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Social Convention

Social Convention

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson discusses the role of familial and cultural influences on the religious life of the individual.

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Source: Music by J.S. Bach, "Gigue".

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, and welcome. Today we're going to talk about how family and society and culture, in general, influences and affects the religious life of the individual. We're going to see that religion often operates behind the scenes in a way that's not consciously recognized in society. We'll use examples from the East and West to see that religious tradition and social convention are very much entwined and they can either indirectly or directly support religious life of the individual.

A clear example is Sundays. Most people don't work on Sunday. They take the day off. This goes back to the Jewish and Christian practice of commemorating God's creation of the universe.

Now, it's penetrated society in a way that we just accept that. Most people don't think about it. It's either, if you're a religious person, and if you're Jewish, you would go to Shabbat on Friday, and you would not work. If you're a Christian person, you will recognize the Sabbath on Sunday and not work.

Again, there are many levels of observance. Some people might just recognize it as a day of family time. So it's more a secular social convention than it is a religious custom.

Another social convention that has its origin in religious tradition and sacred text is the idea of clothing, gender-specific clothing. In the Bible, for example, it says "the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, and neither shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."

That is in the Old Testament, and it's a reference to gender-specific clothing. So today in modern times, there's lots of crossover with that, not a problem. But generally, if you're a woman, and you want to go to wedding, for example, you're not going to wear a pair of pants. So this is an example of religious tradition that has become a part of social convention without too much conscious thought.

Another example is in Muslim culture, a lot of women will wear the hijab out of modesty and respect. It's a social convention, but it has its roots in the Qur'an. It's a reference to the separation of worlds between God and man. And, again, there are different levels of observance. Some women might simply where the hijab out of respect and modesty, and some might formally understand their clothing as a religious symbol.

And every religious tradition has references to morality and ethical conduct in the world, and prohibitions against killing, for example. In the Bible, first commandment-- thou shalt not kill. Thou shall not steal, all of these. And in Jainism, for example, in India, nonviolence and self-control are principle means of spiritual liberation.

So these religious values have become social values, as well. And again, they are either recognized as a conscious influence from religious tradition, or as a secular way of being in the world. And it's an accepted norm and convention to simply behave properly in the world and respectfully with your neighbor. In the Bible, love thy neighbor as thyself-- many references.

And we could also look at the social institution of slavery. There are many, many references to slavery in the Bible, and they have been interpreted in many different ways. For example, in the Middle Ages, there were very influential arguments that slavery was a result of original sin, original sin being that man has gone astray. Men is inherently corrupted, and therefore it justifies some of the evil results.

Well, in the 18th century, many Roman Catholic priests condemned this, and didn't agree with this idea that slavery was a valid and justifiable social institution. And then, of course, in the 19th century, in the US there are many Bible passages that were interpreted in different ways to defend slavery as a necessary social and economic reality, a convention that involved inheritance and property, et cetera.

And still, in this realm of ethical conduct and moral values, we could look to the example of Buddhism. The Buddhist generally follows the four noble truths along the Eightfold Path-- right conduct, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right knowledge, right intention. All of these things are considered ways of moving toward spiritual freedom. Now they're such a part of the society that they are unlikely to be questioned. Perhaps they're integrated little bit more consciously in the East than in the West, but that's the topic for another session.

So the point is that it functions as a white noise behind the scenes in a way, without people consciously recognizing them. But in general it informs a common sense of what is right and what is wrong.

So let's review. We started with our main idea that religion-- and religious values and traditions-- often influences society, society's customs and conventions, in ways that might not be consciously recognized. We used the example of Sunday and Friday, the Jewish and Christian days of rest, which go back to the Bible as a commemoration of God's creation of the universe. On the seventh day He rested. And we recognize that there are different levels of observance, either secular observance or a religious observance, that they are interwoven.

We also talked about social conventions like clothing. We used the example of the Muslim hijab. And we also spoke about gender-appropriate clothing, which is referred to in the Bible.

We used many examples from the East and West, talking about ethics and prohibitions, and proscriptions for certain types of behavior and ethical conduct in the world. We used references to the Bible, and we spoke also about Buddhism and Jainism. We also looked at the social institution of slavery. And we noted that throughout history, there had been various interpretations of the Bible to either defend or condemn slavery as a social institution.

So religious behavior and customs and beliefs, and the interpretation of religious text, has influenced society in ways that are either consciously understood or unconsciously present as a white noise functioning behind the scenes. Really, the choice of conscious or unconscious influence is a matter of individual initiative. And this is how social customs and beliefs might affect the religious life of an individual. And of course, we mentioned the influence of the family on the religious life of the individual-- inherited customs, beliefs, and practices related to religion and religious life.


Notes on "Social Convention"

Source: Music by J.S. Bach; "Gigue".

Terms to Know
Social Convention

Customs derived from the norms or standard practices of a society

White Noise

A steady, or unchanging noise that eventually ceases to be noticed.