How would you represent “religion” in an icon, neutrally?

I am involved in a web application where items in a list have a category. Each category of an item is shown through the use of an expressive icon. One of the categories is religion.

My coworker, a graphic designer, is at a loss on how he would represent religion in a logo “neutrally”. Some of the items may be associated with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. so a religion-specific icon would not work and may be potentially offensive.

So, is there a way we can represent it in a different way?


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Method 1

What about an icon depicting a set of praying hands?

Edit: It seems that Civilization 4 uses something similar: Check out the seventh icon in the row of icons in the top-right corner of this screenshot, below “PM”.

enter image description here

Method 2

Most airports I’ve seen that have a multi-faith room use, if not just text, some human figure in what you could call a prayer position:


Method 3

Even Google Maps does not have a single symbol:

Patrick Hoffman is a user experience designer for Google – including Maps:

“Google Maps visitors probably don’t think twice about the little
pictures that dot its maps, but an icon’s creation can be a fraught
process, he says. “Some of the best landmarks are places of worship
because they tend to have big steeples for example and are easily
recognisable. My challenge was to create one icon for a place of
worship, everyone said just use a cross, but of course you can’t use a
cross because then you’ll alienate synagogues and mosques.”

He opted for an icon that drew on common architectural features of
religious houses but that was criticised for being too close to
certain religions. Now, where it can, Google uses different symbols to
indicate different places of worship.

Google Map symbols headache for creator

Method 4

The icon used for religious places will differ from country to country.
Usually unique symbols that represents each religion is used.

Here is an example from a Sri Lankan map where it’s 4 dominant religions are represented with 4 different icons.

Religions in maps

I’m not sure how universally accurate this is, but in most countries putting your hands together symbolizes prayers. So if it’s difficult to have unique icons for each religion try something like this,

Prayer icon

Method 5

At airports, in addition to the kneeling man and clasped hands, which others have already pointed out, I have seen a collective icon containing icons representing the “bigger” (by number of followers) religions.

poly faith icon

Method 6

in OS X 10.7 and up, there’s an icon from the font Apple Emoji Colour, for referring to the religion: 🙏.

If you can’t see this icon. Just see: (look at the right)

enter image description here

Method 7

It depends on your target audience. Culturally universal, maybe not.

In the west, most people recognise a building with a cross on it as a religious establishment. Even those that practice religions other than Christianity such Hinduism.

But in a Muslim country where Christian churches are less common and instead the local mosque is seen more commonly, may present itself as a more appropriate symbol for religion there.

But I would say something of the nature of a religious building would be recognised by the majority of people.

All methods was sourced from or, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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