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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #34: Valuing Traditions 

             and Traditional Gender Roles

alphabetical listing: A to K 

  alphabetical listing, continued: L to Z
Contrast Worldview Themes #34 and #35B --these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

androcentrism--a male-centered, male-oriented viewpoint in which human history and culture are seen and interpreted from a masculine point of view. Ecofeminists have linked this to anthropocentrism. 

biopiracy–ripping off natural resources or traditional knowledge from indigenous people.

blasphemy-- in general, irreverence toward something considered sacred; in particular using the name of God (or other scared deity) in an insulting, contemptuous, or defaming way.

caste system--a system of social stratification prevalent in Asia (especially India) where one's status is dictated by religion / your parents' status, etc.  UNICEF estimates that related discrimination affects 250 million people. 

Christianity–a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. Christians believe Jesus, a Jew who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago, to be the son of God, sent to Earth to save mankind from sin.  For Christians, the cross symbolizes the cross on which Jesus was nailed to and killed.  They believe that three days later he rose from the dead, and some forty days after this resurrection ascended to Heaven.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.  Christian Church authority was originally (by the 4th century) centered in the Roman Catholic Church, headed by the Pope.  Two schisms have since undermined that authority: 1) by the 14th century the Eastern Orthodox Church had completed its breakaway from Rome, and 2) the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century saw Catholicism splinter into what became various Protestant denominations.

community vs. society--the sociological distinction between two social groups, most notably made by Ferdinand Tönnies in his 1887 book Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.  According to Tönnies, the former group is built around the personal, family, and neighborhood relationships and feelings of togetherness that one expects in a small place where people have direct, face to face contact.  In contrast, the latter group is a loose association of self interest motivated individuals held together by formal regulation and legal framework. There relationships between people are largely impersonal: there is less cohesion and less dependence on each other.  Tönnies saw the contrast embodied in his book's title when he looked first at traditional European peasant villages, then at large, modern, industrialized cities.

Confucianism -- an ethical system / agnostic practical philosophy based on the teachings of the 6th century BC Chinese sage, Confucius. Its key teachings include: 1) Ultimately the happiness of society rests on sincere investigation that produces relevant knowledge; 2) Happy societies are built on a foundation of disciplined individuals in disciplined families; 3) Respect for and fidelity to natural obligations, most notably to parents and family, is essential. 4) The right relationship between individuals is important, one based on sympathetic “fellow feeling”, treating those subordinate to you as you would like to be treated if you were the subordinate -- ideas which provide the basis for a Confucian Golden Rule; 5) Avoiding extremes and embracing moderation --finding a Golden Mean -- is important.

conservatism -- believing  that social and political traditions should be valued and maintained, and continuing to think as you were brought up to think.

cousin marriage--a way to build the internal cohesiveness and loyalty of a clan.  By marrying a blood relative such as a cousin, a man's bond with his wife does not threaten his allegiance to his clan or the social  fabric, rather it instead strengthens it. This practice occurs at high rates throughout the Middle East and wherever traditional societies have yet to be replaced by modern, individualistic societies.  

cultural literacy--the ability to converse fluently in an appropriate cultural context, that is with allusions to common core knowledge, using idioms, slang and communicating informally in a way that generally connects with the dominant culture where one lives

cultural imperialism--the rapid spread of one culture to the detriment of another. Often a politically / economically dominant culture is imposed by newcomers--weakening or destroying the existing culture.  

customs--the whole body of long-established usages, practices, traditions, rituals, and ways of behaving that have been passed on from one generation to the next.  As unwritten laws they can regulate social life. Sometimes they are turned into laws. 

dowry--transfer of money / gifts from the wife's family to the husband at the time of marriage.

ethnic group–its members share beliefs, values, traditions, customs, habits, behavioral norms, and common language, religion, homeland, history, heritage and/or race.  

feminism -- associated with believing in the equal treatment of men and women, and supporting activities conducted to further the cause of women’s rights. Beginning with (successful) efforts to win women the right to vote (suffrage) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, decades later a second wave of  feminism linked long perceived political inequalities with cultural inequalities.  A big part of this was the women's liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s--which encouraged women to see how aspects of the male dominated societal power structure played out in their personal lives. Feminists critique gender roles in sociocultural fashion (see that term.) 

feudal society--the dominant social order of the Middle Ages in Europe (and perhaps elsewhere) in which power was decentralized: resting in an aristocratic land-owning elite who provided peasants with protection and land to till in exchange for labor and part of what the land produced. The Catholic Church was heavily invested in this system: its moral authority counterbalancing the civil / military authority and associated injustice.     

filial piety -- the devotion and natural obligation that exists between parents and their sons and daughters. In Chinese tradition (either Confucian or Buddhist) this refers to one’s responsibility to take care of one's parents, to honor, respect, love, and if needed support them -- not ignore, dishonor or be rebellious towards them.

