In the sociology of religion a sect is generally a smaller religious or political group that has broken off from a larger group; for example from a large, well-established religious group, like a "denomination", usually due to a dispute about doctrinal matters.

In its historical usage in Christendom the term has a pejorative connotation and refers to a movement committed to heretical beliefs and that often deviated from orthodox practices. [Wilson, Bryan "Religion in Sociological Perspective" 1982, ISBN 0-19-826664-2 Oxford University Press page 89
"In English, it is a term that designates a religiously separated group, but in its historical usage in Christendom it carried a distinctly pejorative connotation. A sect was a movement committed to heretical beliefs and often to ritual acts and practices that departed from orthodox religious procedures."

A sect as used in an Indian context refers to an organized tradition.


The word "sect" comes from the Latin "secta" (from "sequi" to follow), meaning (1) a course of action or way of life, (2) a behavioural code or founding principles, (3) a specific philosophical school or doctrine. "Sectarius" or "sectilis" also refer to a scission or cut, but this meaning is, in contrast to popular opinion, unrelated to the etymology of the word. A "sectator" is a loyal guide, adherent or follower.

ociological definitions and descriptions

There are several different sociological definitions and descriptions for the term. [McCormick Maaga, Mary excerpt from her book "Hearing the Voices of Jonestown" (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998) [ available online] ] Among the first to define them were Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch (1931). [McCormick Maaga, Mary excerpt from her book "Hearing the Voices of Jonestown" (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998) [ available online] ] In the church-sect typology they are described as newly formed religious groups that form to protest elements of their parent religion (generally a denomination). Their motivation tends to be situated in accusations of apostasy or heresy in the parent denomination; they are often decrying liberal trends in denominational development and advocating a return to true religion. The American sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge assert that "sects claim to be authentic purged, refurbished version of the faith from which they split". [Stark, Rodney, and Williams Sims Bainbridge (1979) "Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18, no 2: 117-33] They further assert that sects have, in contrast to churches, a high degree of tension with the surrounding society. [Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge (1985) "The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, and Cult formation" Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press]

Sectarianism is sometimes defined in the sociology of religion as a worldview that emphasizes the unique legitimacy of believers' creed and practices and that heightens tension with the larger society by engaging in boundary-maintaining practices. [McGuire, Meredith B. "Religion: the Social Context" fifth edition (2002) ISBN 0-534-54126-7 page 338]

A religious or political cult, by contrast, also has a high degree of tension with the surrounding society, but its beliefs are, within the context of that society, new and innovative. Whereas the cult is able to enforce its norms and ideas against members, a sect normally doesn't strictly have "members" with definite obligations, only followers, sympathisers, supporters or believers.

Mass-based socialist, social-democratic, labor and communist parties often had their historical origin in utopian sects, and also subsequently produced many sects, which split off from the mass party. In particular, the communist parties from 1919 experienced numerous splits; some of them, it is argued, were sects from their foundation.

One of the main factors that seems to produce political sects is the rigid continued adherence to a doctrine or idea after its time has passed, or after it has ceased to have clear applicability to a changing reality.

The English sociologist Roy Wallis [Barker, E. "New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction" (1990), Bernan Press, ISBN 0-11-340927-3] argues that a sect is characterized by “epistemological authoritarianism”: sects possess some authoritative locus for the legitimate attribution of heresy. According to Wallis, “sects lay a claim to possess unique and privileged access to the truth or salvation and “their committed adherents typically regard all those outside the confines of the collectivity as 'in error'”. He contrasts this with a cult that he described as characterized by “epistemological individualism” by which he means that “the cult has no clear locus of final authority beyond the individual member.” [Wallis, Roy "The Road to Total Freedom A Sociological analysis of Scientology" (1976) [ available online (bad scan)] ] [Wallis, Roy "Scientology: Therapeutic Cult to Religious Sect" [ abstract only] (1975)]

In Islam

In Hinduism

The Indologist Axel Michaels writes in his book about Hinduism that in an Indian context the word “sect does not denote a split or excluded community, but rather an organized tradition, usually established by founder with ascetic practices.” And according to Michaels, “Indian sects do not focus on heresy, since the lack of a center or a compulsory center makes this impossible – instead, the focus is on adherents and followers.” [ [ Alex Michaels] "Hinduism past and Present" (2004) Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-08952-3, translated from German "Der Hinduismus" (1998) page 319]

