Hinduism is a culture that is rich in history and tradition. There are almost one billion followers of Hinduism around the world and the majority reside in India (Roots, 2020). Not only is Hinduism one of the largest world religions, it is also one the oldest. It is believed that Hinduism dates back 4,000 years (Hinduism, 2020). To those that practice Hinduism, they consider it much more than just a religion. For them, it is a culture, way of life and code of behavior (Roots, 2020).
Unlike many other religions, Hinduism does not have one founder. It is the fusion of various beliefs (Hinduism, 2020). Hinduism has many sects but is most often divided into four categories as follows: Shaivism (followers of Shiva), Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu), Shaktism (followers of Devi) and Smarta (followers of Brahman and all major deities) (Hinduism, 2020). Compared to other religions, Hinduism is extremely complex but there are some beliefs that hold true for most in the culture. Hindus believe that each living creature has a soul that is part of one supreme soul, the soul travels through 84 million animals before getting to the human body, where the soul goes after death is a direct result of Karma from their past life, the current life they are living in is a result of their past life, they believe in reincarnation and that there is no one path to reach God (Bennett, 2020).
The Hindu culture relies heavily on a social hierarchy in India called the Caste system. It is believed that your caste is based on your karma (the law of cause and effect) and dharma (righteousness and upholding moral laws). There are four castes as follows: Brahmin (intellectual and spiritual leaders), Kshatriyas (protectors and public servants), Vaisyas (skillful producers) and Shudras (unskilled laborers) (Hinduism, 2020).
As with many religions and cultures, Hindus have faced discrimination within their own culture and also discourse with other religions. Due to the believed inequity of the caste system all Indian Hindus won their freedom in 1947 when the country gained independence from Great Britain. Yet, like with the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960, freedom did not necessarily correlate with the continued acts of prejudice (Morgan 2012, p. 102). There have been nationalism movements throughout India in which groups of Hindus see the Muslim population in India a “threat” to Hindu India (HANCOCK 1995, p. 908).
Hinduism has a complex and highly developed socio-religious system. This system means that orthodox Hindu society has many different groups, but they must all work interdependently as they all have specific duties in society to perform (Taylor 1948, p. 3). This this unique system than makes Hinduism in India almost equally collectivistic and individualistic at the same time. The caste system creates a social hierarchy that lends to collectivistic behaviors. At the same time, in the Hindu culture, what one does spiritually and religiously directly effects their beliefs in death and rebirth. This type of thinking is individualistic in nature. This type of cultural orientation is known as vertical collectivism, “in which the individual sees the self as an integral part of the in-group, but the members are different from one another.” (Neuliep 2018, p. 57). Some other cultural practices come in the form of the Hindi philosophies that revolve around love and respect for others along with their whole group values shown through behavior and religious practices that guide them through life (Bennett 2020, p. 1).
It is due to the social hierarchy of the caste system that makes Hinduism a culture with a large power distance. In India subordinates are dependent on superiors (Neuliep 2018, p. 77). While this power distance structure is widely accepted, it was officially outlaws over 60 years ago. One reason for the upset is that Hindis are born into the same caste as their parents and can rarely navigate to another one during their lifetime (Bennett 2020, p. 4). This is frustrating to many during a more progressive time, seek to obtain education and the ability to grow within the social constraints of their cultural society.
Hindus believe that the building block of society is the extended family. It is not uncommon for three or four generations of family to live together. In this family dynamic it is often the elders that make the decisions and give guidance, men that are in charge of bringing in income and women are responsible for handling the domestic responsibilities. Marriage in the Hindu culture is considered a scared relationship. It is believed that two souls should bond for many lifetimes. This is considered both a social and religious obligation (Bennett 2020, p. 4).
