church-sect typology


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Fig. 3 Church-sect typology.

church-sect typology

a conceptualization of types of religious organization initially suggested by Weber and Troeltsch, and extended by Howard Becker (1950) and others, which suggests a continuum, and to some extent also a developmental sequence, of types of religious organizations running from CHURCH through DENOMINATION to SECT and CULT, making up a four-point typology of religious organizations. Sometimes a fifth category is also added, as in Fig. 3, in which the term Ecclesia refers to a supranational, formally organized, religious organization such as the Roman Catholic Church.

The developmental sequence involved in this typology shows that new cults and sects always tend to appear. Sects in particular can be seen as the dynamic element in religious organization, demanding high commitment from their members and capable of leading to rapid religious, and also in some cases, political and economic change (see PROTESTANT ETHIC). Of course, many sects and cults simply fail to develop and often wither and disappear. When they survive and grow, however, the tendency in the long run is for them to become more formally organized, more bureaucratic and more hierarchical, and, ultimately, more conservative. In doing so they then pose less of a challenge to, and even become part of, the mainstream of society – the prize, but also the penalty, of success.

While the conceptions involved in the church-sect typology work well enough as ideal types in the discussion of most Western forms of religion, reflecting as they do mainly Christian patterns of religious organization, they are less useful in relation to non-Western religions. See also NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS.