Impact of Religious Development on Surrounding Nations

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  • 0:00 Religion & Society
  • 0:50 Religion for Some
  • 1:55 Law for All
  • 2:45 Finding Balance
  • 4:25 Diverse Faiths
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

No cultural impact is felt quite as much as religion. The religions that shape Western culture most have been around for hundreds of years, and show no signs of stopping anytime soon. This lesson shows how religions impact cultures.

Religion & Society

It is actually quite hard to really wrap your brain around how much religion matters to many societies. Throughout history, practically every government has had a stance on the subject, whether to support one religion over another, to permit free practice of all religions or even to outlaw religion entirely. The reason for this is that throughout history, there are numerous examples of what people would do in order to protect their religious beliefs. After all, whether it's the promise of paradise or Nirvana, practically every tradition makes it clear that our actions in this life affect whatever comes next. This simple truth means that it is not only society having an impact on religion, but also religion having an impact on society.

Religion for Some

Sometimes, a religious tradition can have an impact on societies even when a majority of people don't adhere to that specific belief. One of the best examples of this comes from Confucianism. While everyone was expected to follow Confucian principles, the in-depth studying of the text was largely limited only to those who would be advising the government. Because of this, China's religious landscape permitted Buddhism, Daoism, ancestor worship, Islam and Christianity to all flourish to some degree. However, it was ultimately the handful of individuals who studied Confucian thought and philosophy who had the greatest impact on that society.

Sometimes, societies even go as far as to limit who is allowed to worship in a particular way so as to limit access to ruling the group. This is especially true in some indigenous societies. In these cases, expert knowledge is passed down from leader to leader, elder to elder, and much of this is heavily religious in nature. For those closed out of such knowledge, there is no opportunity to rule.

Law for All

Still, indigenous society does provide some knowledge for everyone and, in this respect, introduces the idea of religion providing guidance for everyone. In this respect, religion often forms the basis of law. On a much larger scale, this is seen especially in two religions that originate in the Middle East: Judaism and Islam. In both Hebrew and Arabic, the holy languages of Judaism and Islam respectively, there is no word for 'religion' as we define it. Instead, in Hebrew, the word for 'commandment' is used, whereas in Arabic, religion is translated as a word that specifically relates to God's law. In both traditions, it is often not as much about what a person believes, but rather how a person acts.

Finding Balance

Such a 1-sided approach would sound strange to the average Daoist, who, instead, strives for balance in all things, as evidenced by their symbol of the Yin-Yang. In fact, this religion found its greatest growth as a way to introduce balance to the lives of Confucian practitioners. Yes, you heard that right - people would be Confucian while at work and then Daoist at home. After all, work and home are to some degree quite different societies and, as a result, need different approaches in order to thrive.

This view of the world as in balance would not have been too far off of the beliefs of Zoroastrianism, an early religion founded in Iran. They believe that the world is in constant struggle between good and evil and that there is something of a balancing act going on. In fact, part of this balancing act extended to the way that they encouraged the Persian Empire's governing authorities to administer that empire's vast collection of diverse peoples and societies. Rather than impose an unwanted religion, it was viewed as a far better thing to let people worship as they had but instead empower - through worldly means like taxes - Persian Zoroastrians to keep the balance between good and evil.

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