Definitions

Religious denomination

Religious denomination

A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition and identity.

The term describes various Christian denominations (for example, Eastern Orthodox, Catholicism, and the many varieties of Protestantism or Restorationism). The term also describes the four branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist), and describes the two main branches of Islam (Sunni and Shia).

In Hinduism, the major deity or philosophical belief identifies a denomination, which also typically has distinct cultural and religious practices. The major denominations include Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Smartism and Halumatha.

Formation of denominations

Denominations often form slowly over time for many reasons. Due to historical accidents of geography, culture and influence between different groups, members of a given religion slowly begin to diverge in their views. Over time members of a religion may find that they have developed significantly different views on theology, philosophy, religious pluralism, ethics and religious practices and rituals. Consequently, different denominations may eventually form. In other cases, denominations form very rapidly, either resulting from a split or schism in an existing denomination, or if people share an experience of spiritual revival or spiritual awakening, and choose to form a new denomination based on that new experience or understanding.

Examples

An example within Christianity is the Mennonite and the Church of the Brethren denominations. Both denominations are similar in their beliefs, yet they are unique because their traditions were influenced by different founders (Menno Simons and Alexander Mack respectively). Their division is administrative, and there is much communication and interaction between them. Since its founding, the Mennonite denomination has split into a number of smaller Mennonite denominations, due to geography, social and theological differences.

Another example is the Lutheran Church. When Martin Luther protested Catholic practices, he and his followers were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church as heretics. This led to the formation of alternative communities of practice that became known as "Lutheran" or "Protestant." Over time, the various churches who considered themselves Lutheran identified with one another and through various definitions of "Lutheran" practices (Heidelberg Catechism, five solas, priesthood of all believers) the conglomerations of churches formed concrete denominations based on a common school of thought related to these practices. Even today, there are major ideological differences between different denominations of Lutherans, although there may be significant overlap between their beliefs.

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