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Religion as Culture & Social Convention

Religion as Culture & Social Convention


This lesson discusses religion as a cultural phenomenon and describes religion's influence on such social phenomena as etiquette, social structure, and class.

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Religion as Culture and Social Convention

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on religion as culture and social convention. A social convention is a societal group, custom, belief, or tradition that is widely accepted and practiced. And as we're going to see, social conventions can have a pretty strong binding force behind them.

Let's start out by taking a look at major holidays and festivals. We can think about some of the Judeo-Christian festivals that we'll be talking about in just a second. Passover and Easter. And also Islam, another religion of Abraham, as the festival of Ramada, which is kind of similar to the Christian holiday of Lent for the Christian season of Lent.

And non-Western religions. Bodhi Day in Buddhism, which celebrates when the Buddha was enlightened. That normally happens around the 8th of December. And it's a time for prayer and meditation and teachings.

Or in Confucianism, and also celebrated widely in other traditions in China, is the Qingming festival, which is a tomb sweeping day. It's generally a festival to the ancestors, to honor the ancestors by burning offerings to them. Perhaps you ceremonially burn money so that your ancestors will have money to spend while they're in the afterlife.

Or in Hinduism, the festival of Diwali, the festival of lights. Which celebrates the victory of good over evil. And also, the return of Rama and Sita to the city of Ayodhya, the city where there is no war, after their years of exile. That is recorded in the Ramayana.

Let's take a look at some of those festivals that we've already mentioned. In the Abrahamic religions, Passover in Judaism is a recollection of the exodus from Egypt, when Jews eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread sitting around the dinner table. This commemorates when Moses delivered the Jews from the plagues in Egypt. The worst plague being when the Angel of Death killed Egyptian babies. But the Jews were spared because they smeared blood on the outside of their doors. So the Passover commemorates that miraculous event.

And in Christianity, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after he was dead for three days, from Friday to Sunday. And came back to life again. So Christians celebrate Easter. And of course, in Western societies, you're going to see a lot of Easter bunny decorations as well. So these religious holidays can spill over into the general culture.

Ramadan in Islam commemorates the time that the Prophet spent in a cave in a deep period of retreat while the Qur'an was being revealed to him. And during this period, Muslims fast and pray. They might give charitable gifts and do good works during this time period.

Just as an illustration of how religious beliefs can affect a society and how it can affect social convention, let's take a look at the interaction between men and women. In the United States we're fairly used to there being a pretty free interaction between men and women. But it's not so around the world, or even in some subcultures within the United States.

In Muslim countries, of course, there is a highly curtailed interaction between men and women. Women may not be able to go out in public by themselves. Or they might not be allowed to drive. Or men and women might not be able to sit together and public places. They might have separate sections in a restaurant.

Or in Confucian Korea, contact between unmarried men and women is generally frowned upon and would normally be supervised. We can say the same thing about conservative Christianity in the United States. Where there's a much more traditional belief that young men and women shouldn't be spending much time together unless they are supervised.

These examples just go to show how much religion affects the social conventions in a society. And how, even if you're not religious, these religious beliefs might still affect your life in the way that society is structured.

Just to recap we said that religion plays an important role in the construction of social convention, which can be defined as a societal or group custom, belief, or tradition, that is widely accepted and or practiced. We talked about some of the major festivals in the Abrahamic religions, and in some eastern religions, as well.

We said that religion often determines how men and women are treated and how their interactions are governed by society. So just taking a little bit of a closer look at those holidays.

Passover is a commemoration of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. And especially, god having passed over and spared the firstborn children of Israel, while slaying the firstborn children of Egypt. Easter is the Christian celebration and commemoration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

And Ramadan is the Muslim observance of fasting during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. And it is considered one of the five pillars of Islam. So those five pillars are the confession of faith, there's only one God who is Allah lot and Muhammad is this prophet, giving alms, praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim as supposed to undertake at least once in their lifetime.

That's all for religion as culture and social convention.

Terms to Know

The Christian celebration and commemoration of Jesus‘ resurrection from the dead.


The Jewish celebration and commemoration of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, and more specifically of God's having "passed over" and spared the firstborn children of Israel while slaying the firstborn children of Egypt.


The Muslim observance of fasting during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Social Convention

A societal or group custom, belief, or tradition that is widely accepted and/or practiced.