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- This article discusses cult in the original and typically ancient sense of "religious practice." It does not discuss cults in the sociology of religion, new religious movements referred to as cults, political cults or head of state cults of personality, therapeutic or business cults, popular cult followings in the sense of cult film, or specific groups referred to as cults in non-scientific media. See the main article at Cult.
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings ("scriptures"), its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult is literally the "care" owed to the god and the shrine. By extension, "cult" has come to connote the total cultural aspects of a religion, as they are distinguished from others through change and individualization.
The term "cult" first appeared in English in 1617, derived from the French culte, meaning "worship" or "a particular form of worship" which in turn originated from the Latin word cultus meaning "care, cultivation, worship," originally "tended, cultivated," also the past participle of colere "to till". In French, for example, sections in newspapers giving the schedule of worship at Catholic churches are headed Culte Catholique; the section giving the schedule of protestant churches is headed culte réformé.
The meaning "devotion to a person or thing" is from 1829. Starting about 1920, c-u-l-t acquired an additional six or more connotatively positive and negative definitions that are separately discussed in other articles.
Some Christians make refined distinctions between worship and veneration, both of which can be outwardly expressed in a similar manner. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy distinguish between worship (Latin adoratio, Greek latreia [λατρεια]) which is due to God alone, and veneration (Latin veneratio, Greek doulia [δουλεια]), which may be offered to the saints. These distinctions between deity and mediators are exhaustively treated at the entries for worship and veneration.
Among the observances in the cult are rituals, ceremonies or audits, which may involve spoken or sung words, and often involve personal sacrifice. Other manifestations of the cult of a deity are the preservation of relics or the creation of images, such as icons (usually connoting a flat painted image) or three-dimensional cultic images, denigrated as "idols", and the specification of sacred places, hilltops and mountains, fissures and caves, springs, pools and groves, or even individual trees or stones, which may be the seat of an oracle or the venerated site of a vision, apparition, miracle or other occurrence commemorated or recreated in cult practices. Sacred places may be identified and elaborated by construction of shrines and temples, on which are centered public attention at religious festivals and which may become the center for pilgrimages.
The comparative study of cult practice is part of the disciplines of the anthropology of religion and the sociology of religion, two aspects of comparative religion. In the context of many religious organisations themselves, the study of cultic or liturgical practices is called liturgiology.
- Hero cult
- Irrational beliefs]]
- List of groups referred to as cults
- Religious beliefs
- Religious experiences
- Sociocultural factors
- Stockholm syndrome
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