- This article gives a general account of the word “cult” in current usage. For religious groups with modern origins see New religious movement and List of new religious movements. For religion in general see Religion. For other uses see Cult (disambiguation).
The word cult in current usage is a pejorative term for a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre by the larger society. The wordcult is used as an ad hominem attack against groups with simply differing doctrines or practices, and without a clear or consistent definition.
In the 1930s cults became the object of sociological study in the context of the study of religious behavior. They have been criticized by mainstream Christians for their unorthodox beliefs. In the 1970s the anticult movement arose, partly motivated by acts of violence and other crimes committed by members of some cults. Some of the claims of the anti-cult movement have been disputed by other scholars, leading to further controversies.
Discrimination against cult members has been an ongoing issue in some nations, as well as concerns about doomsday cults and destructive cults. Governments have undertaken various policies towards cults, ranging from tolerance to hostility, and this has also been a source of controversy.
The word cult in original usage is a term that was used to describe a group of people who worshiped a deity. The word was first used in the early 17th century denoting homage paid to a deity and borrowed via the French culte from Latin cultus “worship”, from the adjective cultus “inhabited, cultivated, worshiped”, derived from the verb colere “care, cultivate.”