Beliefs in society: Religious organisations


Religious organisations: Church characteristics

  • Anyone can join but more attractive to higher classes because ideologically conservative
  • Place few demands on members
  • Have large numbers of members
  • Some rituals associated with becoming a member such as christening
  • Hierarchical organisation with paid clergy
  • Worship is structured and restrained
  • Claim to be the source of the true word
  • Close and harmonious relationship with government
  • Have been around for a long time
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Religious organisations: Church definition

A stable and formal organisation of religious believers. It is generally integrated with other social institutions, such as schools and the family. It has an organised clerical hierarchy and a fixed body of doctrine that fits in with the acceptable beliefs of society. For example, the Catholic church, the Church of England.

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Religious organisations: Denomination definition

One of a number of minority religious organisations that are broadly considered acceptable by society. Unlike a church, a denomination generally avoids any formal connection with the state. In Britain, Methodists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are common ones and among black communities, Neo Pentecostalism is popular. Wallis refers to them as world accommodating NRM’s.

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Religious organisations: Denomination characterist

  • Anyone can join but they don’t have the universal appeal that churches do.
  • Often a breakaway group from a church which may mean they’re less attractive to the higher classes and they’re less conservative.
  • Usually less members than churches.
  • Members may have rules imposed such as a ban on alcohol.
  • Degree of commitment is up to members but tend to be more involved than church members.
  • Less hierarchical than a church and few paid clergy.
  • Worship is often simple with less ceremony.
  • Tolerant of other faiths and don’t claim a monopoly on truth.
  • Broadly accept society’s values but keep feel society has lost its spirituality hence need for the group.
  • Have been around long enough to be ‘respectable’.




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Religious organisations: Sect definition

Smaller and less formally organised than a church or denomination. It is often insular and sometimes at odds with the beliefs of society. It is common for sects to have few or no officials. They are usually formed by people protesting about established religion straying from the “correct” teaching. They are often based around the discovery of a new “prophet”. For example, The Moonies, Heaven’s Gate.

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Religious organisations: Sect characteristics

  • Exclusive membership of true believers.
  • Commitment demanded of members is very high.
  • Tend to be small groups under the control of a single charismatic leader.
  • Tend to be short lived and often for no more than a generation.
  • Weber argued they attract the marginalised.
  • Worship is often very intense and there’s often no rituals.
  • Claim to be the only source of the truth and belief in that is the only source of salvation for members.
  • Totally separate from wider society and state.
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Religious organisations: Cult definition

Smaller and less formally organised than a church or denomination, Cults claim no monopoly of religious truth and there is often a spiritual association that emphasises individualism. There are different types of cults; audience cults that provide information, for example astrology. Client cults that offer services, for example spiritualists and cult movements that offer support, for example scientology.

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Religious organisations: Cult characteristics

  • Membership open to anyone and members are treated as clients so may have to pay.
  • Members are treated as individuals rather than gathering for group ceremonies.
  • Membership may be short lived and people leave when they have learnt the techniques on offer.
  • Members can belong to other religious organisations at the same time.
  • No worship because emphasis is on freeing up some internal potential.
  • Tolerant of other beliefs.
  • Cults aim to improve life in this world and so are perfectly accepting of society.
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