Cult vs Religion: Difference and Comparison

When it comes to mankind’s history, for people, it has been natural to worship something like stone, trees, etc. Firstly, there was animism, meaning the living souls attributed to inanimate objects, plants, and natural phenomena.

It eventually morphed into the crucial world religions in the present time.  

Most people claim that there are approximately a dozen many religions in today’s world. On the other hand, others say that distinctive religious practices and beliefs are hundreds or even thousands.

After learning the differentiation between cult and religion, the confusion will be cleared up. In this article, the main focus is on differentiating cults and religion. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Cults are smaller, more exclusive groups with unorthodox beliefs, while religions have larger followings and widely accepted doctrines.
  2. Cults frequently have charismatic leaders who exercise total control, whereas religions have diverse leadership structures.
  3. Religions are more established and integrated into society, while cults can be secretive and isolated.

Cult vs Religion 

Culture is a group’s shared beliefs, practices, customs, and values transmitted through education, family upbringing, and socialization. Religion is a set of beliefs and values that revolve around worshipping deities or supernatural powers, answering fundamental questions about life, death, and the afterlife.

Cult vs Religion

Religion Quiz

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A cult is a group or system of people who follow excessive devotion to an object, figure, or belief system, particularly following a leader.

The cult term is commonly linked with religious sects of highly unorthodox that take part in sinister demonstrations and practices. However, with several instances popping up throughout recent history, it can be said that cults can be non-religious too. 

Religion is an organized set of practices, systems, and beliefs that most relate to worship and devotion in a controlling force like another supernatural being or a personal God.

It consists of worldviews, revelations, cultural beliefs, prophecies, morals, and texts with spiritual meaning. 

Comparison Table  

Parameters of ComparisonCultsReligion
ConnationsOften associated with negative and pejorative connotations More followers are in faith in comparison to the cult
DurationNewerLonger history
FollowersFewer compared to religionThey might be viewed as wicked, abnormal, and abusive
ViewsMight be viewed as wicked, abnormal, and abusiveMore accepted
NatureNot established and less organizedEstablished and organized

What is a Cult?

In modern English, it is a social group considered by its unusual philosophical, spiritual or religious belief or its common interest in a specific object, goal, or personality.

This term’s sense is controversial and has divergent definitions both in academia and popular culture, and across many study fields among scholars, it has been an ongoing contention’s source.  

The word cult’s older sense consists of a conventional religious set of devotional practices within their culture, are associated with a specific place and related to a particular figure.

For instance, the references to the cult of a specific imperial cult or Catholic saint of ancient Rome use this sense of the word.  

The original and literal sense of the word remains in use in the language (English), which arose in the 19th century as a derived sense of excessive devotion.

Religious movements may consider a cult a social group with novel practices and beliefs or socially deviant, although this is unclear.  

Whereas other researchers present a cult picture as less organized and say that they arise spontaneously novel practices and beliefs,.

Groups referred to as cults from local groups range in size from a few followers to the organization at an international level, along with adherents in a million. 

What is Religion?

Religion is a system of social-cultural that designates practices and behaviours, beliefs, sanctified places, morals, texts, ethics, prophecies, or organizations.

It relates humanity to spiritual, supernatural, and metaphysical elements. But there is no scholarly consensus on what religion constitutes.  

Distinct religions might not or might include several elements, which range from faith, divine, sacred things, or supernatural being.

Religious practices might include reverence, rituals, festivals, sermons, meditation, dance, prayer, feasts, initiations, or other human cultural aspects.  

They have sacred narratives and histories that might be preserved in religious symbols, scriptures, and holy places that aim mainly to offer life meaning. Religions might consist of symbolic stories that followers say to be true.  

Worldwide there are distinct religions estimated at 10,000. Of the world’s population, approx, 84%, are affiliated with Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or some kind of folk religion.

The religion study comprises a variety of academic disciplines: of comparative religion, theology, and social scientific studies. 


Central Differences between Cult and Religion 

  1. Cults are illegitimate and secretive. On the flip side, religions are considered to be legitimate and open.  
  2. Through coercive persuasion, cults joined to some degree that the perfect way to sort out problems is through joining a cult. Conversely, religion is mainly inherited like a youngster raised in a particular religious tradition and follows initiation path and fuller membership.  
  3. When it comes to respecting, cults are vilified almost universally except by their members. On the other hand, mutual respect is given to each other in religions.  
  4. When it comes to examples, the Branch Dravidians, Children of God, The Peoples Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and Sullivaniare are a few of the examples of cults. In contrast, some of the examples of religion are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  
  5. A cult is a religious and small group that is not part of a more and larger accepted religion, with unique beliefs or socially deviant and practices. Meanwhile, religion is a particular system of belief or/ and worship, consisting of a code of philosophy and ethics. 
Difference Between Cult and Religion



Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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