The variety of
cultures is one of the great beauties of this world - as well as a
major source of problems.
What are the underlying causes for conflicts between cultures? How
do we construct images of ourselves and others?
Why is religion such a powerful instrument to separate groups and
Why is race such a powerful instrument to separate groups and
Is culture a deterministic or random process,
what are the variables, dimensions, and processes of culture?
How does one recognize similarities, differences, and potential
conflicts between cultures?
What are appropriate means and ways to prevent and solve cultural
Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to
cultivate"), generally refers to patterns of human activity and the
symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Different
definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for
understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. Most
general, the term culture denotes whole product of an individual,
group or society of intelligent beings. It includes technology, art,
science, as well as moral systems and the characteristic behaviors
and habits of the selected intelligent entities. In particular, it
has specific more detailed meanings in different domains of human
We may notice that different human societies have different
cultures, and the personal culture of one individual can be
different than another one.
Anthropologists most commonly use the term "culture" to refer to the
universal human capacity to classify, codify and communicate their
experiences symbolically. This capacity has long been taken as a
defining feature of the humans. However, primatologists such as Jane
Goodall have identified aspects of culture among human's closest
relatives in the animal kingdom. It can be also said that "It is
the way people live in accordance to beliefs, language, history, or
the way they dress".
Key components of culture
Ways of looking at culture
2.1 Culture as
2.2 Culture as
2.3 Culture as symbols
2.4 Culture as a
2.5 Culture and
Cultures within a society
Cultures by region
5.2 Eastern religion
5.3 Folk religions
5.4 The "American
10 External links
Key components of
• artifacts ,
common way of understanding culture is to see it as consisting of
four elements that are "passed on from generation to generation by
Values comprise ideas about what in life seems important. They guide
the rest of the culture. Norms consist of expectations of how people
will behave in various situations. Each culture has methods, called
sanctions, of enforcing its norms. Sanctions vary with the
importance of the norm; norms that a society enforces formally have
the status of laws. Institutions are the structures of a society
within which values and norms are transmitted. Artifacts—things, or
aspects of material culture—derive from a culture's values and
Julian Huxley gives a slightly different division, into
inter-related "mentifacts", "sociofacts" and "artifacts", for
ideological, sociological, and technological subsystems
respectively. Socialization, in Huxley's view, depends on the belief
subsystem. The sociological subsystem governs interaction between
people. Material objects and their use make up the technological
As a rule, archaeologists focus on material culture, whereas
cultural anthropologists focus on symbolic culture, although
ultimately both groups maintain interests in the relationships
between these two dimensions. Moreover, anthropologists understand
"culture" to refer not only to consumption goods, but to the general
processes which produce such goods and give them meaning, and to the
social relationships and practices in which such objects and
processes become embedded.
Ways of looking at
Many people today have an idea of "culture" that developed in Europe
during the 18th and early 19th centuries. This notion of culture
reflected inequalities within European societies, and between
European powers and their colonies around the world. It identifies
"culture" with "civilization" and contrasts it with "nature."
According to this way of thinking, one can classify some countries
as more civilized than others, and some people as more cultured than
others. Some cultural theorists have thus tried to eliminate popular
or mass culture from the definition of culture. Theorists such as
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) or the Leavisites regard culture as
simply the result of "the best that has been thought and said in the
world” Arnold contrasted mass/popular culture with social chaos
or anarchy. On this account, culture links closely with social
cultivation: the progressive refinement of human behavior. Arnold
consistently uses the word this way: "... culture being a pursuit of
our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters
which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in
An artifact of "high culture": a painting by Edgar Degas.In
practice, culture referred to élite activities such as museum-caliber
art and classical music, and the word cultured described people who
knew about, and took part in, these activities. These are often
called "high culture" to distinguish them from mass culture or
From the 19th century onwards, some social critics have accepted
this contrast between high and low culture, but have stressed the
refinement and of sophistication of high culture as corrupting and
unnatural developments that obscure and distort people's essential
nature. On this account, folk music (as produced by working-class
people) honestly expresses a natural way of life, and classical
music seems superficial and decadent. Equally, this view often
portrays Indigenous peoples as 'noble savages' living authentic
unblemished lives, uncomplicated and uncorrupted by the
highly-stratified capitalist systems of the West.
