Culture Conceives Religion
The term culture can be considered as the social fabric for a community. The community's culture describes its life style and the social behavior conventions expected of its members. Different cultures will develop different religions, with each religion capturing some of the essential components of that culture.
Anthropology is the study of human history. From an origin many, many years ago in Africa, humans eventually scattered and multiplied to cover the world. As they settled in new areas, a local culture evolved as they adapted to the lifestyle required in their new environment. In some areas, a nomadic lifestyle was continued, where the people would continue to move as new pastures would be required for their livestock. In other areas, an agricultural society arose, where the growing of certain crops could sustain a larger population. A very small tribe would typically have a very simple religion, if any, as they would be quite concerned with the daily survival. As populations grew, a more complex religion could develop as the people spent more time considering their place in the universe. Whoever became or inherited a leadership position in a community would require some control over the religious practices so order in the community would be maintained, and inevitably so their leadership position remained intact.
A recent op-ed compared the cultures in China of those growing wheat to those growing rice. Scientific American also provided a recent article about this comparison between two cultures based on agriculture in near proximity to each other, but with two different primary crops.
Both of these articles were based on the same research article published in Science in May 2014. Its abstract (access to the full paper requires a Science membership):
Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East Asia with the West. However, this study shows that there are major psychological differences within China. We propose that a history of farming rice makes cultures more interdependent, whereas farming wheat makes cultures more independent, and these agricultural legacies continue to affect people in the modern world. We tested 1162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that rice-growing southern China is more interdependent and holistic-thinking than the wheat-growing north. To control for confounds like climate, we tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. We also find that modernization and pathogen prevalence theories do not fit the data.
Several societies in China and India were dominated by what has been called the Rice Culture, as so many people were involved in the cultivation of rice to sustain the populations in these areas. The cultivation of rice led to the development of an economic lifestyle centered around agriculture: plowing/seeding in spring, weeding in summer, harvesting in autumn, and hoarding in winter. The management of the irrigation levels requires vigilant control over water levels. This requires cooperation between all those managing the rice paddies, as each group monitors their paddies, so everyone must work together to maximize the rice harvest. The rice cycle involves a community working together, through the seasonal cycles.
Wheat cultivation is much less labor intensive - over its growth cycle. Its success is not driven by water levels like rice; the wheat just needs an adequate amount. Therefore the success of each wheat crop is driven more by the land management skills of the individual farmers, and much less on any collective contribution by the community.
It is interesting that most of China became dominated by Confucianism up until Buddhism came to China from India. Confucianism emphasizes the cultivation of virtue and the maintenance of ethics, not a focus on one or more gods. Unlike a number of other cultures (noted below) China seems to have stuck with these non-theistic religions; polytheistic religions were rather common among many different ancient cultures.
Many of the other ancient world's cultures practiced what is known as agricultural economics, dealing with the land usage for both crops and livestock. When manure is used to improve and sustain soil quality for crop growth, the two efforts work together.
The ancient Incan civilization has been called a vertical archipelago. Only a small portion of the region is arable and yet a huge civilization prospered over a wide area. The indigenous people formed small centers of self-sufficient communities which focused on the crops and livestock that could flourish in the particular climate and soil. These small communities practiced Ayni, the mutual help between members of a community. This is similar to the concept of specialization of labor present in larger, contemporary economies. The Inca Empire brought the communities together through the use of barter and trade. The religion that arose out of this culture firmly grounded in the environment was polytheistic, with some deities being more important than others, like Pachama the mother of the Earth. The worship of nature and its cycles was the focus of the religion and daily life.
The Mayan people developed an agriculturally intensive, city centered civilization, with numerous independent city-states. This development was similar to that by the Incas as the trade between centers supported the integrated communities. Also like the Incans, the Mayan religion was polytheistic. The Maya believed that the gods were an integral part of their daily lives. Their religion also included very long cycles of creation and destruction, with each cycle spanning about 5200 years.
The cultures across the Americas do not have as long a history of those in Asia and Europe because the Americas were settled by humanity only after populations grew enough in Asia to offer an impetus for the migration and after a land bridge between Asia and North America made it easier for people to make that migration. The initial settlers must have been nomads, those having a mobile lifestyle to travel such distances. Anthropologists break up North American into ten different cultures. Some continued to be nomads (like in the Subarctic or across the Great Plains) while others developed small farming and fishing villages on rivers or on the ocean. Even with such cultural diversity, many native American religions were focused around nature. As many were passed orally, not by written scriptures, their complexities are not fully realized.
The life of a nomad is different than that of someone living in a settled community. The nomadic community moves often, either when following seasonal patterns for hunting and gathering or when following seasonal patterns for grazing their livestock. As a society totally dependent on the forces of nature, the Mongolians worshipped the various elements of nature, praying to their ancestors who have been transformed into mythical spiritual animals to provide them with good weather, health and success.
