Building on the discussion in the last two episodes, I introduce here the idea of subculture to explore through examples the linkages between such cultures of resistance, the cultural products that come from them, and religious ideas and practices.
When talking about culture in religion, so far I have focused on the first of these — how cultural systems may be the bases of religious differences, within what we consider the ‘same’ religion.
But we also often see a strong interplay between religions (religious ideas and practices) and the other two aspects of culture. This can be in the ways I have outlined in an earlier episode, with the overlap between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture and ‘high’ and ‘popular’ religion.
Not only is religion an important language in which culture is expressed, it can often be the other way around. That is, religion is very often a medium for culture, religious objects and places may be culturally significant in themselves.
To explore this further we need to note in particular that culture in itself is not something neutral. Although everybody has and does culture, the ways in which culture is experienced — performed, identified with, and practised — are subject to a range of social forces and conflicts. Culture very often is the means by which power is expressed and understood.
For example, the distinction we have already noted between high and popular culture clearly marks this out. High culture is associated with a certain class or group of society — those who have more power, wealth, and status than others. It is the rich and powerful who sponsor elite culture, such as art, classical music, fine dining, and so on. Although such high culture may be accessible beyond the rich and powerful, the association is certainly in place because the rich and powerful define the high culture.
In contrast, popular culture is almost by definition the domain of those without such power and wealth. Mass culture is the culture of the masses, the many — not the wealthy elite.
This is not to say that the ‘masses’ — that is the majority — are without power, and neither does it imply that those outside of the elite ruling group lack the discernment and appreciation of quality that is associated with high culture.
Instead, it is more accurate to say that those in power choose to show their power through their use of culture, by showing themselves as distinct in and through their engagement with high culture, rather than the popular culture of the masses. By putting a high price on such distinction they are able to exclude those without such wealth and power — they create segregation through the use of culture.
But it has also been observed that the majority of people (the masses) often use culture in their own sorts of ways. As we shall discuss in a later podcast, the basic idea is that where there is the exercise of power there is often resistance. Those who are under the political control of others may often choose to show both their compliance with that power and their challenge to it through the medium of culture — either high or popular culture.
This idea has been discussed in cultural studies under the idea of ‘subcultures’ or culture of resistance. When looking within any cultural context we should expect to find groups that are politically marginalised, but who in being so are themselves challenging those politics — either subtly or explicitly.
About the Religion Bites Podcast
The Religion Bites podcast gives you quick and simple intros to the study of religion, to help you think a bit further about the issues of religion and culture in the contemporary world. If we want to understand today’s world, we need to ‘get’ why people are religious – why they ‘do religion’ in the many ways that religion is done. This is not a podcast about being religious, it is about understanding religion and the role that religion has in the contemporary world.