CULTURE
     
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, for many a symbol of the changes of the Western culture during the Renaissance

 

Culture generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Different definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. Culture tells us who we are.

 

European capitals of culture 2017 Aarhus and Paphos

 

Vargas Llosa's view | anthropologists school | more ways of looking at culture (as civilization, as worldview, as symbols, as a stabilizing mechanism, Culture and evolutionary psychology, Cultures within a society) | Europe's culture

 

CULTURE AS SUPERPOWER FOR EUROPE

April 19 and 20, 2016, the European Commission organised the European Culture Forum, a biennial flagship event, aimed at raising the profile of European cultural cooperation, uniting the sector's key players, taking stock the European Agenda for Culture's implementation, and sparking debate on EU culture policy and initiatives.

This year's Forum will consist of two full days of debates, including larger plenary sessions focusing on the main aims of the European Agenda for Culture, as well as smaller, technical sessions on the work of the EU. Plenary sessions will be launched by thought-provoking inspirational speeches, followed by moderated panel debates bringing in experiences, views and questions from the audience. The Forum is focused on three main dimensions:

1. Social element: can culture help to overcome the fragmenttaion of society?
2. Economic aspect: can culture help re-launching economic growth?
3. External relations: can culture improve Europe's standing in the world?

 

 
My speech at the European Culture Forum 2016 in Brussels

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Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all I would like to thank you for having invited me to this great event, and for giving me the opportunity to reflect on something bigger, and deeper, than the everyday crisis agenda of the current Foreign policy. Almost 25 years ago we were told we were entering the era of a clash of civilisations. We were told that wars would be fought because of religion and culture. You probably know where I stand on this: I believe there is no clash of civilisations. Wars are still being fought for the same, old reasons. Economic interests, natural resources, spheres of influence, power. And yet, there are indeed cultural clashes to fight. These clashes do not occur between civilisations, but inside each of our civilisations.

Culture can be a battlefield. It has been a battlefield in Europe for centuries. Today, some global and regional players believe that culture can be “weaponised”. But culture can also be the place where people meet and make the most out of their diversity. This is the choice we have made when our Union was founded. We realized that our culture is Greek and Jewish, Roman and Anglo-Saxon, Christian and Arab, Latin and Slavic, French and German, Mediterranean and Scandinavian, religious and secular.

It was not isolation, but openness what made Europe such an incredible place and project. A project of integration that the world considers – still – as a model. Exchanges made us richer, not weaker. Culture in Europe is always plural – because so many different cultures belong in this continent. European culture is diversity. European culture is distinction, and it is at the same time common ground. This is not always easy to understand, especially in these times. The so-called “multiculturalism” has not always worked. In some cases it has led to segregation. In other cases, it has led to confusion – people don’t know who they are and where they belong. Uncertainty has created fear, fear is creating hatred. Strong identities are the basis for openness. Which also means that, too often, those who are afraid of multiculturalism do not have a strong identity but rather a very weak one.

Yes, in today’s world it is crucial to make sense of our identities and our differences. Fear originates when we don’t recognise each other, because we perceive diversity as a threat, or when we don’t know or understand each other. Our differences can lay the ground for dialogue. Our diversity can be, should be our strength as we face common threats. And this leads me to the main topic of this conversation today. When Europe engages with the world, culture has to be at the core of our foreign policy. Culture can help us fight and prevent radicalisation. But it can also foster economic growth. It can strengthen diplomatic relations and mutual understanding. It can help us stand together to common threats and build partnerhips and alliances among institutions and – what counts even more- among people. This is why Tibor [Navracsics] and I will present to the Council and Parliament next month a strategy for culture in the EU external relations. A strategy, because it is not the time for improvising. This is one of the great issues in our foreign policy, and it deserves to be treated as such.

 
INTER-CULTURAL DIALOGUE

It is probably clear by now that when I say culture I don’t just mean literature and science. Culture can be made by the street artist making the face of a building anew. Or by the artisan whose technique has been refined through the centuries. Culture does not necessarily need a master’s degree. Dialogue among cultures is not simply about teaching our culture to the whole world. We need to learn before we teach, to listen before we talk. And dialogue among cultures is not just a matter for governments. Weeks ago a great artist of our age passed away. Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad, educated in Beirut, and became a world-class architect in London. Such mix of influences has made her art great.

Exchanges among cultures make us richer. This idea has shaped our new Neighbourhood  Policy in depth. So we decided to give cultural and audio-visual operators from our region the opportunity to take part in the Creative Europe programme. We have strengthened the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme II, as well as cooperation with the Anna Lindh Foundation, which plays an important role in promoting intercultural dialogue in the Mediterranean. But this approach goes beyond our region. Ten days ago I was in Indonesia meeting civil society and religious leaders. Indonesia is a nation of 250 million, a Muslim majority country hosting the most amazing variety of cultures and stories and languages. It’s at the other side of the world, but there is so much we can learn from each other, if we meet with each other and work together.

Our foreign policy has to focus constantly on this kind of exchanges, particularly for the young generations. That’s when we all learn how to cope with our world: understanding diversity and complexity is vital. More than half the young people who studied abroad with Erasmus Mundus say the program has helped them understand diversity and dialogue among cultures. I can confirm this from my own Erasmus experience. Together with Tibor Navracsics and Carlos Moedas we are planning to further invest on the Marie Curie-Sklodowska Actions: the EU will finance 11,000 researchers a year to work outside Europe; and 15,000 researchers from outside Europe to join us by 2020.
The EU will finance over 25,000 scholarships per year and some 170 joint projects between EU and non-EU universities – this is to promote student and staff exchanges. This sector can only be expanded – we have a strong economic interest to do so. When young Africans come to Europe to study, they are getting skills and expertise that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Back home they might set up a business, or work in a hospital, or get into politics and institutions. From our side, it is an investment in the future of Africa – that is, an investment in our own future and present.

