Henotheism (Greek εἷς θεός heis theos "one god") is a term coined by Max Müller, to mean devotion to a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities. 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". Henotheism is similar but less exclusive than monolatry because a monolator worships only one god, while the henotheist may worship any within the pantheon, depending on circumstances. In some belief systems, the choice of the supreme deity within a henotheistic framework may be determined by cultural, geographical, historical or political reasons.
The Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus taught that above the gods of traditional belief was "The One" and Maximus of Madauros even stated that only a mad person would deny the existence of a single God.
Contemporary Hinduism is mostly monistic, or in some instances monotheistic, see Hindu views on monotheism. The concept of Brahman implies a transcendent and immanent reality, which different schools of thought variously interpret as personal, impersonal or transpersonal. With the rise of Shaivism and Vaishnavism in the early centuries CE, Hinduism can largely be considered monotheistic, although the monism of Advaita school following Adi Shankara (see Smartism), is generally viewed as 'inclusive' monotheism. The Devas of the historical Vedic religion are usually confused with demigods or angels, but they are better described as "celestial gods" or deities representing personification of supernatural forces within material nature. The Rigveda was the basis for Max Müller's description of henotheism in the sense of a polytheistic tradition striving towards a formulation of The One (ekam) Divinity aimed at by the worship of different cosmic principles. From this mix of monism, monotheism and naturalist polytheism Max Müller decided to name the early Vedic religion henotheistic. A prime example of the monistic aspects of the late Rigveda is the Nasadiya sukta, a hymn describing creation: "That One breathed by itself without breath, other than it there has been nothing."
Many Christians believe in a pantheon of angels, demons, and/or Saints that are inferior to the Trinity. Christians do not label these beings as gods per se, although they are sometimes the object of prayer and some signs of honor. Mainline Christian churches which permit prayer to saints, however, insist that such prayer is only proper when limited to asking for the angel or saint's intercession to God. They are adamant that saints possess no powers of their own, and any miracle able to be attributed to their intercession is the product of the power of God and not any supernatural power of the saint. Were there to be any aspect of worship toward these angelic or saintly figures, then the matter would reflect polytheism, rather than henotheism, monolatry, or monotheism. This stance and use of the acknowledgment of other heavenly beings (Saints, most often) during prayer is primarily practiced in traditional Catholicism, whereas the vast majority of Protestant denominations hold God as being the only appropriate object of worship.
Such practices could be construed, however, as acts reflecting monolatrism rather than henotheism, and it is thusly important to note that, within a religious belief system, the acknowledgement of angels, saints, or any other spiritual entities does not immediately imply their worship nor their worthiness of receiving worship.
When Christianity was adopted by Greco-Roman pagans or African slaves, the new converts often attributed to these saints features of their previous polytheistic figures. In some cases, these beliefs have developed out of the Catholic Church and form syncretisms like Santeria. These beliefs are somewhat similar to modern Hinduism which distinguishes between God in the form of Vishnu or Shiva, and devas which are subordinate to God and who supervise forces of nature such as Agni (i.e., fire) or Vayu (i.e., wind).
Some non-trinitarian Christian denominations have also been labeled henotheistic:
Several Biblical stories allude to the belief that the Canaanite gods all existed and possessed the most power in the lands that worshiped them or in their sacred objects; their power was real and could be invoked by the people who patronised them. There are numerous accounts of surrounding nations of Israel showing fear or reverence for the Israelite God despite their continued polytheistic practices. For instance, in 1 Samuel 4, the Philistines fret before the second battle of Aphek when they learn that the Israelites are bearing the Ark of the Covenant, and therefore Yahweh, into battle. In 2 Kings 5, the Aramean general Naaman insists on transporting Israelite soil back with him to Syria in the belief that only then will Yahweh have the power to heal him. The Israelites were forbidden to worship other deities, but according to some interpretations of the Bible, they were not fully monotheistic before the Babylonian Captivity. Mark S. Smith refers to this stage as a form of monolatry. Smith argues that Yahweh underwent a process of merging with El and that acceptance of cults of Asherah was common in the period of the Judges. 2 Kings 3:27 has been interpreted as describing a human sacrifice in Moab that led the invading Israelite army to fear the power of Chemosh.
According to the Five Books of Moses, Abraham is revered as the one who overcame the idol worship of his family and surrounding people by recognizing the Hebrew God and establishing a covenant with him and creating the foundation of what has been called by scholars "Ethical Monotheism". The first of the Ten Commandments can be interpreted to forbid the Children of Israel from worshiping any other god but the one true God who had revealed himself at Mount Sinai and given them the Torah, however it can also be read as henotheistic, since it states that they should have "no other gods before me." The commandment itself does not affirm or deny the existence of other deities per se. Nevertheless, as recorded in the Tanakh ("Old Testament" Bible), in defiance of the Torah's teachings, the patron god YHWH was frequently worshipped in conjunction with other gods such as Baal, Asherah, and El. Over time, this tribal god may have assumed all the appellations of the other gods in the eyes of the people. The destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon was considered a divine reprimand and punishment for the mistaken worship of other deities. By the end of the Babylonian captivity of Judah in the Tanakh, Judaism is strictly monotheistic. There are nonetheless seeming elements of "polytheism" in certain biblical books, such as God's reference to himself as "us" in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22, in Daniel's frequent use of the honorific "God of gods" and especially in the Psalms. Jewish scholars were aware of this, and expressed the opinion that although the verse can be understood wrongly, God was not afraid to write it in the Torah. However, the word God in Hebrew (Elohim) is also a plural, meaning "powerful ones" or "rulers". This is true in Hebrew as well as other related Canaanite languages. So "Elohim" could refer to any number of "rulers", such as angels, false gods (as defined by Torah), or even human holders of power including rulers or judges within Israel, as described in Exodus 21:6; 22:8-8, without violating the parameters of monotheism. Some scholars believe that Exodus 3:13-15 describes the moment when YHWH first tells Moses that he is the same god as El, the supreme being. This could be the recounting, in mythical form, of Israel's conversion to monotheism.