The word cult in current popular usage is a pejorative term for a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre by the larger society. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices. The word was first used in the early 17th century denoting homage paid to a divinity and borrowed via the French culte from Latin cultus "worship", from the adjective cultus "inhabited, cultivated, worshipped", derived from the verb colere "care, cultivate."
In the 1930s cults became the object of sociological study in the context of the study of religious behavior. They have been criticized by mainstream Christians for their unorthodox beliefs. In the 1970s the anticult movement arose, partly motivated by acts of violence and other crimes committed by members of some cults. Some of the claims of the anti-cult movement have been disputed by other scholars, leading to further controversies.
Discrimination against cult members has been an ongoing issue in some nations, as well as concerns about doomsday cults and destructive cults. Governments have undertaken various policies towards cults, ranging from tolerance to hostility, and this has also been a source of controversy.