Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Culture and Tradition


The terms culture and tradition have very similar meanings and it is easy to believe that they refer to the same thing. They are generalized terms that are often used interchangeably. However, there are distinct differences between them.

1. Description

The first key difference between the two terms is that actual set of things that each describes. Tradition would describe a belief or behavior. A deeper definition would define it to be “the forms of artistic heritage of a particular culture; beliefs or customs instituted by societies and governments, such as national anthems and national holidays; beliefs or customs maintained by religious denominations and church bodies that share history, customs, culture and, to some extent, body of teachings.”[i] Families may also pass traditions down through the generations.

Culture, on the other hand, is a term that is not just limited to beliefs and behaviors, though they are included. It also includes knowledge, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. A more contemporary definition would be, “Culture is defined as a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses, and material expressions, which, over time, express the continuities and discontinuities of social meaning of a life held in common.”[ii] As you can see, culture is much broader term encompasses tradition, as well as other things. Simply put, traditions are a part of culture.

2. How they are learned and practiced

Knowledge about culture and tradition is learned by new members of every society, usually when they are children. In the case of tradition, this knowledge is passed down from generation to generation and can potentially persist for thousands of years. Traditions can be thought of as links to the past, including pieces of the historic culture. Traditions may be learned orally through story telling or by practice. They typically are begun by one individual or a small group and become more widespread. This is not always the case though as certain families have traditions that are exclusive to their clan.[iii] Traditions are also impractical sometimes, but they don’t change due to the value of their connection to history. A good example of this would be the wigs worn by barristers in England. This is impractical, but it is still done even in modern times as it is a tradition of the court.

Culture is a way of life that is learned by immersion into it. It is often considered to be a defining aspect of what it means to be human. It describes a wide range of phenomena that is transmitted through social learning. It also refers to complex networks of behaviors or practices and accumulated knowledge that is taught and learned through social interaction and existence in specific human groups. Culture can be used on a very broad sense, such as the culture of a nation, or in a very narrow sense, such as the culture of an individual school or business. Culture can also be further broken up into subcultures, or smaller groups that share a common trait but still belong to the larger culture.[iv]

3. Ability to change

Culture and tradition are also different in their ability to change. Traditions typically remain the same over many generations. There may be subtle differences, but the essence of the tradition is typically unchanged. They may evolve, but commonly do so at a very slow rate.[v]

Culture, on the other hand, is basically a snapshot of the nuances of one group, however small or large, at a point in time. This would include all aspects of culture. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines culture to be “the way of life, especially in general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.” Due to this trait, it is very fluid and dynamic. Cultures typically experience a lot of change over time, some happen quickly and others slowly. There have been 29 different, identified ways in which cultural change can be induced, including things like innovation, growth, modernization, industry, science, and revolution. There is the belief that currently, humanity is in a global accelerating culture change period, in which all cultures are evolving and changing more rapidly than ever before. There have been several factors contributing to this, including the expansion of international trade and commerce, mass media, and the large population growth in the last few decades. There are currently many efforts to preserve elements of cultures that are facing extinction.[vi]

4. Word origin

The origin of the word tradition comes from Latin roots. It is derived from the very traderere or tradere which means to transmit or give for safekeeping. It was initially used as a legal term to describe transfers and inheritance. The modern definition of the word has come about during the Enlightenment period and evolved through the past couple centuries, when the idea of tradition was put into the context of progress and juxtaposed modernity. [vii]

The word culture has Roman roots that date back to Cicero who wrote of the cultivation of the soul, or the “cultura animi.” At the time, it was an agricultural metaphor to refer to the development of a philosophical soul. In the 17th century, German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf used the metaphor in a modern context, in that he believed it “refers to all the ways in which human beings overcome their original barbarism, and through artifice, become fully human.” In the 20th century it was described by another philosopher, Edward Casey, to be a derivative of the Latin word colere and that to be cultural or to have a culture is to “inhabit a place sufficiently to cultivate it-to be responsible for it, to respond to it, to attend to it caringly.”[viii]

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  1. What are the references for your research on differences between culture and traditions

  2. I wanted to note the marked differences between cultural and traditional practices in a culture although the words sometimes are used interchangeably. Second, as a student of anthropology, one must mark the similarities and dissimilarities between the two term closely used terms.

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References :

[0][i] Tradition. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition

[1][ii] Culture. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

[2][iii] Tradition. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition

[3][iv] Culture. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

[4][v] Tradition. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition

[5][vi] Culture. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

[6][vii] Tradition. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition

[7][viii] Culture. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

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