N is for Nuns & Monks – Worldbuilding Religions

Sometimes, there are people so devoted to their faith—and/or their god, but it doesn’t have to be both—that they seek to serve it in any way that they can.

While Catholic nuns or monks are usually the first devotees we think of with the word ‘nun’ or ‘monk’ there are actually many religions (and even a few other Christian traditions) which utilize this form of service, study, and devotion. Buddhism and Hinduism are two other well-known religions which have some form of monastic life.

To become a nun (for women) or a monk (for men), there are usually some sort of vows required, and often there is a period of transition where they’ve begun the commitment to monastic life, but are not fully invested yet. It’s where they learn about what that lifestyle truly entails, because while it’s not always impossible to leave, it is not easy, and often results in a form of excommunication from not just the monastery (or convent, for nuns) but also from the religion as a whole. It’s very easy for monastic life to slip into some cult-like qualities. (See C is for Cults.)

Being a nun or monk also comes with the expectation that one is separating themselves from the world. This is why they live in their own compounds, and usually only leave it in service of others, or on some sort of mission.

Often, even within a single religion, there will be many sects of monastic life, each with a different focus on spirituality. Some may be very lax and open; others may be strict and harsh. The beauty of worldbuilding religion in fantasy is that you can tweak these aspects as much as you like! Don’t make a single religion too unapproachable, though, in terms of either grandeur or discipline. You must make it so that even your readers who prescribe to no religion at all can understand your character’s motivations for either belief or disbelief.

Worldbuilding Exercises

  1. Do any of your religions have an element of monastic life? Do they allow monks, nuns, both, or something else? What are they called? What is their order called?
  2. What are the duties of one who commits to monastic life, both personally and for the religion? Spiritual improvement (such as study of scripture and/or meditation), transcription and translation of religious texts, proselytization?
  3. Are they required to give up certain worldly goods and habits? Do they have to dress a certain way? Are they easily recognizable?

Leave a comment below if you have any questions! Thanks for stopping by!

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