Sample Research paper on The Importance of Understanding Cultural Diversity

There is hardly any society that is culturally homogeneous worldwide. Cultural diversity is a quality of being diverse or different in terms of elements that constitute a particular culture. This is a discussion of religious diversity which is a major component of cultural diversity.   The paper focuses on how failure by human societies to appreciate that when people are born into a different culture they are born into different religion has turned religious diversity into a basis of continuous contention rather than togetherness and community. The essay discusses implications of religious diversity in the society with regard to how it affects social interaction, cohesiveness and integration which are critical to development and maintenance of lasting peace and stability in any society including the global society.

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Culture is a fundamental area of study in sociology particularly from the perspective of how culture affects interaction of individuals, groups of individuals, organizations and societies.   The scope of this study involves the important element of culture known as cultural diversity. In general, culture refers to the features of a given group of people, defined by various characteristics including language, values, habits, customs, beliefs, dress, laws, morals, food, art, and knowledge among others (Andersen &Taylor, 2007). Culture also includes how a particular group of people organize their work, their general behaviour, and the way they think. Sociologists Andersen and Taylor (2007) observe that culture is embedded in all types of social interaction, comprising the underlying notions and expectations on which human interaction is based.

All societies whether small or large, rich or poor, strong or weak have a culture that defines what is right or wrong, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, permissible or impermissible. Culture is the fundamental bond that holds members of a society together. It is a natural source of sense of belonging for individuals (Andersen &Taylor, 2007). It teaches people on how to behave and guides their thinking as different situations require. Essentially, culture is the giver of meaning to life and society (Hall, 2003). Its various facets are a reflection of a society’s ideals and levels of knowledge, development and civilization. In reality, culture is a means through which societies use to adjust their environment so that it can provide for their basic, as well as, secondary needs required for human survival.

Cultures include material and nonmaterial facets. Material culture comprises of the tangible features of a culture such as buildings, tools, weapons, art, toys, publications and other objects (Andersen &Taylor, 2007). Nonmaterial culture includes elements such as laws, beliefs, customs, and ideas of a society.  Nonmaterial culture is intangible and is largely reflected in social behaviour within the day to day patterns of life (Andersen &Taylor, 2007).   For example, in some cultures people eat with their fingers while in others people eat with chopsticks or spoons. The eating practice is nonmaterial culture. However, the eating utensils are components of the material culture. It is important to note that sociologists have identified three common characteristics of culture across all societies (Ferrante, 2010; Andersen &Taylor, 2007). These features include culture sharing, taking culture for granted, and culture learning.

Cultural Diversity

All over the world, there is rarely any society that is culturally homogeneous.   Cultural diversity refers to the feature of different or diverse cultural elements within a given society, country, organization, as well as, within the international community. Cultural diversity also includes the cultural differences that are manifest between and among societies and countries (Hall, 2003). As societies evolve and become more sophisticated, diverse cultural traditions emerge. The more a society becomes complex, the more its culture becomes increasingly diverse and varied internally (Hall, 2003). For example, the U.S is a host of vast cultural diversity arising from racial, ethnic, and religious differences, in addition to gender, age, class, and regional differences (Andersen &Taylor, 2007).   Cultural diversity is apparently a major feature of the present American and global society. This is a discussion of the implications religious diversity in the society from a sociological point of view.

Religious Diversity

Different people define religion in different ways. From a sociological point of view, religion refers to an institutionalized system of beliefs, symbols, practices and values through which a society “interprets and responds to what they feel is sacred and that provides answers to questions of ultimate meaning,” (Andersen &Taylor, 2007, p.448). It is an element of group and a fundamental bond, as well as, source of a sense of belonging for believers. A religion can be officially organized like the bureaucratic Christian churches and Muslim religious organizations or be informally organized such as prayer groups and cults. Most importantly, there is a close connection between religion and people’s social and political opinions and attitudes. This explains why individuals’ opinions regarding topics of national interest such as gay rights and abortion are substantially influenced by their religious beliefs and values.

Religion is an important component of cultural diversity. As cultural diversity within a society increases, religious diversity increases as well. For example, an increase in U.S cultural diversity has consistently been accompanied by increase in religious diversity (Andersen &Taylor, 2007). Today, there are more than two hundred religious groups and denominations in the U.S (Andersen &Taylor, 2007). Arguably, as the most diverse society in the world, the American society has the highest levels of religious diversity.

