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Conformity: Western Culture vs. Islamic Culture Research Paper

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Updated: May 17th, 2020

Since the time immemorial, religion has been a fundamental element of any social system. The whole history of humankind seems to be the establishment of religious norms and their reconsideration. Islam and Christianity were the religions that formed the two main world civilizations that have been in confrontation for centuries. In spite of the fact that both religions in their development had experienced the periods of strict dogmatism, Islam gradually transformed into a highly adamant and steady system of beliefs, treating conformity as one of the bases of social and political stability.

Before drawing parallels between Christian and Islamic cultures, the concept of conformity should be defined. Religious conformity, in general, means the submission of personal religious views, values, and beliefs to the values, principles and norms established in the religious system of the particular society. Religious conformity is made possible by the group pressure, when a person fears to become isolated, wants to avoid social conflict or to reach some status in the religious circles; the person, thus, acts obediently and does not openly question the religious authorities and dogmas (O’Loughlin, 2013). Religious conformity is very close to the term of religious orthodoxy. Orthodoxy refers to firmness in one’s faith and adherence to established doctrines. It is a conservative type of religious consciousness what is defined by the authentic religious tradition (Hellemans, 2011).

The psychological preconditions of religious conformity lay in the person’s inclination to adjust. The person’s brain seeks the most comfortable ways of solving the problem; the brains would rather prefer tranquility received from religious belief than a constant questioning of the very essence of religion. The religious influence on conformity as an adaptive feature of a person’s psyche is connected with the compensative and comforting function of the religion. The religion can reimburse man’s dependence of the natural and social disasters, remove the feeling of his helplessness and personal failure, as well as sedate the offences and mitigate man’s exposure to the severe life (Emmons & Schnitker, 2014).

Considering the issue of conformity in the Christian culture, one may note that the Western world had gone through the consecutive steps of transformation from the dogmatic conservatism to religious freedom and overall secularization. From its formation in the early I century, through the Middle Ages and up to the Reformation movement in the XVI century, Christianity had determined every single sphere of life of the Western society. The philosophers and theologians of that time, with Thomas Aquinas among the most notable ones, disseminated the idea of human sinfulness and the need to adhere to religious norms in order to reach divine life at least after the death. Propaganda of religious conformity was a means for the existing feudal system to preserve itself and subdue the minds of the people (Campbell, 2012).

The very essence of Christianity and the Bible allowed for more reasonable and free interpretation of the sacred wisdom. In the XVI-XVII centuries, there came the Reformation movement caused by the struggle between the representatives of the capitalist mode of production and the defenders of feudalism supported by the ideological dogmas of the Catholic Church. The ideology of the newly emerging class of bourgeois was reflected in the establishment of the Protestant churches that called for modesty and self-reliance. Moreover, it made for the formation of national states, where the Church did not play a significant role (Campbell, 2012).

However, to replace the old feudal religious conformity there arrived the conformity of a new type. The prominent philosopher and phycologist of the XX century Erich Fromm emphasized that Protestantism was a subtle and elaborate mechanism to spread the modern conformism. To Fromm’s point of view, Lutheranism and Calvinism, unlike Catholicism, gave all people a freedom of religious choice. Martin Luther stripped the church of its power and gave this power to the individual. The person may hope to please the God by recognizing personal insignificance. Luther freed people from the power of the church, but at the same time forced them to submit to much more tyrannical power. The power of God that demanded complete subordination of a man and destruction of his personality as the primary condition for its salvation (Fromm, 2013).

With the development of new technologies, scientific progress, and the spread of social revolutions, the Western world had faced the process of secularization – the gradual deliverance of all the spheres of social life from religious norms and rules. Although its preconditions can be traced from the times of Reformation, the greatest upsurge of secularization and religious liberalization can be seen in the modern era starting from the postwar period. However, the recent flows of migrants to European countries, inflammation of Muslim religious fundamentalism and failures of multiculturalism policy lead to the reconsideration of the Western secular values (Gorski & Altinordu, 2008). Thus, the overall lack of conformity in modern Christianity and disregard to traditional values make Western culture more vulnerable in comparison to Islamic.

