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A culturally deviant religious organization with novel or exotic religious beliefs and practices.  Members will have religious beliefs and practices that do not belong to the dominant religious tradition in the cultural context in question.  One can often distinguish a cult from an immigrant ethnic religion by looking at variables such as parents’ birthplace.  Cults differ from sects in that they create new belief systems rather than taking established belief systems to more intense levels. 

Cults are sometimes referred to as “new religious movements” in order to avoid the rhetorical baggage of the term cult.  Academics have also disputed the danger inherent to new religious movements, with many attempting to counter claims of “brain washing.”  Such groups may also raise important cases of symbolic boundary disputes involving religious freedom, and by implication, laws addressing religious freedom and expression. 


Ayella, Marybeth.  1990.  “‘They Must Be Crazy:’ Some of the Difficulties in Researching ‘Cults.'”  American Behavioral Scientist 33(5):562-577.

Barker, Eileen.  1984. The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing?  Oxford, New York: Blackwell.

Richardson, James T.  and Massimo Introvigne.  2001.  “‘Brainwashing’ Theories in European Parliamentary and Administrative Reports on ‘Cults’ and ‘Sects.'”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40(2):143-168.

Stark, Rodney and William Sims Bainbridge.  1979.  “Of Churches, Sects, and Cults.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18:117-133.

Zablocki, Benjamin and Thomas Robbins (eds.).  2001.  Misunderstanding Cults.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

The following are possible measures of Cult that can be created using data from theARDA.com
Proponents of this perspective posit that stricter churches reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. This concept is generally considered to be part of a religious economies approach to religion because it employs assumptions derived from economics regarding the relationship between individual and group behavior, but there is a distinctive research literature focusing on strictness as an intra-organizational dimension.  Kelley (1972) posited three primary aspects of strictness: 1) ideological; 2) lifestyle or behavioral; 3) policing. The theory undergirding the concept predicts that strict religious groups will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment, while more lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit lower levels of commitment. At present, there is not a standard strategy for operationalizing and empirically assessing the concept of strictness.  Although Iannaccone (1994) used the opinions of "experts," a more objective approach has been to examine the number of behavioral restrictions made on adherents. There is also a potential avenue of research that examines the micro sociological mechanisms of strict religious organizations from the group processes and symbolic interaction perspectives.  Other current shortcomings in this perspective are the under-specified nature of the connection between strictness and tension with the surrounding cultural environment, and often these terms are incorrectly used interchangeably (Tamney 2005). View related items in the Measurement Wizard:  
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