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Religion as Culture & Social Convention

Religion as Culture & Social Convention

Author: Ted Fairchild

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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Source: Image of Christ's Ascension, Public Domain, Image of The Lamb of God, Creative Commons,

Video Transcription

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Hello. Welcome. In this tutorial we're going to see a few of the ways in which religion works as essential element of culture, and how it forms the basis of many of societies conventions. Every religious tradition has celebrations and festivals, commemorative events, et cetera. So let's start by looking at a few of these within the monotheistic traditions.

One of the most important celebrations in Judaism is Passover, in remembrance of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. The practical and the spiritual significance of this historical event is commemorated every year at the same time. It, therefore, has relevance for Jews today. It has become a social convention. It is deeply rooted in religious tradition and history.

And also, in Christianity, Easter is a celebration commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and is very closely linked with Passover. Both in the timing of the celebration and its spiritual significance.

It is very closely tied to the Jewish Passover celebration, and has become a social custom that generally commemorates the event of the Last Supper, the preparation for Christ's sacrificial death and Resurrection three days later. In this sense, Christ is the pasha of the Passover lamb. And interestingly, the etymology of the words for both Easter and Passover are closely linked. Pesach in Hebrew and pascha and Greek and Latin. The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians says, get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

And in Islam there's the holy month of Ramadan. In which Muslims commemorate the reception of the Koran by the Prophet Muhammad. This religious social custom is marked by fasting, prayer, and a variety of forms of giving and generosity.

So all these religions have holidays and customs that have become intertwined with the societies in which these religions are practiced. On the practical level, like calendars and business holidays too, and, of course, on the more metaphorical and symbolic levels.

In Buddhism, the Buddha's birthday is a big event that is celebrated in all Buddha societies. And in Hinduism there are thousands of holidays that commemorate different events in the lives of the Gods. Like the birthday of Lord Krishna, for example, that takes place usually in July or August.

In addition to festivals commemorative events, another way that religion has an impact on culture and societal customs, is certain rules for how the genders are to interact. Islam often has very clear boundaries of acceptable interaction between men and women, for example. And in Judaism too, a good example is that mechitza, the physical barrier that separates the genders during certain services.

In Korea, which has historically been greatly influenced by Confucianism, the interactions between unmarried men and women was very strictly regulated. Visiting each other in their home without supervision was generally frowned upon and not considered to be socially acceptable. Confucianism has had an impact on the roles of men and women in contemporary Korean culture and society, as well.

So now, why don't we review. We've outlined a few of the ways in which religion has impacted society in terms of conventions that reach back through historical tradition and history. We used examples from monotheistic traditions, and we used some examples from the east, as well, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We also talked about how religious convention, religious belief, informs certain societal customs and codes of behavior and conduct. And we used the example of men and women interacting in certain Islamic cultures, Muslim cultures, and in certain Korean cultures that have been influenced by Confucianism, for example.

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.