folklore -- the body of customs, stories, sayings, jokes, games, legends, oral history, myths, superstitions, etc that relate to the life and spirit of a particular population or group and make up the oral tradition of that culture.

gender roles-- behaviors and characteristics that are the norm for each gender in a particular society.  Those prone to conformity can fall into certain stereotypical roles by societal expectations. This sociocultural view, bolstered by recent research, claims this is damaging to both men and women.  The opposing biological determinism position says that these gender roles are products of evolution, and links them with differences in physical abilities, brain lateralization, and hormones.

hunter-gatherer society--one in which people derive their sustenance from wild plants and animals, and often (seasonally or otherwise) move if necessary.  Before the domestication of these resources, beginning over 10,000 years ago, all humans lived in such societies.  

incest taboo--the nearly universal cultural prohibition of close relatives mating or marrying.

indigenous people--in 2004 the United Nations provided the following definition: "Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system."

individualism -- a social philosophy and belief system that places individual interests and rights above those of society , and individual freedom and independence above any social contract obligations







  law: private vs. public--the former involves relationships between individuals (including corporations), the latter with issues involving the state and welfare of society (including penal law, and regulatory statutes, etc.)

leveling mechanisms--customs and social policies that serve to reduce differences in wealth between members of a society.

liturgies--customary rites used in public worship by religious groups, or sequences of words / actions that are part of political events, ceremonies, rituals.

meme--a theoretical unit of cultural information such as an idea, particular behavior, story, etc. that propagate from mind to mind guiding human cultural evolution, in analogy with genes carrying genetic information, propagating from organism to organism and guiding biological evolution.  Whereas genes are transmitted in reproduction, memes are most fundamentally transmitted through imitation.

misogyny -- hatred of women.

moral obligation -- the feeling of being bound to act or behave in a certain way given one’s acceptance of some moral code or set of rules.

multiculturalism--an orientation in which blending of cultures / cultural diversity is seen as beneficial to the larger society / nation since it creates societal cohesion. 

myths--stories about divine beings, heroic human figures, animals, and nature that can hold an important place in the worldview of a particular people by providing explanations for certain beliefs, practices, natural phenomena, etc.  Myths are part of all sacred traditions. Creation myths, which attempt to explain how the world began, are especially popular.  

nativism -- refers to a policy or belief system in which native inhabitants or some traditional culture is favored over immigrants or mixing of cultures.

oral tradition-- a way of transmitting history, customs, laws, etc from one generation to the next without writing down anything. This is done through stories, songs, poems--that is using spoken words.  As time passes--and generations of story tellers put their own stamp on an ancient story-- what is passed on can slowly change.  In his book, The Day Before America, author William MacLeish, notes, "...The oral way can be far more flexible than the written...Literates, it seems, must break with their past to change their worldview. Mnemonists simply bend it."

paternalism -- a system in which adults are treated in a fatherly way like children, with their conduct regulated and their needs met. Typically in exchange for this care, the authority expects loyalty and that those receiving the care will accept their relinquishing of personal control.

personal responsibility, accepting -- Before an individual can overcome some personal difficulty or solve a personal problem, he or she needs to acknowledge that the difficulty or problem exists, by saying something like, “This problem is mine and I must solve it”. In this context, taking personal responsibility means that you don’t ignore difficulties or problems, expect others to solve them for you, or shift the blame to others. In a family or social context, taking personal responsibility can mean voluntarily limiting your choices or restraining yourself for the good of the family, tribe, village, community or whatever. Richard Critchfield refers to this as “the freedom to choose self responsibility”.

pluralism--a societal state in which people of diverse religious, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds all live together, both preserving aspects of their heritage and traditions and living together under the same national government.

primogeniture--refers to one being the firstborn child, or a system in which that child--or the eldest son--exclusively inherits family property and wealth.

Protestant work ethic -- an ethic based on self reliance, hard work and frugality being the path to salvation that has been important in shaping post Reformation western (especially American) society of the last five hundred years. Thus, ingrained in my people’s heads, since their earliest childhood, were sayings like “God helps those who help themselves”, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, etc. Only recently has a consumption ethic begun to seriously compete with, some would say replace, this work ethic.

religion, definitions of--one of those difficult to define terms. In his classic, The World's Religions, Huston Smith defines it broadly as "a way of life woven around people's ultimate concerns" or more narrowly as "a concern to align humanity with the transcendental ground of its existence."  Synthesizing, and building on these, religion can be defined as involving beliefs, behaviors, feelings and devotion or obligation to faith in the divine or what is held to be of ultimate importance. Two narrower definitions are: 1) the worship of, and service to, God or the supernatural, and 2) a belief system associated with traditionally defined or formally institutionalized ceremonies or rituals.  

