Types of Religious Organisation: The Sect

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

religious organisations types.png

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
Advertisements

Types of Religious Organisation: The Denomination

H.R. Niebuhr (1929) was the first sociologist to distinguish between a church and a denomination. His distinction was based on a study of religion in the U.S.A.

Denominations share some, but not all of the features of churches.

Examples of denominations include the Methodists, the Pentecostals and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

religious organisations types.png

According to Neibuhr, denominations have about 6 characteristics:

  1. Like churches, denominations draw members from all sections of society: they are inclusive.
  2. Like churches, denominations have formal organisations and are hierarchically organised with a bureaucratic structure.
  3. There tend to be several denominations in a society, so they do not have universal appeal
  4. Denominations do not claim a monopoly on truth.
  5. Unlike churches, a denomination does not identity with the state and believes in the separation of church and state.
  6. Some denominations place more restrictions on their members: for example the Methodists and the Pentecostals.

Steve Bruce suggests that denominations have become more important in society with the rise of religious pluralism.

Criticisms of the ‘concept’ of the denomination

The concept may be too broad to be useful. There is disagreement over whether certain religious organisations should be classified as sects or denominations.

 

Sources

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

Types of Religious Organisation: The Church

Ernst Troeltsch (1931) used the term ‘church’ to refer to a large, hierarchically organised¬† religious institutions with an inclusive, universal membership, typically with close links to the state.

religious organisations types.png

According to Troeltsch* Churches have about 5 characteristics:

  1. Churches tend to have very large memberships, and inclusive memberships.
  2. Churches tend to claim a monopoly on the truth.
  3. Churches have large, bureaucratic, hierarchical structures
  4. Churches have professional, paid clergy
  5. Churches tend to be closely tied to the state.

Criticisms of the ‘concept’ of the church

Steve Bruce (1996) suggests that the above definition of church may have been true in pre-modern Christian societies, but ever since the Reformation, and especially since the increase of religious pluralism, this type of definition of a ‘church’ no longer applies to organisations which formally call themselves churches in modern societies – organisations such as the Church of England.

There are several examples of ‘churches’ which do not fit the above definition:

  • The Church of England does not have universal membership.
  • Many churches today do not claim a monopoly on the truth, they tend to be tolerant of other faiths.
  • The links between the church and the state are not as strong as they once were.

It seems then, that the only ways in which modern churches resemble Troeltsch’s definition lies in their organisational structure.

Sources

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