In everyday language cults and sects are used interchangeably.
However cults differ from sects because;
- Their belief system do not always involve a belief in god/’s
- Many lack clear rules in how supporters should behave
- Rather than having ‘believers’ they have customers who buy the services of the organisations and are not required to have a great commitment
Alternative Definitions by sociologists
Steve Bruce (1995) defines cult as a
“closely knit group organised around some common themes and interests, lacking any sharply defined and exclusive belief system”
Stark and Bainbridge (1985) offer different definition of cults, claiming they involve charaecteristics novel to a particular society.
They haven’t broken away from a belief system but simply made their own, often based on science fiction or Freudian phycology. Eg. Jedi base on star wars
Wallis: Definitions of organisations and New Relig
Wallis' definition of Religious Organisations
Distinguishes organisations in his general typology according to whether they are:
Respectable Seen as conforming to norms and values of society
Deviant Not seen to conform to norms and values of society
Uniquely Legitimate They believe they habe the only true religion and no others should be accepted
Pluralistically Legitimate They except the right of other belief systems to exist
New Religious Movements (wallis)
In the 1960/70's rapid growth was a rapid groeth in small religious organisations
Wallis (1984) described these organisations as NRM's
He distinguishes between three types of NRM's;
1. World-Regeting NRM's
2. World-Affirming NRM's
1. World-Regeting NRM's
World Rejecting have to most in common with sects
Their beleifs are ritical of the outside world and often seek radical change.
- To achieve salvation may be necessary to have break with conventional life, acting as total institutions controlling every aspect of members life.
- Members highly discipline and commit to an ascetic life (devote life to religion rather than pleas).
- They have a reputation for brainwashing members, and family mebers often cut off, leaving them no understanding as to why they joined movement.
- Most World Rejecting NRM’s base live around a commune.
EG. Peoples Temple, Branch Davidsons and the Children of God
Key Study: PEOPLES TEMPLE
Set up in 1955 by Reverned Jim Jones
- Members both affluent whites and black ghetto dwellers form Northern California.
- Radical ideology a mix of religion and Marxism.
- Sect strictly controlled by the charismatic leader who was able to perform medical miracles.
- Under investigation of US authorities, J.J moved the sect to the rainforest of Guyana where they withdrew from outside world.
- 1978 in another investigation US congressman and several journalists killed.
- Fearing consequences group committed mass suicide.
- Entire sect of 900 died of poisoning.
- Most suicidal but some appeared to have been injected.
2. World-Affirming NRM's
Lack the typical characteristics of religion; some do not involve a beleif in God
- Do not turn against world, but are psoitive about it, but argue individuals lack the spirituality which prevents them form fufilment and success
- They offer their followers acces to supernatural/spiritual powers that will enahance ability of fufilment and success
- Followers unl;iekly to live in commune, or give up niormal lives, just practice some world affiriming practices. However, some extreme followers do give up normal life to follow movement
- Examples include Transcendental Meditation(TM), Erhard Seminsars Training(EST) and Scientology
Key Study; TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION
TM based on Hindu Religion when first introduced to West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950's.
- Who for a while was followed the Beatles.
- Meditation technique which focuses on individual mantra concentrated on for around 20 minutes per day.
- Technique claimed to provide ‘unbounded awareness, with benefits for individual and society.
- Most followers pay for few sessions to learn then practice at home.
- There are a few committed followers who base their lives around Transcendental Meditation.
3. World Accommodating NRM's
These are often offshoots of existing Churches or Denominations
- Typically they neither accept nor reject the world as itis, they simply live with it
- They are concrened more with religious rather than woldly questions
- Such groups seek to restore religious purity to a religion they believe has lost tis commitment to its core values
- Examples include Subud (Islam) and Neo-Pentiostalism (Christianity)
The Middle Gorund
Wllis accepets some organisations do not fit neatly into his typology
eg memebrs may live in commounes but still go out and ahve conventional jobs (Salv.army)
For Example Healthy, Happy, Holy Organisation based a[prtly upon sikhism were peopel live in communes/ashrams, but work outside the sect aswell
- Meher Baba
- Divine Light Mission