Organisations, movements and members - beliefs in society

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  • Created on: 22-03-16 10:12

Types of religious organisations

Church and sect

1. Churches are large, with millions of members, place few demands on members, have bureacratic hierachy, claim a monopoly of truth and are universalistic, ideologically conservative and linked to the state.

2. Sects are small, exclusive groups demanding real commitment from members, are hostile to wider society, recruit from the poor and oppressed, often have charismatic leadership and believe they have a monopoly of religious truth.

Denomination and cult 

Niebuhr (1929) identifies denominations as midway between churches and sects. Membership is less exclusive, but are not as demanding as sects and are tolerant of other religions. 

- Cults are the least organised of all religion organisations. They are highly individualistic,. Many are world-affirming.  

New religious movements (NMRs) 

Wallis (1984) categorises NRMs into three gorups based on their relationship to the outside world:

1. World-rejecting NRMs have a clear notion of God, are highly critical of the outside world and expect radical change. Members must break from their former lives. 

2. World-accommodating NRMs are often breakaways from existing churches. They focus on religious rather than worldly matters. Members tend to lead conventional lives. 

3. World-affirming NRMs offer followers access to spiritual or supernatural powers and accept the world as it is, promising followers success in their goals. Followers are often customers rather than members. 

Sects and cults 

Sects result from splits in existing organisations breaking away and offering other-worldly benefits to those suffering economic or ethical deprivation.

Cults are new religions or ones that have been imported. They offer this-worldly benefits to individuals suffering psychic or health deprivation. 

S&B subdivide cults according to how organised they are.

Audience cults - the least organised, with no formal membership and little interaction between members.

Client cults - a consultant/client relationship, with 'therapies' promising personal fulfilment. 

Cultic movements - more organised, exclusivist, requiring high levels of commitment, claiming to meet all their members' religious needs.

Explaining the growth of religious movements

1. Marginality 

Weber (1922) argued that sects appeal to disprivileged groups who are marginal to society. 

2. Relative deprivation 

It is possible for someone who is priveliged to feel deprived compared to someone else.

- People may then turn to sects for a sense of community.

Evaluation - Relative deprivation offers an alternative explanation to marginality. 

3. Social changes and NRMs 

Wilson (1970) argues that periods of rapid change undermine established norms, producing anomie. Those most affected may turn to sects. Social change may also stimulate the growth of NRMs today:

- World-rejecting NRMs - While the growth of radical political movements offered alternative ideas about the future, World-rejecting NRMs were attractive  because they offered a more ideaslistic way of life.

- World affirming NRMs have grownin response to modernity. World-affirming NRMs provide both a sense of identity and techniques promising worldly success. 

The dynamics of sects and NRMs9

Denomination or death Within a generation, they either die out or compromise with the world, abandoning their extreme ideas to become


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