Young girls and boys who study in Europe bring back to their countries not just knowledge, but personal ties and a better understanding of who we are. It is our interest to keep in touch with them, and to create networks among them – and this is also part of our strategy. They can be our informal ambassadors in the world. For the same reason, I will launch in the coming months a new initiative to bring together young people and youth organisations from Europe and the Mediterranean. Mutual understanding is so much easier when you can relate to a real face, a real friendship. This is also the great thing of culture: it makes it impossible to consider people as numbers; it links every single person to a story, and every single story is worth to be told, and listened to. We are not numbers, but persons.
CULTURE FOR DEVELOPMENT (AND SECURITY)

But let us also be clear on something. This is not just about identities and mutual understanding. Culture matters to our economies and to our growth. The economic benefits of cultural exchanges are too often ignored, although the statistics are clear. Global trade in creative products has more than doubled over the last decade, despite the global recession. Cultural and creative industries represent around three per cent of the world GDP and 30 million jobs. In the EU alone these industries account for more than 7 million jobs. Culture makes a greater contribution to our economy than traditional flagship sectors such as the automotive industry in Germany, or the chemical industry in France. But this is also true in our region and for developing countries. Over the past few months I visited the Sahel twice, and our friends there have told me this story a number of times.
War, terrorism and desertification have dealt a huge blow to tourism in those lands. Places like Timbuktu or Agadez have seen their economy decay. And with higher unemployment, a number of people turned to the criminal economy, strengthening all kinds of illegal trafficking, terrorist organisations, and the smuggling of human beings. Cultural diplomacy is also about jobs, social cohesion, and security. A relatively limited investment from Europe can make a huge difference. And it can support our own interest: the resilience of our neighbourhood and of Africa is crucial for our own security and prosperity.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

We had two good news yesterday: first, the fact that 2018 will be the Cultural Heritage year; second, the presentation of the first “Blue Helmet” task force that Italy has put at the disposal of UNESCO. I hope other countries will follow and we are ready to facilitate this work. The protection of cultural heritage holds a special place in this work. The EU is already at the front line. We work with UNESCO all over the world, with a contribution of one hundred million euros. This money is going to the restoration of the Timbuktu manuscripts in Mali, and into Project Mosul, in Iraq – where we are preserving the memory of destroyed cultural heritage thanks to virtual models. The images of destroyed temples and headless statues in Palmyra where painful to watch. This has to do with the terrorists’ ideology, but it’s not just that. I shall repeat it once again: let us not fall into the “clash of civilisations” trap. The same terrorists are very often engaged in smuggling antiquities to finance their wars. Again, this is about money and power.

So we are working with UNESCO to set up a rapid reaction mechanism for the protection of cultural heritage. But we will also propose to the Council and the European Parliament new legislation to regulate the import into the EU of cultural goods – and close this channel for terrorist financing. We also need to plan for the reconstruction of many destroyed wonders. We will share satellite imagery to take stock of damage and plan reconstruction. We will provide finance and expertise to assess damage and think for the day after. In many civil wars a church, or a bridge can have a huge symbolic power. Their protection and reconstruction is at times linked to reconciliation, the rebuilding of trust and the respect for different identities. When discussing with the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo I witnessed that cultural heritage is above all about respecting history and protecting cultural and religious identity. This is what the dialogue I facilitate between Belgrade and Pristina is all about: to help them reach a shared understanding and build a common future together, respecting each other.

The task ahead is huge. Cultural diplomacy is about conservation, but it is also about innovation and new ideas. It is about education, security, human development. If we truly want to put culture at the core of our foreign policy – then we need the whole of Europe to get on-board, with all our expertise, our history and our full potential. All Member States have their own strong cultural heritage. We all have deep and vibrant cultural relations with third countries. This diversity is our strength. But we need all European actors to share the same sense of direction – governments, regions and cities, but also cultural institutes, civil society organisations, artists, scientists and performers. Last month we launched a Cultural Diplomacy Platform to gather all these actors and engage them on a continuous basis, receive feedback, policy advice and support. Local authorities are particularly important: the World Cities Culture Report 2015 shows the excellent return – in terms of growth and poverty reduction – for cities that invest in culture. So cities can be a crucial player in our cultural diplomacy. But this is also true for national governments and parliaments, for foundations and for any citizens. Culture belongs to all of us, and all can contribute. 

Probably no other place in the world has the same cultural “density” as Europe. So much history, so many stories and cultures. We preserve millennial traditions, and we are among the engines of global innovation. We should not be afraid to say we are a cultural super-power. And it is our openness that made us great, our freedom that made culture a European excellence. We did not invent the Arabic numerals, and we became the home to the greatest mathematicians in history. Some believe we didn’t even invent spaghetti, although no Italian would buy this story…(and by the way food is also an important part of our culture…). Our culture inspired the world because it was itself inspired by the world. The way to the future is this. Proud of our heritage, open to the world. There is not other way to navigate a globalised world. If you don’t know where you come from, you get lost very easily. We know where we come from. We know who we are, and what we believe in. A dialogue with different cultures cannot, and must not, scare us.

In the era of social media and shrinking distances, our cultures are bound to meet. We have a duty to make the most out of this encounter. Put culture at the very heart of Europe’s external action. Refuse any clash of civilisations, and work for an alliance of civilisations. Cultural diplomacy is not just a hobby for intellectuals. It is a cornerstone in our relationship with today’s world. It is vital for Europe, to promote our interests and advance our values.

Thank you.

