In detail

Sects: what they are and what they consist of

Sects: what they are and what they consist of

The word sect usually arouses interest and fear at the same time. On the one hand, it is a theoretical interest. Knowing what lies behind the sects fascinates many people. In general, popular beliefs about sects are usually that they wash our brains, that they keep all our money, that once we enter it is very difficult to leave, even that they plan collective suicides. But what is true behind all this? Can a cult change a person so much? Can a sect even lead to hundreds of people committing suicide?

Throughout the article we will deepen the concept of sect. We note that it is not as easy to define as it may seem at first glance. We will also investigate the different types of sects. Finally, we will describe what destructive sects consist of and the characteristics of those most vulnerable to be captured.


  • 1 Sects, what are they?
  • 2 Types of sects
  • 3 destructive sects
  • 4 Characteristics of subjects seduced by sects

Cults, what are they?

Describing what a cult is is not easy. Over many years, this concept has become synonymous with something evil. As González, Ibáñez and Muñóz (2000) describe, "the general sense, despite all the efforts, given to the word sect, is clearly pejorative, because it evokes fanaticism, intolerance, social danger and everything that can contribute to threatening the structures of society, giving a spectacular and dramatic image ".

Albert Samuel (1990), states that the etymology of the concept is diffuse, may come from secare and drought. In this case, a cult would be a "section, a separate sector from a larger set and the group that has followed a teacher, precisely at the origin of this separation ". On the other hand, Pepe Rodríguez (1984), defines it from the term "sectum", that is "the cut, separated, torn off".

Rodriguez describes them as a "group of people agglutinated by the fact of following a certain doctrine and / or leader and that, frequently, it has been previously split from some major doctrinal group, regarding which, generally, they are critical ". A fact that González, Ibáñez and Muñóz offer us is that "Christianity itself was considered as a sect of Judaism. Buddhism would be of Hinduism and there are also numerous sects derived from Islam ".

On the other hand, Pilar Salarrullana (1990), defines them as a "conventional group of people who participate in the same experiences, giving them different factors: of security and certainty, affective and doctrinal, disciplinary and moral rigor ". As we see, so far the concept of sect has no negative connotation, it is simply a group of people who think differently and have different beliefs. So where does the pejorative connotation come from? We will find out a little below.

Types of sects

The sociologist Bryan Wilson (1970) identifies different types of sects:


These are characteristic sects of evangelical Christian fundamentalism. They ensure that the outside world is corrupted. Example: Assemblies of God, Churches of the Foursquare Gospel, etc.


Eschatological movements of the Christian tradition. His intention is to destroy the social order at the appropriate time. The end justifies the means, that is, if necessary, they would use force. The members expect a new order under the direction of God and are hostile towards social reforms. Examples: Adventists, Cristadelfianos, etc.


Its about withdraw from the world to enjoy security through personal holiness. They do not expect the conversion of the population or the destruction of the world. Social reforms are indifferent to them. Examples: Hutterians, Mennomites, Amish, etc.


They emphasize a different and particular kind of knowledge. Wilson states that "His God is not a redeeming God, but an abstract idea of ​​an extraordinary power that men can learn to use for their own benefit in the present world". Example: Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Scientology ...


They defend that men have the ability to experience the extraordinary effect of the supernatural in their lives. Spiritualists would be an example of that. Its objective is to look for personal messages from the spirits to obtain healing or miracles.


They are somewhat revolutionary groups. They consider that "salvation is obtained by transmitting an ethic by which men can live". His behavior with society is a remote attitude, but it is neither indifference nor hostility. Examples: the Quakers.


At the same time they withdraw a little from the world they also want to change it. They propose social reorganization through community estates. Examples: Community of Oneida, movement called Bruderhoff and the Fraternity of the New Life.

Destructive sects

At this point the type of sects will be treated, which, in general, is the one that a large majority of people associate with this concept. One of the clearest examples is the sect The People's Temple, led by Jim Jones and whose end consisted of the collective suicide of 918 people. Pepe Rodríguez (1994), establishes several criteria that characterize destructive sects:

  1. It uses persuasion techniques for the capture and indoctrination that favors the unstructured personality of the adept or severely damaged.
  2. It causes the total or serious destruction of the emotional ties and communication of the subject with his usual social environment and with himself.
  3. It leads to destruction inalienable legal rights in a rule of law.

Rodriguez defines these sects as "any totalitarian movement with a hierarchical structure in which absolute devotion is lent to a person, doctrine or idea, in which manipulation, persuasion and control techniques are used ". In addition, he adds that The objectives are "power and / or money, and that in the adherents originates a dependency of the group to the detriment of their family and social environment ".

According to the author, there are some aspects to look at To know if it is a destructive sect:

  1. In whose hands the power resides.
  2. Degree of respect of the leader towards his followers.
  3. If your structure respects individual freedom and family life.
  4. The origin of the group.
  5. The use and control of finances.
  6. Techniques for attracting adherents.

Characteristics of subjects seduced by sects

González, Ibáñez and Muñóz (2000), defend that each subject is a world, however, at the level of seduction by the sects, a more or less general profile can be identified. The authors describe them in a series of points:

  1. The content and form of the message are in the same harmony that the mental schemes, needs, interests and existential values ​​of the subject. In general, they are unhappy people with the options around them and are looking for new states.
  2. The proximity of the teacher or "recruiter" is important. If the "recruiter" arouses respect and trust, the subject will be more easily seduced.
  3. If the subject is going through a crisis, it is easier to be caught. The discomfort of the subject can cause him to seek relief anywhere, which leads him to give up control of himself to the group.
  4. When the identity of the "caught" is still under development because of his youth, the probability of being captured will increase. The subject is more receptive and will be more attracted to those ideas and behaviors that are clear and fast.
  5. If the person comes from an unstructured family The probability of being caught is greater. You will need to cover the need for membership or membership.
  6. Ignore manipulation strategies It is an aspect that favors the acquisition.
  7. A poor education It can lead the subject not to adapt successfully in society, so in a sect you can find the stability you need.


  • González, J., Ibález, J., Muñóz, A. (2000). Introduction to the study of sects. Roles of the Psychologist, 76, 51-56.
  • Salarrullana, P. (1990). The sects Madrid: Today's Topics.
  • Samuel, A. (1990): The religions of our time. Navarra: Divine Verb Editions.
  • Rodríguez, P. (1989): Dictionary of religions. Madrid: Editorial Alliance.
  • Rodríguez, P. (1990). The power of sects. Barcelona: Editions B.S.A
  • Wilson, B. (1970). Sociology of religious sects. Madrid: Guadarrama editions.
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