Reviewing The Various Sociological View of Denomination in Today's Community

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About this sample


Words: 846 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 846|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Critically examine sociological views of sects in society today.

The growth of sects can be seen as a response to marginality, relative deprivation, and social change. Niebuhr describes a sectarian cycle leading to denominationalism, however, Wilson identifies established sects as a separate type of organisation. Bruce sees sects and cults as resulting from secularisation, whereas Stark and Bainbridge explain them as a response to different sorts of deprivation.

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The first attempt to distinguish different religious organisations was from Troeltsch, who distinguished between churches and sects. He suggests that churches are large organisations that are run by a hierarchy of paid professionals, and claim a monopoly of truth. They also aim to include the whole of society by placing few demands on them, and tend to appeal to the higher classes since they are ideologically conservative. In contrast to this, sects are small and exclusive groups that tend to be hostile to the wider society and demand a much higher level of commitment. They usually draw their members in from the poor and oppressed, and generally are led by a charismatic leader rather than through a bureaucratic hierarchy. However, Bruce argues that since the 16th century, both sects and cults have flourished as religious diversity has become the norm as churches have lost their monopoly and turned more into denominations.

Stark and Bainbridge argue that religious organisations move through a cycle. In the first stage of schism, there is tension between the needs of the deprived and the privileged members of a church, and so the deprived break away to form a sect. In the second stage there is initial fervour with charismatic leadership and great tension between sect and society's beliefs. Denominationalism is where the ‘protestant ethic’ effect and the of second generation means that the initial fervour disappears. In the fourth stage, establishment, the sects become more world-accepting and tension within wider society reduces, leading to the final stage of further schism, which is when more zealous or less privileged members break away to form a new sect true to the original message. However, Wilson argues that some sects have survived over many generations, such as the Amish, Mormons, and Pentecostalists. Instead of becoming denominations, they are established sects.

As previously mentioned, sects end to draw their members from marginal groups, such as the poor and oppressed. Weber argues that sects offer a solution to these groups feeling disprivileged by offering a theodicy of disprivilege, which is a religious explanation and justification for their suffering and disadvantage. This theodicy may explain their suffering as a test of faith while still holding the promise of rewards in the future for holding this faith, such as entry to heaven. Many sects do manage to gain members from the marginalised poor, for example, the Nation of Islam successfully recruited disadvantaged black people in the USA during the 20th century. However, although this is often the case, many non-religious movements, such as the Moonies, have gained members from more affluent groups e.g. well-educated, middle-class white people. Wallis argues that this does not contradict Weber as many of these groups had become marginal to society.

Wallis argues that middle-class people may turn to sects for a sense of community. This is because they may feel relatively deprived, which is when they feel they are deprived or disadvantaged in some way compared to others, despite being actually quite privileged. Although the middle-class people may be materialistically well-off, they may feel that they are spiritually deprived of moral value, emotional warmth, and emotional authenticity. Stark and Bainbridge argue that it is the relatively deprived people who break away from, the churches to form sects that keep a hold of the original message of the organisation. For example, the deprived may want to stress the message that ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’. Stark and Bainbridge argue that world-rejecting sects offer compensators to the deprived that they need for the rewards that they have been deprived of. However, the privileged don’t need compensators so they tend to be attracted to world-accepting churches that bring them more success through expressing their status.

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Wilson argues that periods of rapid social change disrupt and undermine established norms and sects, which leads to anomie. In response to this uncertainty and insecurity, many of those people who are most affected by the change turn to the sects as a solution. For example, the disruption caused by the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th century Britain led to the creation of Methodism, which offered community, clear norms and values, and the promise of salvation. Methodism managed to survive because it gained large numbers of members from the new industrial working class. Also, Bruce sees the growth of sects and cults as a response to the social changes in modernisation and secularisation. However, society is now much more secular and so people are less attracted to the traditional churches and stricter sects because they demand too much commitment. So instead, people tend to prefer cults since they are less demanding on their members.

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Reviewing The Various Sociological View Of Denomination In Today’s Community. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Reviewing The Various Sociological View Of Denomination In Today’s Community.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
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