How does religion affect culture?

Quick answer:

Some ways that religion affects culture are that it inspires great works of art and architecture and that it often defines socially acceptable behavior in countries strongly influenced by it.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial

Videos

For more perspectives on the debate over whether or not religion impacts culture, check out this lecture:

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do religious beliefs influence culture?

There's an old saying that "culture is religion externalized." This is a simple way of saying that by looking at the culture a society creates and consumes, a person can discern, in general, that society's basic beliefs and worldview. "Worldview" refers to the major philosophical questions of life which influence our outlook on life, such as: Does life have meaning?, Is there a god and is he/she/it involved with the world or separate from it?, What responsibility, if any, do I have to other human beings?, etc.

As Christian philosopher R.J. Rushdoony explains:

Every culture is a religion externalized, a faith incarnated into life and action. The mainspring of every culture is its basic faith, its religious beliefs which undergird its hopes, action, and perspective.

Examining culture to learn about beliefs is a common practice. For instance, historians examine the Epic of Gilgamesh to learn how religion affected ancient Mesopotamia. From Gilgamesh, one can intuit that the Mesopotamians did not believe immortality was generally attainable by humans, because Gilgamesh sets out on a quest for immortality but eventually realizes humans can only achieve immortality through accomplishing "great actions" on earth.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do religious beliefs influence culture?

This is a great question. Religious beliefs are fundamental to their societies. Even in countries and places with different religions, the religions present commingle to develop common culture. In America, we have a very Christain-centered culture even though we have many religious groups here.
Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do religious beliefs influence culture?

Religious beliefs influence culture in a variety of ways. Certainly before societies were as civilized as ours, religious beliefs and culture were much more effectively mixed.

Today, religious beliefs help determine the value systems used in a culture. In America, many of the regulations and laws are based on concepts and priciples articulated in the Bible. This makes great sense because Puritans helped build our great learning institutions like Harvard and Yale. These priciples set forth acceptable behaviors and necessary consequences for breaking them. These similarly align to the Ten Commandments in the bible. 

Another way religious beliefs influence cultures has to do with service to others. In our own selfishness, we easily turn inward and focus on the self, not society. Religious groups help to foster community, giving, and fellowship. Having common beliefs puts people in accountable relationships. Research has even demonstrated that participants in churches, regardless of denomination or sect, live happier and longer lives.

Religious beliefs often unify people in a culture. Coming together for meals, listening to the same music that identifies a religious belief, and practicing the same methods of worship gives people a shared identity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on