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  Cult (Latin, ‘worship’ or ‘devotion’) has two distinct meanings in English religious and theological writing. The first sense is similar to the use of the word bhakti: intense worship of or devotion to a particular saint or deity, who is credited with miracle-working powers. Examples include the cults of Our Lady of Fatima (Mariology), of Muslim saints in India (whose graves are venerated as shrines), or of Satya Sai Baba, who has a living incarnation in Bangalore, India. Such a cult is often local, based on a particular shrine or the memory of a local person, and members remain part of a mainstream church or religion.

The second sense is as a description of what is now known as a neoreligious movement, or in older writings, a heterodox sect outside the mainstream churches, often with secret doctrine and worship. An example is the cult of Dionysus in the ancient Greco-Roman world. This sense has become pejorative and, because practitioners object to it, it is falling into disuse among serious researchers. Also, cult used in this sense has a tenuous connection with occultism. EMJ



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