Impact of Religion on Culture
The major religions of the world have evolved as a result of a multitude of factors, over a period of thousands of years. On account of the limitations of human knowledge, religion has often sought to explain common phenomenon, many of which are easily explained by basic primary level science, today.
However, the great religions also dealt with complex metaphysical and philosophical concepts, and are therefore great treasures of human knowledge. Religion goes into areas which are beyond the limitations of the physical world and science.
As religious systems evolved, they also took within their embrace several aspects of culture, which in reality have nothing to do with the realm of spiritual and divine knowledge.
As an example, very often, dress codes as well as hairstyles are prescribed by religious doctrines. How can the dress that a person wears, affect his or her spiritual prowess, is difficult to understand. Similarly, it is common to find plies of worship of a particular religion to be built in the architectural designs, of the places, where originated. Therefore Mosques Churches, Temples, and Gurudwaras are all, built in particular architectural style.
The building style’ is a ‘cultural’ aspect. How one prays inside that building is a ‘divine or religions aspect.
It can be said that religion is almost invariably intertwined with culture, in all societies, all over the world.
Difference between Religion and Culture
In simple terms, Religion may be defined as the body of human knowledge, dealing with the worship of the divine. It may include various kinds of concepts, philosophies and methodologies thereof.
Culture on the other hand, may be defined in the words of E.B. Tylor, as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Thus culture plays an important role in the day-to-day running, organising and ordering of the human society.
Various concepts, though relating purely to the ordering and running of a society may also be given specific doctrinal sanctions, explaining such concepts in divine or scriptural terms.
This is certainly true in the way the Hindu society has been organized and ordered, in that the concept of “Varna” which has its origins in the manu-smriti, an important Hindu scripture.
Separation of Scriptural &Divine aspects from Cultural Aspects
In any given society, there is a need for identification and separations of the religious (divine) aspects, from cultural aspects. It is important to ‘cleanse’ the society of medieval and obscurantist thoughts in order to modernise the value systems of people on ‘scientific’ and rational basis. This is also important, as the society must evolve into a modern organic being so that the true potential of that society may be realised.
The spiritual aspects of any religion are of a sensitive nature, and are best left to the holy men to address and deal with. However, strictly cultural aspects need to be identified, and reformed, where the need be.
The cultural aspects that affect the society at large can certainly be dealt with by social and political organizations or even the government. This may be even more true in case these social aspects need to be reformed, in order to bring about further progress of the society.
This has been done successfully in the past in India, beginning with the abolition of sati in the eighteenth century, and making of a powerful act prohibiting the glorification of sati, in very recent times.
Identification of those aspects of Hindu society that need to be reformed
Hindu religion is itself a complex maze of metaphysical philosophies, and is the farthest thing from a structured doctrinal religion. The only way in which a Hindu may be identified is that he calls himself so.
Like any other ancient religion, Hinduism also comes with a large amount baggage, much of which arises out of obscurantism, lack of proper understanding, illiteracy and irrational, illogical and non-scientific thought.
This is nothing exceptional All great religions do carry with them a host of antiquated medieval ideas. In all societies, some people will always exist, who believe in irrational medieval thought.
Therefore, there is a dire need within the Hindu society also for identification, reform or removal of such cultural aspects having a scriptural origin, which directly or indirectly affect the working of the Hindu society.
The society at large must transition from an antiquated medieval mind-set, to a modern rational and scientific mind-set. The attitude, mind-set and ethos of old religions societies has to brought into consonance with the rational and scientific mind-set of modern societies. This is certainly a prerequisite for the success of a modern democratic society.
In case a society continuous to carry medieval, obscurantist and irralzoial practices, these will transpose themselves on to political system and make it inefficient.
The irrationality and inefficiency present in the working of a political system will slow down the ‘pace of development’ and ultimately defeat the very objective of adoption of a political model of a liberal democracy.
There is therefore, a need for separation and identification of ‘divine’ aspects of a religion from the ‘cultural’ aspects, in a society.
Once identified clearly, the strictly ‘cultural’ aspects need to be reformed, to bring a society in consonance with modern and scientific values.