Sociology Index


Sect is usually contrasted with churches or denominations. Sects are small and inward-looking religious or spiritual groups which reject the values of the wider society. Examples of sects would be the Jehovah's Witnesses, Salvation Army, Christian Science. These sects or groups typically begin with a charismatic leader who articulates a strong rejection of the compromises made with the secular world by other religions. As sect leadership is routinized and members experience some upward mobility, there tends to be more acceptance of worldly matters and secular values. Sects are differentiated by a number of doctrinal differences and have many beliefs and practices in common with the religion or party that they have broken off from.

A denomination in contrast, is a large, well-established religious group. From the Latin secta, meaning a course of action or way of life. 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).


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. Positions are apportioned by quotas among 18 officially recognized sects in Lebanon. Parliament is half Christian and half Muslim. The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite.

In a footnote to his essay “Sects and Sectarians” (DISSENT, Autumn, 1954), Lewis Coser advises that he is employing a “typological procedure,” and that the political sect modeled in his study is a sociological construct, neither portraying in its entirety any particular sect, nor implying in its composition any value judgment.

Scientology: Therapeutic Cult to Religious Sect - Roy Wallis.
Prevailing conceptions of the cult are criticized. A new typology of religious collectivities is elaborated and related to a theory of the development of cults. This theory claims that a central feature of the cult is 'epistemological individualism'.

The central characteristic of the sect on the other hand is `epistemological authoritarianism'. The process of sectarianization therefore involves the arrogation of authority typically on the basis of a claim to a new and superior revelation. Sectarianization is portrayed as a strategy with particular appeal to the leaders of cults faced with the problems of managing and maintaining a fragile institution.