Religion and culture: Revisiting a close relative
Why the relationship between religion and politics is more faith has often been described as a "mountain of culture," noted Carmen LaBerge. Music & Arts Exploring the Relationship Between Religion and Politics This fear of losing their culture and traditions can in part explain the rise of. making with religion and culture, and securing the status and relationship of religion commitment to objectivity, on the one hand, and to personal and political.
Now that the interrelatedness of the concepts has been discussed, I now want to present three arguments why studying ethnicity and culture has become important in understanding religion. The three arguments are: Cultural migrations necessitate the studying of cultures; religion as cultural identity marker must be considered and the relocating of religion to culture needs to be taken into account. Cultural migrations necessitate study of cultures when studying religions There is currently a need for attention to anthropology of religion.
This need is identified by Hackett In a post-Apartheid South African context a 'migration' took place. People encounter one another now in a different context, no longer oppressed and oppressor, but in new circumstances as equals. The reconfiguration of relations between races, cultures and religions requires a need for anthropology of religion. To this list, I want to add globalisation and the growing multi-cultural communities. Changing paradigms cause reconfigurations in society, requiring new methods of studying society.
Each case of religion must be studied within its own context in relation to other religions practiced among other racial groups. No universal theory of inter-cultural and inter-religious relations can be applied to every context.
Each context must be studied on its own. This is confirmed by Scott and Hirschkind The various traditions that anthropologists call religions cannot be understood as cultural elaborations of a universal form of experience, a sui generis category of human knowledge, but must be analysed in their particularity, as the products of specific practices of disciplines, authority and power.
In the interactions between religions, Ramadan When cultures interact, there is no place for isolation, withdrawal and 'obsession with identity'. Rather entering into authentic dialogue as equals is necessary which will eventually lead to mutual enrichment and 'partners in action'. In the end, the interaction between religions is not about relativising one's own convictions and seeking universal neutral principles, it is rather about acceptance and respect of pluralism, diversity and the belief of the Other Ramadan How then to study religion when the borders of religion and other identifying elements overlap?
For example, if religion, culture and ethnicity cannot be separated, does it influence the way in which religion is studied? There seem to be three scenarios to this problem cf.
The ethnicity of a group is explained in terms of their religious beliefs. An example would be Jewish ethnicity as it is the result of practicing Judaism. Religion is the primary element in Jewish identity.
Religion is explained as the result of ethnicity. Muslim belief is the result of Arab ethnicity. The group's ethnic identity is the primary element in determining identity. More elements than religion and ethnicity are at play determining group identity. Elements such as language, geography, values, worldview and a shared history come to mind.
In this construct of relatedness between religion and ethnicity, religion must be studied from an anthropological approach. Religion becomes one expression of human identity among many other different expressions of identity. Religion either embraces or denies culture cf. As culture is associated with ethnicity, religion can easily be embraced by an ethnic group.
The result would be to distinguish between Islamic 'religion' and Islamic 'civilisation' Ramadan The core of a religion is clothed in the forms of the various cultures in whose midst a religion exists Ramadan Religion is expressed in cultural terms. So when an individual belonging to a particular religion comes from a specific cultural background and ends up in a different cultural environment, the individual integrates the religious convictions into the new cultural context, as there should be a clear difference between the religion and the culture of origin Ramadan Identity should be determined by multiple factors to which one remains open to.
This, however, does not mean accepting everything of the culture.
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A critical evaluation of values is necessary. Together with being critical, Ramadan The problem, however, arises when people with a particular religious affiliation coming from a particular culture enter a different culture where people have a different religious affiliation. Based on Lincoln's understanding of cultural encounter On a continuum, reactions towards the other may vary from 'polite disinterest', demarcation, conflict to outright war.
Because of conflict of interest and added to that a stereotyped perception of the other culture, permanent animosity might result from that. The question would be how to have nations, religions and cultures co-exist peacefully, while maintaining their own unique identity. Because of globalisation, religions all over the world rarely exist in isolation. Religions are constantly exposed to a multi-religious environment. In this plurality, each religion is in need of maintaining its unique identity.
Studying religions will need to take into consideration not only the culture from which a religion originates but also the cultural network a religion ends up in because of globalisation and migration. Creating harmony between religious communities living in close proximity needs to take cultural and ethnic considerations into account. Religion as cultural identity marker Linda Woodhead Religion as belief refers to a religious interest in dogmas, doctrines and propositions. Religion as identity marker refers to religion as a source of identity, either socially or as personal choice.
