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Henotheism (Greek εἷς θεός heis theos "one god") is a term originally coined by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) to depict early stages of monotheism. However Max Müller (1823-1900), a German Philologist and Orientalist, brought the term into common usage to describe the worshipping of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities.[1] Müller made the term central to his criticism of Western theological and religious exceptionalism (relative to Eastern religions), focusing on a cultural dogma which held "monotheism" to be both fundamentally well-defined and inherently superior to differing conceptions of God.

Variations on the term have been "inclusive monotheism" and "monarchical polytheism", designed to differentiate differing forms of the phenomenon. Related terms are monolatrism and kathenotheism, which are typically understood as sub-types of henotheism. The latter term is an extension of "henotheism", from καθ' ἕνα θεόν (kath' hena theon) —"one god at a time".[2] Henotheism is similar but less exclusive than monolatry because a monolator worships only one god (denying that other gods are worthy of worship), while the henotheist may worship any within the pantheon, depending on circumstances, although he usually will worship only one throughout his life (barring some sort of conversion). In some belief systems, the choice of the supreme deity within a henotheistic framework may be determined by cultural, geographical, historical or political reasons.

Here "a God" may refer to one personality (among others) of the supreme God, and also the God may be said to have the power of assuming many personalities. Max Müller encountered these subtleties in the Upanishads and Rig Veda, and posited the idea of henotheism as a way of explaining them. However, Vivekananda, who visited Max Müller, found the term wanting and preferred to just use the original Sanskrit word, Vedanta.

Henotheism is based on the belief that a god may take any form at any time and still have the same essential nature. The central idea is that one name for a god may be used in a circumstance where a particular aspect of this god is being represented or worshiped while a different name may be given to or used to describe or worship a different aspect of the god in a different circumstance. This example does not imply the superiority of one over another, but simply that a god can exist in many forms at once and offering worship or praise using different names does not have to imply polytheism. Henotheism is sometimes considered a sophisticated version of monotheism in that it allows the worshiper to believe in essentially one Supreme Being and still appreciate and not limit the names, expressions, or manifestations used to describe it.[citation needed]


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