A writer of hymns is known as a hymnist or hymnodist, and the process of singing a hymn is called hymnody; the same word is used for the collectivity of hymns belonging to a particular denomination or period (e.g. "nineteenth century Methodist hymnody" would mean the body of hymns written and/or used by Methodists in the nineteenth century). Books called hymnals are collections of hymns, which may or may not include music.
In the contemporary world, hymns are associated with Christianity and directed toward God. Most Christian worship services incorporate congregational singing of hymns, with the congretation usually accompanied by an organ. Certainly, the tradition of choral singing as an act of Christian worship has given the various traditions within Christianity a rich lode of hymns. It should be noted that within certain modern Christian musical traditions, especially in many Baptist churches, a distinction is made between praise songs and hymns. This distinction is not perfectly clear; however it is a matter of much debate, even sometimes within a single congregation, between revivalist and traditionalist movements.
The Western tradition of hymnody begins with Homer, who is given credit for the Homeric Hymns in praise of the gods of Greek mythology. Other ancient hymns include the Great Hymn to the Aten composed by the pharaoh Akhenaten. The Vedas are a collection of very old hymns in the tradition of Hinduism.
Some hymnists and their more well known hymns are:
- Thomas Aquinas : Pange Lingua
- Thomas of Celaeno : Dies Iræ
- William Cowper : There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
- Johann Gerhardt : O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
- George Herbert : Rejoice! The Lord is king!
- Martin Luther : A Mighty Fortress is Our God
- John Newton : Amazing Grace
- Isaac Watts : When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
- Charles Wesley : Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
- John Greenleaf Whittier : Dear Lord and Father of mankind