Based on Woodhead's differentiation, Kilp As so many different factors are at play in determining identity, cultural identity must, however, be seen as in flux Vroom The result is that people become alienated from the traditional religious beliefs and practices and turn to cultural-religious identities, which do not necessarily include religious beliefs. At play here are the elements already identified: These factors must be kept in mind when a cultural identity is created. It is also important to note that cultural identity is ideologically motivated.
People profess something about their culture to motivate the manifestation of a particular group Vroom This cultural religious identity provides people with a feeling of certainty, order and meaning - a general feeling of belonging. This may serve as explanation to the struggle for power in multi-cultural societies, confirming Lincoln's It is clear from this that struggle as well as attempts at reconciliation between cultures should be seen as efforts at establishing identity.
Understanding the effort of creating identity requires an understanding of how people perceive the interplay of religion and ethnicity in creating identity. Religious affiliation does not need to overlap with aspects of ethnic identity. This reflects Minnema's Stages 2 and 3 of cultural development. The Primordialist theory implies that one belonging to a specific religion can become part of a cultural group and still retain a religious identity.
The result, however, may be that one will not be culturally equal to the cultural group into which one enters Kilp We see the same situation with recent immigrants from Syria and Pakistan to Germany.
Immigrants are welcomed into the German culture although they have a different religious affiliation. But still many Germans do not recognise the immigrants as equal members of society. To be part of the German people one has to subscribe to all that it means to be a German: Immigrants tend to become second-class citizens. Immigrants are still being identified in terms of their religious affiliation.
Religion is still their main identity marker and not the new culture they are trying to adapt to. This sentiment is also witnessed in the discourse on immigration policies in the United States. Based on religious grounds, differences are viewed from a value perspective. Differences are now viewed either as good or bad.
The differences in relation to the own identity are perceived to be based on being different, being 'bad' Kilp The ethical evaluation of the other increases in content and is perceived as a growing threat requiring protection of the self, which is now polarised as being good as opposed to the other which is now perceived as bad.
The other as evil is necessary to legitimise the self as good, pure and correct. The absence of the other the cultural enemy is dysfunctional. Cultural identity is, however, not fixed but dynamic Vroom Cultural identity can change over time.
Cultural identity is an ideological interpretation as to how people view themselves and want to be viewed by others. People present their identity and thus communicate something about their culture. Cultural identity is, thus, constructed Vroom The question would arise: If identity is created, what criteria do people select to construct their identity?
Cultural groups may make selections of events or elements in history to constitute their identity Vroom A problem arises when multiple cultures co-exist in close proximity and even more so in the same country. What and who determines cultural identity then?
One can maintain one's cultural identity and still belong to a particular nation sharing another culture. It is then possible to belong to several cultures simultaneously.
In the struggle to adapt and take refuge in a different culture, conflict might arise. Based on this definition, a strict exclusion is imprinted. One is only accepted when one knows, believes and acts in a familiar way to community. Part of the knowledge, convictions and actions is acceptance of a structure of meaning reached on consensus by a community Geertz Meaning is negotiated through aesthetics. It seems harmony between religious groups living in close proximity can only be reached when conformity from both sides is employed.
Meeting one another at the borders of cultural identity and negotiating boundary markers can lead to a positive conformity. Conformity does not include taking on the characteristics of another culture, but merely recognising differences at the borders and respecting them. Religion relocated to culture Matt Waggoner The shift has taken place that religion no longer resides in the consciousness but within culture. Waggoner's argument in short is that a shift has taken place. Religion is no longer perceived to be subjectively imagined, locating religion in the bodies and brains of people participating in religion, but rather religion is located in culture or a social system.
The implication is that studying religion requires a change in focus, away from the individual and group consciousness and finding the location of religion in the exterior to the subjective. This argument by Waggoner goes back to Bruce Lincoln's contribution to the debate on religion and culture. Lincoln managed to combine Durkheim and Marx's orientation to the study of religion. The first step is to acknowledge that societies construct religion.
Secondly, religion, as culture, is always associated with a struggle for power. Culture, especially religion, becomes a site where power and privileges in society are negotiated. Culture has an ideological role in this hegemonic struggle. Culture ignores its historical origin and makes transcendental claims to authorise its own position of power and discredit other claims.
Further, the origin of religion is from the point of religion always an authoritative transcendent or supra-historical source, thereby concealing the cultural and historical origins. Aesthetics and ethics are core components of culture as they are concerns for all human cultures. Kierkegaard in Pattison The role of religion in culture, however, changes from one context to the other. Religion, however, does play a 'role of prime importance' in culture Lincoln The argument by Lincoln makes provision for a situation, as Lincoln points out, how religion as one of the essential elements in culture can from time to time dominate that which is considered as culture Lincoln The implication Waggoner It is clear that religion participates in the hegemonic struggle in culture.
