In every expression of monotheistic faith a gap has developed, almost inevitably, between faith as defined theologically and faith as it finds expression in ordinary people’s lives. Needy humans easily fill the gulf with alternative ‘beings’, to whom they can appeal more readily for help.
This common feature of divorce between theology and what might be called religious imagination is as true of Judaism and Christianity as it is of Islam. That official form contrasts with the ‘popular’, ‘informal’, ‘low’, ‘non-official’ or ‘folk’ aspect of religious expression.
Official religion tends to deal with universal issues underlying ideas of origin, destiny and ultimate meaning in life. That revelation continues as normative.
Official religion finds its social expression in complex institutions. Within the religious organization, then, emphasis placed on specialization, leadership, orthodox belief and practice, bureaucracy and self-preservation.
Official religion also provides a moral and ethical motive for its adherents, derived from the data of revelation in which clear commands and expectations expressed by God. Such guidelines are normally codified and protected with sanctions in the religious community concerned.
Popular religion, by contrast, tends to deal with the problems of immediate, every day life. It is not highly institutionalised. As a result, informally organized, localised and closely linked to places or persons possessing intrinsic power.
Often popular religion is amoral in its attitude towards life. If the spirits can aid or appease, ordinary believers will appeal to them.
Perception of those spirits’ attitudes to the world of humans ruled in the same pragmatic sense. If human beings offend them, such as by intruding unwelcome into their ‘space’, the spirits hurt them.
This is a somewhat artificial delineation between the theological, sociological and ethical aspects of official and popular religion and people will still see themselves as genuine Jews, or Christians, or Muslims.