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Introduction to Religion

The English alphabet uses a combination of 26 letters to create words; these 26 letters make up over , recognized English words Oxford English Dictionary, Rules for speaking and writing vary even within cultures, most notably by region. Do you refer to a can of carbonated liquid as a soda, pop, or soft drink? Is a household entertainment room a family room, rec room, or den? Language is constantly evolving as societies create new ideas. In this age of technology, people have adapted almost instantly to new nouns such as email and internet, and verbs such as download, text, and blog.

3.1. What Is Culture?

Twenty years ago, the general public would have considered these nonsense words. Even while it constantly evolves, language continues to shape our reality. This insight was established in the s by two linguists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. To prove this point, the sociologists argued that every language has words or expressions specific to that language. In Canada, for example, the number 13 is associated with bad luck.

In Japan, however, the number four is considered unlucky, since it is pronounced similarly to the Japanese word for death. The hypothesis, which has also been called linguistic relativity, states that we initially develop language to express concepts that emerge from our experience of the world, but afterwards language comes back to shape our experience of the world Swoyer, If a person cannot describe the experience, the person cannot have the experience.

The compilers of Ethnologue estimate that currently 7, languages are used in the world Lewis et al. This would suggest that there are at least 7, distinct cultural contexts through which humans interpret and experience the world. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis would suggest that their worlds differ to the degree that their languages differ.

When languages die out or fail to be passed on to subsequent generations, whole ways of knowing and being in the world die out with them and the ethnosphere is diminished. In the s it became clear that the federal government needed to develop a bilingual language policy to integrate French Canadians into the national identity and prevent their further alienation. The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended establishing official bilingualism within the federal government.

As a result, the Official Languages Act became law in and established both English and French as the official languages of the federal government and federal institutions such as the courts. Not only would Canadians be able to access government services in either French or English, no matter where they were in the country, but also receive French or English education. The entire country would be home for both French or English speakers McRoberts, However, in the census 67 percent of Canadians spoke English most often at home, while only 26 percent spoke French at home and most of these were in Quebec.

Approximately 13 percent of Canadians could maintain a conversation in both languages Statistics Canada, The next highest were Ontario at 4. In British Columbia, only 0. French speakers had widely settled Canada, but French speaking outside Quebec had lost ground since Confederation because of the higher rates of anglophone immigrants, the assimilation of francophones, and the lack of French-speaking institutions outside Quebec McRoberts, It seemed even in that the ideal of creating a bilingual nation was unlikely and unrealistic. What has happened to the concept of bilingualism over the last 40 years?

According to the census, 58 percent of the Canadian population spoke English at home, while only Proportionately the number of both English and French speakers has actually decreased since the introduction of the Official Languages Act in On the other hand, the number of people who can maintain a conversation in both official languages has increased to However, the most significant linguistic change in Canada has not been French-English bilingualism, but the growth in the use of languages other than French and English.

In a sense, what has happened is that the shifting cultural composition of Canada has rendered the goal of a bilingual nation anachronistic. Today it would be more accurate to speak of Canada as a multilingual nation. One-fifth of Canadians speak a language other than French or English at home; In Toronto, In Greater Vancouver, 31 percent of the population speak a language other than French and English at home: Today, the government of Canada still conducts business in both official languages.

French and English are the dominant languages in the workplace and schools. Labels on products are required to be in both French and English.


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But increasingly a lot of product information is also made available in multiple languages. In Vancouver and Toronto, and to a lesser extent Montreal, linguistic diversity has become increasingly prevalent. French and English are still the central languages of convergence and integration for immigrant communities who speak other languages — only 1. Even an action as seemingly simple as commuting to work evidences a great deal of cultural propriety. Take the case of going to work on public transportation.

Whether commuting in Dublin, Cairo, Mumbai, or Vancouver, many behaviours will be the same in all locations, but significant differences also arise between cultures. But when boarding a bus in Cairo, passengers might have to run, because buses there often do not come to a full stop to take on patrons. When boarding a commuter train in Mumbai, passengers must squeeze into overstuffed cars amid a lot of pushing and shoving on the crowded platforms. That kind of behaviour would be considered the height of rudeness in Canada, but in Mumbai it reflects the daily challenges of getting around on a train system that is taxed to capacity.

In this example of commuting, the different cultural responses are seen as various solutions to a common problem, the problem of public transportation. The problem is shared, but the solutions are different. Cultural solutions consist of two components: thoughts or perceptual orientations expectations about personal space, for example and tangible things bus stops, trains, and seating capacity.

Culture includes both material and non-material elements. Material culture refers to the artifacts, technologies, and products of a group of people. Metro passes and bus tokens are part of material culture, as are automobiles, stores, and the physical structures where people worship. Nonmaterial culture , in contrast, consists of the knowledge and beliefs, forms of communication, and norms of behaviour of a society.

It is important to point out here that material and nonmaterial aspects of culture are linked, and physical objects often symbolize cultural ideas. Clothing, hairstyles, and jewellery are part of material culture, but the appropriateness of wearing certain clothing for specific events reflects nonmaterial culture.

These material and nonmaterial aspects of culture can vary subtly from region to region. As people travel farther afield, moving from different regions to entirely different parts of the world, certain material and nonmaterial aspects of culture become dramatically unfamiliar. We notice this when we encounter different cultures. In the introduction of this chapter we noted that culture is the source of the shared meanings through which we interpret and orient ourselves to the world. While cultural practices are in some respects always a response to biological givens or to the structure of the socioeconomic formation, they are not determined by these factors.