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VARGAS LLOSA

According to Vargas Llosa, the greatest achievement of a civilization is not to have a collective identity to be stressed, simultaneously, by all individuals. It is precisely, the contrary: to have reached a level of economic development, of culture and freedom that allow citizens to emancipate themselves from collective identities – throwing off the yoke – and to choose their own identity, in harmony or disharmony with the rest of the tribe. In that way, the individual can exercise his or her sovereignty, becoming authentically free. Vargas Llosa advocated in 2004 during the international conference 'Europe, a Beautiful Idea? total freedom of expression as the only way to recognise monstrous ideologies such as communism, anti-Semitism, and fascism. Europe’s strength and richness lie in its open society and in its culture and acceptance of diversity and choice.

Culture (from the Latin cultura, meaning "to cultivate"), generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Different definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity.

Anthropologists most commonly use the term "culture" to refer to the universal human capacity to classify, codify and communicate their experiences symbolically. This capacity has long been taken as a defining feature of the humans. However, primatologists such as Jane Goodall have identified aspects of culture among human's closest relatives in the animal kingdom. It can be also said that " it is the way people live in accordance to beliefs, language, history, or the way they dress.
Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief. Various definitions of culture reflect differing theories for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity

Edward Burnett Tylor writing from the perspective of social anthropology in the UK in 1871 described culture in the following way:"Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

More recently, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) (2002) described culture as follows: "... culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs".

While these two definitions cover a range of meaning, they do not exhaust the many uses of the term "culture." In 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of more than 100 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions.

These definitions, and many others, provide a catalog of the elements of culture. The items cataloged (e.g., a law, a stone tool, a marriage) each have an existence and life-line of their own. They come into space-time at one set of coordinates and go out of it another. While here, they change, so that one may speak of the evolution of the law or the tool.

A culture, then, is by definition at least, a set of cultural objects. Anthropologist Leslie White asked: "What sort of objects are they? Are they physical objects? Mental objects? Both? Metaphors? Symbols? Reifications?" In Science of Culture (1949), he concluded that they are objects "sui generis"; that is, of their own kind. In trying to define that kind, he hit upon a previously unrealized aspect of symbolization, which he called "the symbolate"—an object created by the act of symbolization. He thus defined culture as "symbolates understood in an extra-somatic context." The key to this definition is the discovery of the symbolate.

Seeking to provide a practical definition, social theorist, Peter Walters, describes culture simply as "shared schematic experience", including, but not limited to, any of the various qualifiers (linguistic, artistic, religious, etc.) included in previous definitions.

Key components of culture

A common way of understanding culture sees it as consisting of four elements that are "passed on from generation to generation by learning alone":

  1. values;

  2. norms;

  3. institutions;

  4. artifacts.

Values comprise ideas about what in life seems important. They guide the rest of the culture. Norms consist of expectations of how people will behave in various situations. Each culture has methods, called sanctions, of enforcing its norms. Sanctions vary with the importance of the norm; norms that a society enforces formally have the status of laws. Institutions are the structures of a society within which values and norms are transmitted. Artifacts—things, or aspects of material culture—derive from a culture's values and norms.

Julian Huxley gives a slightly different division, into inter-related "mentifacts", "sociofacts" and "artifacts", for ideological, sociological, and technological subsystems respectively. Socialization, in Huxley's view, depends on the belief subsystem. The sociological subsystem governs interaction between people. Material objects and their use make up the technological subsystem.

As a rule, archaeologists focus on material culture, whereas cultural anthropologists focus on symbolic culture, although ultimately both groups maintain interests in the relationships between these two dimensions. Moreover, anthropologists understand "culture" to refer not only to consumption goods, but to the general processes which produce such goods and give them meaning, and to the social relationships and practices in which such objects and processes become embedded.

 
'The notion of culture has expanded so much that it's simply vanished, though no one dares to openly acknowledge it' (Vargas Llosa).
Vargas Llosa 8 June 2013 Nexus lecture
Vargas Llosa 8 June 2013, Nexus lecture
8 June 2013, Vargas Llosa expressed at the Nexus Institute that our time is characterized by a craving for the trivial: on tv, in the newspapers, politics and education. Everywhere seems to be the culture in the remaindered, only the spectacle still counts. What seems to be a financial crisis, is in reality a moral crisis. In his Nexus Lecture 2013, 'The Culture That Was', analyzed Mario Vargas Llosa mercilessly what is wrong with our time and he explores the possibilities of an alternative way of life, which put a premium on intellectual ambitions, value consciousness and spiritual autonomy.
Vargas Llosa believed that the old, valuable culture has become a sand castle that with the first little wind will be blown away
Vargas Llosa 8 June 2013 Nexus lecture. Read a comment.
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WAYS OF LOOKING AT CULTURE

Culture as civilization

Many people today have an idea of "culture" that developed in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries. This notion of culture reflected inequalities within European societies, and between European powers and their colonies around the world. It identifies "culture" with "civilization" and contrasts it with "nature." According to this way of thinking, one can classify some countries as more civilized than others, and some people as more cultured than others. Some cultural theorists have thus tried to eliminate popular or mass culture from the definition of culture. Theorists such as Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) or the Leavisites regard culture as simply the result of "the best that has been thought and said in the world”Arnold contrasted mass/popular culture with social chaos or anarchy. On this account, culture links closely with social cultivation: the progressive refinement of human behavior. Arnold consistently uses the word this way: "... culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world".

In practice, culture referred to élite activities such as museum-caliber art and classical music, and the word cultured described people who knew about, and took part in, these activities. These are often called "high culture" to distinguish them from mass culture or popular culture.

