Denomination (religion)

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The term denomination - in the broadest sense comparable to the term denomination common in German-speaking countries - denotes a religious community with its own name and tradition and character or an association of local church communities .

A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion whose members are united in their common beliefs and practices. The common name of the denomination stands for the common identity and for the typical beliefs of the group, which thereby emphasizes a differentiation from other groups and the peculiarity of their own knowledge and practice.


The use of the English term denomination for different faiths within Christianity in the later USA is documented for the first time for the year 1688 in a lecture by Samuel Willard, pastor at the then Old South Church in Boston .

Dissemination took the name denomination in the English linguistic area in the 18th century thanks to the revival movements in Britain and the Great Awakening in the American colonies, which the term is perceived as negative sect (German: Sect ) rejected. In contrast to sect , the term denomination was accepted in large parts of the various religious communities because of its neutrality.

Gilbert Tennant , who mainly worked in New Jersey , gave an early definition of the term : "All societies who profess Christianity and retain the fundamental principles thereof, notwithstanding their different denominations and diversity of sentiments in smaller things, are in reality but one Church of Christ, but several branches (more or less pure in minute points) of one visible kingdom of the Messiah. "

Originally, the term denomination was only used for Christian, mainly evangelical, religious communities. More recently, especially in the USA, it has also been used for other religious communities such as Judaism .

The emergence of a denomination

At the origin of a denomination there is a historical event, a specific geographical and socio-cultural feature. New denominations are often shaped by one or more outstanding personalities who give the impetus to the emergence of a special group within the religious community. Reasons are individual beliefs that are more strongly emphasized, new beliefs or experiences that are spread, or changes in views on beliefs that come to the fore. Often the desired change is also about the renewal of original beliefs or about a religious reformation.

The resulting subgroup is given a new name - often from outside - in order to distinguish it conceptually from the community of origin and from other denominations; sometimes legal reasons are involved. The naming is based either on the founders of the new community (e.g. Mennonites , Hutterites ) or on special content that has been renewed or added (e.g. Baptists because of their practice of believing baptism).

In its beginnings, the new denomination is often viewed psychologically as a secession from the original religious community. A simple “social cell division” is rare because intensive discussions and thoughts precede, possibly loud arguments. Example: A dogmatic, influential group is perceived as a minority of the right to veto . - There is only a split when a group feels that it is constantly lagging behind in communication and does not know how to catch up over a long period of time. Usually this leads to the separation of individuals or groups that are not ideologically homogeneous. A new foundation and thus a kind of proto-denomination only happens when a group reaches a condensation point for a common sense of togetherness, for example through a verbal leader in combination with a larger group of people who are willing to reorientate and seek a stable future. This means that the proto-denomination can be perceived as a plausible option for the individual.


Christian denominations

Jewish denominations

Islamic denominations

Definition of sociology of religion

In the sociology of religion , the term denomination is used for religious communities that are not based on the principle of membership of general populations (state church, national church), but which are also not mere association or voluntary churches. In this sense, denominations are an intermediate type that accepts larger population groups with characteristic similarities (class- specific , ethnic or socio-ecological ), organizes itself permanently and distinguishes itself from other religious communities through dogmatic or cultic peculiarities.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Evangelical Church Lexicon. Church-theological concise dictionary (edited by Heinz Brunotte and Otto Weber), Göttingen 1958, p. 863
  2. ^ Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, FA Brockhaus, Mannheim 1995, vol. 26, German dictionary, p. 696
  3. Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, FA Brockhaus, Mannheim 1988, Vol. 5, p. 255
  4. ^ A b Winthrop S. Hudson: Denominationalism . In: Lindsay Jones (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Religion . 2nd Edition. tape 4 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2005, pp. 2286–2291 ( behind a paywall: Gale Virtual Reference Library - "Through our knowing but in part, it is come to pass that professors of Christianity have been of diverse opinions in many things and their difference hath occasioned several denominations, but while they agree in the foundation they may be saved. ").
  5. Joachim Matthes , Denomination . In: Werner Fuchs-Heinritz et al. (Ed.), Lexicon for Sociology . 5th edition, Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-531-19670-1 , p. 131.