So a couple weeks ago I was tasked with an inquiry project in my 7th period English class. As we began the project I was very indecisive of what I wanted my question to be, but I narrowed it down to two topics: music and religion/faith. So I started making up research questions about my two topics, and a very intriguing one came to mind under Religion and Faith: How does culture affect religion and your own faith? This got me thinking about how culture and religion influence one another and how they both effect the world we live in today. So I finally decided on the question "How does culture effect religion and your own faith", and honestly I was very excited to do research on this question because I had no idea what the answer would be.
So as I began looking for evidence on various websites and in articles, I soon learned that researching this question was going to be a lot harder than I previously thought. After a couple of days of searching I finally found some research that would help me come to an answer for my question. I broke down my question into subcategories because by doing that it would help me further analyze my research deeper. The three subcategories I came up with were: Religious and cultural effect on the world, religion and culture in smaller groups of people, and how religion and culture influence each other. All of my evidence falls under one of these subcategories and provided me with new information and a new aspect of religion and culture, that when I put it all together I got my answer. Below are my subcategories and some of my findings through my research.
At first when I came up with this subcategory I thought it would be too similar to my initial question but with the help of Shireen Hilmi's article " "Culture and Religion: A mixed race relationship" , I found that they were similar but her article gave me a lot of clarity. Hilmi states "A religion is a system of beliefs based on ideas regarding origins, existence and purpose. And a culture is a network of values and practices based on the similar beliefs of a population.", this stood out to me in her article because I realized that religion and culture affect the world and make the world what it is today even though they are extremely different aspects of life. Religion and culture have a bigger impact on the world than you would think. In a worldly aspect, yes religions differ depending on the religion, but one single religion has hardly changed over the years, while culture is forever changing. Cultures yesterday are different than cultures today and tomorrow culture will be different as well. That's one way culture affects religion and everyone's own personal faith because, while cultures are constantly changing it challenges you to make life changes regarding your religion or if you don't practice and you want to start practicing. I think people tend to get caught up in culture and the changes it makes, and their faith starts to suffer because they fail to remember that religion's are a steady, solid ground for someone to turn to. The culture we decide to surround ourselves with forces us to make conscious decisions about our faith and how we will go about practicing. It also can have an affect on our mood and well-being. In "Why Religion matters: The impact of religious practice on social sustainability" by Patrick Fagan, he talks about how pursuing a relationship with God or with a higher figure bigger than yourself has tended to improve relationships with themselves and others around them. In his article Fagan wrote "Religion has a significant effect on happiness and overall sense of personal well-being", this has a lot do with culture because we choose our own culture and we decide who to surround ourselves with, which also plays a role in our happiness and well-being. Now Fagan was not saying that religion is the end all be all to provide you happiness in your life, he was just making a point when he said that people who are religious and pursue a faith are more likely to be happy and have a better overall well-being in their daily life. These two sources have helped me see that both religion and culture bring many people happiness, but when you have both you can be even more happy compared to if you only had one of those aspects in life. As I am doing this research I am beginning to learn and realize that religion and culture are effecting the world in similar ways they just have different methods, since religion is a sturdy, hard ground that you can lean on and that will not change and culture is never the same as it was before. You get to decide what kind of culture you live in.
After looking at religion and culture and their influences on the world, I was interested on how they influenced smaller groups of people because in smaller groups these aspects of life would have a much more personal and deeper meaning to each individual. I realized through the help of a few articles that often times when you are faithful, one of your first senses of community is through your place of worship. Culture can also create communities but they would never compare to religious communities. In a cultural community you may not all believe in some of the same things, while in a religious community you all roughly have the same beliefs, so it's easier to talk about much deeper topics and you can feel more comfortable sharing different experiences with the people you share that religious community with. This is discussed in the article "What role do religion and spirituality play in mental health" by Kenneth I. Pargament, Phd. Pargament is a leading expert in religion and spirituality, he has made points on how religious or faithful people deal with coping situations like a death of a family member or friend. Pargament says "People can draw on many religious and spiritual resources that have been tied to better adjustment in times of crisis. These positive religious coping methods include spiritual support from God or a higher power, rituals to facilitate life transitions, spiritual forgiveness, support from a religious institution or clergy and reframing a stressful situation into a larger, more benevolent system of meaning.", this religious support could never compare to cultural support. One of the main reasons the two support systems could never been the same is because of that sense of community. This is one way I have found religion to be clearly different from culture because no culture will ever have a higher power that you are able to worship and have a relationship with. Having a faith and practicing religion also provides us with answers to the questions like "Why me?", "Why did this happen?", "Why does it have to be this way?" . Writer L. Ron Hubbard also explains this topic further in his article "Religious influences in society", he gets more descriptive when he talks about how the culture and the cultural community you live in can bring you down, while a religious community can only help you build your faith with a higher figure. Hubbard's article says " Your sense of community occurs by reason of mutual experience with others. Where the religious sense of community and with it real trust and integrity can be destroyed then that society is like a sand castle unable to defend itself against the inexorable sea.", here Hubbard uses a simile, so that we can fully understand that the culture we choose to live in can destroy us and we have little hope turning to our daily lives culture when coping with a traumatic experience. I believe that there is a beauty in all of our struggles with culture, because then it challenges all of us to be open to living our life for someone or something greater than ourselves and religion and religious communities give us the opportunity to start or grow our faith so when we are coping or grieving we can turn to those religious communities for support. Culture also challenges us to be religious and to be faithful so we are able to deal with those coping situations so that we are able to get back to our daily life. On a much deeper and individualistic view culture can bring us down throughout our life, but only to challenge us with the thought of practicing religion and growing our faith in figure that is bigger and better than ourselves to make us whole again.
