Say for example scientology from hinduism?

What are the hallmarks of a cult that sets it aside from a religion?

  • 4
    Isn't it as simple as "semantics"? – stoicfury Dec 3 '12 at 2:24
  • @stoicfury: maybe, wikipedia says that in the sociology of religion the term 'new religious movement (NRM)' is preferred as the word 'cult' has become overly pejorative. I think it goes deeper than that, though. In the same way, a man in the pub talks 'philosophy', is not the same as Descarte talking philosophy. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 3 '12 at 2:40
  • 1
    Assuming the distinction that we're looking for is that a cult tends to harm the members for the benefit of the leaders. Typically, people who have come out of cults talk about secrecy, a requirement to leave your old life (and family, and friends etc) outside the cult. There's often a monetary requirement, and/or the cult considers all members' possessions as belonging to the leaders (or sometimes the group). There's not enough there to make an answer, but this may prompt some more discussion. – Ryno Dec 3 '12 at 13:51
  • @Ryno: A good clarification. But, I'm also thinking about the mystery cults in ancient Greece, would the one Pythagoras led count as one? – Mozibur Ullah Dec 4 '12 at 15:59
  • I don't know the details of Pythagoras's "cult" (or otherwise) - but the secrecy thing seems to fit with anything called a "mystery" cult :) – Ryno Dec 5 '12 at 18:15


1.A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

2.A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.


1.The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.

2.Details of belief as taught or discussed.

Well, that's pretty self explanatory; a cult is a type of religion (a cult IS a religion), but a religion does not necessarily have to be a cult.

i.e... A square IS a rectangle; however, a rectangle does not have to be a square.

| improve this answer | |
  • Actually, cults are not always religious and mystical. There have been many instances of secular cults, usually based around political philosophies. The 60s and 70s there many Communist type cults. An Rand's followers in the late 50s developed cult like behaviors. – TechZen Oct 14 '14 at 19:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.