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A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. The term is occasionally used in a malicious way to suggest the broken-off group follows a more negative path than the original. The historical usage of the term sect in Christendom has had pejorative connotations, referring to a group or movement with heretical beliefs or practices that deviate from those of groups considered orthodox.[1]

A sect as used in an Indian context refers to an organized tradition.



The word sect comes from the Latin noun secta (a feminine form of a variant past participle of the verb sequi, to follow[2]), meaning "(beaten) path", and figuratively a (prescribed) way, mode, or manner, and hence metonymously, a discipline or school of thought as defined by a set of methods and doctrines. The present gamut of meanings of sect has been influenced by confusion with the homonymous (but etymologically unrelated) Latin word secta (the feminine form of the past participle of the verb secare, to cut), as sects were scissions cut away from the mainstream religion.[3] Note that speakers of some other languages use the same word for both the meaning sect and the meaning cult, for example in Italian: setta.

Sociological definitions and descriptions

There are several different sociological definitions and descriptions for the term.[4] Among the first to define them were Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch (1931).[4] In the church-sect typology they are described as newly formed religious groups that form to protest elements of their parent religion (generally a denomination). Their motivation tends to be situated in accusations of apostasy or heresy in the parent denomination; they are often decrying liberal trends in denominational development and advocating a return to true religion. The American sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge assert that "sects claim to be authentic purged, refurbished version of the faith from which they split".[5] They further assert that sects have, in contrast to churches, a high degree of tension with the surrounding society.[6] Other sociologists of religion such as Fred Kniss have asserted that sectarianism is best described with regard to what a sect is in tension with. Some religious groups exist in tension only with co-religious groups of different ethnicities, or exist in tension with the whole of society rather than the church which the sect originated from.[7]

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