Religion as a Window on Culture


Allow time to view the video and review this section of the leader’s guide before meeting with your class. Determine what you will cover in the available class time.  Plan for any of the Optional Activities you would like to use and how you will integrate the work with the class.  Acquaint yourself with the following terms: rites of passage, Sabbath, sacred, and secular (see glossary).  Consult with members of your clergy when appropriate.  Finally, duplicate any materials you plan to distribute to the group.


Prepare your group to watch the video.  (Read or paraphrase)

In the video a distinction will be made between sacred time and secular or “ordinary” time.  What is the difference?

Distribute copies o f “Session III—Terms” found below.  Take a few moments to discuss these terms.

One might wish to consider the Greek words used in Christian scriptures, chronos—clock time and cairos—God’s time.  Many people believe that sacred time is not separate from everyday or ordinary time, but rather is hidden or obscured by human systems.  For some religious people—for example, those who live in monasteries—nearly all time is sacred.  Followers of Islam view all time as potentially sacred.  For other religious people time is divided into the holy, and not yet holy.

Religious communities often come together at set times for worship.  Many faith traditions designate particular times of the day, week and year for religious observance.  Families or small groups may set aside specific times to devote to religious contemplation and observance. Individuals experience rites of passage as events that take place apart from everyday time.  By creating and experiencing sacred time the believer is living out a special understanding of eternal reality that gives meaning to ordinary time.  Participating in religious ritual transports believers from ordinary time to the eternal time of religious experience.

These times create opportunities for the believer to get in touch with what is important in her or his concept of the holy.  The opportunity to review life in a religious context creates changed worldviews that can influence one’s attitude toward secular or profane (ordinary) time.

While different religious communities view and practice observance of sacred time differently, all share in this concept and find in sacred time a connection to the eternal.  Sacred time recalls significant moments of the past, and looks to the future with religious hope; it collects into the present moment both past and future in a celebration of the eternal.

SHOW EPISODE III (20 minutes)

Allow time for members of the group to discuss what they have seen before proceeding with the rest of the discussion.


Explore the difference between sacred time and secular time, as explained by the video.

  • What are some characteristics that distinguish sacred time from ordinary time?
  • What are some purposes of sacred time?
  • How does sacred time relate to ordinary time in your faith tradition?  Does one affect the other?
  • How has the observance of sacred time changed historically and according to place and/or lifestyle?

Observances that are annual or monthly can be shown to coincide with natural phenomenon linked to natural cycles, but a weekly Sabbath is strictly a human creation in response to religious belief.

  • What purpose does a weekly Sabbath serve?
  • Has that purpose changed over time?
  • Do you observe a Sabbath day in your faith tradition?  If so, how is it observed?
  • Some traditions consider the Sabbath a day of rest.  Some consider it to be a day set apart from other days for worship.

RITES OF PASSAGE (15 minutes)

In the video, Martin Marty states that while different religions have different ways of observing rites of passage, “they’re all concerned with what maturation means, to take responsibility.”

  • Do you think there are aspects of modern culture that have detracted from the sacred nature of some rites of passage?  If so, what might these be?
  • How does ritual help you make your passage through life’s transitions?
  • What rites of passage does your faith tradition observe?

Discuss the theological reasons and religious history of these rites.  You may wish to ask a member of your clergy to address this issue before the group. Most faith groups have rites to mark birth, coming of age, marriage, death, and recognition of faith. Compare your practices to those of other religions depicted in the video.

In the video, James Divita states that people who do not regularly attend religious services often look to their faith to “…hatch, match, and dispatch.”  He is referring to rites of passage such as initiation, marriage and funerals.

  • What is your family’s tradition in relation to birth, marriage and death?  Do you include sacred ritual on these occasions?
  • What rites of passage have you observed? How did you feel afterward?  Did they bring about changes in your life?
  • What purposes do these events serve in the larger culture?
  • Are there any rites of passage that are unique to your faith? If so, what purposes do they serve?


Over the course of the next several days, pay particular attention to the various nature of time.  Compare the quality of time spent at worship, play, and work.  How are these times different from one another?  How does the quality of time change as you grow older?  Discuss these aspects of time with your family and friends.

Note:  In the video are two separate rites of passage that may bring up conversation in some settings.  The first is the baptism that takes place at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Parish.  The immersion baptism that takes place at this congregation is not typical in the Catholic tradition.  The second is the bar mitzvah/bat mitzvah ceremony.  This ceremony was video taped at a dress rehearsal because the actual event would take place on the Jewish Sabbath, a time in which cameras would not be allowed into the synagogue.




Encourage participants to be aware of sacred time they observe during the week.  If they currently do not set aside designated sacred time between religious services, encourage them to do so.  Perhaps the group can suggest ways in which an individual and/or family can accomplish this. After several weeks of this new practice, they might record their thoughts and bring them to a session for group discussion.


Assemble small groups to create new rituals that would mark special times in the lives of young people.  Examples might include getting a driver’s license, the purchase of a first car, the first day of school, or a first date.  Can or should these times be made sacred?  If so, what would make them sacred?



  • Do you have a day set aside, apart from the day of rest, when your faith group gathers for spiritual reflection?
  • Discuss communities, such as monasteries, where all time is generally regarded as sacred.
    • What conditions are necessary for such practices?
    • Is it possible to think about all time being sacred under other conditions?


Compare and contrast daily sacred-time practices that were presented in the video (Muslim prayer five times a day, Roman Catholic daily mass, monastery life, the Jewish Sabbath, and others).  Look for common features.

  • Does your faith tradition call for anything similar to the ritual cleansing depicted by the Islamic fireman in the video?
  • Will religious and cultural diversity have an impact on your faith practices?
  • How has religion’s intersection with other cultures changed and/or influenced your observance of sacred time?


In the past, sacred time was often part of public events—for example, prayer to open a civic ceremony.  However, as the nation has become more religiously diverse, people have increasingly objected to prayer as part of public events.  The United States Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, which means in part that the state cannot endorse any one religion.

  • Do you think these developments have changed people’s notion of sacred time?
  • How can we bring the sacred into public space without endorsing one particular religious view or tradition?

On the other hand, elements of secular culture have strongly influenced the way people organize all time—including sacred time.  For example, career responsibilities, recreational pursuits, and changes in the composition of families may pose conflicts with traditional faith observance.

  • How has this intrusion of secular lifestyle changed your religion’s concept of sacred time?  Are adjustments to observances made at times such as Superbowl Sunday, the events surrounding the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, etc?
  • Should schools designate an evening a week when there are no scheduled extra curricular activities so that it is easier for families to share sacred time with their faith groups?
  • In what ways do you think your religious practices will change because of secular changes as we move into the next century?


Explore the congregational members’ use of sacred time apart from your place of communal worship—for example, in the home, office, school, or community.

  • Do members spend more sacred time or secular time together?  Give examples of each.
  • Why are both important and how do they complement each other?
  • What are the differences between individual sacred time and communal sacred time?


  • Are there moments in the life cycle that are not marked by ritual for which you would like to see the creation of a religious ceremony?
  • How does your faith tradition welcome new members into the faith?
  • How does your faith tradition mark coming of age or maturity to adulthood?
  • How does your faith tradition treat death?
  • What acts do clergy, loved ones, and the community perform that make an observance of death sacred?