Sectarianism: Definition and Meaning

Sectarianism is a struggle between two groups that might be political, cultural, or religious and is frequently tied to the type of government they are subject to. Depending on the political climate and whether one group has more sway inside the government, prejudice, discrimination, exclusion, or hatred may develop in these disputes.

Frequently, not every member of these organisations is actively involved in the battle. However, when tensions grow, more members of each side within the nation or polity where the conflict is taking place must take part in political solutions. Religious groups, ethnic groups, social classes, geographic regions, and political movement factions are typical instances of these divisions among state residents.

Meaning of Sectarianism

"Excessive attachment to a particular sect or party, especially in religion," is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term "sectarianism." The term "sectarian conflict" typically refers to violent conflict that occurs along religious or political lines, such as the conflicts between Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland (religious and class divisions may also play a significant part).

The discrepancy between various schools of thought, such as that between Shia and Sunni Muslims, may also be referred to in terms of philosophy and politics in general. According to non-sectarians, the foundation of fruitful, harmonious human contact is a free association and tolerance of various beliefs. They embrace diversity in both politics and religion.

Types of Sectarianism

Sects are grouped by certain people according to the criteria of prejudice, bigotry, hostility, and displaying unfavourable attitudes towards others, which is where sectarianism first emerged in the religious sphere. With the help of these and other criteria, sectarianism can be classified into typologies that employ it for objectives other than religious ones.

Following are the major types of sectarianism −

  • Cultural Sectarianism − Sectarianism, as defined by culture, is defined as prejudice, intolerance, and hatred that are motivated by cultural factors. This is not to say that religion is unimportant; rather, religion deals with sects [religious sects] in accordance with cultural norms where religion is practiced. Sectarianism in culture is done to promote prejudice against other cultures.

  • Political Sectarianism − Politicians politicise sects and sectarian rhetoric based on demeaning and displaying unfavorable views towards rival political parties as a means of luring voters to their own side and ideology. Following the religiopolitical systems, politicians are expected to give strong representation to such use, which is seen as one of the defining characteristics of political discourse. Political sectarianism is the practice of dividing other communities based on their religious, racial, or social affiliations by politicians. Sectarianism serves as the political expression for a fanatical community that lacks cultural interaction by reflecting the religious element of political processes.

  • Linugistic Sectarianism − According to the Oxford English Dictionary, using one language more frequently than the other is a form of discrimination that arises from certain social, political, and even economic situations. "A preference for, or advocacy for, another language" It is possible that this reflects sectarian sentiments towards various groups, such as the various language communities.

  • Religious Sectarianism − Religious sectarianism is the practice of prejudice brought on by varying ideologies regarding how to interpret religious scriptures. Religious sectarianism is the name for this form of conflict. This kind of sectarianism begins with the tendencies and inner motives of people who want to accomplish various goals, which can be either religious or political, or occasionally both. In terms of history, it begins after the death of the founder, godfather, or apostle of a certain sociological, religious, or cultural movement.

Approaches to Sectarianism

Both sociological and psychological stances are taken while discussing the idea of sectarianism. The sociological perspective is highlighted because it deals with the values, beliefs, and social customs that make sectarian discourse visible.

Weber’s Ideal Type Approach

According to Weber, sects are made up of people who have certain things in common, and sectarianism begins when people have negative views towards people who don't share those things. The result is sectarianism, which is a concurrent phenomenon. Weber claims that sectarianism relates to ideas where certain characteristics are connected to the ideal type, which alludes to conventional ideas.

Sects, churches, and denominations serve as symbols for specific cultural traits because of this When sectarianism is practiced, its various forms can be seen through the normal social norms of the society, such as its political, religious, cultural, or other facets within the social structure of a particular society. In terms of how to start sectarianizing people, it depends on whether these people share a common tendency to adhere to particular religious, political, or social beliefs.

Troeltsch’s Socio-cultural Approach

This method discusses and presents the relationship between the sect and society in such a way that sectarianism is the end result of such relations. Troeltsch introduces the sect as a distinct notion from the church, which served as the previous dominant religious institution, and justifies the requirement for the social framework that sects require to flourish.

The church, which is a religious institution, establishes the objective of supremacy through the strength it derives from the reflections of divine sources. On the other side, sects have their roots in society, and these groups exhibit intolerance, hatred, animosity, and indifference towards other sects.

Presumed Sectarianism Approach

In accordance with Bisharah's perspective on sectarianism, it is presumptive [invented, not genuine sects]; it is a defined way where people are grouped based on prejudice, discrimination, and hostility towards other sects, without which it is not recognized as sectarianism. However, a denomination [school of thought] is a gathering of people based on a sect that marks a person's social identity. As a result, one might anticipate certain naturalized actions and statements from such a person as a member of a denomination.

A new sect is created with a political attitude as a result of the presumptive sectarianism being caused by specific stages and movements, such as protesting against religious judgments using political discourse and defending it as betraying the genuine tenets of a religion. This position begins by describing religion but later exposes its covert principles and ideologies, which are more closely related to politics than religion.


Sectarianism is defined as a narrow-minded belief as being a part of a denomination through which a sectarian individual engages in prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, and hostility towards the members of the supposed members of the opposing denomination. Sectarianism is sometimes described as "religious" and/or "political," but the reality is typically far more nuanced.

In its most basic form, sectarianism is described as "the existence, within a locality, of two or more divided and actively competing communal identities, leading to a strong sense of dualism that unremittingly transcends commonality and is both culturally and physically

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. What is the evolution of sectarianism?

Ans. A negotiation issue has an evolutionary solution in sectarianism. Social and economic injustices serve as both the foundation for and fuel for sectarianism. Contracts between sects reinforce one another. Conflicts between sects arise when the sectarian signal is rebuffed.

Q2. Is India a sectarian and secular country?

Ans. Since achieving independence in 1947, India has been a secular nation-state. In India's constitution, secular values were firmly established. The development of secular ideals in India's modern history is attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation's first prime minister.

Q3. Who started sectarianism?

Ans. Sectarianism has existed in Iran for centuries, beginning with the early Islamic period's invasion of the nation and continuing throughout Iranian history until the present. Sectarianism began to play a significant influence in determining the direction of the nation during the Safavid Dynasty's rule.

Updated on: 11-May-2023


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