Today most social scientists reject the monadic conception of
culture, and the opposition of culture to nature. They recognize
non-élites as just as cultured as élites (and non-Westerners as just
as civilized) -- simply regarding them as just cultured in a
different way. Thus social observers contrast the "high" culture of
élites to "popular" or pop culture, meaning goods and activities
produced for, and consumed by the masses. (Note that some
classifications relegate both high and low cultures to the status of
Culture as worldview
During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially those
concerned with nationalist movements — such as the nationalist
struggle to create a "Germany" out of diverse principalities, and
the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the
Austro-Hungarian Empire — developed a more inclusive notion of
culture as "worldview." In this mode of thought, a distinct and
incommensurable world view characterizes each ethnic group. Although
more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still
allowed for distinctions between "civilized" and "primitive" or
By the late 19th century, anthropologists had adopted and adapted
the term culture to a broader definition that they could apply to a
wider variety of societies. Attentive to the theory of evolution,
they assumed that all human beings evolved equally, and that the
fact that all humans have cultures must in some way result from
human evolution. They also showed some reluctance to use biological
evolution to explain differences between specific cultures — an
approach that either exemplified a form of, or segment of society
vis a vis other segments and the society as a whole, they often
reveal processes of domination and resistance.
In the 1950s, subcultures — groups with distinctive characteristics
within a larger culture — began to be the subject of study by
sociologists. The 20th century also saw the popularization of the
idea of corporate culture — distinct and malleable within the
context of an employing organization or a workplace.
Culture as symbols
The symbolic view of culture, the legacy of Clifford Geertz (1973)
and Victor Turner (1967), holds symbols to be both the practices of
social actors and the context that gives such practices meaning.
Anthony P. Cohen (1985) writes of the "symbolic gloss" which allows
social actors to use common symbols to communicate and understand
each other while still imbuing these symbols with personal
significance and meanings. Symbols provide the limits of cultured
thought. Members of a culture rely on these symbols to frame their
thoughts and expressions in intelligible terms. In short, symbols
make culture possible, reproducible and readable. They are the "webs
of significance" in Weber's sense that, to quote Pierre Bourdieu
(1977), "give regularity, unity and systematicity to the practices
of a group." Thus, for example:
• "Stop, in the
name of the law!"—Stock phrase uttered to the antagonists by the
sheriff or marshal in 20th century American Old Western movies
• Law and order—stock phrase in the United States
• Peace and order—stock phrase in the Philippines
Culture as a
Modern cultural theory also considers the possibility that (a)
culture itself is a product of stabilization tendencies inherent in
evolutionary pressures toward self-similarity and self-cognition of
societies as wholes, or tribalisms. See Steven Wolfram's A new kind
of science on iterated simple algorithms from genetic unfolding,
from which the concept of culture as an operating mechanism can be
developed, and Richard Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype for
discussion of genetic and memetic stability over time, through
negative feedback mechanisms.
Researchers in evolutionary psychology argue that the mind is a
system of neurocognitive information processing modules designed by
natural selection to solve the adaptive problems of our distant
ancestors. According to evolutionary psychologists, the diversity of
forms that human cultures take are constrained (indeed, made
possible) by innate information processing mechanisms underlying our
behavior, including language acquisition modules, incest avoidance
mechanisms, cheater detection mechanisms, intelligence and
sex-specific mating preferences, foraging mechanisms,
alliance-tracking mechanisms, agent detection mechanisms, fear and
protection mechanisms (survival mechanisms) and so on. These
mechanisms are theorized to be the psychological foundations of
culture. In order to fully understand culture we must understand its
biological conditions of possibility.
