AskDefine | Define sects

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  1. Plural of sect

Extensive Definition

In the sociology of religion a sect is generally a small 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.
A sect as used in an Indian context refers to an organized tradition.


The word sect comes from the Latin sects (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.

Sociological definitions and descriptions

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There are several different sociological definitions and descriptions for the term. Among the first to define them were Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch (1931). 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". They further assert that sects have, in contrast to churches, a high degree of tension with the surrounding society.
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.
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 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.”

Sects in Islam

There are many divisions of Islam into sects, schools, traditions, and related faiths

The concept of sect as used in an Indian context

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.”

Sect in Christian theology

Early Christianity started as a Jewish sect. During reformation times, many churches such as Lutheran and Anglican split from Catholic church and could be regarded as sects in this context. However Catholic church hesitates to call them sects any more.

Meaning of the word in countries with strong Catholic traditions

In Latin America and Europe it is often applied by Roman Catholics to any non-Roman Catholic religious group, regardless of size, for example Universal Life,Mormons, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Hare Krishna, etc.

Meaning of the word in countries with strong Orthodox traditions

Similarly, 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, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.

Meaning of the word in countries with strong Protestant traditions

The word sect is often use to label groups referred to as cults.

Corresponding words in French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Polish, Dutch, Romanian and Hungarian

In European languages other than English the corresponding words for 'sect', such as "secte", "secta", "seita", "sekta", "sekte", "Sekte" or "szekta" 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 1970's, "secte" has a specific meaning, which is very different of the English word .


External links

sects in Arabic: طائفة
sects in Belarusian: Сэкта
sects in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Сэкта
sects in Bosnian: Kult
sects in Bulgarian: Секта
sects in Catalan: Secta
sects in Czech: Sekta
sects in Danish: Sekt
sects in German: Sekte
sects in Estonian: Sekt
sects in Spanish: Secta
sects in French: Culte
sects in Croatian: Sekta
sects in Indonesian: Sekte
sects in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Secta
sects in Icelandic: Sértrúarsöfnuður
sects in Italian: Setta
sects in Hebrew: כת
sects in Luxembourgish: Sekten
sects in Lithuanian: Sekta
sects in Hungarian: Szekta
sects in Dutch: Sekte
sects in Japanese: カルト
sects in Norwegian: Sekt
sects in Polish: Sekta
sects in Portuguese: Seita
sects in Russian: Секта
sects in Albanian: Sekti
sects in Slovak: Sekta
sects in Slovenian: Sekta
sects in Finnish: Lahko (uskonto)
sects in Swedish: Sekt
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