The Bedouin were the nomadic tribes wandering the Arabic and Syrian deserts. Their communities were based on the kinship between the families and the tribe. They also could be sustained through earning income by transporting goods and people across the desert, so their prosperity was tied to those in communities not having any kinship to theirs. As with other nomadic people, their religion was polytheistic.
The life and times of the early Jews began with their settling in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, but their history was subsequently marked by several notable interruption: their enslavement by Egypt (ruled by a Pharoah), followed by captivity by the empire of Babylon (reached its apex under Hammurabi), then subject to the Greek Empire (the time of Alexander the Great), with a brief period of independence called the Hasmonaean Dynasty, and then the Roman Empire when conquered by the Roman general Pompey which Herod the Great designated the ruler for the region.
Over time perhaps as a result of this repeated subjugation to other states, the religion of the Jews evolved into one of monotheism, with only one god. At the time of Jesus, the Jews held a strong expectation of another Messiah, who would deliver them to independence from their Roman rule just as the Maccabees had delivered them after the Greek rule.
Christianity, the religion based on the interpretations of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ (where Christ is another term for messiah), arose at this interesting confluence of events. After the death of Jesus, a Roman named Saul experienced a life event (with various interpretations) and began to teach his own interpretations of Jesus to the non-Jews in the region.
Paul was raised a Roman, within the Roman empire ruled by a strong army occupying many different cultures, and he interpreted the life of Jesus and his teachings from that context. His emphasis was on faith, the belief in God and the teachings of Jesus, not on following Jewish traditions. In Paul's system, the faith in God is critical to one's place in the afterlife. After the passing of Paul, his teachings formed the basis for Christianity, a non-Jewish religion based on both the ancient Jewish scriptures (what became the Old Testament) and on various writings that attempted to capture the life and teaching of Jesus and of his early apostles, especially Paul who was teaching to the Gentiles not the Jews (what became the New Testament).
Though Christians were initially persecuted by the Romans as this new religion did not conform to the polytheistic religion practiced in Rome, eventually Christianity became a state religion. On 25 December, 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire spanned much of Europe, influencing many generations in the Western world.
Christianity is an individualistic religion. The focus is on the individual's personal connection with God and on an afterlife. The opposite is a naturalistic religion, one where each person recognizes their connection with nature and the natural cycles. In the brief summary above describing a number of different cultures and their religions, many polytheistic religions were noted. In so many primitive societies, when nature cannot be explained or understood there is an inclination to believe in unseen forces at work and those forces are then named as deities.
By being individualistic, Christianity is a natural choice for any political leader seeking more power. A popular uprising, with many in a community uniting for their common cause against their oppressors, is the fear for any ruler. By emphasizing a religion that values each individual, not their relationship with others in the community, it is much easier for the divide and conquer ruling technique, as the natural diversity in people presents many opportunities to divide into groups the members of a community, city, or state, to create useful conflicts to aid in governance.
Islam is also based on the interpretations of ancient Jewish scriptures (noted as significant prophets are Abraham, Moses, and Jesus), but recorded in the Quran, and is also monotheistic - and is also individualistic, with a belief in the Day of Resurrection and with judgment rendered on one's deeds.
I consider religion as the perspective on the meaning of life, with one's religion offering the answer to the question: why am I here?
The Western religions are dominated by the monotheistic religions, with the main god typically described like a monarch or tyrant. Life is an individual endeavor, with the goal of an after life in paradise. Each person has an individual connection with god - the community has no role in that, nor in the anticipated attainment of paradise after death. The answer to why am I here is: I am here only until I pass to the afterlife.
The Eastern religions are polytheistic or even non-theistic (like Buddhism), and are based on enlightenment, instead of on God's judgment. Life is more of an adventure, like in the Buddhist 8-fold path: helping others and taking care to avoid hurting others. The answer to why am I here is: I am an integral part of the universe.
The Western cultures are often individualistic - and frequently those being raised in that context will find comfort within a religion offering that same perspective.
The Eastern cultures are less individualistic, like that noted in the Rice Culture - and so frequently those being raised in that context will find comfort within a religion offering that perspective.
In this time of the 21st Century and globalization, the individualistic cultures like in America are dominant. Their lack of an inclination toward a connection with nature and our fellow human beings is significant in that dominance. A human being is a social creature, innately connected to those in his/her community through our natural capacity for empathy. That emphasis on empathy is sorely lacking in both their cultures and their religions, and that is one reason why contemporary society is rife with so much misery for so many.
created - Feb. 2015
last change - 02/01/2015
Here is the list of topics in this Culture Topic Group.
All Topic Groups are available by selecting More TG.
All topics in the site are in the Site Map, where each Topic Group has its topics indented below it.
Ctrl + for zoom in; Ctrl - for zoom out ; Ctrl 0 for no zoom;
triple-tap for zoom to fit; pinch for zoom change; pinched for no zoom