Western culture

Western culture, through most of its history, has been nearly equivalent to Christian culture, and a large portion of the population of the Western hemisphere can be described as cultural Christians. The notion of "Europe" and the "Western World" has been intimately connected with the concept of "Christianity and Christendom" many even credit the synthesis of a unified European identity to Christianity.[1]
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De architectura.
Plato, along with Socrates and Aristotle, helped to establish Western philosophy.
Apollo, seen as the most beautiful god and the ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth).[2] The earliest depictions of Jesus Christ would also be beardless and haloed.

Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies that originated in or are associated with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are of European descent. Western culture has its roots in Greco-Roman culture from classical antiquity (see Western canon).

Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of many elements of Western culture, including the development of a democratic system of government and major advances in philosophy, science and mathematics. The expansion of Greek culture into the Hellenistic world of the eastern Mediterranean led to a synthesis between Greek and Near-Eastern cultures,[3] and major advances in literature, engineering, and science, and provided the culture for the expansion of early Christianity and the Greek New Testament.[4][5][6] This period overlapped with and was followed by Rome, which made key contributions in law, government, engineering and political organization.[7] The concept of a "West" dates back to the Roman Empire, where there was a cultural divide between the Greek East and Latin West, a divide that later continued in Medieval Europe between the Catholic Latin Church west and the "Greek" Eastern Orthodox east.

Western culture is characterized by a host of artistic, philosophic, literary and legal themes and traditions. Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church,[8][9][10] Protestantism[11][12] the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Oriental Orthodoxy,[13][14] has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization since at least the 4th century,[15][16][17][18][19] as did Judaism.[20][21][22][23] Before the Cold War era, the traditional English viewpoint identified Western civilization with the Western Christian (CatholicProtestant) countries and culture.[24][1] A cornerstone of Western thought, beginning in ancient Greece and continuing through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, is the idea of rationalism in various spheres of life developed by Hellenistic philosophy, scholasticism and humanism. The Catholic Church was for centuries at the center of the development of the values, ideas, science, laws and institutions which constitute Western civilization.[25][26] Empiricism later gave rise to the scientific method, the scientific revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment.

Western culture continued to develop with the Christianisation of Europe during the Middle Ages, the reforms triggered by the Renaissance of the 12th century and 13th century under the influence of the Islamic world via Al-Andalus and Sicily (including the transfer of technology from the East, and Latin translations of Arabic texts on science and philosophy),[27][28][29] and the Italian Renaissance as Greek scholars fleeing the fall of the Byzantine Empire brought classical traditions and philosophy.[30] Medieval Christianity is credited with creating the modern university,[31][32] the modern hospital system,[33] scientific economics,[34][26] and natural law (which would later influence the creation of international law).[35] Christianity played a role in ending practices common among pagan societies, such as human sacrifice, slavery,[36] infanticide and polygamy.[37] The globalization by successive European colonial empires spread European ways of life and European educational methods around the world between the 16th and 20th centuries.[citation needed] European culture developed with a complex range of philosophy, medieval scholasticism, mysticism and Christian and secular humanism.[38][page needed] Rational thinking developed through a long age of change and formation, with the experiments of the Enlightenment and breakthroughs in the sciences. Tendencies that have come to define modern Western societies include the concept of political pluralism, individualism, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements) and increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration.

Terminology

Post-1990 Huntington's major civilizations (Western is colored dark blue).[39]

The West as a geographical area is unclear and undefined. More often a country's ideology is what will be used to categorize it as a Western society. There is some disagreement about what nations should or should not be included in the category and at what times. Many parts of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire are considered Western today but were considered Eastern in the past. However, in the past it was also the Eastern Roman Empire that had many features now seen as "Western," preserving Roman law, which was first codified by Justinian in the east,[40] as well as the traditions of scholarship around Plato, Aristotle, and Euclid that were later introduced to Italy during the Renaissance by Greek scholars fleeing the fall of Constantinople.[30] Thus, the culture identified with East and West itself interchanges with time and place (from the ancient world to the modern). Geographically, the "West" of today would include Europe (especially the states that collectively form the European Union) together with extra-European territories belonging to the English-speaking world, the Hispanidad, the Lusosphere; and the Francophonie in the wider context. Since the context is highly biased and context-dependent, there is no agreed definition what the "West" is.

It is difficult to determine which individuals fit into which category and the East–West contrast is sometimes criticized as relativistic and arbitrary.[41][42][43][page needed] Globalism has spread Western ideas so widely that almost all modern cultures are, to some extent, influenced by aspects of Western culture. Stereotyped views of "the West" have been labeled Occidentalism, paralleling Orientalism—the term for the 19th-century stereotyped views of "the East".

As Europeans discovered the wider world, old concepts adapted. The area that had formerly been considered the Orient ("the East") became the Near East as the interests of the European powers interfered with Meiji Japan and Qing China for the first time in the 19th century.[44] Thus the Sino-Japanese War in 1894–1895 occurred in the Far East while the troubles surrounding the decline of the Ottoman Empire simultaneously occurred in the Near East.[a] The term Middle East in the mid-19th century included the territory east of the Ottoman Empire, but West of China—Greater Persia and Greater India—is now used synonymously with "Near East" in most languages.