Effect of religion on cross-cultural marriages

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A 6-page paper on how cross-cultural marriages are affected when the two partners believe in different religions. By Shivani Suresh.


Final Paper Shivani Suresh, 10/21/2013In this paper, I plan to explore the effect of religion on cross-cultural marriages. From the various readings we have encountered, apart from racial or language differences, religious differences pose some of the biggest challenges in cross-cultural marriages. This paper will focus on the challenges to interreligious marriage posed by family and society, describe how the children of parents of two different religions are raised with regard to faith, religion and spirituality and elaborate on how couples following different religions compromise by finding common ground to make their marriage work. The article, A Matter of Faith by Adler discusses an inter-marriage between a Jewish man and a Christian woman. In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like America, inter-religious marriages are common and a rising trend. However, one of the first challenges that an inter-religious couple faces is resistance from their family and/or society. Even a couple of generations ago, finding a rabbi to marry a mixed couple meant a trip to another city (Adler, 1997, p.53) or in other words, was extremely difficult. However, with the interfaith movement, this has largely changed today. Rabbis are more willing to perform the ceremony because many of their own relatives have married people from other religions. So for a Jew-Christian marriage, a model wedding was created by incorporating elements from both religion by Father John Hester and Rabbi Charles Familiant of San Francisco (Adler, 1997, p.53). The ceremony retains certain religious customs by universalizing them. This is an example of how the two religions compromise to make a marriage work. Today, Jews are statistically the most likely group to marry outside their religion (Riley, 2013, para. 6).But Its not just Jews who have changed their views on inter-marriages. Even different denominations of Christians were forbidden from marrying each other. In the 1940s, if a Catholic married a Lutheran, they would have to move out of town (Alder, 1997, p.53). Catholics were even not allowed to enter into another persons church. Indeed, some couples were prevented from attending their own childrens baptism because of it (Alder, 1997, p.53). And even if they permitted marriage to a non-Catholic partner, they were to be sanctified first for the differences to be erased (Breger & Hill, 1998, p.33). Today, it is possible to marry whomever one pleases, regardless of their denomination, in civil ceremonies. Stringent marriage criterions have definitely loosened over the years and rapid introduction of social and economic development has largely contributed to this.Oftentimes, even if the society permits religious intermarriage, the family will be opposed to it. Even if on the surface, they preach religious tolerance and acceptance of everyone, families often are opposed to their son or daughter marrying outside the religion or even denomination. A prime example of this in Matter of Faith is that of Constance Baker, a Baltimore lawyer. Even though his mother taught him to value people for what kind of person they are rather than some label, she insisted that his Gentile fiance convert (Adler, 1997, p.53).Occasionally, we come across a religion that allows inter-religious marriage with relative ease. But the catch is, only for men. In Islam, Men may marry a woman of another religion given she is ahl al-kitab, meaning People of the Book or Christian or Jewish women (Breger & Hill, 1998, p.154). But Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside the religion. A Muslim womans marriage to a non-Muslim marriage would be a considered a form of illegal intercourse and any off-spring they may have is considered illegitimate (Breger & Hill, 1998, p.153). This is justified by the predominant rule of patrilineal descent providing the child with its name and religion. And the mother is held responsible for inculcating Muslim religious values in the child and therefore, if the father is non-Muslim, the child is considered illegitimate and the marriage seen as invalid. Therefore the man would have to convert to Islam in order to be eligible to marry her.One of the biggest arenas where inter-religious marriages have conflict is in the raising of children. Mixed religion children are becoming a rising group in America. Parents often choose to raise their children in both religions, hoping that they will get the best of both worlds. Some believe this is the best approach because it doesnt discredit either of the parents religions and so that the kids wont be overdosed in either (Adler, 1997, p.51). This practice of raising children in two religions hugely favors the Zeitgeist values of diversity. Parents normally hope that eventually their child will choose a religion when they grow up. The problem with this is, when the child does make the choice, they are put in the position of rejecting one of their parents (Adler, 1997, p.52) and this can strain relationships within the family.Another problem with this is, even though Christian and Jewish parents try to raise their children in both religions and assume them to feel part of both groups, those children often feel like damaged goods (Adler, 1997, p.52) and alienated from their peers because they often feel theyre not as good as their all-Jewish or all-Christian cousins (Adler, 1997, p.52). This emerges from the difficulty in reconciling the theological differences between religions which has been likened to squaring the circle (Adler, 1997, p.52). For example, Christianity and Judaism are essentially mutually exclusive because you cannot believe in salvation by Christ if youre still awaiting the Messiah (Adler, 1997, p.52).This is further complicated when a polytheistic person, like a Hindu, marries someone who is a monotheist, like a Christian. Ann, who was raised Christian found her husband, Rajeshs, Hindu practices strange and the statues of temple gods positively frightening and whenever she goes to the temple, she just closes [her] eyes and pray[s] to Jesus (Adler, 1997, p.54). This can prove difficult for their marriage in the future when they have children because if they decide to raise them in both religions, Ann will need to find a way to get over her contempt for Hinduism and her Christocentric ideas. As a result, some parents have decided that it was better to raise their children in solely one religion to give them a stable religious identity instead of overwhelming them with multiple, often diverging, theological schools of thought. Some parents said, in a survey taken by a New York Times reporter, that it was more important to have same values (Riley, 2013, para. 9) than necessarily the same religion. While this sentiment is understandable, and even admirable, it was also criticized of being unrealistic (Riley, 2013, para. 10) because some values are clearly different in different religions. A good example of this would be the idea of rebirth and karma popular in Hinduism and Buddhism, but non-existent in almost all other major world religions.One thing that has been done by anthropologists and the media alike often is attempting to find out patterns of survival of inter-religious marriages to make predictions about their durability. I believe this is not always the right approach because every interreligious marriage is unique and does not always fit a clear model. This is true for their kids too. For example, Eileen is a Roman Catholic and her husband is a Jew and out of her three kids, one identifies as Catholic, one as Jewish, and one she describes as a philosophy major. (Escalante, 2013, para. 2)But interreligious marriage is not all about overcoming hardships. There are a lot of positive aspects about it that make it worth it for those involved. Obviously the strong bond and attraction between the husband and wife is very important as they realize that their marriage is too important to annul because of a difference of opinion over religion, which is just one part of their lives. But it undeniably does get harder over time, especially with the arrival of kids. Several case studies show that over time, with repeated conflicts over religion, the marriage often runs thin. Before concluding, it has to be mentioned that this research focuses solely on heterosexual marriages in America, as read in case studies from the late 1990s to present day. It does not explore interreligious marriages between same-sex couples nor does it discuss how things would be the same, or different, if the union took place in a different country. There is definitely scope for further research in these areas.

