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Global Affairs Blog

Culture Series: Choice, Exposure and Religion


Hafidzi Razali, LLM ’18

Before Malaysia’s independence and during the period of colonization, our social classes weren’t as varied. We had the aristocrats (mainly members of the Royal family) on one hand, and a large majority of the working class and the poor.

The concentration of power and wealth of the aristocrats gave them access to Western values, mainly through their exposure to education abroad & close interaction with colonial leaders. This became a tradition for several generations – and created a divide between the two distinct social classes. The cultures of the aristocrats are also different due to their royal tradition that stems from the ancient demi-god mythology.

Post-independence, the distinction isn’t as obvious. ‘Western lifestyle’ was no more exclusively associated to the aristocrats, but subjected to economic class & demographic. Our transition to democracy also means that the aristocrats became more integrated to ‘normalized’ lifestyles.

As our country sought to find its own identity, the earlier days’ exposure to colonialism meant that the options were on the table for anyone to be both Western and cultural.

This intersected with the role of religion, as religious values are also embedded in our culture long before the period of colonization. Slowly, cultural practices that are ‘conflicted’ with religious values are gradually shunned. The combination of a growing sense of religiosity and rapidly development of economy means that there are more rooms for cultural diversity.

Save for the remaining few that are holding symbolic yet official Royal positions, our cultures are no more as influenced by social class, but by choice, exposure and religion. There’s a high likelihood that the rich, middle class and poor have similar outlook on culture, unless if they chose not to.