I was quite shocked when in Strasbourg I read a plaque that said that something had been built by the 'culte catholique', but from the dictionary definition I cannot tell whether it is a polite synonym for religion. I'd appreciate an informed opinion.

2 Answers 2


This is actually part of a famous pair of false friends: What's usually referred to as a cult in English is called a secte in French, while a culte in French is closer to the English worship or to rite, when it means the public practice of a ritualised set of religious acts.

Secte has kept its technical meaning of subdivision of a religious or an intellectual movement in scientific writing, similarly to its English cognate, but in everyday usage the cult meaning predominates.

  • 1
    Might be worth mentioning that sect in English can have a quite similar meaning to the French culte (at least, it seems to me, based on your description—I do not know French).
    – KRyan
    Jun 20, 2020 at 1:13
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    Also worth mentioning that in some technical contexts, "cult" in English can be absent of technical connotations. The "cult" of a given Saint, for example, is simply the collection of people who consider that saint their patron and who, within the context of their broader faith, offer their devotion to (or through) them. Google "Cult of Mary" for example.
    – CCTO
    Jun 20, 2020 at 3:33

Culte has no negative connotation in French.

In a religious context, it just means a belief. A lieu de culte is used to name any place of worship like a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, etc.

Otherwise, culte is often used in apposition to qualify a movie (un film culte), a series or a catchphrase (une réplique culte). In this latter case, culte always has a positive connotation.

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