Cultural Relativism Religion Tradition Ethnocentrism & Cultural Adaptation

Cultural Relativism Religion Tradition Ethnocentrism & Cultural Adaptation

Cultural Relativism

The definition of cultural relativism can be based on the fact that customs practiced by individuals are based on their social background. The definition of right and wrong is hence specific to each culture. Some issues that can be considered to be moral in one society could be viewed as immoral in others. It has been evidenced in the in Fadiman’s book that there are no universal standards of morality and hence there is no individual who should have rights to judge the customs of another society. Cultural relativism has been greatly accepted by the current anthropology. In the book, the Author has cited various incidences to indicate the differences that exist among members of different societies. The aim was to point out that all cultures should be embraced and accepted as having equal values and are worthy in their right. The diversity that exists in regards to cultures even the ones that have different moral beliefs should not be considered when determining whether the act is right or wrong. They should as well not be considered to evaluate the bad and good action. The work of the author is hence an indication that all cultures are supposed to be considered as being equally legitimate in expressing the existence of humans. They should hence be viewed at from a purely neutral perspective.

Fadiman is an American author and used the book to address various issues that are culturally related, for instance, interactions and specifically miscommunications. The issues were mostly experienced when Hmong immigrants were seeking medical care from the American doctors in the United States. Fadiman did not dwell overly in differentiating the right and the wrong as per the interpretations of different cultures. The book has considerably focused on miscommunications that exist between people from different cultural backgrounds. The author has explained in details the mutual lack of trust that can exist between two sides of different cultures. Trust issues could be as a result of biases, shared language barriers, and misconceptions. The factors hence contributed to the existence of poor doctor to patient relationship that is evidenced in the book. Lee’s family could not get quality medical care as a result of miscommunication and mistrust towards physicians. Language barriers that existed between parents of Lia caused a lot of misunderstanding between them and the doctors.

The cultural relativism can be explained in a scenario that patients from Hmong immigrants were resistance and unwilling to take medicines as prescribed by their doctors. They could not comprehend other different cultures that were different from theirs and for this reason they did not trust their doctors. The parents of Lia were depriving her right to receive optimal medical care from the American doctors. They argued that the treatment were not tailored in such a way that her family would deem fit to comply with the medication. The cultural differences hence made them fail to accept other cultures as being morally correct since they had different customs from the ones that they observed. Historical differences among the Hmong ethnic group and the doctors contributed significantly to the struggles that existed between Lee’s family and doctors when curing epilepsy.

Another cultural relativism issue could be explained in the scenario where the Hmong husband deprived her wife who was pregnant the right to take the pills that were prescribed to her by the doctors. The reasons were that the doctors had breached the etiquette of Hmong people which made the husband fail to trust the prescribed pills to his wife. After intervention by the cultural broker, the husband understood the need for her wife to take the pills and allowed his wife to continue taking the prescribed medication by doctors. The author hence indicated the existence of cultural relativism in that the husband after intervention gained doctor’s trust. The husband could view the customs of other people who had different cultural backgrounds from theirs to be morally correct.

Religion Tradition

The religion among the American does not block the rights of people to get access to the medicines. When a person health is at risks or is unwell, they seek medical advice and care from the doctors. They are not restricted by their religion tradition from seeking medical advice unlike the traditions among the Hmong community. Hmong people are attached to their old religion traditions. They believe in shamanism, and they believe that going to the doctor for treatment should be their last resort. The community practices neeb which is the belief that spirits intervention contributes to the healing of sick people and also through practicing shamanistic rituals. The religion traditions hence prevent them from seeking the medical attentions when one of their members of the family gets sick. They conducted their rituals that involved the use of sacred animals that are used to please the bad spirits that they refer to as the dabs. Hmong community also practices traditional healings that are carried out when they are finding a lost soul. For example they use items, such as, herbs, water that is blessed by the spiritual leaders and gongs when they are searching a soul of a sick person. The American apparently do not practice or believe in the activities practiced by the Hmong people.

