Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Oath from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

A formally affirmed promise to fulfill a pledge, often to God or an other form of deity. An oath is an attestation of the truthfulness of statements made by an individual and often has religious significance. In legal cases, individuals who address the court are asked to take an oath before their testimony. Failure to respect the oath constitutes a criminal offense (perjury).

See also

Perjury, Testimony


Summary Article: oath
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

vocal affirmation of the truth of one's statements, generally made by appealing to a deity. From the earliest days of human history, calling upon the gods of a community to witness the truth of a statement or the solemnity of a promise has been commonly practiced. The force of the oath depends on the belief that supernatural powers will punish falsehood spoken under oath or the violation of a promise. The oath thus performs wide legal and quasi-legal functions. It was the basis of the medieval process of compurgation. It is still used in legal proceedings today: Thus, a jury is sworn in, and a witness takes an oath before testifying. In modern times, the force of the oath is strengthened by punishment for perjury. Difficulties have arisen in cases of atheists or of persons with religious scruples against oath-taking (e.g., Quakers), but statutes have now generally been modified so that a witness may affirm his intention to tell the truth without appealing to a deity. The main classes of oaths are the assertory oath, which concerns past or present facts, and the promissory oath, which refers to future conduct (such as that taken by an alien upon naturalization or by a high government official on assuming office). In the 1950s, fear of Communist subversion led many governmental and educational institutions to institute loyalty oaths, which required employees to swear to their non-membership in the Communist party or other presumptively subversive organizations. In the 1960s these loyalty oath requirements were invalidated by the Supreme Court.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Articles


Full text Article oath
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A solemn promise to tell the truth when giving evidence in a court of law or when making a sworn written statement (an affidavit ), usually...

Full text Article Oath
Brewer's Britain and Ireland

Probably ‘oath’ (perhaps denoting land promised for some purpose as a vow), OE ath. A village in the Somerset Levels ( see under SOMERSET...

Full text Article oath
Collins Italian Dictionary

[ əθ ] n 1 ( solemn promise ) giuramento; under or on oath sotto giuramento; to put sb on or under oath to do sth far...

See more from Credo