From the 19th century onwards, some social critics have accepted this contrast between high and low culture, but have stressed the refinement and of sophistication of high culture as corrupting and unnatural developments that obscure and distort people's essential nature. On this account, folk music (as produced by working-class people) honestly expresses a natural way of life, and classical music seems superficial and decadent. Equally, this view often portrays Indigenous peoples as 'noble savages' living authentic unblemished lives, uncomplicated and uncorrupted by the highly-stratified capitalist systems of the West.

Today most social scientists reject the monadic conception of culture, and the opposition of culture to nature. They recognize non-élites as just as cultured as élites (and non-Westerners as just as civilized) -- simply regarding them as just cultured in a different way. Thus social observers contrast the "high" culture of élites to "popular" or pop culture, meaning goods and activities produced for, and consumed by the masses. (Note that some classifications relegate both high and low cultures to the status of subcultures.)

Culture as worldview

During the Romantic era, scholars in Germany, especially those concerned with nationalist movements — such as the nationalist struggle to create a "Germany" out of diverse principalities, and the nationalist struggles by ethnic minorities against the Austro-Hungarian Empire — developed a more inclusive notion of culture as "worldview." In this mode of thought, a distinct and incommensurable world view characterizes each ethnic group. Although more inclusive than earlier views, this approach to culture still allowed for distinctions between "civilized" and "primitive" or "tribal" cultures.

By the late 19th century, anthropologists had adopted and adapted the term culture to a broader definition that they could apply to a wider variety of societies. Attentive to the theory of evolution, they assumed that all human beings evolved equally, and that the fact that all humans have cultures must in some way result from human evolution. They also showed some reluctance to use biological evolution to explain differences between specific cultures — an approach that either exemplified a form of, or segment of society vis a vis other segments and the society as a whole, they often reveal processes of domination and resistance.

In the 1950s, subcultures — groups with distinctive characteristics within a larger culture — began to be the subject of study by sociologists. The 20th century also saw the popularization of the idea of corporate culture — distinct and malleable within the context of an employing organization or a workplace.

St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum - a unique place, where every year specialists from the sphere of culture, politics, public authorities and businesses meet each other. The most pressing issues concerning the development of the modern world and Russian cultural life are being discussed here. Forum events allow experts, investors and potential partners interested in the implementation of federal and regional projects, to have an open dialogue and exchange of experience.

Culture as symbols

The symbolic view of culture, the legacy of Clifford Geertz (1973) and Victor Turner (1967), holds symbols to be both the practices of social actors and the context that gives such practices meaning. Anthony P. Cohen (1985) writes of the "symbolic gloss" which allows social actors to use common symbols to communicate and understand each other while still imbuing these symbols with personal significance and meanings.Symbols provide the limits of cultured thought. Members of a culture rely on these symbols to frame their thoughts and expressions in intelligible terms. In short, symbols make culture possible, reproducible and readable. They are the "webs of significance" in Weber's sense that, to quote Pierre Bourdieu (1977), "give regularity, unity and systematicity to the practices of a group."Thus, for example:

  • "Stop, in the name of the law!"—Stock phrase uttered to the antagonists by the sheriff or marshal in 20th century American Old Western movies

  • Law and order—stock phrase in the United States

  • Peace and order—stock phrase in the Philippines

Culture as a stabilizing mechanism

Modern cultural theory also considers the possibility that (a) culture itself is a product of stabilization tendencies inherent in evolutionary pressures toward self-similarity and self-cognition of societies as wholes, or tribalisms. See Steven Wolfram's A new kind of science on iterated simple algorithms from genetic unfolding, from which the concept of culture as an operating mechanism can be developed, and Richard Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype for discussion of genetic and memetic stability over time, through negative feedback mechanisms.

Culture and evolutionary psychology

Researchers in evolutionary psychology argue that the mind is a system of neurocognitive information processing modules designed by natural selection to solve the adaptive problems of our distant anscestors. According to evolutionary psychologists, the diversity of forms that human cultures take are constrained (indeed, made possible) by innate information processing mechanisms underlying our behavior, including language acquisition modules, incest avoidance mechanisms, cheater detection mechanisms, intelligence and sex-specific mating preferences, foraging mechanisms, alliance-tracking mechanisms, agent detection mechanisms, fear and protection mechanisms (survival mechanisms) and so on. These mechanisms are theorized to be the psychological foundations of culture. In order to fully understand culture we must understand its biological conditions of possibility.

Cultures within a society

Large societies often have subcultures, or groups of people with distinct sets of behavior and beliefs that differentiate them from a larger culture of which they are a part. The subculture may be distinctive because of the age of its members, or by their race, ethnicity, class or gender. The qualities that determine a subculture as distinct may be aesthetic, religious, occupational, political, sexual or a combination of these factors

In dealing with immigrant groups and their cultures, there are essentially four approaches:
  • Monoculturalism: In some European states, culture is very closely linked to nationalism, thus government policy is to assimilate immigrants, although recent increases in migration have led many European states to experiment with forms of multiculturalism.

  • Leitkultur (core culture): A model developed in Germany by Bassam Tibi. The idea is that minorities can have an identity of their own, but they should at least support the core concepts of the culture on which the society is based.

  • Melting Pot: In the United States, the traditional view has been one of a melting pot where all the immigrant cultures are mixed and amalgamated without state intervention.

  • Multiculturalism: A policy that immigrants and others should preserve their cultures with the different cultures interacting peacefully within one nation.

The architecture of the White House deliberately recalls ancient Greek temples.
The way nation states treat immigrant cultures rarely falls neatly into one or another of the above approaches. The degree of difference with the host culture (i.e., "foreignness"), the number of immigrants, attitudes of the resident population, the type of government policies that are enacted and the effectiveness of those policies all make it difficult to generalize about the effects. Similarly with other subcultures within a society, attitudes of the mainstream population and communications between various cultural groups play a major role in determining outcomes. The study of cultures within a society is complex and research must take into account a myriad of variables.
     
