Cults and Sects Are False Friends
Can the words used by different languages give us insight into our culture?
Many religious groups, e.g scientologists, object to being called “cults”. Often, the term “sect” is preferred, especially where the group has a lot in common with a more mainstream religion. For example, Mormonism is usually recognised as a sect of Christianity. In some Muslim countries, we here of “sectarian violence” between Suni and Shiite communities.
Just like for politics (see my post about the word “liberal”), however, the language of religion can be tricky to translate.
In French, the word for a “cult” is une secte, whereas pratiquer son culte just means to “practise one’s religion”.
So the English and French words for “cult” and “sect” are exact opposites. To my mind, this suggests there is no real difference between these groups. Indeed, it is even said by some that
A religion is just a cult with more members.
[I noticed this quirk of French and English years ago, but I was prompted to write about by this picture (via Twitter, of course).]