Since today is Christmas Eve, I am bringing you a paper about religious festivals. It is a small but really interesting study by Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Ayalla A. Ruvio and Mourad Touzani, looking at how Christians, Muslims and Jews celebrate their central religious holidays – i.e., Christmas, Ramadan and Passover – in three settings:
- Dominant cultural setting – i.e., when the religious tradition in question is practice by the majority of people. For instance, Christians in the US.
- Minority cultural setting – i.e., when the religious tradition in question is practiced by a small proportion of people but the community has existed for a long time. For instance, Christians in Israel.
- Diasporic cultural setting – i.e., when the religious tradition in question is practiced by a small proportion of people and the community is relatively recent (e.g., due to changes in migration patterns). For instance, Christians in the Tunisia.
The researchers found striking similarities between attitudes and behaviours across the three religious traditions considered. For instance, they found that the religious holidays were a time for nostalgia, particularly around childhood memories, and a time for self-examination. Also, all holidays led to family reunions, inspired charitable acts and saw a mix of religious and secular values.
Moreover, they found really interesting patterns of behaviour in each of the three settings, regardless of the specific religious tradition. Namely:
- In a dominant setting, religious holidays are associated with indulgence and excessive consumption (e.g., of food);
- In a minority setting, religious practices tend to be more orthodox (i.e., more extreme) than in other settings, including a heightened need for self-discipline and purification. They may incorporate some symbols of the majority culture in their festivities (e.g., decorations) but not usually food.
- In a diasporic setting, religious celebrations tend to be private. There are limited external displays of the festival or religion in question, and considerable efforts to exclude members and symbols of the dominant setting.
The paper is entitled “Breaking bread with Abraham’s children: Christians, Jews and Muslims’ holiday consumption in dominant, minority and diasporic communities”, and was published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science – it is available here.
My take from this research is that, at the end of the day, we are not that different, really. Not only do religious festivals play a similar role in every religious tradition; but we are all likely to indulge if we are the majority, and ‘close ranks’ otherwise. So, in the spirit of Christmas, Ramadan and Passover, I would like to wish you all peace and love. May 2014 bring understanding across traditions and religions.