EUROPE's CULTURE

European culture also has a broad influence beyond the continent of Europe due to the legacy of colonialism. In this broader sense it is sometimes referred to as Western culture. This is most easily seen in the spread of the English language and to a lesser extent, a few other European languages. Dominant influences include ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and Christianity, although religion has declined in Europe.

Western culture or Western civilization is a term used to refer to the cultures of the people of European origin and their descendants. It comprises the broad heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs (such as religious beliefs) and specific artifacts and technologies as shared within the Western sphere of influence. The term "Western" is often used in contrast to Asian, African, or Arab nations.

The East-West contrast is sometimes criticized as relativistic. In some ways it has grown out of use, or has been transformed or clarified to fit more precise uses. Though it is directly descendent from academic Orientalism and Occidentalism, the changing usage of the distinction "East-West" has come to be useful as a means to identify important cultural similarities and differences — both within an increasingly larger concept of local region, as well as with regard to increasingly familiar "alien" cultures.

During the Cold War, the West-East contrast became synonymous with the competing governments of the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies, respectively. The concept of Western culture is generally linked to the classical definition of Western world. In this definition, Western culture is the set of literary, scientific, musical, and philosophical principles which set it apart from other civilizations. It applies to countries whose history is strongly marked by Western European immigration or settlement, and is not restricted to Western Europe. Much of this set of traditions is collected in the Western canon.
Various uses of the concept of Western culture have included, rightly or wrongly, critiques of American culture, materialism, industrialism, capitalism, commercialism, hedonism, imperialism, modernism, or the teaching of Western civilization.

European Commission / DG Culture
Foundations

The origins of Western culture are often referred to as "three pillars": ancient Greece (concretely Greek philosophy), the Roman Empire (specifically Roman law), and Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Broadly, these foundations are referred to as Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian roots. Germanic, Slavic and Celtic popular cultures also took part in the formation of the culture of medieval Europe, and the influence of secular humanism has been profound since the European Renaissance. When focusing on the United States as a flagship of modern "Western culture", African-American and Native American influences must be taken into consideration, but these are usually identified as outside modifiers on, rather than inside developments of, the basic Christian, Greco-Roman and Secular Humanist roots of "Western culture".

Western culture has developed a plethora of literary, musical, philosophical, political, religious, and other traditions. Some (though not all) important traditions are:

  • Christian Theology and Philosophy, with an abundant tradition on the philosophical discipline of Ethics.

  • Humanism, Secularism, Rationalism and Empiricism in contrast and reaction to Catholicism and Protestant Christianity.

  • A very rich tradition and understanding of law, which has been followed by practically all other cultures.

  • Scholasticism.

  • Renaissance arts and letters.

  • scientific method, leading to most of the inventions of modern industry and technology.

  • The Western canon, etc.

History

Western culture is not homogeneous, nor unchanging. As with all other cultures it evolved and gradually changed with time. All generalities about it have their exceptions at some time and place. The organisation and tactics of the Greek Hoplites differed in many ways from the Roman Legions. The City State of the Greeks is not the same as the American superpower of the 21st century. The gladiatorial games of the Roman Empire are not identical to present-day soccer. The art of Pompeii is not the art of Hollywood. Nevertheless, it is possible to follow the evolution and history of the West, and appreciate its similarities and differences, its borrowings from and contributions to, the other cultures of humanity.

The ancient Greek conception of science, philosophy, democracy, architecture, literature, and art provided a foundation embraced and built upon by the Roman Empire as it swept up Greece in its conquests in the 1st century BC. For five hundred years, the Roman Empire spread the Greek and Latin languages and Roman law across Europe, although it rejected the democratic concepts pioneered in ancient Athens. With the rise of Christianity in the midst of the Roman world, much of Rome's tradition and culture were absorbed by the new religion, and transformed into something new, which would serve as the basis for the development of Western civilisation after the fall of Rome. Also, Roman culture mixed with the pre-existing Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic cultures, which slowly became integrated into Western culture starting, mainly, with their acceptance of Christianity.

After the fall of Rome much of Greco-Roman art, literature, science and even technology were lost. Europe fell into political anarchy, with many warring kingdoms and principalities, and evolved into feudalism. However, much of the basis of the post-Rome world had been set before the fall of the Empire, mainly through the integrating and reshaping of Roman ideas through Christian thought. The Greek and Roman paganism had been completely replaced by Christianity around the 4th and 5th centuries, since it became the official State religion following the baptism of emperor Constantine I. Roman Catholic Christianity served as a unifying force in Western Europe, and in some respects replaced or competed with the secular authorities. Art and literature, law, education, and politics were preserved in the teachings of the Church, in an environment that, otherwise, would have probably seen their loss. The Church founded many cathedrals, universities, monasteries and seminaries, some of which continue to exist today. In the Medieval period, the route to power for many men was in the Church.

The rediscovery of the Justinian Code in the early 10th century rekindled the West's passion for the discipline of law. Roman law became the foundation on which all legal concepts and systems were based, and its influence can be traced to this day in all Western legal systems (although in different manners and to different extents in the common (Anglo-American) and the civil (continental European) legal traditions). The study of canon law, the legal system of the Catholic Church, fused with that of Roman law to form the basis of the refounding of Western legal scholarship.

It actively encouraged the spreading of Christianity, which was inexorably linked to the spread of Western culture. Owing to the influence of Islamic culture —a culture that had preserved some of the knowledge of ancient Persia, Greece and Rome— in Moorish Spain and in the Levant during the Crusades, Western Europe rediscovered its Greek heritage in the 1300s, and the Renaissance was born. From the early 15th century to the early 17th century Western culture began to be spread throughout the world by intrepid explorers and missionaries in the Age of Discovery.

