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Since the early twentieth century, sociologists have been engaged in observation and analysis of both traditional and nontraditional religious groups. In addition, social scientists devised a number of important theories about the social and cultural significance of religious practices by looking at the historical development and evolution of the major religions , sects, and mystical offshoots over the course of the last millennium.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the activities and prevalence of so-called religious cults were minimal, and social scientists were able to closely observe the dynamics and structures of several such groups. To the current-day reader, much of the observation and analysis hailing from this period appears to be hopelessly mired in the subjective biases of the researchers of the era, many of whom were pro-conformity and fundamentally critical of unorthodoxy in any form. However, by the 1950s , the idea of cultural relativism and the importance of value-neutral analysis had gained broader acceptance, which resulted in increasingly sophisticated, nuanced studies of nontraditional religions and so-called cults.
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