- Japan developed an exceedingly unique culture through long periods of isolation interrupted by brief periods of cultural exchange.
- You don’t see a lot of heavy fur coats in the Middle East.
Alright, in my previous posts in this series we’ve talked about how to start building your world, the importance of the basics, and specifics on fleshing out your geography. I do suggest that you follow this order in fleshing things out: geography, people groups, nations. It is not strictly necessary to do so, but your people groups will be affected by your geography (they will also have an effect on the geography, but geography will generally have more of an effect on the people group), and your people groups will have a great effect on your national politics. Again, each of these is intertwined, and each will effect the others, so it is best be be flexible as you are fleshing things out. Don’t get to attached to particulars, because as your world grows and evolves they may need to change. Sometimes terrain features will need to move, sometimes people groups will split, and other times multiple people groups will meld into one. You should always be aware of what you are doing, but never get so attached that you’re unwilling to change something that needs to be changed.
So, since you already have your geography somewhat fleshed out (I’m assuming you have maps), the first step in fleshing out a people group is to decide where they live. Terrain features have a massive effect on social evolution. For instance, Japanese culture could not have developed if it was not geographically isolated from the surrounding cultures. Arabic culture could not have developed in a jungle. Eskimo culture could not have developed in a Mediterranean environment, and likewise, Italian culture could not have developed in an arctic climate. The geography that surrounds your people group will have a profound effect on their development. So, figure out where they live. What are the dominant geographical features? (i.e. mountain people, desert people, forest people, etc.) What is the climate like? (i.e. does winter last for half the year, is there a long rainy season, is the weather constant or does it vary wildly, etc). For instance, a desert people living in a land with little precipitation might be very comfortable living without strong structures. A people living in a land battered by frequent monsoons and flooding probably wouldn’t. This is something I had to consider in the world of Avnul. The Saru, a reptilian jungle dwelling race, were originally meant to be nomadic. However, given the jungle environment, the frequent heavy rains, and some of their religious beliefs, it became clear that they would be much more likely to develop as a people who built small, stable villages, and perhaps moved between them, but were not purely nomadic.
Once you understand how geography has affected your people group, you can begin to develop their culture. Remember that most cultures are heavily influence by religious belief. Everyone believes something, and what we believe (what we Actually believe, not what we say we believe) is central to our understanding of the world. There has never been and will never be a culture that holds no beliefs, and so if you are going to develop a realistic culture you need to understand what they believe. It is perfectly permissible to develop a culture that espouses one belief, but practices another. This can be seen world-wide, but the best example is probably Japan (I know, I use it a lot… I know a lot about Japan… sue me). Japan is a predominantly secular country, and yet Buddhist and Shinto rituals are practiced daily by many of it’s inhabitants. One author (I can’t remember who, and I’m not quoting but citing from memory) claims that the average Japanese claims to be non-religious, and will perform a Buddhist ritual at a Shinto shrine in the morning, and a Shinto ritual at a Buddhist shrine in the evening. Another author claims that every Japanese is a Shintoist at his wedding, a Buddhist at his death, and an Atheist in between. Obviously these are exaggerations, but the goal of each author is to show that Buddhism and Shintoism have so completely become a part of the Japanese national identity that they are no longer considered religions – they are simply a part of what it is to be Japanese.
Another good example is Christianity in the United States. There are a great many people in the U.S. that espouse Christianity (and some that even espouse its doctrines), and yet the doctrines and beliefs of the religion have no significant impact on their daily lives. You may develop a people group with a strong belief system, or a people group with a contradictory belief system, but the best is to have something in between. In any people group there will be people who by into the belief, people who voice the beliefs but do not practice them, and people who reject the beliefs, and each people group deals with these differently.
For example, among the Neshelim (again in my world of Avnul) those who reject the cultural religion are brutally killed, and those who espouse the religion, but do not practice it are punished – thus the majority of the Neshelim actively embrace their religion. However, among the Longminjong, all three groups are generally accepted (though those that openly reject devotion to Abin-Thul must do so carefully) – thus the majority of the Longminjong accept their religion, but its impact on their lives varies wildly.
Also, remember that without a clear central authority division will arise through series of small disagreements. In any belief system individuals will bring their own unique perspective to doctrine and dogma. This will inevitably bring about variant perspectives that result in disagreement, and are either dealt with harshly, or form branching versions of the religion. Consider both Islam (Shia and Sunni Muslims for example) and Christianity (Protestantism – in all it’s varied forms, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox) for examples of this. Buddhism (Mahayana, Theravada, Tibetan, etc) is also a good example. Many religions will also develop offshoot religions (Mormonism, Jainism, Sihkism, etc) that share some, but not all of the core doctrine, or that add to the core doctrine of the parent religion.
How developed the religions of your world are is up to you, but one good thing to remember as a base-line is the various religious worldviews: Animism (worship of nature as a multiplicity of gods), Polytheism (worship of many gods), Dualism (worship of two equal and opposing gods), Monotheism (worship of one god), Pantheism (worship of nature as a single god), Panentheism (worship of nature as a portion of god), Humanism (worship of man as god), and Atheism (rejection of god or gods and worship of a non-living philosophy – usually love, reason, science, etc). Any religion will also contain some degree of Agnosticism (uncertainty, or unwillingness to commit to a specific set of beliefs)*.
So, next time I’ll have more on how to flesh out a people group, but for now… have fun with your religions!
*Not that the definitions contained here are not technical, but are basic explanations designed to show how specific belief systems develop in a culture.