Religion can then act as cultural identity marker. There are, however, many potential cultural markers i.
People can view others not in terms of ethnicity but primarily in terms of religion. Ethnicity and religion overlap causing cultural or religious animosity to spill over to religious or cultural animosity. This article does not pretend to have the solution to these cases of animosity. This article wants to argue that it is important in the study of religion to study ethnicity and culture as well.
What are the implications? If the argument is that to study religion a clear cognisance of culture and ethnicity is necessary, what are the implications? There are two implications mentioned here: In the light of the above arguments, studying religion requires a new methodology and a new attitude towards reconciliation, namely making peace with diversity and adversity. Methodology When studying religion, a multi-disciplinary approach will be necessary. This is, however, not new. What is new is that the emphasis will have to change.
Much more attention should be paid to an anthropological approach where cultural and ethnic studies are considered as part of studying religion. Also this is not new.
What I suggest is that the anthropological approach should be focussed on studying the boundaries between cultures, which is in line with Frederik Barth's suggestion.
Studying the boundaries between cultures helps to identify those elements that constitute cultural identity, whether they are ethics, religion or aesthetics or a combination of some sort.
In some cases, cultures might meet where the Primordialist understanding of ethnicity determines a cultural group's understanding of its identity. Then, it is most unlikely that there will be change as to how such a group understands its own identity. Where a group with a Circumstantialist understanding of ethnicity is encountered, there does exist a possibility of integration and changed identity. The ideal would be to convince cultures to adhere to a Constructivist understanding, incorporating a fixed identity with a flexible identity.
It becomes clear that a new focus in studying religion should also be to search how cultural groups assign meaning to behaviour. This process is contextually determined cf. Studying religion should include studying action and meaning and discern the criteria relevant to each ethnic community how to determine meaning. Meaning is determined by values. Studying religion entails studying underlying values in cultures. The author Jos Vranckx refers in a recent blog entry on inter-cultural relations in Europe how the French-Iranian sociologist, Farhad Khosrokha, indicates that this process of seeking meaning overlaps with a search for identity.
Religion and Culture
This search for identity is especially prevalent among a new generation of jihadis who come from 'born again'-converts belonging to good educated families.
They are seeking identity in a society they perceive as divided and without values, where people are only concerned with entertainment. The values of the two ethnic societies clash. In this encounter, a struggle to find identity ensues. Studying religion with emphasis on cultural and ethnic interrelatedness requires a distinction between religion as belief and religion as identity marker, or as Ramadan puts, it distinguishes between religion and civilisation Ramadan This is indeed a difficult task.
In a Western understanding determined by Enlightenment thought, such segmentation might be possible. Within other cultural orientations, such a differentiation seems unlikely. It is clear that when religion functions as identity marker, there are several traditions and myths feeding various claims of racial superiority.
Studying religion requires an understanding of the ideological determination of cultural identity. It is necessary to study the myths behind the claims as to racial superiority. Traditions from the past determine social behaviour. A study of the myths and traditions that contribute to racial and religious bias is necessary in order to understand the Other.
From this, it becomes clear that the insights from several disciplines are necessary in order to understand the phenomenon of religion and the interaction between religions. Making peace with diversity and adversity A further implication of the emphasis on studying ethnicity and culture in understanding religion lies on a social level. Can you belong to a culture, not shared in the same race, but have the same history?
Yes, white Christians participating in the liberation struggle in South Africa marching, protesting side by side to black non-Christian South Africans, are a good example. The question, however, remains whether the two cultural groups are viewed as equals? The answer differs from context to context, depending on the meaning assigned to the behaviour i.
At times, it may be considered as one culture, as the borders and definition as to what constitutes culture changes. Is it possible to be a Muslim and belong to Western culture, can one be white and not be labelled a Christian coloniser, or be a black African and not be labelled prone to animism and magic? The answer is, however, 'No! Identity is not only internally constructed. Identity is also externally assigned based on behaviour and the experience of the behaviour by others as well as the meaning assigned to such behaviour.
This may lead to cultural and religious bias and generalisations and the creation of stereotypes.
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One must, however, recognise the circumstantial process that contributed to the formation of identity and perceptions of the other. The end goal of this research is to contribute to the process of reconciliation between cultural groups in South Africa.
