· Churches- A church is a large, well established religious body, such as the mainstream organisations that represent the major world religions- Christian churches.
· Sects- A sect is a smaller, less highly organised grouping of committed believers, usually setting itself up in protest at what a church as become.
· Denominations- According to Becker, a denomination is a sect that has 'cooled down' to become an institutionalised body rather than an active protest group. Niebuhr argues that sects that survive over time become denominations because a bureaucratic, non-hierarchical structure becomes necessary once the charismatic leader dies.
· Cults- Most sociologists agree that cults are the least coherent form of religious organisation. The focus of cults tends to be on individual experience bringing like-minded individuals together.
In terms of membership, churches are more important than sects. The former tend to have thousands/millions of members whereas sect members usually number no more than a few hundred.
Post modernity and organised religion
· According to Lyotard, postmodern society is characterised by a loss of confidence in meta narratives- the 'grand' explanations provided by religions, politics, science etc.
· This has led to what Bauman calls a 'crisis of meaning'. Traditional religions seem unable to deal with this crisis. Take, for example, the social conflicts cause in the name of religion and religion's inability to reconcile this with the claim to preach love rather than hate. Consequently, newer expressions of religiosity have become more individualistic and less socially divisive. This has enabled individuals to restore meaning to their lives without having to rely on religious institutions imposing their monopoly of truth. This can be seen in the rise of NRMs and NAMs.
· There has been a rise in religious fundamentalism e.g. Zionist groups in Israel. In the past 30 years, both Islamic and Christian fundamentalism have grown in strength, largely in response to the policies of modernising governments and the shaping of national and international politics by globalisation. The increasing influence on Western consumerism may be perceived as a threat to their faith and identity, thus provoking a defensive fundamentalist response.
· As Bauman puts it, fundamentalist tendencies may articulate the experience of people on the receiving end of globalisation. Fundamentalism can sometimes lead to violence, especially where fundamentalists value their beliefs above tolerance of those who do not share them. In some cases, these beliefs can be so strong as to overcome any respect or compassion for others.