Cultures within a
Large societies often have subcultures, or groups of people with
distinct sets of behavior and beliefs that differentiate them from a
larger culture of which they are a part. The subculture may be
distinctive because of the age of its members, or by their race,
ethnicity, class or gender. The qualities that determine a
subculture as distinct may be aesthetic, religious, occupational,
political, sexual or a combination of these factors.
In dealing with immigrant groups and their cultures, there are
essentially four approaches:
Monoculturalism: In some European states, culture is very closely
linked to nationalism, thus government policy is to assimilate
immigrants, although recent increases in migration have led many
European states to experiment with forms of multiculturalism.
• Leitkultur (core culture): A model developed in Germany by
Bassam Tibi. The idea is that minorities can have an identity of
their own, but they should at least support the core concepts of
the culture on which the society is based.
• Melting Pot: In the United States, the traditional view has been
one of a melting pot where all the immigrant cultures are mixed
and amalgamated without state intervention.
• Multiculturalism: A policy that immigrants and others should
preserve their cultures with the different cultures interacting
peacefully within one nation.
The way nation states treat immigrant cultures rarely falls neatly
into one or another of the above approaches. The degree of
difference with the host culture (i.e., "foreignness"), the number
of immigrants, attitudes of the resident population, the type of
government policies that are enacted and the effectiveness of those
policies all make it difficult to generalize about the effects.
Similarly with other subcultures within a society, attitudes of the
mainstream population and communications between various cultural
groups play a major role in determining outcomes. The study of
cultures within a society is complex and research must take into
account a myriad of variables.
Cultures by region
Many regional cultures have been influenced by contact with others,
such as by colonization, trade, migration, mass media and religion.
Though of many varied origins, African culture, especially
Sub-Saharan African culture has been shaped by European colonialism,
and, especially in North Africa, by Arab and Islamic culture.
The culture of the Americas has been strongly influenced by peoples
that inhabitated the continents before Europeans arrived; people
from Africa (the United States especially has a large
African-American population, most of whom are descended from former
slaves), and the immigration of Europeans, especially Spanish,
English, French, Portuguese, German, Irish, Italian and Dutch.
Despite the great cultural diversity of Asian nations, there are,
nevertheless, several transnational cultural influences. Though
Korea, Japan, and Vietnam are not Chinese-speaking countries, their
languages have been heavily influenced by Chinese and Chinese
writing. Thus, in East Asia, Chinese writing is generally agreed to
exert a unifying influence. Religions, especially Buddhism and
Taoism have had an impact on the cultural traditions of East Asian
countries (see section on Eastern religion and philosophy, below).
There is also a shared social and moral philosophy that derives from
Hinduism and Islam have for hundreds of years exerted cultural
influence on various peoples of South Asia. Similarly, Buddhism is
pervasive in Southeast Asia.
Most of the countries of the Pacific Ocean continue to be dominated
by their indigenous cultures, although these have generally been
affected by contact with European culture. In particular, most of
Polynesia is now strongly Christian. Other countries, such as
Australia and New Zealand have been dominated by white settlers and
their descendants, whose culture now predominates. However
Indigenous Australian and Māori (New Zealand) cultures are still
European culture also has a broad influence beyond the continent of
Europe due to the legacy of colonialism. In this broader sense it is
sometimes referred to as Western culture. This is most easily seen
in the spread of the English language and to a lesser extent, a few
other European languages. Dominant influences include ancient
Greece, ancient Rome, and Christianity, although religion has
declined in Europe.
Middle East and North
Persia (Iran) has and had for many centuries the biggest influence
on Middle Eastern culture. The Persian culture heavily influenced
the culture and language of Turks and most other regional countries
and later on, Islamic countries and created what is now known as the
"Islamic Architecture" which borrows many of its aspects from
Persian style of architecture. Perhaps the defining characteristic
of the other countries of Middle East and North Africa is Islam and
variations of the Arabic language, though this region is also home
to Israel and Judaism, and significant Christian minorities.