Religion for the Hmong people is an integral part of their culture which is contrary to the Americans. For the Americans, religion and culture are different and separate organizations. For the Hmong, they cannot separate the culture and religion. The doctors faced a lot of challenges when attending the Hmong people due to the differences in the cultural and religious beliefs of the patients. The Hmong people were in total observance of their Shamanism religion. The religion necessitated them to offer animal sacrifices when attempting to retrieve the lost and the trapped soul of their member. The religion impacts culture social organization, gender roles, and family relationships. For instance, when conducting spiritual rituals, men slaughtered animals to offer sacrifices burned incentives while women role was to sing and danced. Men played a significant role of leading their families and contributed when making critical decisions of the family. The society is lead by the elders who are the old people. Religion in Americans does not impact the role played by any gender. Qualified individuals with the required competency can lead and carry out any task.

The spiritual values of the Hmong community were integrated with their frame of mind towards the sickness and physical condition of one of their members.  The book has also specified that religious practices by the Hmong could not detach the physical health of an individual from their spiritual wellbeing. The belief in the influence of the spiritual realm and its ability to dictate the happenings experienced in the physical world. Hmong people hence beliefs in possession of spirits. They believe in animism in that everything possesses a spirit, both living and non-living objects. As a result, they seek for their ancestors to offer them the necessary guidance and protection.  Hmong beliefs were that the spirits of the deceased ancestors play a significant role to influence the welfare of the living and, as a result, they conducted rituals to appease them. They use the shaman who acts as the healing practitioner and intermediate between material world and spirits to understand why and how an individual became sick.


It is the reason behind the observed divisions among the members of different race, ethnic and religious groups in the society. The doctors and the Hmong community viewed their way of doing things as the only correct and right and disregarded the other. The ethnocentrism that existed was caused by the mistrusts issues between doctors and Hmong community. They did not agree on the causes of diseases and the treatment and medication methods. Different cultures observe different customs and beliefs, and other people should respect them. Hmong American believed in the spirits, and they offered different sacrifices to retrieve the lost soul. Their ethnocentrism sabotaged their agendas in that they were not willing to accommodate the opinions from other cultural backgrounds.

Cultural Adaptation

It can be referred to as the time individuals take to assimilate to the new culture. The book has indicated the challenges that the involved cultures faced when trying to assimilate into the other culture. For instance, the author has used the incidence of the Lia and her family to indicate the power of culture and the cultural adaptation process. Initially, the members of biomedical could not collaborate with the Hmong culture. Despite the facts that both parties had a common interest and desire of improving the health of the Lia who had epilepsy, the powers of cultural differences could not allow them to arrive at a common solution. Hmong did not embrace western medicine since they believed that it could cause them to lose their souls. They believed in conducting rituals to appease the spirits of the deceased ancestors. The process of cultural adaptation is indicated in that the two parties agreed to follow and obey the other party belief to ensure that they save the life of the sick girl. The doctors allowed the Hmong to carry out sacrifices in the hospital to appease the spirits and to ask for the ancestor’s protection from harmful spirits. The community also allowed the doctors to treat the body and blood part but not the soul part that they were to use the burning of cows and the incentives to appease the spirits and find a lost soul. Resettlement program disperses people into different regions, and the hence contributes to increasing the process of cultural adaptations. People are dispersed to mix with other cultures, and they assimilate to the new culture to enable them to correlate and interact with ease.

The first generations of Hmong communities were used as mercenaries by the Americans. After their immigration, they faced challenges especially with Merced biomedical. They did not believe in medicines. They believed their ancestors could explain the cause and source of disease. The second generations started to embrace the process of cultural adaptation. They faced challenges competing with Mexicans for the farm works. The third generation succeeded since it started to adapt fully to the American culture. They studied and started working in the offices like other American professionals.