to be memorized by lay-people*, so each point is short and sweet, and it doesn’t really go into why it is the accepted doctrine, simply what it is.
If you want to see examples of the three most-common Christian creeds for reference, you can find those here.
*non-ordained members of a religion, ie: those who are not clergy/leaders within the religion.
Catechism is a method of teaching doctrine. If you read classic literature at all, you’ve probably stumbled across this term at least once. While creeds are a summary and meant to be memorized, catechism is meant to be studied.
Catechism is usually formatted as a set of questions and answers about a particular portion of doctrine. It is meant to teach religious individuals why they believe what they do.
Using All These In Your Worldbuilding
You probably won’t need most of these all of the time in your worldbuilding, but part of the purpose of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding is to help you think about things you may not have been exposed to or wouldn’t have considered before.
At the bare minimum, you to poke at theology and doctrine simply so you know what the basics of your religion are. Developing a creed, from there, might help you to better remember and summarize the highlights of it so you don’t have to wade through a bunch of notes all the time.
You only really need to consider developing a catechism for your fictional religion if the daily practice of that faith plays a major role for one of your main characters, or for your story as a whole.
- Is this religion an old, established one, or is it relatively new in your world?
- If it is old, what ways of worship (sacrifices, prayers at certain times of day, attending religious services, etc.) are established and how strictly must one adhere to them?
- If it is new, how is doctrine being determined? By a council, by a devoted disciple, by public vote?
- How is doctrine taught to new converts and/or children?
*D is for Doctrine will also tie in with a couple of future letters, so if you’re worldbuilding along as I post these for the A-Z Challenge, don’t worry if it I ask you to consider some aspects you’re not ready for yet. Skip whatever you need to for now.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions! Thanks for stopping by!
Rebekah Loper began creating epic worlds and stories as a child and never stopped. She is the author of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding series, and has a fantasy novella published in Beatitudes and Woes: A Speculative Fiction Anthology.
She lives in Tulsa, OK with her husband, dog, two formerly feral cats, a small flock of feathered dragons (…ok, ok, they’re chickens), and an extensive tea collection. When she is not writing, she can be found battling the elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead.