Types of Religious Organisation

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Roman Catholic Church, Islam, Sikhism


  • Large organisations often with millions of members.
  • Universalistic and aim to include all of society.
  • However more attractive to higher classes.
  • Ideologically conservative.
  • Run by a bureaucratic hierarchy.
  • Claim a monopoly of truth.
  • Closely linked to the state.
    • e.g. British sovereign head of state and CofE.
  • Place few demands on members.


  • Churches see only their interpretation of faith as legitimate.
  • Seen as respectable/legitimate by wider society.
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Methodists, Baptists, Sunni, Shi'ah


  • Midway between churches and sects.
  • Less exclusive that sects but don't appeal to all of society.
  • Accept society's values.
  • Not linked to the state.
  • Minor restricttions on members
    • e.g. forbidding alcohol.
  • Tolerant of other religious organisations.
  • Don't claim monopoly of truth.


  • Accept that there are many valid interpretations of faith.
  • Seen as respectable/legitimate by wider society.
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Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, People's Temple, Islamic State


  • Small, exclusive groups (hostile to wider society).
  • Require high level of commitment from members.
  • Draw members from marginalised and oppressed.
  • Led by a charasmatic leader.
  • Claim a monopoly of truth.


  • Claim that only their view is legitimate.
  • Seen as deviant by wider society.


  • Bom out of schism.
  • Promise other-worldly benefits to economically or ethically deprived.
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Divination, Scientology, Astrology, Holistic Therapies


  • Highly individualistic, loose-knit small groups.
  • No sharply defined or exclusive belief system.
  • Usually led by practitioners or therapists.
  • Tolerant of other organisations.
  • Do not demand strong commitment.
  • World-affirming.


  • Accept that there are many valid interpretations of faith.
  • Seen as deviant by wider society.


  • Offer this-worldly benefits to those suffering psychic deprivation.
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World-rejecting NRMs

The Moonies, Krisha Conciousness, Children of God, Manson Family, Branch Davidians


  • Clear notion of God.
  • Highly critical of the outside world.
  • Seek radical change.
  • Members must make a sharp break with their former lives to achieve salvation.
  • Members live comunally and are restricted from the outside world.
  • Movements control members' lives (are often accused of brainwashing).
  • Have conservative moral codes.
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World-accommodating NRMs

Neo-Pentecostalists, Subud


  • Often breakaways from existing mainstream churches or denominations.
  • Neither accept or reject the world.
  • Focus on religious matters rather than worldy matters.
  • Seek to restore spiritual purity of religion.
  • Members lead conventional lives.
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Cultic Subdivisions


  • Audience Cults
    Astrology, UFO Cults
    • Least organised.
    • Do not involve formal membership or committment.
    • Little interaction between members.
    • Participation can be through media.
  • Client Cults
    Homeopathy, Spiritualism
    • Based on consultant-client relationships.
    • Provide services to followers.
    • Emphasis on therapies promising personal fulfillment and self-discovery.
  • Cultic Movements
    Moonies, Scientology
    • Most organised and demand higher level of commitment.
    • Aim to meet all members' religious needs.
    • Members rarely allowed to belong to other religious groups.
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