SECT, a body of persons holding distinctive or separate doctrines or opinions, especially in matters of religion; thus there are various sects among the Jews, the Mahommedans, and the Buddhists, etc. In the Christian Church it has usually a hostile or depreciatory sense and is applied, like " sectary," to all religious bodies outside the one to which the user of the term belongs.
The latter use has been influenced by the false etymology which makes the word mean " cut off " (Lat. secare, to cut). The derivation has been long a matter of dispute. The Latin secta was used in classical Latin first of a way, a trodden or beaten path; it seems to be derived from secare, to cut, cf. the phrase secare viam, to travel, take one's way, Gr. tinvuv b&bv. From the phrase sectam sequi, to follow in the footsteps of any one, the word came to mean a party, following, faction. Another transferred sense is a manner or mode of life, so hanc sectam rationemque vitae . . . secuti sumus (Cic. Gael. 17, 40). It was also the regular word for a school of philosophy and so translates alpcaa, lit. choice (eupei<r0cu, to choose), from which is derived " heresy " (3. P.). The Vulgate (N.T.) translates aZpeais sometimes by secta, sometimes by haeresis. In Med. Lat., besides these uses we find secta meaning a suit at law, a suit of clothes, and a following or suite. These meanings point to the derivation of secta adopted by Skeat (Etym. Diet., 1910) ; which connects the word with sequi, to follow. Whichever derivation is accepted a " sect " does not mean a part " cut off " from the church.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)