Some sociologists such as Stephen Moore believe that a sect is a type of religious organization which involves the idea that a sect is usually fairly small in membership and very exclusive in their acceptance of members. They place great stress on obedience and strict conformity to the rules of the sect. They believe that only they know the correct way to Heaven. Many religious sects believe that we are living in a corrupt world with corrupt morals and values. They are generally more critical of the rest of society and expect members to stand apart from it.
Contact with non members is generally discouraged except in an attempt to convert them. They are also very critical of mainstream religious bodies who they regard as too worldly. They make an effort to distance themselves from them. Most sects move to the outskirts of society where they can create their own communities. This gives them the fear factor where outsiders become fearful of their ways. Sects usually aim to change the morals and values of society through any means possible. For example the Westboro Baptist Church which is a family called the Phelps who demonstrates and protests at the funerals of US soldiers who died in Iraq.
They shout offensive slogans at their family and colleagues and not surprisingly have gotten the reputation of the most hated family in America. Sects demand high standards of behaviour from their members and high levels of commitment. Much of the member’s spare time is spent in sectarian activities such as bible study, trying to gain converts or socialising with sect members. If members fail to meet the sects high standards they may be punished or even expelled. This strict lifestyle is desired and respect by the members and they believe it is the only way to Heaven. Members feel they do not receive the rewards they deserve in life.
Some sects offer explanations for this and promise a better future on earth or in afterlife. Sects gain members through their beliefs and values being accepted by people who agree with their way of life. Members have usually been the victims of social deprivation or spiritual deprivation and seek a sense of community, Sects offer this and social status for members. Wilson believes that people join sects due to social change where norms are disrupted. This can lead to social dislocation and a sense of anomie. The Methodist movement emerged as a response by working class to industrialisation.
It offered support of close knit community, norms and promise of salvation. Anomie can come from a number of ways such as natural/manmade disasters, occupation of a country and when people feel their life is threatened and feel a sense of frustration, anxiety or rage. Critics have argued that there is nothing particularly new about so called New Religious Movements. They have been appearing over the last 200 years. The only difference in the last 50 years is that there has been acceleration in their growth. The data bank of NRM’s at the London School of Economics estimates that there are now nearly 2600 new religions.
Many sociologists feel that the term New religious Movement adds little or nothing to the existing classification of religious organisations. Other sociologists claim that some of the NRMs are sufficiently different from existing religious organisations to justify the term NRM. They point to movements like the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, which draw from a variety of belief systems and are difficult to classify in terms of the existing types. The founder of this movement has integrated aspects of Christianity, Taoism and Confucianism along with liberal sprinkling of new ideas which he has concocted.