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- For this article's equivalent regarding the East, see Eastern culture
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, andphilosophical principles which set it apart from other great 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, sexual hedonism, imperialism, modernism, or the teaching of Western civilization.
The origins of Western Culture are often cited as ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and Catholic and Protestant Christianity, and as such, some describe it as "Judeo-Christian culture." However, its source also lies prominently in the Germanic, Slavic and Celtic popular cultures that took part in the formation of the culture of medieval Europe.
- Roman Catholicism
- Age of Enlightenment
- Scientific method
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. Roman culture mixed with Germanic, Slavic cultures, and Celtic culture but, after the fall of Rome, much Greco-Roman art, literature, and science were lost or displaced.
With the rise of Roman Catholic Christianity, the Bible became the central piece of Western literature, affecting to some extent all fields within Western culture: art, law, philosophy, education, and politics. The Roman Catholic Church founded many seminaries, which grew into today's universities and colleges, and actively encouraged the spreading of Christianity, which help spread early Western culture in general. Owing to the influence of Arab culture—a culture that had preserved the knowledge of ancient 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.
Renaissance Western culture was spread to the New World and beyond in the 1500s by explorers, colonists, traders, and missionaries. The Enlightenment of the 1700s, in turn, culminated in the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The ideas of civil rights, equality before the law, procedural justice, and democracy as the ideal form of society, were put into practice for the first time. Today, those principles form the basis of modern Western culture.
In the 1800s, the United States began to assert itself in Western culture and, by the early 1900s, had become the dominant influence, flooding the rest of the Western world and beyond with American fashion, entertainment, technology, and politics. Today in the Western world, Socratic philosophy mixes with Shakespeare's language, Levi Strauss fashion, Henry Ford industry, Thomas Edison innovation, and Bill Gates technology to present BBC news and Hollywood entertainment.
Elements of Western culture have had a very influential role on other cultures worldwide. People of many cultures, both Western and non-Western, equate "modernization" with "westernization," but many non-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 "modernization" were developed in the Western world. Whether these technological and social patterns are 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 "modernization" 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.
Because of its nature as the foundation of the culture, the art, literature, and history of Western countries have dominated school curriculums in the Americas and Europe almost exclusively. Beginning in the 1970s and accelerating in the 1990s, a new cultural awareness called multiculturalism in the U.S. and elsewhere began to encourage the study of African and Eastern culture, history, and art.
Beyond art and politics
Aside from food, literature, art, music, religion, and politics, many aspects of Western culture differ from other cultures around the world.
- Freedom as the most important value, which leads to a wide variety of subcultures.
- A strong ability for technological innovation coupled with a belief in progress
- A strong sense of personal privacy and civil rights
- A somewhat casual attitude toward sex and permanent monogamy
- A sense of personal honor or shame that rarely leads to dutiful suicide or honor killings
- A strong consensus that political corruption is economically inefficient
- A focus on the nuclear family, as opposed to extended family
A distinctive feature of the Western World 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. The Otto and the Diesel internal combustion engines are products whose genesis and early development were in the West. Nuclear power stations were invented in Chicago. The electrical dynamo, transformer, and motor, electric light, and indeed virtually all 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, the internet and the web can all be credited to the West. The ubiquitous materials such as concrete, aluminum, clear glass, synthetic rubber, and the plastics polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, among others, are all inventions of the West. Iron and steel ships, bridges and skyscraper first appeared in the West. Vaccination, anesthesia, MRI, the birth control pill, and all the pure antibiotics were discovered in the West. The transistor, integrated circuits, the memory chip, computers, mouse and magnetic disk drives were all first seen in the West. The pencil, ballpoint pen, CRT, LCD, LED, Kodak, Xerox, laser printer and plasma display screen were too. The ship's chronometer, the engine powered screw propeller, the locomotive, bicycle, automobile, and airplane were all invented in the West. Eyeglasses, the telescope, and the light and electron microscope, all the varieties of chromatography, protein and DNA sequencing, computerized tomography, NMR, x-rays, and light, ultraviolet and infrared spectroscopy, were all first developed and applied in Western laboratories, hospitals and factories. 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.
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.
- "I think it would be a good idea." - Response to "What is your opinion of Western civilisation?", a quotation popularly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
- Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture by Jonathan Dollimore
- Max Weber
- Michel Foucault
- Norbert Elias
- Western World
- Collectivist and individualist culturesfr:Civilisation occidentale
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