Referring to Islamic religious conformism, one may state that it has saved in an almost unchanged form since the establishment of Islam in the VII century. The doctrinal essence of Islam goes back to Judaism and Christianity and has many common points with the biblical ideas, images and legends. Enriched by the influence of the Zoroastrianism and having absorbed the traditions and cultural achievements of the ancient Eastern and Greek civilizations, Islam turned out to be significantly spiritually and ideologically rich and diverse. But the social and psychological realities of the territories where Islam emerged, required rather strict and authoritative religious ideology. The Arabs had for a long had been nomads and pagans, with each tribe having its deities. To unite all those scattered communities, the governors needed a clear and efficient ideological mechanism. Religious dogmas of Koran appeared to be univocal, concise and unifying (Haghnavaz, 2013).

The fundamental idea of Islam lies in the complete obedience of a human to the will of Allah, to the will of his prophet-mediator and the persons who are entitled to act on his behalf, starting from the caliph or imam to the holders of local power. The governors, thus, have a sacral power to guide the life of the people, which leads to fusion of political administration with the religious authority. Zubaida (2005) notes that “In the context of the etatization and nationalization of Islam, religious conformity became an essential component of loyalty to the ruler and the state view, and religious dissent came to be seen as a subvention” (p. 139). A man in Islam seen as a miserable grain of sand in Allah’s hands. To deserve a divine life a man should strictly adhere to all the norms provided for in the Koran (Hutchings, Flood, & Miazhevich, 2011). Belittling of a conformal person entirely devoted to the will of Allah, fatalism and resignation to fate are among the key features of Islamic culture. But the emphasis is placed on that a Muslim is a reliable and zealous servant of God, without whom it is impossible to build a just and righteous world. A Muslim feels himself a member of a very organized society, of some inspired and single-minded community.

The modern world has recently experienced the upsurge of Islamic religious consciousness reflected in the fundamentalist movements. Largely fundamentalism is an outrageous attempt to reaffirm the religious conformity in the Islamic states and across the globe. A Muslim in the modern globalized world is exposed to an immense amount of threats that may ban him from getting a desired divine life after the death. The holy war against the faithless religiously degraded representatives of other civilizations seems to be an efficient method to implement Allah’s will. Among the key features of Islam that make for the spread of fundamentalism Taylor and Horgan (2001) name: universal validity, theocratic rule in all spheres of life, sanctification of Islamic regulations and laws (p. 42).

All things considered, it can be stated that both Islamic and Western Christian culture deal with a high level of conformity. The difference between them is in the limits to which this conformity expands. While in the Western world the religion is separated from the state, and it is up to the person to decide whether he or she wants to accept the religious rules and dogmas, the Islamic civilization sets up no borders between the spiritual and social life of the person. Islamic religion hardly tolerates hostile views that may undermine the faith in Allah as an absolute truth that leads to the spread of radicalization and fundamentalist ideology.

References

Campbell, K. (2012). Western civilization: A global and comparative approach. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Fromm, E. (2013). Escape from freedom. New York, NY: Open Road Media.

Gorski, P., & Altinordu, A. (2009). After secularization? Annual Review of Sociology, 34(1), 55-85.

Haghnavaz, J. (2013). A brief history of Islam (the spread of Islam). The National Journal of Business and Social Science, 4(17), 213-217.

Hellemans, S. (2011). Religious orthodoxy as a modality of “adaptation” In B. Becking (Ed.), Orthodoxy, liberalism, and adaptation: Essays on ways of worldmaking in times of change from biblical, historical and systematic perspectives. Leiden, the Netherlands: BRILL.

Hutchings, S., Flood, C., & Miazhevich, G. (2011). Islam in its international context: Comparative perspectives. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars.

O’Loughlin, J. (2013). Opus postscriptum. London, UK: Centretruths Digital Media.

Taylor, M., & Horgan, J. (2001). The psychological and behavioural bases of Islamic fundamentalism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 13(4), 37-71.

Zubaida, S. (2005). Law and power in the Islamic world. London, UK: I.B. Tauris.

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