Further, several groups which are adherents to Islam do not consider
Religion and other belief systems are often integral to a culture.
Religion, from the Latin religare, meaning "to bind fast", is a
feature of cultures throughout human history. The Dictionary of
Philosophy and Religion defines religion in the following way:
... an institution with a recognized body of communicants who gather
together regularly for worship, and accept a set of doctrines
offering some means of relating the individual to what is taken to
be the ultimate nature of reality.
Religion often codifies behavior, such as with the 10 Commandments
of Christianity or the five precepts of Buddhism. Sometimes it is
involved with government, as in a theocracy. It also influences
Eurocentric custom to some extent divides humanity into Western and
non-Western cultures, although this has some flaws.
Western culture spread from Europe most strongly to Australia,
Canada, and the United States. It is influenced by ancient Greece,
ancient Rome and the Christian church.
Western culture tends to be more individualistic than non-Western
cultures. It also sees man, god, and nature or the universe more
separately than non-Western cultures. It is marked by economic
wealth, literacy, and technological advancement, although these
traits are not exclusive to it.
Judaism is one of the first, recorded monotheistic faiths and one of
the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The values
and history of the Jewish people are a major part of the foundation
of other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, as well as
the Bahá'í Faith. However, while sharing a heritage from Abraham
each has distinct arts (visual and performance arts and the like.)
Of course some of these are regional influences among the nations
the religions are present in, but there are some norms or forms of
cultural expression distinctly emphasized by the religions.
Christianity was the dominant feature in shaping European and the
New World cultures for at least the last 500 to 1700 years. Modern
philosophical thought has very much been influenced by Christian
philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus and Christian
Cathedrals have been noted as architectural wonders like Notre Dame
de Paris, Wells Cathedral and Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.
Islam's influence has dominated much of the North African, Middle
and Far East regions for some 1000 years plus, sometimes mixed with
other religions. For example Islam's influence can be seen in
diverse philosophies and poetic stories like The Conference of the
Birds and the Masnavi as well as architectural triumphs such as the
Faisal Mosque, badshahi masjid Hagia Sophia (which has been a
Cathedral and a Mosque) and Jama Masjid (see Notable Mosques).
Judaism and the Baha'i faiths are usually minority religions among
the nations but still have made distinctive contributions to the
cultures of the nations and regions. Of Judaism, people of note
include Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger and muscians/performers
like Paula Abdul, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bob Dylan. Of the Bahá'í
faith, consider the Bahá'í House of Worship as well as musicians
like Dizzy Gillespie and thinkers like Alain LeRoy Locke, Frederick
Mayer and Richard St. Barbe Baker.
Eastern religion and
Philosophy and religion are often closely interwoven in Eastern
thought. Many Asian religious and philosophical traditions
originated in India and China and spread across Asia through
cultural diffusion and the migration of peoples. Hinduism is the
wellspring of Buddhism, the Mahāyāna branch of which spread north
and eastwards from India into Tibet, China, Mongolia, Japan and
Korea and south from China into Vietnam. Theravāda Buddhism spread
throughout Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka, parts of southwest
China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.
Indian philosophy includes Hindu philosophy. They contain elements
of nonmaterial pursuits, whereas another school of thought from
India, Carvaka, preached the enjoyment of material world.
Confucianism and Taoism, both of which originated in China have had
pervasive influence on both religious and philosophical traditions,
as well as statecraft and the arts throughout Asia.
During the 20th century, in the two most populous countries of Asia,
two dramatically different political philosophies took shape. Gandhi
gave a new meaning to Ahimsa, a core belief of both Hinduism and
Jainism, and redefined the concepts of nonviolence and nonresistance
far beyond the confines of India. During the same period, Mao
Zedong’s communist philosophy became a powerful secular belief
system in China.
