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Social functions and dysfunctions of religion

Sect and Cult

The classification of churches or religious groups into cults, sects, denominations and ecclesias indicates different methods of relating to the society. The chief feature of a religious sect is that it is a voluntary association. A sect is a small religious group that has branched off of a larger established religion.

Sects have many beliefs and practices in common with the religion that they have broken off from, but are differentiated by a number of doctrinal differences.

The word sect comes from the latin secta, meaning an organized religious body or organization, from Latin, meaning a course of action or way of life. Sociologists use the word sect to refer to a religious group with a high degree of tension with the surrounding society, but whose beliefs are (within the context of that society) largely traditional. A sect seeks to impose a rigid pattern of ideal conduct on its members but seeks toleration rather than change from the larger society.

Sects are concerned with purity of doctrine and with the depth of genuineness of religions feeling. As a result, demands are made upon the member to be an active participant, even a leader or missionary, as a warrant of his faith. The emphasis on purity of belief tends to create intolerance toward other groups and moves the sect toward critical assessment of the secular world in accordance with the ideals of the gospel. A cult, by contrast, also has a high degree of tension with the surrounding society, but its beliefs are (within the context of that society) new and innovative. It may seek to transform society but more often concentrate upon creating satisfying group experience.

The denomination is a major religious group which hopes that a separation of church and state will enable it to be influential even though not dominant. The ecclesia is a church claiming to be the spiritual expression of the total society.