Difference Between Religion and Cult

Key Difference – Religion vs Cult

All of us know what a religion is. A system of belief in a supernatural power that governs and controls mortal beings has always been there since time immemorial. This has been referred to as religion in modern times though different practices and traditions have been there even before the advent of modern civilization. It has been a long journey from the worship of animalistic forces to the major religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on. There is also a word cult that has similar connotations as religion. However, despite similarities, there are subtle differences between cult and religion that will be highlighted in this article.

What is Religion?

Every society and culture has a full-fledged system of beliefs and practices about a super power that controls the mortals on the earth. This is inclusive of a deity or several deities that are worshipped and glorified with many supernatural abilities ascribed to such deities. In some societies, there are not one but several religions, each having its own following in terms of numbers of people believing in it. Man has always tried to explain things that he was unable to understand with the help of gods. There are experts who say that religion is just a part of a culture, and the belief in the existence of god is what constitutes a religion. There is also a system of sacred and profane, in addition to rituals and practices peculiar to a particular religion. There is always a code of conduct in a religion that is believed to be sanctioned by the gods, and people following a religion are expected to follow this code of conduct or behavior. With the passage of time and possible explanation of everything around us and also the natural phenomenon, the need for religion has diminished a bit. It has, however, remained as a pillar of strength for most of us as belief in god gives us strength and conviction in our own beliefs.

Difference Between Religion and Cult

What is Cult?

Cult is a system of worship that revolves around a central figure. It is also a group of people having belief in religious practices that is considered sinister by majority of the people. This definition means that a cult does not enjoy popular support and lacks the political power of a religion. In fact, cult is a word with negative connotations as the followers of the mainstream religion consider the practices and the followers of such practices as abnormal. The rites and rituals observed by the people following a cult are notorious for being sinister and vastly different from the religion followed by the majority.

Religion vs Cult

What is the Difference Between Religion and Cult?

Definitions of Religion and Cult:

Religion: Religion is a full-fledged system of beliefs and practices about a super power that controls the mortals on the earth.

Cult: Cult is a system of worship that revolves around a central figure.

Characteristics of Religion and Cult:


Religion: Religion is an organized system of beliefs and practices followed by the majority of a population.

Cult: Cult is a system of religious beliefs that is followed by a small number of people.


Religion: Religion is revered.

Cult: Cult is a pejorative term having negative connotations.


Image Courtesy:

1. “Religious syms” by User:Rursus – File:Religious syms.png by Manop. [Public Domain] via Commons

2. “Hero cult Louvre CA308” by English: Brooklyn-Budapest Painter – User:Bibi Saint-Pol, 2007-05-09. [Public Domain] via Commons

  • Gary V

    If “In a cult, there is often a central figure that is revered by the members of the group.” It could be arguably said that many mainstream religions are cults because both Christianity & Islam have prophets that they worship as well as their deity & Catholics have the Pope, the Mormons have Joseph Smith etc