In Christianity

Early Christianity started as a Jewish sect. [ [ Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies] ] [ [ Online Journal of Christian Theology and Philosophy] ]

Roman Catholic sects

There are many groups outside the Roman Catholic church which are regarded as Catholic sects, such as the Community of the Lady of All Nations, the Palmarian Catholic Church, the Philippine Independent Church, the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, the Free Catholic Church, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and othersFact|date=December 2007

In countries with strong Orthodox traditions

In some European countries where Protestantism has never gained much popularity, Orthodox churches (both Greek and Roman) often depict Protestant groups (especially smaller ones) as sects. This can be observed, among others, in Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.Fact|date=September 2008

In countries with strong Protestant traditions

The word sect is often use to label groups referred to as cults.Fact|date=September 2008

Corresponding words in other European languages

In European languages other than English the corresponding words for 'sect', such as "secte" (French), "secta" (Spanish), "seita" (Portuguese), "sekta" (Polish), "sekt" (Swedish), "sekte" (Dutch), "Sekte" (German) or "szekta" (Hungarian), are used sometimes to refer to a harmful religious or political sect, similar to how English-speakers popularly use the word "cult". In France, since the 1970s, "secte" has a specific meaning, which is very different from the English word. [Esquerre Arnaud, « Lutter contre les sectes : l’invention d’un psycho-pouvoir », "Le Banquet", n°24, feb. 2007, p. 199-212]

ee also

* Cult
* Ecclesia (sociology of religion)
* List of religious sects
* Religious denomination
* Sectarianism
* Sociology of religion


External links

* [ Three Groups in One by Mary McCormick Maaga] excerpt from her book "Hearing the Voices of Jonestown (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998)
* [ Apologetics Index: research resources on cults, sects, and related issues.] The publisher operates from an evangelical Christian point of view, but the site links to and presents a variety of viewpoints.
* [] Current news articles about religious cults, sects, and related issues.
* [ Church sect theory] by William H. Swatos, Jr . in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society by Swatos (editor)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sect — (s[e^]kt), n. [F. secte, L. secta, fr. sequi to follow; often confused with L. secare, sectum, to cut. See {Sue} to follow, and cf. {Sept}, {Suit}, n.] Those following a particular leader or authority, or attached to a certain opinion; a company… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sect — sect, sectarianism The sociology of religion developed a model of religious organization which is referred to as the ‘church sect typology’. As originally formulated by Max Weber (The Sociology of Religion, 1922) and Ernst Troeltsch (The Social… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Sect — (s[e^]kt), n. [L. secare, sectum, to cut.] A cutting; a scion. [Obs.] Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • -sect — [sekt] 〚< L sectus, pp. of secare, to cut: see SAW1〛 combining form forming adjectives cut, separated [pinnatisect] * * * sect suff. 1. To cut; divide: trisect. 2. Cut; divided …   Universalium

  • sect — [sekt] n [Date: 1300 1400; : Old French; Origin: secte group, sect , from Latin secta way of life, type of people , from sequi to follow ] a group of people with their own particular set of beliefs and practices, especially within or separated… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • sect — (n.) c.1300, distinctive system of beliefs or observances; party or school within a religion, from O.Fr. secte, from L.L. secta religious group, sect, from L. secta manner, mode, following, school of thought, lit. a way, road, from fem. of sectus …   Etymology dictionary

  • sect — sect1 [sekt] n. [ME secte < MFr < L secta, path, way, method, party, faction, in LL(Ec), doctrine, sect < sequi, to follow: see SEQUENT] 1. a religious body or denomination, esp. a small group that has broken away from an established… …   English World dictionary

  • Sect — (verderbt aus Sec, v. ital. Vino secco, d.i. trockener Wein, Trockenbeerwein), 1) der Name mehrer starken, süßen Weine, bes. wenn sie aus fast trockenen (gewelkten) Beeren gekeltert sind u. daher die genannten Eigenschaften in höherem Grade… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Sect — Sect, heißen mehrere Sorten starker spanischer Weine. Zu den besten gehört der Xeres , Malaga , Kanarien und Palmsect …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Sect — nennen die Engländer mehre starke, süße span. Weine (von secco, trocken, weil aus überreifen, halbgetrockneten Trauben bereitet) …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • sect — index class, denomination, side, society, split Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.