What Are The Categories of Religious Organizations?

Like other social institutions, religion shows marked variation according to time and place and so are the religious organizations. The diversity of religions in the world is almost as wide-ranging as the diversity of culture itself. Many of the thousands of different religions are found in just one place.

Ernst Troeltsch defined a church as a type of religious organization that is well integrated into the larger society. Churchlike organizations usually persist for centuries and include generations of the same families. Churches have well-established rules and regulations and expect leaders to be formally trained and ordained. Church members think of God in intellectual terms and favor abstract moral standards over specific rules for day-to-day living. By teaching morality in safely abstract terms, church leaders avoid social controversy.

A church may operate with or apart from the state. As its name implies, a state church is a church formally allied with the state. State churches have existed throughout human history. For instance, the Anglican Church is the official church of England.

A denomination is a church, independent of the state, that recognizes religious pluralism. Denominations exist in nations, including the United States, which formally separate church and state. The USA has dozens of Christian denominations— including Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Lutherans — as well as various categories of Judaism, Islam, and other traditions. Although members of any denomination hold to their own doctrine, they recognize the right of others to have different beliefs.

The sect is a type of religious organization that stands apart from the larger society. Sect members have rigid religious convictions and deny the beliefs of others. Compared to churches, which try to appeal to everyone, a sect forms an exclusive group. To members of a sect, religion is not just one aspect of life but a firm plan for living.
The Amish community is one example of a North American sect that isolates itself. Finally, churches and sects differ in their social composition. Because they are more closely tied to the world, well-established churches tend to include people of high social standing. Sects attract more disadvantaged people. A sect’s openness to new members and its promise of salvation and personal fulfillment appeal to people.

A cult is a religious organization that is largely outside a society’s cultural traditions. A cult typically forms around a highly charismatic leader who offers a compelling message about a new and very different way of life. Because some cult principles or practices are unconventional, the popular view is that they are deviant or even evil.

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