Types of Religious Organisation: The Sect

According to Troeltsch, the Sect is basically the opposite of The Church….

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Key characteristics of sects according to Troeltsch…

  1. They have significantly smaller memberships than churches
  2. The membership base of sects is drawn from the lower social classes
  3. Sects are not aligned with the state
  4.  Sects do not accept the norms and values of mainstream society. Sects are detached from society, and in opposition to it.
  5. Sects demand a high level of commitment from their members and they have a high level of integration. They may expect members to withdraw from society all together.
  6. They do not have ‘inclusive membership’. Membership has to be conscious and voluntary. Children cannot be born into sects.
  7. Sects tend to possess a monopoly on truth.
  8. Sects have a charismatic leader, who is generally perceived to be special. They do not have an hierarchy of paid officials.

According to Steve Bruce, the first sects in modern Europe were formed when groups of people broke away from a more established religion, because of disagreement over how that religion was interpreted.

Over time, some sects have developed into denominations.

Criticisms of Troeltsch’s ‘sect’ category….

There are very few religious organisations which tick all of the above boxes, meaning the category might be too exclusive to be useful.

Roy Wallis has suggested that it is more useful to distinguish between different types of sect according to their orientation to the wider society – such as world affirming, world accommodating and world rejecting. In other words, he argues that not all sects are ‘world rejecting’.

Sources

  • Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themese and Perspectives
  • Chapman et al: Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book
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