One important theoretical task in the study of religion is distinguishing among the different organizational forms that religious groups assume. The most influential typology of religious organization has been based upon distinctions of church, denomination, sect, and cult. However, the various formulations of this typology have proved problematic, theoretically and empirically, and of little use to new religions scholars. We propose a relational approach to categorizing religious groups based on the social and cultural relationship of a group to established institutions (including religion). This approach yields four types of tradition groups: dominant, sectarian, alternative, and emergent. We argue that a relationally based typology is particularly useful in mapping religious economies, conducting comparative analysis, and tracking the changing status of religious groups over time.
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