Hinduism would be considered a high-context culture. Traditional or orthodox Hindus have a verbal communication style that tends to be indirect. This style is used to be polite and to not offend. To those that are not familiar with this style of communication, it can come off as ambiguous. Hindus save direct communication only for relationships with high levels of trust or crucial situations. It is uncommon for direct refusals to be used in communication as it would often be considered hostile. This can sometimes be confusing to those not familiar with the culture as Hindus may say yes to indicate then are listening while at the same time their body language may show disagreement. Since “no” is rarely used, silence is often used in its place. This is why in the Hindu culture; you must pay attention to what is not said as much as what is. Hindus prefer not to touch. They have respect for each other’s personal space and eye contact is minimal or avoided depending on the situation and status of the person they are talking to. Hindus use nodding as politeness rather than agreement, pointing is considered rude, touching someone’s head is offensive and the soles of the feet are considered the dirtiest part of one’s body so should not be displayed or touch other people. These are all examples that Hindus use a high-level of non-verbal communication (Indian Culture 2020).
The Hindu culture has a low uncertainty avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance is defined by “the degree to which members of a particular culture feel threatened by unpredictable, uncertain or unknown situations.” (Neuliep 2018, p. 82). This may be because for Hindus, all reality is spiritual. They believe that the physical universe is just an illusion. In their culture Brahman, sometimes referred to as God, is impersonal, indefinable, unknowable, unmanifested and without attributes (Morgan 2012, p.96). Hindus also do not see time as linear but past, present and future all occur at the same time and they do not end in death but instead are led to rebirth (Bennett 2020, p.4). All of these belief systems allow Hindus to take life as it comes and have very low uncertainty avoidance. It is a “what will be, will be” attitude and way of life.
When looking at a different culture, it is easiest to focus on how it’s different from your own. At first glance it may seem like the Hindu culture is far removed from American culture. In reality, there are a number of similarities as well as differences between the two cultures.
As discussed earlier, the majority of Hindus live in India. India and the United States are the two largest democracies in the world. Along with similar economic backgrounds, both Indian and American cultures are very proud and have rich heritages (Differences 2020). A high value on family and an importance of child-rearing are common in both cultures also.
There are many cultural difference between Hindus and Americans also. The Hindu culture gives a lot of importance on society whereas the American culture emphasizes on the individual. In Hindu culture marriages are arranged by families rather than being decided by the bride and groom. After marriages, Hindus believe in joint marriages. This can mean many generations living together. In American culture the children are often considered grown at 18 while moving out shortly after. Another vast difference between cultures is the treatment of women. Women in Hindu culture are considered to have a lower worth than men and are supposed to act and dress conservatively. American women do not have to adhere to a dress code (Differences 2020)
Along with cultural differences, Americans and Hindus have communication differences also. One potential communication barrier is speaking to a Hindu native to India would be language. A very small percentage of Hindu speak English. While Hindu culture does blend individualistic and collectivistic styles, American cultures tends to be much more individualistic. Since the Hindu culture most often puts the needs of society first, American culture could be considered self-absorbed to Hindus.
Power distance also plays a huge part in communication style. The Hindu culture has a large power distance and the American culture does not. So much of the Hindu culture depends on a hierarchy and different communication style based on who specifically they are speaking to. This can shift any time someone enters or exists a conversation. Since American culture has a much smaller power distance, communication could become difficult because either culture has the potential to become offended if not understood properly.
Another potential barrier to communication between the Hindu and American culture is style of communication. Hindu culture is much more implicit, while American culture is more explicit. Americans tend to speak exactly what is on their mind regardless of who they are communicating with. Hindus use a much more indirect style of communication and who they are speaking with contributes directly to the level of communication used.
In conclusion, there are many things that can be done to get have effective intercultural communication between the American and Hindu cultures. Hinduism now displays tremendous variety in India and the world around. As Indians have migrated to many different parts of the world, diversity has increased (Morgan 2012, pp. 102-3). While Americans may feel that Hindus have to adapt to some of our cultural norms, we too would have to adapt to theirs. Americans would need to adjust their communication style by adopting a much more implicit form of communication. This would need to be done in such a way that we watch our body language as to not be offensive and get a better level of understanding that much of the Hindu communication is non-verbal versus verbal. Americans need to understand that the Hindu culture relies heavily on a hierarch system that affects their communication style. When attempting intercultural communication with someone of the Hindu culture, with some research, it is possible to have effective and enjoyable conversation.