Religion and Culture: Contemporary Practices and Perspectives

Richard Hecht and Vincent Biondo (eds), Fortress Press, 2012, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Here are 19 essays that describe significant interaction between religion and culture, eg religious ethics, education, death, film, music (and others). The essays have a global vision—processes of religion and culture are not the specific property of the west.

        Each part of this volume demonstrates the interweaving of religion and culture, according to three spaces. First, power relationships that deal with issues of conflict, science, sexuality—outlining how religions and cultures create societies and communities. Second, private space where individuals are moulded. Third, the tension between public and private, or political and ethical, eg the public preservation of Elvis Presley’s grave becomes intensely private for individuals on pilgrimage there. The article demonstrates the interweaving of religious and culture eg religion can’t be separated or compartmentalized, operating only within the walls of religious institutions or during religious events and dates.

        I found some of the essays in Religion and Culture more fascinating than others (there were 19 to choose from!). Eg ‘Conflict and Peace Building’. ‘Because religion plays a role in the dynamics of conflict, religion may play a role in peace building as well’ (p 3). We need to clarify whether religion is a cause or a rhetorical cloak.

        The essay on civil religion does a good job of historical examination of the articulation of civil religion. American exceptionalism—that the United States has a unique and/or divinely sanctioned role in the political and social history of the world. Civil religion utilizes practices, symbols, myth, ritual and consecrated time and space that integrate the disparate parts and individuals into a cohesive whole. Religion needs to become an intentional, multilingual conversation of particular traditions and identities (religious and non-religious, theistic and non-theistic) (p45).

        A wealth of detail and reasoned interpretation.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.