Posted by: aboutalbion | October 30, 2012

Sects and cults

To continue to prepare for his discussion of the rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark needs to distinguish between sects and cults.

For him, a sect comes into existence “by schism within a conventional religious body when persons desiring a more otherworldly version of the faith break away to ‘restore’ the religion to a higher level of tension within its environment”. (p33)

He cites research which evidences that those who are members of sects are (in general) of a lower social class than those who remain with the parent body.  His examples of sects include ‘Assemblies of God’, ‘Nazarene’, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’, and the ‘Worldwide Church of God’.

By contrast, cults “are not simply new organizations of an old faith; they are new faiths, at least new in the society being examined”. (p33)  Cult movements, whether started on a small-scale by someone with new religious ideas or started on a small-scale by a transplant of an alien religion from another society, “violate prevailing religious norms and are often the target of considerable hostility”. (p33)

He argues that “when one examines what is involved in accepting a new faith …it is easy to see why these [cult] movements must draw upon the more privileged for their recruits.” (p34)  His reasoning is that “people must have a degree of privilege to have the sophistication needed to understand new [faiths] and to recognize a need for them.  As examples of cults, Stark discusses Mormonism, Christian Science, Spiritualism, Moonies, New Age, and Scientology.

[Stark, Rodney (1997) The Rise of Christianity.  New York: HarperOne.]

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