After looking at how religion and culture effect larger groups of people and smaller groups of people, I was curious to how they influenced each other. I was aware that they influenced each other but I wasn't sure as to how they influenced each other and what impact that would make on people across the globe. As I read my research to find evidence for this subcategory, it occurred to me that religion and culture go hand in hand. If you look at the history of civilization, it has told us that religious influences can be found in different cultures around the world, and it has helped shape some cultures into what they are today. I found more evidence on this theory in the article "Religious influences are embedded in cultures" on Harvard University's Divinity School. The article shines a light on the fact that you cannot fully understand culture without looking at the religious aspect of it, but in the same way you cannot fully understand religion without understanding the impact that culture makes on religion. At one point the article states "Just as religion cannot be understood in isolation form its cultural (including political) contexts, it is impossible to understand culture without considering its religious dimensions.", this quote reassures us that religion and culture influence each other, and one aspect of life cannot stand without the other. For some cultures in our society today, religion is at the core of that culture and is the reason it exists today. But that is definitely not the case in all cultures. I believe one of the main reasons it is so hard for us to fully understand culture and religion, is because most people don't want to to or if they do they eventually give up. I suppose that is the reason people start to loose faith, or shy away from the idea of having a faith. Because they cannot wrap their head around what it means to be religious and to have a faith. Religion and faith are so unique and different from anything that has ever existed. They focus on the domain of the sacred — transcendence, ultimate truth, finitude and deep connectedness. Religion and culture bring people together, they teach us lessons that we can't learn or study in books, they give us experiences that stay with us wherever we go, and they challenge us to be better humans.
Finally after many weeks of research and analysis I had gotten a fully rounded answer for my question. I came to the conclusion that culture affects religion and our own faith in many different ways in our daily life. On a larger more worldly scale culture challenges us to make decisions to even practice religion or to even have a faith in a higher figure. Culture is so fast paced and is always changing, it is hard to adjust to a religious practice since religion is a sturdy ground you can turn too, that has not changed as the years went on. Some people feel uneasy turning to religion for help because they start to feel uncomfortable, when in reality turning to religion can provide clarity to many struggles or problems you face. On a smaller scale or in smaller groups, culture affects the way we open up about our religious journey and our own faith because those things are very personal and individualistic. In our religious communities it is easier to talk about different experiences we have had, than in a cultural community that we chose ourselves. The thing with communities is that often times people don't realize that your first sense of community is within your religious practice, and if you don't practice you are missing out on that opportunity to have that never ending support with that first sense of community. Religion and culture influence each other throughout our daily lives and most times it goes without notice. Most people don't even realize it because of the fact that culture is always reforming and reshaping the society we live in. And if people do start to make that realization, there is a possibility that they will eventually give up, and loose faith. Religion makes such a big impact on culture, given that some cultures wouldn't be what they are today if it weren't for religion. But culture makes just as big of an impact on religion, because culture can be the difference between whether or not someone practices religion or decides to have a faith. Culture affects religion and our own individual faiths because it challenges us to be better humans, but it has also helped shape religion in to what it is today. Without culture and religion our world wouldn't be what it is today.
Jessica is a junior at Metea Valley, who plays soccer and basketball. She is also very curious about religion and culture in the world today.