Ultimately religion and culture are inseparable in many ways. For thousands of years, various societies have had some form of religion at the center of their cultural beliefs and practices. Frequently, such as in ancient near eastern societies or even in early Rome, the practices of religion were so ingrained into the belief systems of citizens that the religion and culture of the society in question were indistinguishable.
As a tangible example of this, many of the architectural elements in ancient Egypt, such as the adornment of buildings with carvings and hieroglyphics, are regarded as cultural characteristics. Yet when examining the content of these adornments on buildings, or even the direction buildings faced (such as the Israelite temple in the Judeo-Christian tradition) they frequently reflect religious stories and were created to tell those stories. Thus, something as tangible as the way in which buildings were decorated is tied to religious tradition. Even the commissioning of Michelangelo can be considered an example of this. His painting of the Sistine Chapel is a cultural phenomenon that is world-renowned, but it reflects a religious ideology and was ultimately created for religious purposes.
In a more recent example that is still evidenced today, the practice of attending church in certain parts of the world is a strong pillar of cultural practice. This is prominent in places such as the southern area of the United States or even in the attendance of Mass in many areas of the world that were built upon the Catholic tradition. Even though many people do not go to a service on Sundays, the attendance of church is still widely regarded as a cultural practice, though it is fundamentally a religious one.
Ideologically, religion is always in relationship with culture, whether in tension or cohesion. The United States provides a stellar example of this. In the 1960s and 1970s, the sexual revolution, rock and roll, and the drug culture were all spawned in reaction to many of the more conservative elements of society (frequently established by religious practices), and this led to a schism between culture and established religion. However, in the 1980s, the moral majority movement came as a direct reaction to the secularization of the country in the 60s and 70s and served as religion’s effort to influence culture back to conservative practices by using political influence.
Thus, religion and culture are inseparable phenomenons that constantly feed off of one another within society. More often than not, changes in one will cause tremors of reaction in the other.
For more perspectives on the debate over whether or not religion impacts culture, check out this lecture:
Religion affects different cultures in different ways. It can affect the same culture in different ways at different times.
When people in a culture believe strongly in a given religion, it can have a huge impact on their culture. Their culture comes to accept only those behaviors and ways of thinking that are acceptable to their religion. For example, we can say that many Muslim countries today are strongly affected by Islam. They have developed cultures that are dominated by men and in which such things as drinking alcohol and socializing with members of the opposite sex in public are frowned upon.
Such impacts have not been limited to Muslim countries. In past times, European society was centered on the Christian church. This had a great effect on European culture of the time. For example, almost all cultural expression was church-related. Most art was religious. Much of the music produced was religious as well. The cultures of the time valued religion to the point that they were willing to devote major resources to things like supporting monasteries and building cathedrals.
However, religion does not always have a strong impact on culture. In many countries today, religion has very little effect. For example, Ireland, which was recently strongly Catholic, has just legalized gay marriage. This shows that religion’s impact on their society has faded. In the United States, the weakening of religious belief has had a strong impact on culture. In American culture, things like premarital sex and divorce are not frowned upon as they once were.
Religion can have a strong impact on culture. It can dictate what behaviors and ways of thinking are acceptable in a culture. However, this is not always true as the strength of religious belief in any given society can wax and wane over time.