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14.6B: Sect

  • Page ID
    8404
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    A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political, or philosophical beliefs.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Evaluate the varying ways that sects have been understood over time.

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Although in the past the term “sect” was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles.
    • The historical usage of the term sect in Christianity has had pejorative connotations, referring to a group or movement with heretical beliefs or practices that deviate from those of groups considered orthodox.
    • Among the first to define sects were the sociologists Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch.
    • There are differences between sects and cults in the degree that members are recruited and kept. A sect may also have members who choose to leave later, whereas a cult uses any means necessary to keep its members, including coercion.
    • 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 society.
    • Sectarian violence refers to violence inspired by sectarianism. Some of the possible inputs for sectarian violence include power struggles, political climate, social climate, cultural climate, and economic landscape.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • cult: A group of people with a religious, philosophical or cultural identity sometimes viewed as a sect, often existing on the margins of society or exploitative towards its members.
    • sectarian violence: Sectarian violence or sectarian strife is violence inspired by sectarianism, that is, between different sects of one particular mode of ideology or religion within a nation or community.
    • sectarianism: Rigid adherence to a particular sect, party, or denomination.

    A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political, or philosophical beliefs. Although in the past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. The term is occasionally used in a malicious way to suggest the broken-off group follows a more negative path than the original. The historical usage of the term “sect” in Christianity has had pejorative connotations, referring to a group or movement with heretical beliefs or practices that deviate from those of groups considered orthodox.

    There are several different sociological definitions and descriptions for the term. Among the first to define them were the sociologists Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch. In the church-sect typology, sects are described as newly formed religious groups that form to protest elements of their parent religion. A sect differs from cults in the degree that members are recruited and kept. Whereas the cult is able to enforce its norms and ideas against members, a sect has followers, sympathizers, supporters, or believers. A sect may also have members who choose to leave later, whereas a cult uses any means necessary to keep its members, including coercion.

    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. Wherever people of different religions live in close proximity to each other, religious sectarianism can often be found in varying forms and degrees. In some areas, religious sectarians (for example Protestant and Catholic Christians in the United States) now exist peacefully side-by-side for the most part. Within Islam, there has been conflict at various periods between Sunnis and Shias. Shi’ites consider Sunnis to be damned, due to their refusal to accept the first Caliph as Ali and accept all following descendants of him as infallible and divinely guided. Many Sunni religious leaders, including those inspired by Wahhabism and other ideologies have declared Shias to be heretics and apostates.

    The ideological underpinnings of attitudes and behaviors labeled as sectarian are extraordinarily varied. Members of a religious or political group may believe that their own salvation, or the success of their particular objectives, requires aggressively seeking converts from other groups. Adherents of a given faction may believe that for the achievement of their own political or religious project their internal opponents must be purged. Sectarian violence refers to violence inspired by sectarianism. Some of the possible inputs for sectarian violence include power struggles, political climate, social climate, cultural climate, and economic landscape.

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    Church-sect continuum: Before describing these different religions, it is important for the reader to understand that these classifications are a good example of what sociologists refer to as ideal types. Ideal types are pure examples of the categories. Because there is significant variation in each religion, how closely an individual religion actually adheres to their ideal type classification will vary.