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Religious Organisations

Religious organisations can be broadly grouped into four main types:

  • Churches
  • Denominations
  • Sects
  • Cults

Church A large, formal religious organisation most commonly associated with Christianity. The church is identified to have the following features;

  • Large, formal organisation
  • Hierarchy of paid officials
  • Automatic recruitment
  • Accepts wider society
  • May have close relationship with the state
  • Claims a monopoly of religious truth

Denomination Smaller, formal religious groups, which developed from sects tht had broken away from the main church. Neibuhr 1929 provided the first analysis of denominations that have steadily increased over the last 200 years, he recognised that denominations share some characterists of the chrch.

  • Large, formal organisation
  • Hierarchy of paid officdials
  • Tres to appeal to all members of society,        however
  • No claim on monopoogy of religious truth
  • Accept religious diversity
  • No close relationship with the stae
  • May not fully accept wider society

Sect  Small, religious group, often hostile to the outside word. Troelstch's defintion of sects show that they are in direct contrast to the church:

  • Small organisation with no professional hierarchy
  • Headed by a charistmatic leader
  • Exclusive membership
  • No automatic recruitment
  • Requirs total commitment of members
  • Opposed to the state and wider society
  • Claims a monopoly of truth (like a church)

Sects tend to be born out of conflicts within the church, resulting in a small breakaway group. Stark and Bainbridge 1985 explain the difference between sects and cults very clearly - sects have broken away from an established religious group whereas cults have no previous link.

Cult tend to not have a developed theology or concept of God, they often have a vague mystical element such as astrology or tarot.

Wallis defined cults as having

  • Minimal organisational structure
  • Limited formal contact between members
  • No control over members lives
  • No claim on monopoly of truth
  • Tend to be short lived

Stark and Bainbridge identified 3 types of cults;

1. Audience cults - people participate in lectures, seminars and workshops (low level of commitment)

2. Client cults - people participate as clients, attending occassional meetings when they have specific needs rather than join as members

3. Cult movements - membership is required and there is a development toward the status of a SECT.

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