I. Religious Studies Both the etymology and the usage of the word
sect are disputed. Derivation from Latin
secare (“separate”) is possible, as is derivation from
sectus, sequi, “school of thought”). English uses the word in the latter neutral sense, whereas the German equivalent
Sekte is usually a pejorative exonym, corresponding to Eng.
cult. M. Weber (see II below) distinguished between voluntary membership “of those who are religiously and morally qualified” in exclusive sects, in contrast to compulsory membership in the church as a
Gnadenanstalt (“institutional provider of grace,” like an entailed estate) with a claim to universality. E. Troeltsch (see II below) defined the marks of a sect as voluntariness, exclusivity, law (instead of grace), and a radicalized way of life. In a theological sense, sects can be differing religious parties within a larger religious community. English writers thus often refer to the various schools of Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. as sects. The term can also refer to groups that break away from a larger religious community in open or more subtle opposition to it (usually resulting historically in a sect in the first sense). In current usage, a sect in the ethical sense can be a religious community that forms around a prominent figure (a “guru”), maintains rigid internal structure, fosters a contrastive picture of the world of the community and the outside world, and makes it difficult to withdraw. These features present only a rough orientation, which is tested repeatedly by the osmotic interchange between traditional and new religious groups. Alternative terms have been suggested – “conflict-prone groups” (Reinhart Hummel), “new religious movements” (the majority of students of religion), “new spiritual movements” (Usarski), etc. – but they are gaining acceptance only gradually and remain exonym…