Ramadan's position on this matter is to acknowledge diversity One option is to separate culture and religion, ethnicity and religion, and the other is to embrace diversity and complexity. A third possibility is to acknowledge that unity lies in diversity. This entails to maintain religious principles which attach a religious community to the broader community of believers worldwide.
The local face of the religious community might look different from the same religious community located in a different cultural setting.
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Thereby, a discontinuation as well as a continuation is maintained. This is in line with MacKay's suggestion of a Constructivist approach to the relation ethnicity to religion. The solutions seem to be threefold: Kilp indicates how cultural conflict spills over into religious conflict based on the sequence of events. First of all, social, economic and political concerns in a multi-cultural society arise. Are you numbered among the 20 or 80 per cent? Do you think religious influence on global affairs is a welcome inclusion or a significant problem?
The following four elements of religion may provide a useful introduction. These beings are sometimes understood as a knowable God or gods, sometimes as mythical and symbolic figures from our ancient past and sometimes as impersonal forces beyond the physical realm.
Different religious traditions understand the influence of religion upon politics in different ways. In Iran, for example, the highest court in the land is a religious one, drawing its principles from the Shia branch of Islam — the second largest Islamic tradition worldwide after the majority Sunni tradition.
This court has the power to veto laws of parliament and decide who can hold power. Likewise, in Myanmar formerly Burma an influential group of religious monks has started a movement intent on imposing Buddhist principles on the whole country, including non-Buddhist minorities. For example, religious development organisations such as the Aga Khan Development Network also from the Shia branch of Islam work in areas of health care and education in countries of Africa and Asia without seeking to control entire political systems.
Likewise, in Myanmar, the so-called Saffron Revolution of saw Buddhist monks stand with the poor against the ruling military dictatorship and support the beginnings of multi-party democracy.
In these examples, religious politics is adapted to changing circumstances and takes into account diverse interests and beliefs across society. What is common to both fundamental and contextual religious traditions is an understanding that politics is in some sort of interactive relationship with the intentions of, or traditions shaped by, gods or God and spiritual forces.
This contrasts strongly with secular approaches that demote, and sometimes deny altogether, a role for religion in political affairs. Do you believe that religion has a role to play in public debates or should it be confined to private spirituality only? From an individual point of view, we could address this question by asking what it would be like to live in societies that are either entirely controlled by religion, or entirely without religion.
What would the benefits and losses be in each situation? It can be strongly argued that neither scenario exists in pure form. When religion has been used to dominate the public square, a diversity of groups non-religious and religious have risen in opposition. Likewise, when religion has been expelled from the public domain, religious actors and interests go underground waiting for a chance to re-emerge.
Sacred symbols re defining what is real The second element of religion are rituals that re-order the world according to religious principle. Our senses are portals to the spirit. Therefore, rituals function as tangible symbols of the intangible realm. For examples of different studies that consider the public rituals of Judaism, Islam and Hinduism respectively see BeckBronner and Haider While some religious rituals are private or hidden, many are performed in public spaces or in ways that are openly accessible to wider society.
As such, they are a part of public life — which is one of the original definitions of the word politics. For religious adherents, rituals symbolise spiritual truths but they can also redefine how power can be understood in the material world.
Thomas Merton once described his experience of watching Trappist monks perform the rituals of the Catholic Mass in very political terms. The eloquence of this liturgy [communicated] one, simple, cogent, tremendous truth: These men, hidden in the anonymity of their choir and their white cowls, are doing for their land what no army, no congress, no president could ever do as such: Beyond the experience of individuals, states also seek divine blessing.
For example, over one-fifth of states today have a monarch such as a king, queen or emperor. Although monarchs differ in the extent of their powers — from figureheads controlled by parliaments to absolute rulers to variations of these — they all draw their power from some form of religious or spiritual authority.
The elaborate rituals of monarchies worldwide are understood by their subjects to symbolise divine blessing for the realm and its citizens, redefining where the real power lies. Sacred stories connecting past, present and future The third element of religion is teaching traditions based on stories of significant figures, events and ideas from the past and beliefs about the future of time itself — like a spoiler alert about the end of the world.
For some religions, however, time itself is an illusion and the main focus is living in the now according to sacred ideas rather than the connection of past—present—future. These elements — interpreting the past, projecting the future, living now — are basic to the development of political ideologies also. Therefore, sometimes religious and political groups can appeal to the same stories or ideas even though the interpretation or intent may differ significantly. In the s members of both communities appealed to one aspect of Jubilee — a tradition of debt cancellation found in the Hebrew Bible — as the basis for addressing the debt crisis facing developing nations.
