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Cults - definition and basic specifics

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I'm sure all of us have heard the term cult. Most often in connection with mass suicides or murders. But what does this word really mean and how does such a sect work? The purpose of this article is to clarify the basic concepts associated with this phenomenon and reveal the organization of the sect.

When we look at the definition of the term sect, we find different explanations according to different authors. However, the basis is similar, namely that it is always a group of people who are different from others, closed, isolated, living in their own world, but not necessarily dangerous to society.

Cults can be divided into several groups. The first are inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition. They refer to the Bible, to Jesus Christ, and this group includes the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The second group is based on oriental religions and teachings such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. This includes, for example, the Hare Krishna movement.  

Another group is based on the teachings of occultism and magic. Satanism belongs to this group.

The last one is the sects with psychotherapeutic concept, which use psychotherapy, meditation. Among these sects is the Church of Scientology.

But how to know whether it is a sect or not? There are a few basic signs to which they belong:

  • isolation (closed-mindedness and critical attitude towards society)
  • authoritarianism (devotion to the leader)
  • feeling of exclusivity (certainty that only they are right, they will save the world)
  • oppositional position (values, beliefs at odds with other groups)
  • unfree thinking (members think they are free)
  • adherence to rules (unconditional obedience, subordination, compliance with established rules)
  • ethical dimensions (emphasis on feelings and emotions, promise of family, cohesion, security)
  • receiving information (censorship of reading, all information mediated through one person)

Each sect has its own organizational structure and is headed by a leader (guru) to whom all members are devoted. Under his influence, the sect recruits other members. The ignorant members are victims of manipulation and function like a herd. Without any regard to the given status of the individual, the place of the individual is the same as that of the others. The exception is the head leader. He has the role of mediator between the membership and the very top of the group. This leader can be either partially or fully promoted or demoted depending on his/her abilities. He can be replaced at any time.1


Division by structures

Cobweb structure

  • their structure is similar to a spider's web, several pyramidal structures are intertwined, which have different functions, members can move up in one pyramid and stagnate in the other

Pyramid structure

  • between the top and the base of the sect, i.e. between the new members and the leader, we can observe two tendencies, namely the upward tendency of privileges or the downward tendency of coercion. Advancement on the pyramid is a very lengthy and slow process and the individual progresses gradually. This system keeps the individual under constant pressure. There is no communication, the information is sorted by the guru or the intermediate levels

Spherical structure

  • it does not allow effective control of the whole group, there are relational and emotional exchanges between members that occupy a certain space, there is no real hierarchization and directive control

Star-shaped structure

  • is similar to a wheel, in which the leader represents the centre and the followers are on the periphery of the circle, communication takes place in both directions i.e. from the periphery to the centre and vice versa, it does not allow absolute control of power

Now you know what a sect is, how it is recognized and how it is organized. Hopefully this information will help you look at cults in a slightly different light than you have so far.



1)   https://is.muni.cz/th/135760/pedf_b/BPsekty.pdf

2)   https://theses.cz/id/p7tbcf/Bakalsk_prce_-_Problmy_sekt_nboensk_sekty.pdf

3)   http://www.granosalis.cz/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=43&mode=nested&order=0&thold=0


author: Bc. Kateřina Běhanová