Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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The regular membership of a religious organization.

In hierarchically structured organizations, the laity constitutes the lowest rank and is subject to the authority of appointed or (in rare cases) elected "officials." Some members of the laity may, however, undertake specified religious or administrative tasks. The primary example of such an organization is the Roman Catholic Church, where the laity are subordinate to the regular clergy, the bishops, and, ultimately, the Pope but may form or join religious orders as monks or nuns or hold positions as lay ministers or administrators. In more egalitarian organizations, all members form part of the laity, with some appointed or elected to perform religious or administrative duties on behalf of their peers. Such an arrangement is common within many sectarian organizations of the Protestant faith.

W. E. Hewitt

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