Why are all the shops closed on Sunday in Italy?
Probably because Sunday is a “day of rest” in Roman Catholicism.
Why does India have so many festivals?
Perhaps because Hinduism – its main religion – has hundreds of gods and goddesses to celebrate.
Why do the Chinese place such credence in hierarchy?
Likely because one of the predominant religions, Confucianism, teaches that universal harmony is found when everyone understands their social ranking and its corresponding behaviors.
I’m sure you see a theme here, but let’s ask the final question anyhow:
What makes religion so important to cultural integration?
Values & Norms of a Culture are Deeply Rooted in Religion
Predominant religions fundamentally shape and define the values, norms and behaviors in their society.
What’s more is that values and norms originating from religion are amongst the most deeply rooted in our personality.
Think about the predominant religion in your culture. Now think about your behavior, your outlook, and your lifestyle – and those of your cultural brethren.
Do you see how the themes of your predominant religion influence the latter?
Most People Have a Religious Affiliation
Whether or not you, yourself, are religious, it’s true that most people are – or at least identify themselves as such.
In a 2010 Pew Research poll, more than eight in ten people identify with a religious group, and 5.8 billion people of our global population of 8 billion consider themselves religiously affiliated.
Because the majority of the world’s population are religious, it’s safe to say that the predominant religion will impact you in a foreign culture, regardless of your own personal views and affiliations.
Rules & Ideology of Dominant Religions Define Culture
As UNESCO states in DEFINING RELIGION AND CULTURE: RELIGION, VALUES, CULTURE AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: “Religious beliefs are central to (a community’s) culture and provide the moral codes by which they live. Even where people in the contemporary world believe that the traditional beliefs of their parents and societies are not so relevant to their everyday lives, underlying religious beliefs about human worth and how to relate to other people and the Earth are still important parts of their lives.”
Cultural rules and ideologies are shaped by religion. The fundamental concepts and themes in the dominant religion will, therefore, not only help you understand your hosts, but will direct you – the monkey – in behaving properly amongst the humans.
Religion shapes so much about a culture: its ideologies, practices, norms and values. Knowing this, learning about the main religion(s) in your host country will set the stage for greater cultural understanding.