Let's say there is a sub-culture which is built on a foundational truth. But that truth is not accepted by the culture as a whole.

Is there a word for that? I was thinking "Core-Value"? But it's only really a core-value if you're in that sub-culture.

Is there a word that could be understood by those inside and outside the sub-culture? For example, if I referred to it as a core-value to someone outside that sub-culture, they wouldn't understand what I was talking about.

A common example would be a religious principle.

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    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 14:48

10 Answers 10


A more general term used for any component of a culture or a subculture is a folkway including both its beliefs and its practices. Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:

a mode of thinking, feeling, or acting common to a given group of people; especially: a traditional social custom

The sum total of all of the beliefs of a culture or a subculture is called a worldview. Tenet is a synonym for belief and probably closer to what you are looking for if "belief" is insufficiently technical and precise in its meaning. A worldview is:

a network of ultimate beliefs, assumptions, values, and ideas about the universe and our place in it that shapes how a person understands their life and experiences (and the lives and experiences of others) and how that person acts in response.

Ethos mentioned above, is really a synonym of "worldview" and not of a specific belief or tenet.

Some synonyms for tenet include: principle, belief, doctrine, precept, article of faith, axiom, canon, premise, conviction, view, opinion, position, and teaching.

The term dogma has a primarily religious connotation and is also mildly pejorative when not used in strictly technical sense by religious scholars and clergy.

A "core-value" is often call a norm and differs somewhat from a belief as it is a moral or ethical prescription or value, rather than a belief about what something is. A "norm" is defined as:

a standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group. "the norms of good behavior in the civil service"

The plural of "norm" in this sense is "norms". It can also be called a convention (as in a social convention).

The term "norm" is a preferred term to describe a particular value of a culture or sub-culture in anthropology and sociology and cultural psychology.

  • I particularly like that this answer includes "norm," which was missing in other answers (but wish it got to it sooner :-).
    – Dave Land
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 0:53
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    Precept sounds very appropriate, in that it invokes a tenet or core belief of a group that is in a way exclusive to that group and not shared by the society at large.
    – andrepd
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 2:38
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    This is more of a shotgun answer, but that maybe why I liked it. It's hard to find a word that will not draw people away from my point and down the track of debating the validity of said fact. But words like axiom, precept, or teaching seem to work well in my context. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 11:58

Consider tenet.


tenet NOUN

A principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy:
‘the tenets of classical liberalism’

‘No culture or religion can boast that its tenets are unique.’
‘He was no stranger to the tenets of humanist educational theory.’

  • I always thought that was one of those things woodworkers did
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 19:42
  • 9
    @JoeBlow No, it is someone who doesn't own their own home. Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 0:37
  • 8
    The renter in question is Mortice N. Tenet, I assume?
    – Dave Land
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 0:56
  • 2
    @JoeBlow No, he played Dr Who
    – BoldBen
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 1:31
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    @BoldBen I thought it was what you used when you went to camp. (And from the Russell T Davies era, too camp takes us back to Dr Who again...)
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 11:47

I suspect you are thinking of dogma, defined in Merriam-Webster as:

a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted

So one could say that it is the dogma of Pastafarianism that the universe was created when a giant being sneezed it out. You can also use it for your own beliefs- for example as a programmer I accept the dogma that GOTO is evil.

  • 4
    I lolled at the goto statement. Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 19:13
  • It's not a dogma, it's a truth! An absolute truth. goto should never have been invented; conditional branching shouldn't even exist in processors! All shall bow down before the one true program!!!
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 12:25
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    @wizzwizz4 Knuth disagrees. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 10:01
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    @ypercubeᵀᴹ o.o ... We must make an example of this "Knuth". A two-year ban from writing production code should be sufficient! :-)
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 16:48

An article of faith. Something someone believes in because of who they are or because of their membership in a particular group, particularly a religious or political group.


The word "ethos" is defined by Merriam-Webster as

the guiding beliefs of a person, group, or organization

  • "We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context." On pretty much every answer to this question. If someone accidentally turned the length-Nazi robot on, please turn it off. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 15:00

How about creed or sectarian belief?

creed: a set of fundamental beliefs

sectarian: of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect or sectarian; limited in character or scope

Creed aptly characterizes a sub-culture built on a foundational truth, with that truth not being accepted by the culture as a whole. People have different creeds.

Creed also gets at your idea of "core values" in the sense that creeds express fundamental beliefs, and core values are beliefs that guide action.

Sectarian belief conveys explicitly the idea of sub-culture boundaries (an "inside" and an "outside").

Both creed and sectarian belief are easily understood by those inside and outside a given sub-culture.


shibboleth captures the sense of what you mean, defined by Merriam Webster as

a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning

  • 4
    Rather odd that that definition and others are listed there especially before 2.b which is the original meaning and the one which comes up first when googling. A shibboleth in the original sense means something which identifies one group from another (e.g. a pronunciation or localism)
    – eques
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 21:58
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    @eques indeed: "Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand." ... penalties for mispronunciation were pretty harsh in the old days. Mrs Malaprop would have had a hard time.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 5:18
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    This is a little subtle but: professing or identifiably acting on such a belief can be a shibboleth, but the belief itself isn't one. In any case, even without making that distinction this fails one of the requirements of the question — that it be accepted inside the subculture as well, and shibboleth in the negative sense given doesn't seem likely to be.
    – mattdm
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 10:41


The word says nothing about the validity of the belief, nor its provability or viability. It says nothing about the belief's worth, considered from within or from without the group. It is simply their... conviction.


I have increasingly seen totem used, not in the traditional sense of 'symbol' (M-W definition), but in the newer sense of 'tenet' or 'belief', where subscribing to that belief is a signal of their credentials as member of the sub-group.

Example: "X is a totem of the far-left"

I suspect the dictionary is lagging real usage by decades.




1.1: The set of beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual

Sample use:

a critique of bourgeois ideology

Source: OxfordDictionaries.com

  • As the banner says, please explain why your answer is right. You need this explanation! Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 18:01

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