Renaissance Western culture was spread to the New World and beyond in the 1500s by explorers, traders, missionaries and colonists. The Enlightenment of the 1700s, in turn, culminated politically in the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The industrial revolution, which began in the last half of the eighteenth century in Great Britain, changed Western culture to one that emphasised the notion of progress, development and change, material well-being and, eventually, consumerism, and transformed the world. The ideas of civil rights, equality before the law, procedural justice, and democracy as the ideal form of society, and were principles which formed the basis of modern Western culture.

In the 1800s, the United States began to develop its own especially pragmatic strain of Western culture and, by the middle of the twentieth century, had become a major influence, spreading American fashion, entertainment, and technology throughout the world.

Influence of Western Culture

Elements of Western culture have had a very influential role on other cultures worldwide. People of many cultures, both Western and non-Western, equate "modernisation" with "westernisation," but many non-Westerners (and some Westerners) object to the implication that all societies should also adopt Western ideas and values. Some members of the non-Western world have suggested that this the link between technological progress and certain harmful Western values provides a reason why much of "modernity" should be rejected as being incompatible with their vision and the values of their societies.

Much of the technology and social patterns which make up what is defined as "modernisation" were developed in the Western world. Whether these technological and social patterns be intrinsically part of Western culture, is more difficult to answer. Many would argue that the question cannot be answered by a response from positivistic science and instead is a "value" question which must be answered from a value system (e.g. philosophy, religion, political doctrine). Much of anthropology today has shown the close links between the physical environment and daily activities and the formation of a culture. Therefore, the impact of "modernisation" and "modern" technology may not merely be "scientific" (that is, physical) but may possibly be closely linked with a certain culture, that of the West, such that without such technology, Western culture today would have been dramatically different from how it is known in actual historical and contemporary times.
Music, art, story-telling and architecture

Some cultural and artistic modalities are also characteristically Western in origin and form. While dance, music, story-telling, and architecture are human universals, they are expressed in the West in certain characteristic ways. The symphony has its origins in Italy. Many important musical instruments used by cultures all over the world were also developed in the West; among them are the violin, piano, pipe organ, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, and the theremin. The solo piano, symphony orchestra and the string quartet are also important performing musical forms. The ballet is a distinctively Western form of performance dance. The ballroom dance is an important Western variety of dance for the elite. The polka, the square dance, and the Irish step dance are very well-known Western forms of folk dance.

While epic literary works in verse such as the Mahabarata and Homer's Iliad are ancient and occurred worldwide, the novel as a distinct form of story telling only arose in the West (with the possible exception, though isolated, of the Japanese Tale of Genji) in the period 1200 to 1750. Photography and the motion picture as a technology and as the basis for entirely new art forms were also developed first in the West. The soap opera, a popular culture dramatic form originated in the United States first on radio in the 1930's, then a couple of decades later on television. The music video was also developed in the West in the middle of the twentieth century.

The arch, the dome and the flying buttress as architectural motifs were first used by the Romans. Important western architectural motifs include the doric, corinthian and the ionic column, and the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Victorian styles are still widely recognised, and used even today, in the West. Much of Western architecture emphasises repetition of simple motifs, straight lines and expansive, undecorated planes. A modern ubiquitous architectural form emphasising this characteristic, first developed in New York and Chicago, is the skyscraper.

Oil painting is said to have originated by Jan van Eyck, and perspective drawings and paintings had their earliest practitioners in Florence. In art, the Celtic knot is a very distinctive Western repeated motif. Depictions of the nude human male and female in photography, painting and sculpture are frequently considered to have special artistic merit. Realistic portraiture is especially valued. In Western dance, music, plays and other arts, the performers are only very infrequently masked. There are essentially no taboos against depicting God, or other religious figures, in a representational fashion.

Influence of Western Culture

Elements of Western culture have had a very influential role on other cultures worldwide. People of many cultures, both Western and non-Western, equate "modernisation" with "westernisation," but many non-Westerners (and some Westerners) object to the implication that all societies should also adopt Western ideas and values. Some members of the non-Western world have suggested that this the link between technological progress and certain harmful Western values provides a reason why much of "modernity" should be rejected as being incompatible with their vision and the values of their societies.

What is generally uncontested, is that much of the technology and social patterns which make up what is defined as "modernisation" were developed in the Western world. Whether these technological and social patterns be intrinsically part of Western culture, is more difficult to answer. Many would argue that the question cannot be answered by a response from positivistic science and instead is a "value" question which must be answered from a value system (e.g. philosophy, religion, political doctrine). Nonetheless, much of anthropology today has shown the close links between the physical environment and daily activities and the formation of a culture (the findings of cultural ecology, among others). Therefore, the impact of "modernisation" and "modern" technology may not merely be "scientific" (that is, physical) but may possibly be closely linked with a certain culture, that of the West, such that without such technology, Western culture today would have been dramatically different from how it is known in actual historical and contemporary times.

Music, art, story-telling and architecture

Some cultural and artistic modalities are also characteristically Western in origin and form. While dance, music, story-telling, and architecture are human universals, they are expressed in the West in certain characteristic ways. The symphony has its origins in Italy. Many important musical instruments used by cultures all over the world were also developed in the West; among them are the violin, piano, pipe organ, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, and the theremin. The solo piano, symphony orchestra and the string quartet are also important performing musical forms. The ballet is a distinctively Western form of performance dance. The ballroom dance is an important Western variety of dance for the elite. The polka, the square dance, and the Irish step dance are very well-known Western forms of folk dance.

