Frank K. Flinn
In several ways Scientology is the most interesting of the new religious movements. It describes itself as “an applied religious philosophy,”1 but it does not fall easily under any exclusive label such as religion, science, philosophy, or technique. In a situation like this the chances are many for misclassification and misinterpretation. For the time being, some designation like “new religious movement” or “alternative religious movement” seems the most appropriate for describing these recently recognized religious phenomena.
The traditional sociological classification derived from Ernst Troeltsch’s The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (church, denomination, sect, and cult) has encountered difficulties.2 This is particularly true for the terms sect and cult, which have been most often applied to the newer religious groups. It is important to note that these are relational terms. Thus, the concept of sect takes on sharper definitional focus when related to organized churches that have become diffuse in doctrine and practice. Rodney Stark has captured this relational aspect well when he wrote that sects “reflect the efforts of the churched to remain churched.”3 The condition, then, for sect formation seems to be the presence of strongly organized churches. Conversely, the concept of cult takes on sharper definitional focus when related not to church, denomination, or sect, but to a prior condition of secularity. In Stark’s words, the cult represents “efforts by the unchurched to become churched.”
This definitional clarification, however, does not allow an unambiguous application of either cult or sect to Scientology. Sectarian