Folk religions practiced by tribal groups are common in Asia, Africa
and the Americas. Their influence can be considerable; may pervade
the culture and even become the state religion, as with Shintoism.
Like the other major religions, folk religion answers human needs
for reassurance in times of trouble, healing, averting misfortune
and providing rituals that address the major passages and
transitions in human life.
The "American Dream"
The American Dream is a belief, held by many in the United States,
that through hard work, courage, and self-determination, regardless
of social class, a person can gain a better life. This notion is
rooted in the belief that the United States is a "city upon a hill,
a light unto the nations," which were values held by many early
European settlers and maintained by subsequent generations.
Religion often influences marriage and sexual practices.
Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage;
the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the
community to support the relationship. In marriage, Christians draw
a parallel with the relationship between Jesus Christ and His
Church. The Roman Catholic Church believes it is morally wrong to
divorce, and divorcées cannot remarry in a church marriage (without
a formal annulment of the previous marriage).
Cultural studies developed in the late 20th century, in part through
the re-introduction of Marxist thought into sociology, and in part
through the articulation of sociology and other academic disciplines
such as literary criticism. This movement aimed to focus on the
analysis of subcultures in capitalist societies. Following the
non-anthropological tradition, cultural studies generally focus on
the study of consumption goods (such as fashion, art, and
literature). Because the 18th- and 19th-century distinction between
"high" and "low" culture seems inappropriate to apply to the
mass-produced and mass-marketed consumption goods which cultural
studies analyses, these scholars refer instead to "popular culture".
Today, some anthropologists have joined the project of cultural
studies. Most, however, reject the identification of culture with
consumption goods. Furthermore, many now reject the notion of
culture as bounded, and consequently reject the notion of
subculture. Instead, they see culture as a complex web of shifting
patterns that link people in different locales and that link social
formations of different scales. According to this view, any group
can construct its own cultural identity.
Currently, a debate is underway regarding whether or not culture can
actually change fundamental human cognition. Researchers are divided
on the question.
19th century engraving showing Australian "natives opposing the
arrival of Captain James Cook" in 1770.Cultures, by predisposition,
both embrace and resist change, depending on culture traits. For
example, men and women have complementary roles in many cultures.
One gender might desire changes that affect the other, as happened
in the second half of the 20th century in western cultures. Thus
there are both dynamic influences that encourage acceptance of new
things, and conservative forces that resist change.
Three kinds of influence cause both change and resistance to it:
1. forces at
work within a society
2. contact between societies
3. changes in the natural environment.
Cultural change can come about due to the environment, to inventions
(and other internal influences), and to contact with other cultures.
For example, the end of the last ice age helped lead to the
invention of agriculture, which in its turn brought about many
In diffusion, the form of something (though not necessarily its
meaning) moves from one culture to another. For example, hamburgers,
mundane in the United States, seemed exotic when introduced into
China. "Stimulus diffusion" refers to an element of one culture
leading to an invention in another. Diffusion of innovations theory
presents a research-based model of why and when individuals and
cultures adopt new ideas, practices, and products.
"Acculturation" has different meanings, but in this context refers
to replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another,
such as happened to certain Native American tribes and to many
indigenous peoples across the globe during the process of
colonization. Related processes on an individual level include
assimilation (adoption of a different culture by an individual) and
Cultural invention has come to mean any innovation that is new and
found to be useful to a group of people and expressed in their
behavior but which does not exist as a physical object. Humanity is
in a global "accelerating culture change period", driven by the
expansion of international commerce, the mass media, and above all,
the human population explosion, among other factors. The world's
population now doubles in less than 40 years.
Culture change is complex and has far-ranging effects. Sociologists
and anthropologists believe that a holistic approach to the study of
cultures and their environments is needed to understand all of the
various aspects of change. Human existence may best be looked at as
a "multifaceted whole." Only from this vantage can one grasp the
realities of culture change.
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