While epic literary works in verse such as the Mahabarata and Homer's Iliad are ancient and occurred worldwide, the novel as a distinct form of story telling only arose in the West (with the possible exception, though isolated, of the Japanese Tale of Genji) in the period 1200 to 1750. Photography and the motion picture as a technology and as the basis for entirely new art forms were also developed first in the West. The soap opera, a popular culture dramatic form originated in the United States first on radio in the 1930's, then a couple of decades later on television. The music video was also developed in the West in the middle of the twentieth century.

The arch, the dome and the flying buttress as architectural motifs were first used by the Romans. Important western architectural motifs include the doric, corinthian and the ionic column, and the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Victorian styles are still widely recognised, and used even today, in the West. Much of Western architecture emphasises repetition of simple motifs, straight lines and expansive, undecorated planes. A modern ubiquitous architectural form emphasising this characteristic, first developed in New York and Chicago, is the skyscraper.

Oil painting is said to have originated by Jan van Eyck, and perspective drawings and paintings had their earliest practitioners in Florence. In art, the Celtic knot is a very distinctive Western repeated motif. Depictions of the nude human male and female in photography, painting and sculpture are frequently considered to have special artistic merit. Realistic portraiture is especially valued. In Western dance, music, plays and other arts, the performers are only very infrequently masked. There are essentially no taboos against depicting God, or other religious figures, in a representational fashion.

Beyond art and politics

Apart from food, literature, art, music, religion, and politics, many aspects of Western culture differ from other cultures around the world. Western culture has evolved and changed throughout the past centuries, but at the same time certain themes and trends persist to varying degrees:

  • An emphasis on technological innovation and science coupled with a belief in progress; Despite institutional and systemetic racial segragation as found in places such as the United States and South Africa, there is less emphasis on connections with the past, such as ancestory and ethnocentrism.

  • Despite history of slavery, holocaust, Jim Crow laws and prisons such as Guantanomo Bay, an emphasis on human rights, which are considered natural rights.

  • Emphasis on personal responsibility;

  • A strong sense of personal privacy and civil rights;

  • Regard for individualism, personal achievement and self-realization as more important values than social consensus or conformity.

  • Consensus that personal enrichment of political office holders is an offense against society;

  • Allegiance to the nuclear family, rather than to the extended family.

Occidental marriage customs which are occasionally different in other cultures today are:

  • A strict legal requirement for monogamous and consensual marriage;

  • An occasionally casual attitude toward sex between unmarried persons;

  • An expectation of marriage as a source of personal fulfilment through romance, rather than as a practical domestic arrangement;

  • Reduced or no legal enforcement of social bans on adultery;

Western scientific and technological achievements

A feature of Western culture is its focus on science and technology, and its ability to generate new processes, materials and material artifacts. It was the West that first developed steam power and adapted its use into factories, and for the generation of electrical power. Nuclear power stations are derived from the first atomic pile in Chicago (1942). The electrical dynamo, transformer, electric motor, and electric light, and indeed most of the familiar electrical appliances, were inventions of the West. New communication devices and systems such as the telegraph, the telephone, fax, the transatlantic cable, radio and television, the communications and navigation satellites, mobile phones, the internet and the web can all be credited to the West. Furthermore, ubiquitous materials such as concrete, aluminum, clear glass, synthetic rubber, synthetic diamond and the plastics, among others, are all inventions of the West. Iron and steel ships, bridges and skyscrapers first appeared in the West. The pencil, ballpoint pen LCD, LED, the photograph, photocopy, laser printer and plasma display screen were too. The ship's chronometer, the engine powered screw propeller, the locomotive, bicycle, automobile, and aeroplane were all invented in the West. Eyeglasses, the telescope, and the microscope and electron microscope, all the varieties of chromatography, protein and DNA sequencing, x-rays, and light, ultraviolet and infrared spectroscopy, were all first developed and applied in Western laboratories, hospitals and factories.

In medicine, Vaccination, anesthesia, MRI, the birth control pill, and all the pure antibiotics were discovered in the West. The method of preventing Rh disease, the treatment of diabetes, and the germ theory of disease were discovered by Westerners. The eradication of that ancient scourge, smallpox, was led by a Westerner, Donald Henderson. Radiography, Computed tomography, Positron emission tomography and Medical ultrasonography are important diagnostic tools developed in the West. So were the stethoscope, electrocardiograph, and the endoscope. Vitamins, hormonal contraception, hormones, insulin, Beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, along with a host of other medically proven drugs were first utilised to treat disease in the West. The double-blind study and evidence-based medicine are critical scientific techniques widely used in the West for medical purposes.

In mathematics, calculus, statistics, logic, vector, tensor and complex analysis, group theory and topology were developed by Westerners. In biology, evolution, chromosomes, DNA, genetics and the methods of molecular biology are creatures of the West. In physics, the science of mechanics and quantum mechanics, relativity, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics were all discovered by Westerners. The atom, nucleus, electron, neutron and proton were all unveiled by Westerners. Most of the elements, as well as the correct notion of elements themselves were discovered in the West. Nitrogen fixation and petrochemicals were achievements of Westerners. Chemistry itself became a science in the West.

Westerners are also known for their explorations of the globe and space. The first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth was by Westerners, as well as the first to set foot on the Poles, and the first to land on the moon. The landing of robots on Mars and on an asteroid, and the Voyager explorations of the outer planets were all achievements of Westerners.

Contemporary Western culture

Differences

There are many differences between the most populous regions of the western culture, the United States and Western Europe. Religion has waned considerably in Western Europe. Many western Europeans are agnostic or atheist The religiosity and the belief in a deity in the United States is still very strong, with 85-91% of the population believing in a deity.

