Monday, June 24, 2013

Society, Culture, Religion, and Langugage

Pitirim Sorokin, a sorely underrated sociologist, wrote an insightful book, Society, Culture, and Personality, which was published in 1947. In that book he provides us with an understanding of society and culture which is still helpful.

Society. We may define society as all the organized social groups that exist in the area we are studying. In the days of the pharaohs, for example, the organized social groups of Egyptian society included ordinary families, the state bureaucracy, the priesthood, and stonecutters with their assistants. All of these social groups were organized. They each had members interacting with one another to achieve shared goals.

Culture. We may define culture as all the meanings and means shared by members of a given society. Meanings are all the ideas we carry in our minds. Important meanings include beliefs, values, and norms. Beliefs are our ideas about the nature of things. Values are our ideas about what is important and are based on our beliefs. Norms are our ideas about right and wrong. They are based on our beliefs and values.

Means are the many different ways we use to express our meanings. We commonly express our beliefs, values, and norms through words and actions. In Olympia today, we also express meanings by building and using machines, like cars, and gadgets like mobile phones. In ancient Egypt, groups expressed different meanings by using different kinds of buildings: houses, offices, temples, and workshops. Our societies use huge systems of communication and transportation as powerful means to express the shared meanings of members.

So we have societies, or organized social groups, existing in some area. We also have the culture, or sets of meanings and means, which gives any society its identity and distinguishes it from others.

Religion. Religion is one set of meanings—beliefs, values, and norms—which defines a culture. It is the most important one. The purpose of the gods is to provide us with security, happiness, importance, justification, and meaning. In doing so they must protect us from insecurity, misery, insignificance, guilt, and meaninglessness. The purpose of religion is to explain how the gods do this and to provide us with the means we need to make sure they do. All other cultural meanings and means take their rightful place only in relationship to those of religion.

Language. If religion is our most important set of meanings, language is the most important means we use to share our beliefs, values, and norms with others.

History. We may think of history as the dynamic interaction of societies, cultures, personalities, and ecosystems through the ages. To better understand the history of Olympia, we will first use the category of religion to divide history into meaningful periods and societies into meaningful groups. We will then use language to further divide societies into meaningful subgroups.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.