October 9, 2018 Fredric Rohm

A Journey through Global Context

In light of the previous post in regard to culture, we thought it would be beneficial to present a follow-up piece to answer the question, what is culture? It remains difficult to comprehend what the church’s role in global culture is until we begin to understand each one’s surrounding context. Professor Ric Rohm provides thorough research exploring this broad global perspective of cultural differences, which we hope will expound upon last week’s objective.

Cultures can be categorized as Individualist or Collectivist. Individualists are in the minority in the world and consist mainly of Western European heritage. They put emphasis on the needs and desires of the individual above that of the group. Most of the world tends to be more collectivist, where the needs and desires of the group precede that of the individual. “Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. Collectivism, as its opposite, pertains to societies in which people from birth forward are integrated into strong, cohesive groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty” (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. 92).

Power Distance describes the relationship between leaders and followers in terms of dependence and interdependence. Hofstede et al. (2010) define it as “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally” (p. 61). In large power distance cultures, organizations tend to be more hierarchical with centralized planning. Leaders are deferred to for decision-making and are expected to be a benevolent autocrat. In contrast, small power distance countries have flatter organizations with decentralized planning. Leaders consult with subordinates in decision-making and are expected to be democratic.

In large power distance cultures, organizations tend to be more hierarchical with centralized planning. Leaders are deferred to for decision-making and are expected to be a benevolent autocrat.

Hofstede’s dimension Masculinity vs. Femininity is not just about gender roles or equality of women. It is really a measure of assertiveness and competition (typically masculine traits) vs. nurturing and building relationships (typically feminine traits). Hofstede et al. distinguish the two poles of this dimension, thus, “A society is called masculine when emotional gender roles are clearly distinct: men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life. A society is called feminine when emotional gender roles overlap: both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life” (p. 140).

The tolerance or intolerance of ambiguity is a cultural trait. Uncertainty Avoidance is “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations” (Hofstede, et al., 2010, p. 191). Cultures high (or strong) in the Uncertainty Avoidance dislike ambiguity, prefer structure, and dominate in organizations and relationships. They value predictability and understandability. Cultures low (or weak) in Uncertainty Avoidance are more comfortable in ambiguous situations, prefer the spirit of the law or regulations, and can excel in undefined situations. Collectivist cultures with strong Uncertainty Avoidance can be more prone to ethnocentrism and even grow xenophobic. Individualist cultures with weak Uncertainty Avoidance tend to be more accepting of differences.

This graph is a comparison of four cultures that we might find in the United States (US). The scores range on a scale from 0-100. The graph is generated from the software at the Hofstede Insights website. Though nowhere near all-inclusive, these countries are representative of the major ethnic groups that make up the US melting pot (Asian, Hispanic, African, and Western European). The scores of the China is representative of the many Asian cultures that are US citizens. Mexico stands in for Hispanic culture. Senegal is representative of West Africa, from where many African Americans ancestry stems. Finally, the United States category closely replicates other Anglo and Germanic cultures, thus equating it to Western European culture. These particular countries are used merely for ease of comparison. Looking over the diagram, one can see some significant differences between Western Europeans and the other groups in the areas of Power Distance and Individualism/Collectivism. It seems, Western Europeans value much smaller Power Distance and are very Individualist as opposed to the other groups’ Collectivism. West Africans seem more Feminine (nurturing and relationship building) than the other Masculine (assertive and competitive) cultures. The data reveals that Asians seem much more tolerant of Uncertainty than the more Uncertainty Avoidant Hispanic and less tolerant than African and Western European cultures.

Looking over the diagram, one can see some significant differences between Western Europeans and the other groups in the areas of Power Distance and Individualism/Collectivism. It seems, Western Europeans value much smaller Power Distance and are very Individualist as opposed to the other groups’ Collectivism.

The body of Christ is not just meant for one cultural context but meant for all the world. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation'” (Mark 16:15, NIV). This analysis is instrumental for local and global explorations of culture pertinent to the global church. In accordance with these findings, pastoral leaders should deeply reflect upon what it means for the Church to transform culture, especially in the application of Christ’s worldwide mission.

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Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (3e). New York: McGraw Hill.

Hofstede Insights (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries.

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