Foucault already said it: Religion and culture are interconnected parts of each other. Religion is a central part of the cultural conditions of knowledge. Without religion, there is no culture – without culture, there is no religion.
This interconnected relation between religion and culture (and the possible separation of it) seems to be a topic that I can’t avoid. It is also a topic which is very interesting with regards to Buddhism and Catholicism, the two religion I am researching.
Catholicism is originally a Middle-Eastern and Western religion, which came to China through the work of Western missionaries. To be able to attract followers and convert as many Chinese people as possible, it adjusted itself to the Chinese culture – something that amongst others led to the influential Rites Controversy in the 17th/18th century. Nowadays, the Catholic Church is still struggling with the question of how much local culture to incorporate in their religious practices, not only in China but all over the world (a start with this was made with Vatican II). Here in Hong Kong this has for example resulted in special liturgical services around Chinese New Year, and the burning of incense during All Souls Day to remember the ancestors.
Buddhism is originally a religion from India, but through0ut the centuries it has become known in Hong Kong as a Chinese religion – and a integral part of traditional Chinese culture. Sometimes it is even seen as a Chinese cultural aspect, not as a religion. This Chinese aspect of Buddhism is important to hold on to, since through this it attracts many adherents. Buddhism however should also try to separate itself a little from this traditional Chinese cultural part to be able to focus more on the religious side of itself.
Of course, culture and religion cannot be separated from each other – they are an interconnected part of each other. But it is exactly this interconnected relationship between religion and culture that poses questions for religious institutions and religious devotees; questions that are answered in many different ways.