religion, alternate definitions ofranging from positive / upbeat to negative / downcast, and associated with particular people are as follows: 1) "man's response to ultimate concerns in terms of the ultimate" (Tillich); 2) "adds strength to frailty, fulfillment to frustration, wholeness to incompleteness" (Bewkes);  3) "a feeling of creaturely dependence on God" (Schleirmacher); 4) about healing the "brokenness" that happens when ego triumphs over spirit producing a condition of being "terribly and tragically alone" (Collier); 5) "a technique for success...a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success" (Benedict & Pinker); 6) "the childlike condition of humanity...knowledge of God is self-knowledge" (Feuerbach);  7) "a childhood neurosis–God is a father projection" (Freud).

religion, social function of--according to Michael Shermer, in his book The Science of Good and Evil, religion is “a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, to discourage selfishness and greed, and to reveal the level of commitment to co-operate and reciprocate among members of the community.”

right brain / left brain--the two hemispheres of the brain are specialized for performing different functions. Understanding verbal communication, speaking, reading and writing, along with analytical reasoning, abstract and critical thinking are left brain centered. In contrast, the right brain is predominately at work during strenuous physical activity, non-verbal communications, dreams, and is called on for assessing spatial relationships, three dimensional vision, face / pattern recognition, and in making intuitive / wholistic leaps. It has been hypothesized that whereas the left brain processes information sequentially, “bit by bit“, in linear, ordered fashion, the right brain stores and retrieves whole patterns, in “all at once” fashion. Some associate different types of consciousness with each hemisphere--the analytical left brain’s being one very much aware of the passage of time, the mystical right brain is “in the moment” and “lost in space”. Emotionally, the left brain seems connected with positive feelings like love; the right brain with negative feelings.  It is important to realize that the human brain is incredibly complex, and that the above picture of right brain / left brain is too simplistic.  Thus it has been argued that only heterosexual, right-handed males exhibit the type and degree of specialized brain hemisphere function described above. In females, where the corpus callosum connection between the two hemispheres is typically thicker, signals travel more readily between the two halves of the brain and supposedly bring more “right brain” emotional responses!  

rites of passage--culturally defined activities that celebrate transition between life stages--many mark a change in social or sexual status.  Examples: ceremonies connected with childbirth, baptism, puberty, marriage, death, etc.

ritualism vs. legalism--the contrast between these two orientations is highlighted by two societies: one in which  people are excessively devoted to ritual versus another in which people are excessively devoted to conforming strictly to the law.  The contrast was of interest to Confucius in ancient China. Of people in the former type of society, he wrote, "Lead [them] with excellence...put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously. In the latter type of society, he complained, "External authorities administer punishments after illegal actions--so people generally behave well without understanding why they should."

sexism--when one needlessly differentiates, discriminates, or even hates based on a person's sex.

social norm -- behavior patterns seen so often that they are eventually recognized as pretty typical and are used to characterize the society as a whole and become the standard to which to compare other behavior.

superstition -- a position or belief, often with roots in cultural or religious tradition, held despite what could be characterized (by someone not holding the belief) as lack of supporting justification or evidence

traditionalist -- adheres to the religious traditions of the Catholic church

tribe--a social group whose members are linked by family ties or common ancestors.  Often tribes consist of many smaller clans. Before the founding of nation states, human social structure was predominantly tribal.  Today some use the term to refer to any indigenous society.

trickster, the--from the folklore and mythology of various diverse cultural traditions, the trickster is a spirit or figure who is typically linked with disorder, mischief, and chaos.  Ancient Europeans have linked the trickster with gods like Prometheus, Hermes, and Dionysus, while Native Americans have connected him with foxes, ravens, coyotes, etc. For this latter group tricksters were often clowns who made them laugh--something they deemed a prerequisite before they could properly commune with what they considered sacred.  In general, tricksters have been associated with bringing change--sometimes initially disruptive, painful and unwanted, but ultimately a positive cultural development.  Modern analysts of the civil rights movement in 20th century America have interpreted Rosa Parks' 1955 refusal to give up her seat at the front of the Montgomery bus as a trickster tale.  

value judgment -- comparing either something concrete (person, object, etc) or something abstract (quality, principle, etc) to some idealized standard. A value judgment is what bridges the gap between “what is” and “what ought to be”.  Closely related is the act of valuing, which can be thought of as choosing (from alternatives) and taking appropriate action to acquire something (concrete or abstract) or hold onto it.

values -- abstract qualities, principles, beliefs, or aspects of behavior that a person or a whole society holds in high regard after making value judgments.

wage gap -- the gap in pay between the sexes or those of different ethnic groups. For example, In the U.S., despite passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, which makes it illegal for employers to pay men more than women doing the same work, by the start of the 21st century, women made only 76% as much money as men.



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