Religion, culture distinct elements of civilisation with a deep connection
At times used synonymously with culture, the word civilisation is said to have its origin in the Latin word Civitas, meaning a city. Thus, it was originally meant to distinguish the human settlements, particularly the more complex urban settlements from the nomadic, transitory or rootless people or those with a rudimentary society and negligible form of institutional governance. In the modern context, civilisation refers to a fairly advanced stage of human development of a people, which encompasses social, urban, technological as well as cultural development.
The presence of organised urban settlements, with diversity of human activity hierarchical society, distinct form of governance, social stratification, development of economic systems, technological growth , evolution of ethical traits and cultural elements, all can be said to be distinct features ascribable to an evolved civilisation. Thus, civilisation can truly be said to be a milestone of human evolution, encompassing within its fold all elements of growth and transformation of a society. The Indus Valley, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Chinese were the earliest of ancient civilisations that prospered and left a mark on the sands of time.
Cultural growth is an important, albeit not the only factor to be reckoned for characterisation of a society as a civilisation. Therefore, neither the two terms are analogous, nor mean even closely the same, although a fairly developed and progressive culture may be considered a sine-qua-non for an advanced civilisation.
Religion, culture and civilisation
Religion generally refers to a socio-cultural system of faith, belief and worship which is usually integrated with a belief in god(s). Although, there may not be any universally accepted definition of religion, there are indeed some identifiable features. Its core elements are invariably, spiritualism, morality and ethics with outward layers of customs, rituals, practices, sermons and other systems of veneration. Canonical texts, metaphysics, mythologies, rules of social and individual conduct such as at births, matrimony and funerary etc. are its other distinctive features. Existence of religious bodies and orders, priests and monks, sects and cults, festivals and ceremonies, along with associated cultural elements of literature, art forms, music and dance, are other visible elements of religion. Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism are some of the extant world religions in the chronology of their emergence, which conform to all of these elements. But faiths like Jainism and Buddhism, which either denied the very existence of god or rejected the popular conception of a divine being with personal attributes governing the realms, are still very much accepted as complete religious orders, for they truly encompass the essence of a religion . Then what is that pith of the theological systems?
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan succinctly describes the very soul of religion in a few sentences. He says, “Religion is not merely intellectual conformity or ceremonial piety; it is spiritual adventure. It is not theology but practice. Religion is fulfilment of man’s life, an experience in which every aspect of his being is raised to the highest extent.”
Quiet appropriately, in the Indian context, the seeking of truth and quest for eternal emancipating knowledge, along with righteous social and individual conduct, are considered as the cornerstones of religion.
Neither religion nor culture can be said to be a sub-part of the other, although there remains a profound interconnect between them. From the perspective of religion, elements of culture are manifested often in form of ceremonies, rituals, religious literature, art forms or other material and non-material religious practices. Thus, along with spirituality, morality, philosophy and other canonical beliefs, culture also aids the religion in its objective which is to find the real meaning and purpose of life. But culture also influences these elements of religion such as its philosophy, its religious text and even moral beliefs.
From the perspective of culture, the religious aspect of culture is one among many elements enriching it and indeed an extremely vital one. Thus, that aspect of religion which is bereft of the external trappings and truly be characterised as its soul, can also be said to be the very soul of culture; for culture without that element which defines the ‘real purpose of life’, is akin to only a body bereft of life.
Put albeit simplistically, religion as well as culture are indeed distinct elements of human civilisation albeit all having a deep interconnect.
The writer is an IRS officer and author of the book, ‘Indian Heritage, Art and culture’. Views expressed are personal