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Cult

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In modern English, the term cult has come to usually refer to a social group defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. This sense of the term is controversial and it has divergent definitions in both popular culture and academia and it also has been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study. It is usually considered pejorative. In the sociological classifications of religious movements, a cult is a social group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices, although this is often unclear. Other researchers present a less-organized picture of cults, saying that they arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices. Groups said to be cults range in size from local groups with a few members to international organizations with millions.An older sense of the word cult—covered in a different article—is a set of religious devotional practices that are conventional within their culture and related to a particular figure, and often associated with a particular place. References to the "cult" of, for example, a particular Catholic saint, or the imperial cult of ancient Rome, use this sense of the word. Beginning in the 1930s, cults became the object of sociological study in the context of the study of religious behavior. From the 1940s the Christian countercult movement has opposed some sects and new religious movements, and it labelled them as cults for their "un-Christian" unorthodox beliefs. The secular anti-cult movement began in the 1970s and it opposed certain groups, often charging them with mind control and partly motivated in reaction to acts of violence committed by some of their members. Some of the claims and actions of the anti-cult movement have been disputed by scholars and by the news media, leading to further public controversy. The term "new religious movement" refers to religions which have appeared since the mid-1800s. Many, but not all of them, have been considered to be cults. Sub-categories of cults include: Doomsday cults, personality cults, political cults, destructive cults, racist cults, polygamist cults, and terrorist cults. Various national governments have reacted to cult-related issues in different ways, and this has sometimes led to controversy. English-speakers originally used the word "cult" not to describe a group of religionists, but to refer to the act of worship or to a religious ceremony. The English term originated in the early 17th century, borrowed via the French culte, from the Latin noun cultus (worship). The word ultimately derived from the Latin adjective cultus (inhabited, cultivated, worshipped), based on the verb colere (to care, to cultivate).While the literal original sense of the word in English remains in use, a derived sense of "excessive devotion" arose in the 19th century. The terms cult and cultist came into use in medical literature in the United States in the 1930s for what would now be termed "faith healing", especially as practised in the US Holiness movement. This usage experienced a surge of popularity at the time, and extended to other forms of alternative medicine as well.

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