In conclusion, inter-religious marriage is definitely a gamble. And it poses a number of challenges to the couple. However, it is not possible to make predictions based off face value on the survival of the marriage because there is evidence to support both sides. But general rule is, compromise is key. Unfortunately, women seem to compromise more in most marriages and hopefully this is a trend that will change. Nevertheless, Secular Americans are embracing this rising trend of interfaith union with open arms, seeing it as a sign of societal progress (Riley, 2013, para. 9) and leading towards greater religious tolerance. Of course, the rise in marital instability that comes with interreligious marriage could affect long term marriage trends, but it seems highly unlikely that this tide of opening up to new religions and cultures will ebb.

Sources:Adler, J. (1997, December 15). A Matter of Faith.Newsweek, pp. 49-54.Breger, R. A., & Hill, R. (1998).Cross-cultural marriage: identity and choice. Oxford: Berg.Grearson, J. C., & Smith, L. B. (1995).Swaying: Essays on Intercultural Love. Iowa City, Iowa: Univ. of Iowa Press.Riley, N. S. (2013, April 6). Interfaith Marriages - A Mixed Blessing - NYTimes.com.The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/06/opinion/interfaith-marriages-a-mixed-blessing.html?_r=0Escalante, P. (2013, May 24). The Marriages of Interfaith America. The Calvinist International. Retrieved October 23, 2013, from http://calvinistinternational.com/2013/05/24/the-marriages-of-interfaith-america/.