Religious diversity has been part and parcel of human cultures through out the entire history of humankind. Today, religious diversity is still a constant characteristic of the contemporary, sophisticated human societies (Gross, 1999). The diverse religions that exist in the world are categorized into major and traditional religions (Stolley, 2005). The term major here connotes the size of a given religion in terms of the number of its faithfuls. It does not in anyway mean superiority relative to other religions. The five major world religions include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Christianity is the most dominant religion, even though there is enormous diversity in its various forms all over the world. Protestantism and Catholicism are the most common Christian denominations (Andersen and Taylor, 2007). The two forms have different organizational arrangements and unique religious practices but share common fundamental religious beliefs. In the U.S, the world’s model of cultural diversity there are other numerous religions including Mormons, Quakers, Mennonites, Swendenborgians, Greek Orthodox, and other groups such as New Age groups and Eckankar among others (Cadge and Bender cited in Andersen &Taylor, 2004).   Andersen and Taylor (2007), points out that increased immigration in the U.S has also led to growth of diverse religions including the traditional Asian religions like Buddhism and Confucianism.

Implications of religious diversity in the society

Even though, scientists say that unity derives and should accrue from diversity, the saying is not absolutely true regarding religious diversity if past and present experiences are anything to go by. Religious diversity has serious effects and implications on the individual and the society (local, national and international societies). This is because religious orientations affect considerably social cohesion and integration which are critical to the creation of an enabling environment for development within culturally heterogeneous societies and organizations.   Since societies are rarely uniform in terms of religion, religious tolerance is as important as cultural tolerance for peace and stability to prevail. However, the call for religious and cultural tolerance is a mere democratic principle in the midst of the extremely diverse and opposing religious beliefs, values, principles, and practices.

Religious diversity has been a continuous fact throughout the history of humanity. Unmfortunately, this diversity has emerged as a foundation for strife rather than togetherness and community as demonstrated by many past and present incidences. However, the fact that dominant religious movements like the spread of Christianity and Islam have shaped major events in the history of humanity cannot be disputed (Andersen &Taylor, 2004).

According to Gross (1999), the monotheistic forms of religion have consistently been the worst offenders with regard of being hostile to other different religious orientations (para 2). Gross argues that religious hostility displayed by monotheistic religions towards other different religious orientations and beliefs is directly linked to the strong inclination toward ethnocentrism and xenophobia.  In general, most people uphold the feeling that their religion and culture is superior to those of other people. In fact, in some religions this kind of religious chauvinism is regarded as an important unit of religious commitment, and even a virtue that should be cultivated among believers (Gross, 1999). In some cases, religions encourage mutual hostility by teaching that alien religions are different, demonic and/or inferior. From a sociological point of view this is a dangerous position more so in this age and era of increased globalization. However, this position continues to be upheld and popularized in some religions and this is partially responsible for the numerous conflicts presently disturbing different parts of the world.

The monotheistic religions believe that one universal deity created the universe and everything that there is in it and that he is the one who controls the entire universe. For this reason, they believe that this god wants only one religion to be observed and practiced by all human beings (Rice, 2008). The ethnocentric tendency that informs this belief does not only cause contention between monotheistic religions and polytheistic religions but also between themselves. Monotheistic religions have tended to condemn one another on the basis of following the wrong form of monotheism. The hostility among Islam, Christianity and Judaism is a prime example in point.  In particular, even though Islam and Christianity share certain similarities, they are to some extent the basis of the religious differences that have locked the Eastern Islamic societies and the dominantly Judeo-Christian Western societies.

The history of humanity is full of cases which affirm that although religion contributes to social cohesion particularly in religiously uniform societies; it has consistently been a basis of contention. This feature of religion is visible in the headlines of newspapers on a daily basis worldwide. For example, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has continuously been the foundation of social and political upheavals. In the Middle East, religious differences between Jews and Muslims have been the basis of the many decades of political warfare and instability that lock this region (Andersen &Taylor, 2004). In Bosnia, the murderous ethnic cleansing committed by the Serbs against the Croats led to extermination of thousands of innocent people (Andersen &Taylor, 2004). The perennial conflict between Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria stems partially from religious differences between Muslims and Christians. Islam is the dominant religion in northern Nigeria while Christianity takes dominance in the South. Since 2010, over one thousand and two hundred Nigerians have been killed by the Boko Haram Islamic extremists. The term Boko Haram connotes opposition to Western things including education, values and religion (Christianity) which are considered unclean and thus defiling.   Even though, religion is not exclusively responsible for these deadly conflicts, it plays an indisputable role.

Religious wars, religious genocide, religious extremism, and religious terrorism have led to some of the most violent and tragic events in world history (Andersen &Taylor, 2004). Today, deadly demonstrations that have locked Middle East and North Africa region and other Islamic countries across the world have left scores of people who most likely have nothing to do with the alleged anti-Islam film dead (Weaver, Siddique & McCarthy, 2012). This is a perfect example of how religion is used to justify extremist demonstrations that cause deaths of many innocent people. The said anti-Islam has been associated to U.S which has in retaliation condemned and denounced. To a certain extent, the longstanding hostility between the Oriental Islamic countries and the Judeo-Christian Western countries stems from religious diversity.

