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Cults and Sects - Conclusion
It is good to conclude this section with a reminder that we are investigating the issues of religion and social resistance.  Attempts to categorize religious groups based on their resistance to or conformity with the prevailing culture and dominant religious groups have led to a variety of proposals. These include the church-sect distinction, as well as the denomination- sect-cult categories.  More recently, sociologist Bryan Wilson has attempted to categorize new religious movements or sects not as sect or cult, but according to how they respond to the society in which they find themselves. Our investigation has shown us several challenges in trying to categorize religious groups. These include the following: 
1. Even though words like cult, sect and denomination are meant to be neutral classifications, they often carry negative connotations for people.

2. Even though these terms are meant to help classify and categorize, scholars are not in agreement on how or whether they should be used.

3. The phrase "New Religious Movements" is increasingly  used in place of the term, cult.

4. How religious societies are perceived by the dominant religious groups and by society changes over time. For example, Christianity was originally considered a cult or a sect by the government and religious establishment.  Very few people would categorize it as such today. 


 

A final note: the academic study of religion may find its greatest challenge is in the analysis and investigation of new religious movements, cults and sects. On the one hand, it is sometimes difficult to maintain a stance of temporary neutrality in studying new religious movements.  Even scholars of religion tend to think in terms of the major, established religious traditions and often fail to take seriously newer religious movements.  On the other hand, the tendency to reductionism is most prominent in studying new religious movements.  Scholars of religion often simply accept sociological interpretations as the final and perhaps only word about sects and cults.  How are we to understand new religious movements in their own terms?  It is interesting, for example, that the Sacred Quest, like most introductory texts on this subject, seems to resort to sociological explanations of new religious movements. While these are certainly of great importance, it is interesting that the text does not explore the perceptions and experiences of the sacred held by new religious groups. I suspect that such an investigation would be illuminating and worthwhile.  For now, however, we must move on to a consideration of protest and reform within religious groups.