Characteristics of Institutions

A breakdown of the characteristics of a church, demonination, sect, cult, NRM's and NAM's. 

HideShow resource information


Most argue that 'church' refers to a large organisation which is often linked to the state. Most churches fit in with the status quo of the society they belong to, meaning that membes go along with the norms and values of that particular society.

1 of 6


In the UK, the term denomination is usually used to refer to branches of the Christian church, for example, Baptists, Methodists etc.

Stark and Bainbridge use the term to describe 'diluted churches'. They are seperate from the state and more open to new ideas but they are astill usually hierarchial structures and conform to the norms and values of society.

2 of 6


The difference between a sect and a cult causes much confusion. Generally, sects are seen as a little bit deviant but generally conform to the way things are in the world evenv if they have somewhat a different take on it.

Sects are generally smaller than churches and often have grown out of mainstream churches in protest over some issues.

3 of 6


Cults seem to be seen as 'world rejecting' and they are usually critical of mainstream society and of other religious organisations. They tend to be small in size with highly committed members. Some cults have very charasmatic leaders and require their members to cut all ties with their old lifes when they join, including their family, friends and jobs.

Case Study: Jonestown 1978
The peoples temple, led by Jim Jones invovled themselves in a mass suicide in 1978 when 900 members took their lives. Most of the dead, who were members of the peoples temple, had consumed a soft drink laced with cyanide and sedatives.

Case Study: Waco, Texas 1993
Approximately 77 cult members including David Koresh, their leader, died in a fire. Some cult members, including David Koresh, were found to have died of gunshot wounds.

4 of 6

New Religious Movements (NAM's)

Broken down into three groups to solve the trouble with defining sects and cults. Usually refers to a group of worshippers, however, they may not necessilary be christian. They have usually undergone some kind of conversion experience however they are often outcasted in society and treated with suspicion.

Wallis (1995) talks about:

World Rejecting New Religious Movements:
Members are expected to cut ties with past jobs, lifes, family and often live within a new community. Example: The Moonies.

World Affirming New Religious Movments:
Members live in the real world but see themselves as finding new ways to relate to it, therefore their 'enlightenment' brings more joy and contentment.

World Accommodating New Religious Movements:
Emphasise the importance of religious experiences, live & work in the real world.

5 of 6

New Age Movements: Audience and Client Cults

Audience Cults:

Resemble loose knit lectures circuits where members can participate in lectures, seminars and workshops of their choice. Involvement is less confrontational and face-to-face and more likely to involve privatised activities such as reading literature.

Key Example: Astrology

Client Cults:

Offer specific types of services to their members. Therapists have exapanded in many different fields to 'help' clients get to grips with aspects of their lifes.

Have argued that many NAM practices are more concerned with making money than offering real benefits to members.

6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Religion and beliefs resources »