The Practical and Ethical Considerations in Labeling a Religious Group as a 'Cult'

In American, the terms “schism,” “heresy,” “sect,” and “cult” have been used to describe splinter groups as they distinguish themselves from the majority religion. The term cult has been used in two different senses. Within the Roman Catholic Church a group’s devotion to a particular saint may earn them the title “Cult of” that particular saint. However, among contemporary American Protestants the term cult has come to be applied to religious groups that split from mainstream Christianity with regard to their beliefs and behavior to the degree that the groups are considered dangerous to themselves and society. When it comes to defining what a cult is, only about ten percent of the attention is placed on a cult’s beliefs and ninety percent is placed on a cult’s behavior. In fact, there seems to be a general squeamishness about using the term cult in the first place. There are several reasons for this malaise toward the term, but this article will argue that the term cult can and should be used in general and scholarly contexts
Keywords Cult, schism, heresy, sect, American religion, religious history, ethical considerations
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