Only a few years later, this sacred story was used for very different purposes by US president George W. Bush, who celebrated the invasion of Iraq by quoting a Jubilee text from the Book of Isaiah: Sacred stories, ideas and teachings from the past have a richness and power that can influence political affairs today and the aspirations we hold for tomorrow. A community worshiping and acting together The fourth element common to most religions is the need for believers to belong to a faith community in order to practice sacred rituals and reinforce the truth of sacred stories.
Some religious traditions could be described as high demand, requiring strict adherence to rules and standards in order to maintain membership of the faith community. Other traditions are low demand, adopting a more flexible approach to the requirements for belonging faithfully to the community. The connection between religion and identity politics can have individual and international significance. For instance, empowered by belonging to a faith community, individuals can act in ways that they might not otherwise have done in isolation.
Rosa Parks, an African American woman who famously refused to obey American racial segregation laws and sparked a nation-wide civil rights movement in the s, is often lauded as a heroic individual.
This may be true, but as a member of a religious community that affirmed human dignity and the divine principles of racial equality, Rosa Parks was never acting in isolation Thomas— The four elements of religion described above — the significance of gods and spirits, the power of holy rituals, the telling of sacred stories and belonging to faith communities — seem in their own ways to be a core aspect of the human condition in the twenty-first century.
Elements of culture We can approach the term culture in the same way we have considered religion. There are many proposed meanings of culture, and these vary from the simple to the complex.
While each approach has real value for understanding the social world around us, we will opt for a simple version that still gives us plenty to work with. As such, we begin with an understanding of culture as the combined effect of humanly constructed social elements that help people live together. We will explore four elements of culture, illustrating each element through individual and international political experience. Common life practised in society The first element of culture has to do with common or shared life.
While media reporting seems to constantly prioritise stories of war, conflict and controversy, it is equally the case that local, national and international society requires a remarkable degree of cooperation. How do we live together? Yet, there are other bonds that are forged at the social level as peoples of difference find ways to live together in the same space by forging common beliefs, habits and values. It is from this practice of common life that culture often emerges.
Sport provides good examples of culture as common life. Let us think about football also known as soccer. Local football clubs can be founded on distinct community identity. For example, local Australian players from a Greek background can play for a team sponsored by the Hellenic Association. Clubs can equally represent a locality rather than a particular group. Regardless of background, at the international level all players in these clubs have a loyalty to the Australian football team.
Football is the common bond — a sporting pastime but also cultural practice. Think about the way entire nations can be said to embody the activities of its national sporting heroes. Supporters from different countries will identify their team as playing in a certain style, even if these are stereotypes and not entirely accurate: Do all South American sides use flamboyance and spontaneity?
The larger point, for both individuals and nations, is the tangible power of a sporting pastime to generate common bonds from the local to the international Rees— That bond is an expression of culture.SYN FM Debate - The influence of religion on culture and politics
Symbols of group identity The second element of culture are symbols of identity. The kinds of sign I am referring to are tangible reminders in modern societies of who we are as a people. They include styles of architecture such as bridges or religious buildingsland or waterscapes that influence the activity of life such as in harbour citiesmonuments, flags and other identity banners, styles of clothing and habits of dress, distinctive food and drink — and so on.
These signs are more than a tourist attraction, they are symbols that inform members about who they are as a group and that help the group live together cohesively.
Consider, for example, the individual and international significance of national flags as cultural symbols. The Star-Spangled Banner as the anthem of the United States of America describes the power of a national flag to inspire individual and national devotion. The answer for Key was yes, the flag symbolising defiance and the promise of victory. Equally, persecuted communities within a country might see a national or regional flag as a symbol of oppression rather than freedom, symbolising a dominant way of life that excludes them.
In all regions of the world nationalist groups fight for autonomy or independence from a country or countries that surround them, and do so under alternative flags that represent their own cultural identity. The flag of the Canadian province of Quebec, for example, employs religious and cultural symbols reflecting its origins as a French colony in the new world.
Quebec nationalists campaigning for independence from Canada have employed the flag in the promotion of French language, cultural preservation and Quebecois identity. National separatist groups worldwide are similarly inspired by symbols of culture they are trying to preserve. Stories of our place in the world The third element of culture is the power of story. Like the cultural use of symbols, societies need to tell stories. These may be about individuals and groups, of events in the distant and recent past, of tales of victory and defeat involving enemies and friends — and so on.
Such stories are told to reaffirm, or even recreate, ideas of where that society belongs in relation to the wider world.