What Is Cultures?

Cultures are the shared practices, values, norms, and beliefs of individuals within a cultural community. Cultures are not rigid systems of logic or the clash of opposing classes, but rather a way of perceiving and acting upon the world around us. Cultures allow people from different backgrounds to interact within a common framework, thereby developing a sense of belonging and a commitment to a set of shared values and traditions. Cultures are a group of people who share a common heritage, language, history, tradition, and lifestyle.

There are many definitions of culture. The Oxford Dictionary’s entry for “culture” includes the definition as “the general attitude, outlook, and experiences of a people concerning their historical development and society”. In studying cultures as members of a group, we come to understand that each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses, which give rise to many variations within the group. In addition, there are differences in the norms of each cultural group, which also create differences in behavior and interaction between individuals within the same cultural community.

Cultures can be viewed as a group identity that transcends the barriers of race, nationality, or sex. There are four broad categories of cultural identities: ritual, universal, ethnic, and local. Ritual cultures are those that are widespread in most areas of the world and have roots that stretch back to early civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. People of these types of cultures generally practice social norms, and are highly structured by religion, region, and family relation. Ritual cultures tend to be highly materialistic, but at the same time value things such as honesty and social etiquette.

Universal cultures are those that are widespread throughout the world and share certain beliefs and attitudes, but tend to differ greatly in religion or belief systems. These cultures tend to value equality and fairness, and are not rigidly organized by religion. People of these types of cultures are generally open to new ideas and practices, but tend to be wary of changes in social norms. Because of the universal nature of these cultures, people tend to be open-minded, but not always willing to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Ethnic and tribal cultures are the last two types of culture. These cultures are highly localized customs and beliefs. These cultures are highly ritualized and their norms are based on the location of where the person is from. Different ethnic or tribal groups in a country may all have their own traditions and beliefs, but these traditions and beliefs are unique to their particular society culture. These societies tend to be isolated and do not participate in the norms of other cultures and may even be reluctant to acknowledge the existence of cultural differences.

The main idea behind cultural theory is that every human group has an innate set of cultural traits that are adapted over time to suit its environment. A minority culture is one that has been historically isolated from the rest of society, or one that has faced internal threats from its neighbors but is otherwise similar to the rest of the culture. Cultures are therefore not rigid categories; rather there are many different types of cultural systems existing in the world today. It is interesting to note that although all cultures share certain similarities, each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses that can be attributed to its history, geography, and environment. This makes it possible for cultural variation to occur without causing major political problems in the societies that share the cultural traits.

Learning Cultures Through Educators

Cultures are a collection of cultural practices, norms, beliefs, and values that emerge from the interactions of individuals within a society. Cultures are different than religions in that they tend to be fluid, flexible entities that often adapt to changing social circumstances. Cultures also share traits and behaviors that are shared by members of a group even if those members belong to different groups with significant other populations. The extent and number of Cultures on the planet are vast. Cultures share some core elements including language, tradition, values, norms, and knowledge.

America is a melting pot of Cultures. This is evident in the differences in languages, music, food, and in the construction of their most fundamental institutions such as schools and colleges. America is a globalizing society in which many cultures are deeply influenced by European and Asian intellectual currents and values, while at the same time retaining some traditional customs and beliefs from the original settlers. Americans tend to value individual freedom and privacy, and are strongly religious – particularly during formal church meetings where white Christian men are present to affirm their fellow white Christian men’s righteous beliefs.

Europe is a collection of diverse Cultures. Most Europeans are highly secular, with very little religion attached to their lives, although there are some small groups who practice religion. Germany, Italy, Poland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal all have their own unique cultures and have experienced periods of ethnic turmoil. Hungary is a post-cold war nation that struggled to stay together after the dissolution of the Soviet Union; there is a strong Catholic minority in the country.

Asia is a collection of different cultures with vastly varying religious beliefs, norms, and political systems. China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam all have their own cultural elements. However, there is one commonality: all the countries have a highly dominant Chinese identity. In this case, cultural studies and Asian American studies will likely need to be developed in tandem with each other.

North America is probably the most globally cohesive part of the world. A variety of ethnic groups from Hispanic, Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, Native American, Native Chinese, and European backgrounds come together to form a colorful melting pot. The US has a rich history and a variety of ethnic and cultural roots. There are also differences in beliefs and practices among groups, which makes for a very prickly situation when trying to teach about any one group. When attempting to incorporate European culture into an Asian American education curriculum, instructors must pay careful attention to the differences between European and Asian cultural elements, and work to construct courses that will both teach about these two different areas, but also give students a thorough grounding in their own native heritage.

Cultures have long been identified with political and social class. With the increasing global inter-connectivity of people and the Internet, however, cultures have become a much more vague concept. People are just a part of a group – there is no such thing as a “Western Culture” or “Chinese Culture.” When trying to teach about a particular culture, instructors should make sure they explain the difference between a culture and its beliefs.