Religious Beliefs. The conflict between Roman Catholicism and Calvinism since the Reformation has fundamentally influenced the nature of Dutch society, creating its unique pillarized character. The basic organizational principle in many spheres, at the local as well as national level, is Religious, not economic, affiliation. Although this pillarization has begun to erode, it is still quite evident, especially in rural communities where it colors all social relations. Although the Netherlands is characterized by secularization, other more informal ways of expressing religious feelings have emerged.
Religious Practitioners. Parish priests and parsons have always had an important impact on Dutch mentality, political conviction, and voting behavior. Even people's private lives were ruled by standards of behavior set by the clergy. Ecclesiastical directives influenced the development of taboos on sexual activities and social contact between persons of Different social classes. For Catholics the rules were dictated by the pope but translated and mediated by the clergy, with adaptations to local culture. The Protestants did not rely on Religious mediators as heavily as did the Catholics, as their religious experience did not lie in the community but in the heart of the individual. Compared to their Catholic counterparts, the parsons were weak and their power limited.
Ceremonies. Since the fifteenth century Dutch popular culture has increasingly been put under pressure by the bourgeois elite. The tales, riddles, rhymes, feasts, and rituals were suppressed to give way to high culture. Popular culture provided not only diversion and amusement but also an outlet for social tensions and instability, complaints of social abuses, and expression of religious feelings. The Catholic church tried to absorb these elements of popular culture into official religion; Protestantism, however, went on the offensive against popular culture.
Arts. Art blossomed in the seventeenth century (i.e., the Golden Age). Many Dutch painters from that period have become famous: for example, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, and Jacob van Ruisdael. Because rich burghers and merchants, not the church and court, were the most important patrons of the artists, the art of painting became specialized. Some painters painted only landscapes, others painted exclusively portraits or still lifes. As far as music is concerned, the composer and organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck became well known for his organ playing. Since the seventeenth century, Dutch art has aroused relatively modest international attention, aside from a small number of celebrities such as the painters van Gogh, Mondrian, and Appel. Cultural life is traditionally focused on the big cities, where large orchestras, theater companies, and Museums of regional significance have been established in the twentieth century.
Medicine. In the Netherlands a modern pharmaceutical industry of international significance has developed. Big Concerns have concentrated their research activities in the Netherlands. This has led to a widespread penetration of medical standards and medical consumption, resulting in a "medicalization" of everyday life that has come to be such a public-health problem that alternative medicine has recently taken root.
Death and Afterlife. In the twentieth century compulsory institutionalized mourning has lost much of its force, while the personal side of mourning has been accentuated and privatized. Funerals characterized by public display have given way to cremations in private. As religious beliefs have declined, the dominant standard of bereavement behavior has become more informal and individualized, making higher demands on self-regulation and self-restraint. As far as dying is concerned, the ritual and rigid regime of silence has relaxed, and more informal and varied codes of behavior- and emotion-management have spread.