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What is Cult?

In religion and sociology, a cult is a cohesive group of people (often a relatively small and recently founded religious movement) devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream. Its separate status may come about either due to its novel belief system, because of its idiosyncratic practices or because it opposes the interests of the mainstream culture. Other non-religious groups may also display cult-like characteristics.

In common usage, "cult" has a negative connotation, and is generally applied to a group by its opponents, for a variety of reasons. Understandably, most, if not all, groups that are called "cults" deny this label. It has been argued that no one yet has been able to define “cult” in a way that enables the term to identify only groups that have been claimed as problematic.

The literal and traditional meanings of the word cult is derived from the Latin cultus, meaning "care" or "adoration", as "a system of religious belief or ritual; or: the body of adherents to same"32. In English, it remains neutral and a technical term within this context to refer to the "cult of Artemis at Ephesus" and the "cult figures" that accompanied it, or to "the importance of the Ave Maria in the cult of the Virgin." This usage is more fully explored in the entry Cult (religious practice).



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