Sunday, March 30, 2008


I've realized that had I not studied religion I would have really enjoyed anthropology. I've also had an intense curiosity for different cultures, different beliefs, how they evolve and shape how we see the world. It's amazing to me how much of an influence culture, tradition and belief have over perceptions.

An example of this from my own life - for the longest time I thought for sure that the vast majority of Americans must spend a fortune on getting their rugs cleaned or replaced because they worse their shoes in the house all the time. The reason for this odd belief - you rarely see someone in socks or bare feet on TV. Growing up were NEVER allowed to wear our shoes in the house, it would make too much of a mess. Putting those two things together I thought Americains must be pretty foolish. (I've since learned that wasn't the case, so no need to correct me on my thoughts there).

Have you ever just sat down and wondered why we do the things we do? Where traditions come from, why they hold their power? I find a lot of times that tradition taken on it's own - with no explanation, no context, no history behind it - looses it's purpose, and can be seen as something it is not. An example of this is the head coverings worn by Muslim women. In the Western world we often see this as some sort of oppression of femininity, repression of personal freedom or some form of control placed over the women. In fact, it's a sacred choice, a covenant between the woman and her God, a way for her to show the world that she is not to be seen as a sexual object, it allows her to show her intelligence, her creativity, her personality.

I remember hearing a story once - a little girl was watching her mother cook supper. They were having roast beef, and the mother carefully cut the end off of the roast. The little girl asked why she did that, and the mother couldn't answer - maybe it made it taste better, or got rid of some fat, or made it more tender, she wasn't sure, but it had to have some importance. So the mother called up the little girls grandmother to ask. The grandmother chuckled and said she wasn't sure either, it's just the way her mother had always done it, so that's what she did. The mother decided to pay a visit to her grandmother to see how far back the tradition went. She was surprised at the answer - "I don't know why the rest of you do it, but my pan was always too small."

This is why I question everything. Perceptions, traditions, stereotypes, assumptions. A lot of these things are good, helpful, insightful. A lot of them are not - they have either become obsolete and unnecessary, or are in desperate need of an update, or are just plain wrong.


Lindy said...

I liked your post Steph. The part about American's keeping their shoes on made me laugh. My family always took our shoes off- but some people were really uncomfortable with that, so it was always optional in my house.

From what I understand it's more common in the Northern states to take your shoes off- so I think it has to do with snow and having a culture that deals with it at as opposed to the majority of the country that dosen't have to.

Maybe we should both go back and study Anthropholgy.....;)

Dena said...

I have said for several years now that if I ever get a masters it will be in Cult. Anthro. or linguistics. I can't decide because the two are so intertwined.

We could all study together.

Elizabeth said...

Steph, as I started reading your post I thought about the same "pan too small" story.

Dena, I'd also love a masters in Cult. Anthro.