During the age exploration religious differences between Europeans and the African people was used to justify slavery and slave trade.   In an attempt to convert Africans, the Europeans regarded Africans as godless heathens who required salvation and civilization. The Europeans justified the cruelty of slave trade and slavery by arguing that they were rescuing Africans from damnation and exposing them to Christian culture and civilization. Principles of Christianity were used to legitimize the brutal system of slavery in the eyes of the slave owners. Europeans believed they were doing the right thing by enslaving the black people (Andersen &Taylor, 2004). The Europeans perceived slaves as inferior to them because of their supposedly heathen beliefs. The slaves were taught that they would go to heaven if they obeyed their slave masters. This way Christian religion was used to serve the economic needs of the slavery system (Andersen &Taylor, 2004). During European colonization in Africa, missionaries claimed that Africans were children who would attain maturity after stopping to worship mountains, rivers, and trees.

Religious Diversity and Globalization

Due to the accelerated pace of globalization which is characterized by increased immigration of people from one country to another, religious diversity will definitely have the most serious implications on social cohesiveness and integration of immigrants into the emerging global societies. Currently, U.S and Canada are receiving the highest number of immigrants annually particularly from Latin America and South East Asia where indigenous religions are still observed. The increased number of immigrants from Asia accounts partly for the tremendous growth of religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism in U.S during the last century. The inevitable convergence of different religions has led to serious implications of religious diversity on various spheres of the society ranging from education, business, and workforce, as well as, promotion and protection of human rights.

As a component of cultural diversity, religion has emerged as a significant issue in integration of people in virtually all societies especially in countries with large number of immigrants like Canada and U.S. Increased immigration of people particularly from Asia and Middle East where traditional religions are still practiced have led to increased growth of non-Christian faithfuls in the hitherto dominantly Judeo-Christian Western world. The Sub-Saharan Africa have also encountered unprecedented influx of Asian investors especially Chinese since 1970s.   In addition, there has been an increased immigration of non-Islamic Africans to the oil-rich Gulf countries in search of greener pastures.

Growth of religious minorities and the inevitable convergence of diverse religions following the emergence of a strong and bigger global economy have led to serious issues concerning the intersection of religion and inequality. In most cases, racial and ethnic minorities who espouse different religious orientations are likely to suffer considerable disadvantages in terms of inequality and discrimination. This is likely to be prevalent in undemocratic societies and in societies whose social and political systems and everyday life is based on a particular dominant religion. For instance, the tyrannical theocratic Muslim states have repeatedly found themselves at logger heads with other members of the international community because of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of minorities. Today, female household female workers from non-Islamic backgrounds are forced to dress like Muslim women in Saudi Arabia contrary to their will.   In extreme cases household workers from non-Islamic backgrounds are forced to convert into Islam while others are treated as godless infidels without any dignity and integrity worth protecting and upholding. All this happen in spite of declaration of universality of human rights and freedoms irrespective of time, place, one’s nationality, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, social status, age, or gender.

All forms of mistreatments arising from religious differences substantially affect social interaction by precipitating hatred and anxiety between individuals, as well as, groups of individuals. Religion-based mistreatment of people hampers social cohesiveness and integration which are critical to development and maintenance of lasting peace and stability in all societies. Furthermore, failure to appreciate and tolerate religious diversity may hinder business organizations with a global strategy from adopting the necessary principle of working with employees who hold the required skills, attitudes and knowledge irrespective of their countries of origin. In other words, it may hinder managers from adopting a geocentric attitude and approach to work and management of international business organizations.

Conclusion

In a recap, there is no society that is culturally uniform. All societies are characterized by apparent features of differences in terms of their cultural elements including religion, languages, dress, food, ideas, art, knowledge, laws, customs, traditions, and morals among others. Religious diversity which is a component of cultural diversity was the subject of this essay. Indisputably, religion can contribute to cohesion in the society. However, as this discussion has demonstrated religious diversity has been and it is still a continuous basis of conflict instead of togetherness, community, and healthy social interaction. Ethnocentrism and xenophobia have made religious diversity a source of contention and disharmony rather than unity which derives from diversity. Ethnocentrism seems to have blinded societies from appreciating the fact that when an individual is born into a different culture s/he inherits a different religion.

 

References

Andersen, M. L., & Taylor, H. F. (2007). Sociology: understanding a diverse society.
New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Ferrante, J. (2010). Sociology: a global perspective. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Gross, R. M. (1999). Religious diversity: some implications for monotheism. Retrieved from http://www.crosscurrents.org/gross.htm

Hall, John R. (2003). Sociology on culture. London: Routledge.

Rice, R. E. (2008). Religious Diversity and the Making of Meaning: Implications for the Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.diversityweb.org/diversitydemocracy/vol11no1/vol11no1.pdf

Stolley, K. S. (2005).   The basics of sociology. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Weaver, M., Siddique, H., & McCarthy, T. (2012). Protests over anti-Islam film and Muhammad cartoons – as it happened. Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/sep/21/tension-anti-islam-film-muhammad-cartoons?newsfeed=true

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