A schism is a rift or break in an organization that causes two distinct and separate factions to emerge. Typically, it is very difficult to reunite after a schism occurs, and the division can set up centuries of strife and chaos. Someone who triggers this is known as a schismatic. Some schismatics have gone on to become folk heroes as a result of their roles in schisms, especially when they are perceived as breaking from a corrupt organization.
Many people use the term specifically to refer to religious schisms, most notably in the Christian church. The most famous is probably the Great Schism of the 11th century, in which the Christian church broke into two main branches: the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, other religious have also experienced schisms, and Christianity has witnessed a number of lesser divisions, explaining why there are so many branches of Christianity today.
Schisms can also happen to sports teams, educational institutions, and other organizations. Typically, it starts with a small ideological disagreement that slowly snowballs, becoming more and more important as people start to take sides. A widening gap begins to emerge, and if the gap cannot be breached, the result will be a schism. In some cases, people actively work to promote this division in the belief that their differences are too great for the issue to be resolved.
The term comes from a Greek word which means “to tear,” and this is a very apt description of the events associated with a schism. Especially in the case of a highly organized organization, a schism can tear followers apart, creating entrenched resentment which may boil over later. Classically, one party retains power, and it may use its powers to abuse the breakaway group mercilessly in the hopes of suppressing the renegades and regaining control.
Human history is littered with numerous examples of schisms, and while some have been extremely violent, many have also contributed in a positive way to history. The Great Schism, for example, created two thriving branches of Christianity once over a century of discord passed, and it undoubtedly inspired religious renegades in the 16th century Reformation. They have toppled governments, divided communities, and caused sports fans a great deal of grief, but they have also restructured and sometimes greatly improved society, though it may take decades to realize it.