How Does Religion Affect Culture
How does religion affect culture?
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.
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.
For more perspectives on the debate over whether or not religion impacts culture, check out this lecture:
To start with, Religion affects culture both positively and negatively. First, religion is the belief and allegiance to a supreme being. The religion that an individual subscribes to is best understood through practice and experience. On the other hand, culture is the way of life; that entails believes, norms, values and practices.
One of the positive effects of religion to culture is the eradication of detrimental and dehumanizing cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, traditional circumcision and tattooing. The sharing of circumcision tools can infect and trigger the spread of diseases such HIV/AIDS among others. Secondly, the later practices can to excessive bleeding or severe physical injuries to the initiate.
Religion is a transformation tool. It is important to note that we live religion; thus religion dictates all the things we do in our daily life. For instance, religion dictates the types of food we eat, how we dress and how we interact. This explains why Jews do not eat pork while the Hindu do not eat beef; because it's an abomination.
From a different point of view, religion is autocratic and erodes our culture by forbidding certain things. The fact that conversion from an atheist to Christianity changes our system of belief, conduct and dress code is absolute autocracy.
In conclusion, before an individual converts from one religion to another, he or she should carefully examine the pros and cons. Otherwise, they won't enjoy it nor live comfortably.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Similar to this proverbial question is an alternative question to the topic at hand. Which came first culture or religion? Answering this query would go a long way in determining how religion affects culture. But before we venture down that path, we must carefully define terms.
What Is Religion and Culture?
Religion means many different things to many people. But a good working and simple definition that seems to fit worldwide, is any and all attempts by man to commune with God, nature, or to reach a state of peace and hope for eternity or the end of life solely by man's own efforts (McDowell & Stewart, 2007).
Culture is the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group - the attitudes, thought patterns and behavioral characteristic of a particular people group (American Heritage, 2014). Culture is often more difficult to identify than religion and the two are frequently intertwined such as in animism. Culture may not be written down like a creed. People are expected to know what to do, how to do it, and sometimes why. There are also unwritten and often undiscussed taboos that must be followed or avoided.
Religion and Culture Inseparable?
In my nearly 15 years of living on a remote Island Archipelago called the Republic of Palau, half-way between Guam and the Philippines, and 300 miles from nowhere, I experienced first-hand many of the realities previously mentioned. According to cultural anthropologists, Palau has one of the most complicated integrations between culture, customs, and religions of any society thus discovered (Barnett, 1960). They are interwoven into a complex tapestry where religion and culture are inseparable much like two sides of a coin.
Furthermore, Palau, which practices a unique matrilineal society, functions as a dichotomy in nearly all aspects of life, from the way foods are eaten to the complex marriage custom. This dichotomy is thought to maintain balance in nature, society, birth and death, and the life hereafter.
Although there are numerous ways that religion influences culture, there are also examples of how culture effects religious practices. An example of the former is the belief or denial of the life hereafter being a determining factor for the way one lives his/her life on earth. An example of the latter involved the discrete undergarments worn by the men who are dedicated to Mormon Doctrine becoming a problem for collegiate and professional athletes in the church. So, the leader of the Mormon Church, Spencer Kimball, had a divine revelation from the Mormon god declaring a special dispensation that exempted such athletes from the religious practice.
To summarize, religion greatly affects culture both in practice and belief. However, as we have seen, the antithesis can also be just as prevalent.
In many respects culture can also effect religion. However, it is important to take note that the culture of a society is deeply rooted in the religion that it is founded on. Many Hispanic cultures have a deep rooting in Catholicism while for many centuries the United States was rooted in Christianity, it still is in many respects but as a nation the United States has embraced multiple cultures and through that the religions also were incorporated.
Most of the decisions people make are seen only by a fraction of what causes those fractions to be made. Sort of like looking at an iceberg in the ocean. Culture is what drives the decisions people make, and the moral foundation that forms the culture is rooted in the religion of that area.