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How Does Religion Affect Culture

How does religion affect culture?

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jdoyle90 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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...

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bpabian | Student

Human beings throughout the entire world share certain aspects of their experience in common with all other human beings. That is that humans live in societies and these societies are dictated by culture and one of the central institutions of every culture is religion. This seemingly straight-forward, but complex, statement requires much deliberation and edification.

Whether they live on a farm or in a city, whether they live in the mountains or next to a river, whether they live in a tropical climate or a freezing climate, all live in human societies and every different type of human society discovered across the globe contains the same evolutionary response to our need to survive and reproduce, and that is human beings could not survive as human beings without the advent of human culture. Culture is simultaneously the cause of and product of, human experience and human behavior. The central aspect of culture is being able to predict what others are going to do when faced with different, but expected, situations. This expected behavior by others is what sociologists call normative behavior; furthermore, normative behaviors are what people believe to be just and righteous behaviors when looked at and compared with people's morals and values. Morals and values being the central tenets that dictate human behavior and they are the direct result of one's religious beliefs.

Every religion in the world begins with what is known as a cosmology. In other words, what people believe about the universe they live in and what their ultimate place in the universe looks like is one's cosmology. How one's cosmology affects one's religion is the central aspect of one's belief system, and, in turn, just and righteous behaviors are only just and righteous if they coincide with this belief system. So basically religion affects culture by creating the beliefs in which culture is centered around, which in turn affects the most obvious aspect of culture: correct and incorrect behaviors. Correct behaviors are in tune with our cosmology, or our place in the universe, which influence what we need to do with our days/lives. Incorrect behaviors are seen as evil or at least undesirable because they conflict with people's morals and values, i.e. with their religious beliefs and assumptions.

Societies that existed before the advent of science are known as pre-modern societies. These types of societies depended on religion for just about every answer and/or explanation of causes and conditions outside our control. For example, human beings can control certain aspects of their lives but there are certain aspects that have traditionally been out of our control and we have to find some way to make sense of the seemingly random events that cause much death and destruction. Events such as a plague, pestilence, or an earthquake. Before scientific explanations human were completely dependent on religious explanations to make sense and cause some type of comfort so we can keep going despite the hardships these things were known to bring the human condition. I don't know if societies are better off with scientific explanations or religious ones; however, what I do know is that moving forward, all societies must find a good balance between the two because science will never be to a people and their culture the heart and soul of their humanity. Science explains what is reality, whereas religion explains what reality ought or should be - thus the basis of cultural behaviors.

balter329 | Student

Culture can be defined as a set of values that a person holds that creates them into the person that they are. The website defines culture as "the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc". Essentially, culture contains the rules for living in a society.

There are many different cultures a person may interact with during the course of their life. The cultural "norms" for one area of a culture may differ from that of another. For example, the cultural "norms" that I have at work are different from the "norms" when I am with my family.

Your question is on how religion affects culture. Ultimately, it all depends on what culture you're talking about. Religion and religious decisions affect many international cultures. Many of these cultures have deep roots in their religious beliefs. Within my own personal family, religion is a big part of our home culture. However, I also have friends who do not have this same belief, thus, their cultures are not as affected by religion.

To give a more concise answer, I would have to say that religion and culture go hand-in-hand. Most times one is affected by the other, but it is not always in the same order. Sometimes religion does affect culture, and sometimes culture also affects religion. So, religion affects culture by simply being religion. Religion is a set of beliefs and culture is the rules or beliefs of a particular society.

monicaeunice | Student


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.



user8210968 | Student


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.

                                             Closing Thoughts

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. 

jssomers4 | Student

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.

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