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In the context of religion, a schism indicates a split between two or more movements or organizations within a larger religious body; the motivations for such a split are not necessarily any major differences of doctrine. In the development of religious practice as a part of cultural evolution, schisms offer an analog of speciation in biological evolution.
The word schism has been used most in the context of Christianity. During the first and second centuries, various churches were vying for the right to be the Christian Church. None could really be said to be schisms of another. However, once Paul's church got off and running as the church of the Roman Empire, schisms would define its future. In 431 the Assyrians broke off to form their own church; in 451 the Oriental Orthodox Church formed; the Great Schism of the 11th century brought the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church; in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s Martin Luther broke away to form the Protestant churches, while Henry VIII started the Church of England, and they have spent the last 500 years splintering into further denominations and sects (starting with Calvinism).
Some sects seem prone to schism (Anabaptists most notoriously), while others manage to remain intact. Certain churches, like Anglicanism, can tolerate a wide variety of dissent without schism, while others punish minor doctrinal difference. In practice, schism almost always involves political and economic as well as doctrinal reasons: clergymen are reluctant to leave a church if it means losing their job and livelihood, unless a rich backer can be found. Hence the Great Schism, which initially seemed a minor theological disagreement, was exacerbated by a trade dispute between Italian states and the Byzantine empire and political differences that culminated in the Fourth Crusade and sacking of Constantinople (1204). The northern European Reformation in the 16th century was closely linked to political struggles, with Dutch merchants, German dukes and princes, the English monarch, and Scottish landowners funding their various Reformations and stealing lots of church property. In contrast, in a low Protestant sect with non-professional preachers and few assets, it is trivial to set up a new church, needing little more than a new church sign.
Heresy vs. schism
In Christian theology, there exists some disagreement on the relationship between heresy and schism. While most Christians accept that heresy can lead to schism, beyond that opinion on the matter tends to differ between denominations. For example, Catholic doctrine holds that all heresy is accompanied by schism, because the heretic has by his beliefs severed himself from the Body of Christ, even if he has never in any way indicated those views to anyone save himself (well, himself and Skydaddy). The canons also take a somewhat murky position on those raised in certain other Christian churches, treating them not as schismatic but rather as something less than full members of the Church. On the opposite end, some denominations hold that any act of schism is heretical, as it wrongfully divides the Body of Christ, and yet others hold that all Christians are in communion with all other Christians. To add further complications, the growing trend of ecumenism has a habit of relabeling as schisms splits formerly considered (also) heresies.
Because the Qu'ran states that a Muslim is a person who has submitted to God, the Islamic faith does not formally recognize any schisms as more than just political or human distinctions. There is one primary schism that arose out of the mystical tradition in the late 7th century, the Shi'a claiming God does not give political power. The Shi'a do not recognize the religious and political leadership found in the Sunni traditions.
There have been many schisms in Buddhism including the major split from the strict Theravada Buddhism by the more welcoming Mahayana Buddhism. Though the date of this split is not agreed upon, it is thought to have happened between 100 BCE and 100 CE. From there, the Great Schools represent further schisms within Buddhism. Today there are hundreds of schools, following one of the two major paths, but each holding different views and seeing themselves as separate but complementary to the others.
- Protestant Reformation
- Church of Scotland for its history of splits including the Great Disruption of 1843
- Eller, Jack David (2014). "7: Religious Change and New Religious Movements". Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate (2 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 152. ISBN 9781317579144. https://books.google.com/books?id=KjZWBQAAQBAJ. Retrieved 2016-10-28. "[...] the consequence of religious processes may be schism or fission, the speciation or proliferation of religions as branches from prior beliefs and traditions, leading to '“sects' and 'denominations' and ultimately entire religions; a classic example would be the Christian schism of Protestantism from Catholicism."
- East–West Schism