In my opinion, Maggie Zender’s answer describes the use of the word ‘relegion’ in the legal environment quite accurately.However, the words religion and sect are mainly used outside the state sphere. The word ‘sect’ originally referred to a religious party, primarily a secession from a church. For the last 50 years, the term has become a concept of struggle with mostly negative side-sense.
Some examples.More than a hundred years ago, Max Weber wrote something like this: ‘A church is for the righteous and the unjust, a sect only for the righteous’. For sect, he had in mind above all the non-centralist branches (congregationalists) of the Reformed Church, and for the church the geographically structured state churches.
In normal language, ‘sect’ is generally meant by groups such as ‘Jevovas Witnesses’, Salvation Army or New Apostolic Church.
To the demarcation of sect from religion
In my day, it is not clear whether sect or denomination is the so-called Old Believers (OldBelievers in Russia 鈥?Wikipedia), a group of Russian Orthodox Christians who rejected the liturgical reform of 1652).On the other hand, Catholic groups are clearly a sect, rejecting the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, or even invalidate all popes under Pius XII. These groups are and were too small to be considered a religion or a church. In other religions, too, there were divisions over purely ‘ritual’ questions, such as the Jain, about whether hermits should be completely naked, or wear a lens.
Another topic is ‘messianic groups’, i.e. groups that believe that Mr. X is the prophesied ‘Messiah’, such as the Sabattians (Sabbatianism 鈥?Wikipedia) historically related to the Hassids; both Christians and Muslims expect a second return of Jesus
Another example is the Bahai ( Bahaitum 鈥?Wikipedia), which consider its founder to be the re-returned imam.However, they are no longer referred to as sects, but already as a religion, on the one hand because of their number of followers (approx. 8 million) and because they are not regarded by the native religion (the Persian Shia) as part of the Shia. It is controversial among the Lebanese druas, who also began as a Shiite sect, were rejected by Sunni Orthodoxy, and have emphasized their Islamic roots in recent years.
Mormons see themselves as a Christian community, but this is not shared by all outsiders.The situation in Islam seems to be similar with the Turkish Alevis (Alevis 鈥?Wikipedia).
Religious and non-denominational lay fraternities, such as Freemasons, are not referred to as sects.However, they can develop into sects, tribes, parties or religious associations. For example, even though the view is considered outdated, I believe that the Yazidis started out as the Sunni Dervish Brotherhood.
Fr Ewelt, Thank you for your work