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Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements

Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Jun., 1979), pp. 117-131
DOI: 10.2307/1385935
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1385935
Page Count: 15
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Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements
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Abstract

This paper constructs a set of concepts needed for a theory of religious movements. First, the boundaries for such a theory are set by defining religion and then by translating this definition into terms more useful for theorizing. Next, we demonstrate why a faulty understanding of "ideal types" has led to conceptualizations of church and sect that prevent theorizing. We adopt Benton Johnson's solution for defining the underlying church-sect axis. In the remainder of the paper we show that the concepts of church and sect are not adequate to encompass the full range of religious movements. The concept of cult is introduced, clarified, and then delimited to exclude cults that fall short of constituting religious movements. Throughout, we molest a variety of sacred cows.

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