1. (noun) A relatively small group that excessively controls its members, whom share set of acts and practices which require unwavering devotion, and are considered deviant (outside the norms of society), and typically led by a charismatic and often self-appointed leader.

Examples: 1. Branch Davidians; 2. Heaven’s Gate

2. (noun) A individual, group, or object with a relatively small, but devoted fan-base and supporters.

Examples: Films (called cult-classics, cult favorite, cult hit): The Big Lebowski(1998), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Warriors (1979)

Audio Pronunciation: (cult)

Download Audio Pronunciation: cult.mp3

Usage Notes:

  • Plural: cults
  • The definition of cult is contested, particularly the difference between a cult and a religion. Importantly, a cult as sociologically defined does not need to be religiously based (i.e., health, philosophy, politics, therapeutic) but requires “religious” devotion.
  • Cults are typically hierarchical, that uses formal and informal practices to socialize members. Often, cults work similarly as pyramid schemes and grooms vulnerable people to join through coercion and peer pressure.
  • Cultbusters try to stop cults.
  • Cybercults are Internet-based cults.
  • Cult figures (e.g., cult leaders) have a cult following.
  • Works of art can achieve cult status.
  • Also called religious cult.
  • A (noun) cultist is a member of cult and a practitioner of (noun) cultistism with (adjectivecultic or (adjective) cultish or (adjective) cult-like beliefs.
  • Also called a cultus.

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Works Consulted

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How to Cite the Definition of Cult

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “cult.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved December 16, 2018 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

cult. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “cult.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed December 16, 2018.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“cult.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 16 Dec. 2018. <>.