Do you prefer listening to opera or hip hop music?

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Do you read books of poetry or magazines about celebrities? In each pair, one type of entertainment is considered high brow and the other low brow.


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People often associate high culture with intellectualism, aesthetic taste, elitism, wealth, and prestige. Pierre Bourdieu argues high culture is not only a symbol of distinction, but a means of maintaining status and power distinctions through the transfer of cultural capital : the knowledge, skills, tastes, mannerisms, speaking style, posture, material possessions, credentials, etc. In modern times, popular culture is often expressed and spread via commercial media such as radio, television, movies, the music industry, publishers, and corporate-run websites.

Unlike high culture, popular culture is known and accessible to most people. But if you tried to launch into a deep discussion on the classical Greek play Antigone , few members of Canadian society today would be familiar with it.

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Although high culture may be viewed as superior to popular culture, the labels of high culture and popular culture vary over time and place. Contemporary popular culture is frequently referred to as a postmodern culture. In the era of modern culture, or modernity, the distinction between high culture and popular culture framed the experience of culture in more or less a clear way.

The high culture of 19 th — and 20 th -century modernity was often experimental and avant-garde, seeking new and original forms in literature, art, and music to express the elusive, transient, underlying experiences of the modern human condition. High culture also had a civilizing mission to preserve and pass down.

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In both forms, high culture appealed to a limited but sophisticated audience. Popular culture, on the other hand, was simply the culture of the people; it was immediately accessible and easily digestible, either in the form of folk traditions or commercialized mass culture. The dominant sensibility of postmodern popular culture is both playful and ironic, as if the blending and mixing of cultural references, like in the television show The Simpsons , is one big in-joke.

At a more serious level, postmodern culture is seen to challenge modern culture in a number of key ways. The postmodern eclectic mix of elements from different times and places challenges the modernist concepts of authentic expression and progress; the idea that cultural creations can and should seek new and innovative ways to express the deep meanings of life.

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The playfulness and irony of postmodern culture seem to undermine the core values of modernity, especially the idea that cultural critique or innovations in architecture, art, and literature, etc. In postmodernity, nothing is to be taken very seriously, even ourselves. Moreover, in postmodernity everyone with access to a computer and some editing software is seen to be a cultural producer; everyone has an important voice and access to knowledge is simply a matter of crowd-sourcing. The modernist myth of the great creator or genius is rejected in favour of a plurality of voices.

Postmoderns are skeptical of the claims that scientific knowledge leads to progress, that political change creates human emancipation, that Truth sets us free. Some argue that the outcome of this erosion of authority and decline in consensus around core values is a thorough relativism of values in which no standard exists to judge one thing more significant than another.

Instead of the privileged truths of elites and authorities, postmodernity witnesses the emergence of a plurality of different voices that had been relegated to the margins.


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Culture moves away from homogeneous sameness to heterogeneous diversity. A subculture is just as it sounds—a smaller cultural group within a larger culture. People of a subculture are part of the larger culture, but also share a specific identity within a smaller group. Thousands of subcultures exist within Canada. Ethnic groups share the language, food, and customs of their heritage.

Other subcultures are united by shared experiences. For example, biker culture revolves around a dedication to motorcycles. Alcoholics Anonymous offers support to those suffering from alcoholism. The body modification community embraces aesthetic additions to the human body, such as tattoos, piercings, and certain forms of plastic surgery. But even as members of a subculture band together around a distinct identity, they still identify with and participate in the larger society.

In contrast to subcultures, which operate relatively smoothly within the larger society, countercultures might actively defy larger society by developing their own set of rules and norms to live by, sometimes even creating communities that operate outside of greater society. The hippies, for example, were a subculture that became a counterculture, blending protest against the Vietnam War, technocracy and consumer culture with a back to the land movement, non-Western forms of spirituality, and the practice of voluntary simplicity.

Counterculture, in this example, refers to the cultural forms of life taken by a political and social protest movement. They are usually informal, transient religious groups or movements that deviate from orthodox beliefs and often, but not always, involve an intense emotional commitment to the group and allegiance to a charismatic leader. In pluralistic societies like Canada, they represent quasi-legitimate forms of social experimentation with alternate forms of religious practice, community, sexuality and gender relations, proselytizing, economic organization, healing and therapy.

However, sometimes their challenge to conventional laws and norms is regarded as going too far by the dominant society. For example, the group Yearning for Zion YFZ in Eldorado, Texas existed outside the mainstream, and the limelight, until its leader was accused of statutory rape and underage marriage. In the s and 70s, for example, skinheads shaved their heads, listened to ska music from Jamaica, participated in racist chants at soccer games, and wore highly polished Doctor Marten boots in a manner that deliberately alienated their parents while expressing their own alienation as working class youth with few job prospects in deindustrialized England.

Skinny jeans, chunky glasses, ironic moustaches, retro-style single speed bicycles and T-shirts with vintage logos—the hipster is a recognizable figure in contemporary North American culture. Predominantly based in metropolitan areas, hipsters seek to define themselves by a rejection of mainstream norms and fashion styles. As a subculture, hipsters spurn many values and beliefs of North American society, tending to prefer a bohemian lifestyle over one defined by the accumulation of power and wealth.