INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
Unit 10: Religion and Culture
³5HOLJLRQ´ derives from a Latin term, re-ligio,
literally meaning to tie one, or link one, back to
something. Obviously, in this case, it means to link
oneself back to God, or to the origin of the universe,
or to whichever force or forces are behind the origins
of the universe. Religion is clearly an important part
of culture, which I guess would mean how people live
their lives in a given land. There is a famous
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according to which ³KLJK´▯ FXOWXUH is sort of
privileged and given elevated social status, for
instance by being taught in schools and/or shown in
museums or otherwise rarefied venues for culture like
the opera house. So, in English culture, Shakespeare obviously counts as high culture. So
would the paintings of Van Gogh or Picasso. And so on. Low culture might mean that a
piece of art or literature or PXVLF▯PLJKW▯EH▯YHU\▯SRSXODU▯DQG▯LQIOXHQWLDO▯▯EXW▯LW▯GRHVQ¶W▯
quite have the same social status or label of quality which experts in what Arthur Danto
IDPRXVO\▯FDOOHG▯³WKH▯DUW▯ZRUOG´▯KDYH▯JLYHQ▯LW▯▯▯3RS▯and rap music would fall under this
category, as would many Internet and web-site creations, video games, Hollywood
movies, and so on. Popular, and widely talked about, but just not of the same quality or
merit as higher products of culture.
Culture is broader than religion, though often, at least historically, it has been inspired in
a major way by religion. So many aspects of Western culture, for instance, have come out
of Christianity and, before that, Greek and Roman religious practices and holiday
celebrations. And, obviously, the way people live in the Muslim world, e.g., is heavily
influenced by the teachings of the religion is Islam, and so on.
1 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
Connecting Culture to International Studies
several important things to note:
Peace and Conflict: In the past,
religious and cultural differences
have sparked wars. Think, e.g., of the
Crusades (from about 1000 AD-1300
AD) between Christianity and Islam.
Or of the Wars of Religion in
Western Europe, between Protestants
and Catholics (which ended with the
Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which
we saw before marks the birth of modern international law).
Foreign Policy and Power: Recall the difference, explained in the lecture on foreign
policy and diplomacy, between so-FDOOHG▯³KaUG▯SRZHU´▯DQG▯³VRIW▯SRZHU▯´▯5HDOLVWV▯DVVXPH▯
that international affairs are all about countries pursuing power to the fullest extent they
can. And power is the ability to get what you want. They make a famous distinction
between hard and soft power, wherein hard power is defined as military and economic
resources, whereas soft power is defined in terms of cultural influence²the spread of
RQH¶V▯ODQJXDJH▯▯UHOLJLRQ▯▯ZRUOG-view. We noted then how the realists argued that, in the
short term, hard power is the most decisive and effective, in terms of securing your goals.
But, in terms of the long term, it is often said that soft power is where you want to be,
you can persuade them to think as you do, and believe as you do, and to behave as you
do. Witness this phenomenon throughout history, especially regarding the recent
European empires, and how they extended their rule not just militarily and economically
but also via the spread of their language, their literature, their political and philosophical
ideals and, of course, their religious and spiritual beliefs as well. This is all to say that,
quite often, it is a major long-term foreign policy goal of countries to try and spread their
2 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
cultural and religious influence as far and as fully as they can. Think of today, for
instance, wherein America not only flexes its muscles militarily and in terms of growing
its economy though free trade, but also by spreading American ideals through Hollywood
movies, TV programs, advertisements, the Internet, and so on. Also, a shockingly huge
number of foreign political and business leaders get educated in the United States.
Human Rights: Human rights issues come up with religion and culture in a host of ways.
For instance, one of the very first human rights ever claimed was freedom of religion and
the freedom to practice religion freely and openly. A number of thinkers even argue that
human rights culture comes out of Christian civilization, especially with its concern for
others. Other thinkers prefer to think of human rights norms as expressing values which
across the moral teachings of the various world religions and cultures.
Global Public Health: In terms of global public health, culture is obviously of
paramount importance. How people live²what they eat, what they drink, how they
behave, how they spend their days (do they exercise, e.g.), do they have access to clean
water, what kind of sexual practices do they engage in, etc., all have a big impact on what
health problems countries confront, and what has to be done, or overcome, or changed, to
help societies improve their health status.
Global Governance: We shall see that, historically, attitudes toward world government,
at least in the West, have often depended²or at least have been correlated²ZLWK▯RQH¶V▯
religion. Protestants tend, historically, to be suspicious of global governance whereas
Catholics have been more supportive, because of the greater comfort level with the idea
Aid and Development: Even international aid and development have been affected by
religion and culture, because for instance quite often it was true that the very first
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3 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
Christianity as far as they could. Even today a great number of
international humanitarian NGOs are, or at least began as,
religious organizations. Think, for instance, of the Red Cross (or
Red Crescent in the Islamic world), or the Mennonite Central
So, those are some of the clear and important links between religion and culture and the
various international topics we have been discussing.
Weber on Protestantism and the Rise of Capitalism
Now, you might have noticed the absence of mention
above regarding international trade and the economy.
Is there no link between such and religion and culture?
Max Weber, an influential sociologist, was one of the
first to forge and illustrate such a link. Weber argued
that one of the major reasons why free market
capitalism came to dominate Western Europe, and
now much of the world (at least in terms of free
market trade norms), is because of the influence of
Protestantism. Protestant Christianity put more
emphasis on the salvation of the individual, and on the
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(through prayer and personal Bible reading, as
opposed to Mass and regular Church attendance), as opposed to Catholicism where there
had been more emphasis on the individual as a member of a larger Church community.
Individualism, and self-regard, is obviously cornerstones of capitalist thought. Moreover,
nothing to be ashamed of. So, effort and success and wealth and thriving became more
LPSRUWDQW▯ WUDLWV▯ WKDQ▯WKH\▯ KDG▯EHHQ▯XQGHU▯WKH▯&KXUFK¶V▯IRUPHU▯PRQRSRO\▯▯*UDFH▯▯IRU▯
example, is no where near as large a concept in Catholicism as it is in Protestantism.
Finally, Weber said that the Protestants liked to save more of their hard-earned money
4 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend
than Catholics did. They did this because of two things: they generally had fewer
(costly!) children; and Catholics were much more vigorously encouraged to give extra
money they had to the Church for social assistance, poor relief, and the growth of the
Church in general. This created a big pool of savings in Protestant communities, which
could then be invested in new technologies and the general growth and sophistication of
the cities and countries in which a majority of Protestants lived. They were, so to speak,
able to take their gains and grow them even further. So, Weber concluded that it was no
PLVWDNH▯RU▯DFFLGHQW▯RU▯P\VWHU\▯DW▯DOO▯ZK\▯WKH▯ZRUOG¶V▯ILUVW▯WUXO\▯IUee markets societies
developed in countries that were historically Protestant: Holland; England; and America.
There was a direct connection from the religious and spiritual and cultural ideas to the
very shaping of their economies. The truly permeating affects of soft power.
In 1991, when the Cold War between
America and the Soviet Union ended,
loss and collapse, a Harvard professor
named Samuel Huntingdon asked
himself: what would the future of
conflict be? In particular, who would
be the next big enemy for the West?
His startling conclusion: the Islamic
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differences in cultural and religious ideals creating the difference between war and peace.
Huntingdon refuses to believe that wars are caused mainly by fights over natural
resources, like oil, or that they are caused by huge empires fighting over who gets to be
the global hegemon. He thinks that the origin of war re