Critically examine sociological explanations for the emergence and growth of religious sects in an apparently secular society.

Essay by religionHigh School, 12th grade December 2004

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The widely accepted definition of a sect is a religious group with characteristics, which distinguishes it from either a Church or a denomination. Many groups which fit this definition now prefer the less contentious title of "new religious movements", because over the last fifty years, sects have become linked with brainwashing, mass suicide, and even a murder. One of the examples is the suicide of 900 members of the People's temple.

Sects are not a new phenomenon and they have always attracted controversy. Throughout History, humanity has formed secret societies and secular groups to try to make sense of the world. Most of the time, their strong beliefs have sprung from dissatisfaction with mainstream religions, although the influence of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism can be seen in many of today's sects.

Sects mainly depend on the qualities of the 'charismatic leader', if there is one. A dictatorial sect leader is as potentially dangerous as a dictatorial political leader; perhaps even more so, because members are subjected to their guru's every whim, they are often portrayed as being inspired by some form of "higher power", and are told that they will only reach salvation if the obey his or her word,

Sects are small religious movements.

They always keep a strong distance between themselves and the world outside. Troeltsch claimed that sects are 'connected with the lower classes or at least with those elements in society which are opposed to the state and the society'. They are in opposition to the world (Haralambos and Holborn, sociology Themes and Perspective).

Sect members are sometimes expected to remove all contacts with the outer world except only when they wish to see changes taking place in the wider society. Members are expected to intensely commit themselves to the sect's beliefs. They can be expelled...