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What Are the Connections between Theology and Culture?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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The concepts of theology and culture are not only connected, the concepts are symbiotic. By definition, theology is the specific doctrine or spiritual belief system adopted by a particular religious denomination. Likewise by definition, culture can be defined as the collection of customs, beliefs, artistry and ideas of a people, group or tribe. Historically, a religion typically influences all areas of a follower's life, including morals, behaviors, artistry, laws and customs. At times, the influence has flowed in reverse, with culture influencing religious beliefs.

Followers of specific religious theologies typically look to the doctrines of their religion for guidance in matters of moral or ethical choices. Morals are often drawn from religious beliefs based on divine approval, thus dictating proper behaviors. How a group of individuals behave and the group's collective beliefs regarding a life that is in line with religious beliefs can have great influence over expressive arts, religious observances and customs. Practicing certain religious customs, sharing works of art and relaying personal histories with younger generations establishes a unique culture.

Connections between theology and culture can be traced to the beginning of human history. Early human tribes developed belief systems and explanations for a variety of natural occurrences. Such examples of early theology include pictorial histories of spirits, gods and a variety of divine beings. Paintings and pictorial histories were a way of passing on beliefs to the next generation, creating a culture that often was unique to each tribe.

Modern connections between theology and culture are likewise evident through works of art and literature, moral and ethical belief systems as well as holiday celebrations and other customs. Contemporary examples of the connection between theology and culture are, like examples from ancient times, unique to each group. Many examples of Asian, European and American artwork and other cultural icons depict religious symbolism or portray solutions to ethical dilemmas that are unique to each culture. Belief systems, both ancient and contemporary, draw considerable influence from the religious beliefs of a people.

Researchers often focus on the effects of theology on a culture, but both concepts influence each other. Changes in the religious beliefs of a people are often reflected through changes to cultural symbols, such as literature and other works of art. Evolving ideas, arts and beliefs of a culture can, in turn, affect other beliefs, including religion. For example, alternative lifestyles are more accepted in modern society than in previous generations. Cultural acceptance of a lifestyle outside the bounds of religious doctrine has influenced many denominations to change their religious views, illustrating the two-way influence between theology and culture.

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