Similarities

Western countries are more developed than other countries in the world. This means that, compared to other cultures, a smaller percentage of society is poor. The richness of the majority of westerners result in freedom expressed in consumerism. Westerners have the ability to travel around the world, which they do en masse during holidays. Western countries tend to have low fertility rates relative to less developed countries, though this has not always been the case.

Western cultures tend to emphasise the individual, making them socially and politically individualistic, rather than collective. However, a number of Western nations are or have been economically collective. Democracy, which also favors the concept of individualism, is the preferred form of government in western society. Additionally, creativity and the expression of the individual is commonly encouraged in western societies so long it does not violate any social norms or established laws. Some forms of personal expression, violating rather minor folkways are most commonly accepted. Furthermore, capitalism which is found in almost every western nation, supports an individualistic ideology. In western society consumer products are often meant to reflect upon their owner in addition to serving a utilitarian purpose. Everything from license plates, cell phone ring-tones, and kitchen sets can be custom tailored to meet the desires of each individual customer. Social critics have often pointed to high divorce rates and low amounts of civil activism as the negative externalities of individualistic societies.

Media in Western countries have paid much attention to disasters that happen around the world. Many Westerners are active in helping people around the world through charities or state intervention. The enormous amount of information, products, and subcultures leads to reduced adherence to ideologies.

Change is an important feature of Western culture. New subcultures, variations on dominant themes in politics, the arts, and technologies, constantly emerge and evolve. Tradition and authority are often viewed with suspicion, hopefully to be overwhelmed and improved by the next new thing.

Belief systems

Religion and other belief systems are often integral to a culture. Religion, from the Latin religare, meaning "to bind fast", is a feature of cultures throughout human history. The Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion defines religion in the following way:

... an institution with a recognized body of communicants who gather together regularly for worship, and accept a set of doctrines offering some means of relating the individual to what is taken to be the ultimate nature of reality.

Religion often codifies behavior, such as with the 10 Commandments of Christianity or the five precepts of Buddhism. Sometimes it is involved with government, as in a theocracy. It also influences arts.

Eurocentric custom to some extent divides humanity into Western and non-Western cultures, although this has some flaws. Western culture spread from Europe most strongly to Australia, Canada, and the United States. It is influenced by ancient Greece, ancient Rome and the Christian church. Western culture tends to be more individualistic than non-Western cultures. It also sees man, god, and nature or the universe more separately than non-Western cultures. It is marked by economic wealth, literacy, and technological advancement, although these traits are not exclusive to it.

Abrahamic religions

Judaism is one of, if not the first, recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The values and history of the Jewish people are a major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, as well as Samaritanism and the Bahá'í Faith.

Christianity was the dominant feature in shaping European culture for at least the last 1700 years. Modern philosophical thought has very much been influenced by Christian philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus. European colonization and missionaries have spread it.

Marriage

Religion often influences marriage and sexual practices. Most Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes some sort of pledge by the community to support the relationship. In marriage, Christians draw a parallel with the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. The Roman Catholic Church believes it is morally wrong to divorce, and divorcées cannot remarry in a church marriage.

Cultural studies

Cultural studies developed in the late 20th century, in part through the re-introduction of Marxist thought into sociology, and in part through the articulation of sociology and other academic disciplines such as literary criticism. This movement aimed to focus on the analysis of subcultures in capitalist societies. Following the non-anthropological tradition, cultural studies generally focus on the study of consumption goods (such as fashion, art, and literature). Because the 18th- and 19th-century distinction between "high" and "low" culture seems inappropriate to apply to the mass-produced and mass-marketed consumption goods which cultural studies analyses, these scholars refer instead to "popular culture".

Today, some anthropologists have joined the project of cultural studies. Most, however, reject the identification of culture with consumption goods. Furthermore, many now reject the notion of culture as bounded, and consequently reject the notion of subculture. Instead, they see culture as a complex web of shifting patterns that link people in different locales and that link social formations of different scales. According to this view, any group can construct its own cultural identity.

Currently, a debate is underway regarding whether or not culture can actually change fundamental human cognition. Researchers are divided on the question.

Cultural change

Cultures, by predisposition, both embrace and resist change, depending on culture traits. For example, men and women have complementary roles in many cultures. One gender might desire changes that affect the other, as happened in the second half of the 20th century in western cultures. Thus there are both dynamic influences that encourage acceptance of new things, and conservative forces that resist change.

Three kinds of influence cause both change and resistance to it:

  1. forces at work within a society

  2. contact between societies

  3. changes in the natural environment.

Cultural change can come about due to the environment, to inventions (and other internal influences), and to contact with other cultures. For example, the end of the last ice age helped lead to the invention of agriculture, which in its turn brought about many cultural innovations. In diffusion, the form of something (though not necessarily its meaning) moves from one culture to another. For example, hamburgers, mundane in the United States, seemed exotic when introduced into China. "Stimulus diffusion" refers to an element of one culture leading to an invention in another. Diffusion of innovations theory presents a research-based model of why and when individuals and cultures adopt new ideas, practices, and products.
"Acculturation" has different meanings, but in this context refers to replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another, such as happened to certain Native American tribes and to many indigenous peoples across the globe during the process of colonization. Related processes on an individual level include assimilation (adoption of a different culture by an individual) and transculturation.

Cultural invention has come to mean any innovation that is new and found to be useful to a group of people and expressed in their behavior but which does not exist as a physical object. Humanity is in a global "accelerating culture change period", driven by the expansion of international commerce, the mass media, and above all, the human population explosion, among other factors. The world's population now doubles in less than years.

Culture change is complex and has far-ranging effects. Sociologists and anthropologists believe that a holistic approach to the study of cultures and their environments is needed to understand all of the various aspects of change. Human existence may best be looked at as a "multifaceted whole." Only from this vantage can one grasp the realities of culture change.

Culture tells us who we are.