An individual who wishes to commit his or her life to religious service must usually take religious vows. The precise nature of the vows and the ceremony that goes along with them will vary by religion. The idea behind religious vows, however, is a universal concept. Religious vows are intended to be a public promise to conduct oneself according to the ideas and views espoused by the religion to which one makes the vows and to devote the one's life to religious service.
Different religions throughout the world require a votarist, or person who has made religious vows, to make different promises or vows. Aside from vowing to devote his or her life to God, Jesus, or the religion's equivalent, a votarist often must also take a vow of chastity, obedience, and/or poverty. Not all religions, however, require a vow of chastity, particularly the more modern religions.
The vow of chastity is often the most controversial and debated vow in modern times. Many religions, such as the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, and Buddhist religions, still require a vow of chastity from anyone who plans to commit his or her life to religious service. Many western religions, predominantly Christian religions, have done away with the requirement that a religious worker remain celibate for his or her lifetime in order to serve God. As a result, many Christian pastors, priests, and ministers are allowed to marry and maintain a secular family as well.
In most religions, religious vows are only taken after a lengthy period of study or education. Some religions offer formal, secular degrees in theology, while others require a religious worker to to live within the church, monastery, or other religious community in order to learn the necessary lessons associated with the vows he or she plans to take. In addition, many religions have more than one set of vows, depending on the degree to which the individual is committing himself or herself, or the "rank" that he or she holds within the religion.
In most cases, the reciting of religious vows is a very serious and somber event. Most religions have ancient ceremonies that are still used for the taking of religious vows. Although each religion has its own specific ceremony and wording for the vows taken by men and women, the basic idea in most cases is that the individual promises to devote his or her life to serving God, or the equivalent, within the religion.