defenition of "western civilization"

Home Forums Discuss Western Civilization to 1500 defenition of "western civilization"

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
  • Author
  • #16503

    It was said that many answers to the question to what is western are fairly new. many think of geographic and political but the answer given was that western is a civilization that has its roots in Hebrew and Greek. if someone was to ask how I came up with that answer what facts can I point to show that answer, can someone explain it more?



    Jason Jewell

    John, I think the only people who would seriously dispute this characterization are those who define Western civilization as an exclusively modern phenomenon or those who define it as an exclusively secular phenomenon. Often but not always these are the same people. These folks generally say that Western civilization begins in the Renaissance and develops through the Enlightenment. Theirs has always been a minority view.

    My short answer to these people is that 1) Western civilization is not exclusively modern because the moderns in most cases are still self-consciously engaging and interacting with the pre-modern thinkers, institutions, etc., and 2) attempts to view the West as purely secular don’t have nearly as much power to explain numerous features of Western society. The “secularization” thesis that gained so much traction among scholars in the 20th century is now being abandoned.

    I hope this helps.


    Would it be safe to assume that some would define “western civilization” as what was formerly known as Christendom?

    Jason Jewell

    Charles, it depends on what the speaker meant by “Christendom.” A definition including the Byzantine Empire, for example, might not be considered by some to be Western, although it could be considered part of Christendom. I think it hinges on whether Germanic influence is considered essential to “Western-ness.”


    In general, Western Civ. has included pagan Greece but excluded the Eastern Roman Empire, Russia, and other Orthodox lands. It has been a Catholic/Protestant construct.

    Even the term “Byzantine Empire” is symbolic of this. St. Constantine moved his empire’s capital to Constantinople in AD 330. He was a Roman, born in York, England (my mother’s family’s home), and he spoke Latin. He named his new capital “New Rome,” but the people soon called it “Konstantinoupoli” (“Constantine’s City”). They didn’t call themselves Byzantines, ever. In fact, I knew a Hellenophone woman who died within the last decade at age 93. She immigrated from Asian Turkey over 70 years ago, and she told me that in the Greek-speaking village where she was born a subject of the Sultan, the Greek-speaking people still called themselves “Romaioi” (“Romans”)– over 500 years after the Turks’ conquest of New Rome in 1453! Today’s Greeks see the use of the term “Byzantine” as intended to deny them their heritage, which they see as Roman. (Western Europeans and Americans commonly think of Greece as descended from ancient Athens, but Greeks don’t; they think of Istanbul as their captive capital, and of the Roman era — 330-1453 — as their history’s highlight.)

    The Papal Claims rest in part on the legitimacy of a pope’s decision in the 8th century to name a Frankish illiterate “emperor.” Besides that dagger to the heart of Christian unity, which was in a sense extorted from the pope, the Franks also imposed the filioque–ultimately the issue over which the papacy would break with the Orthodox — on the papacy. It is from that date that the Carolingian kingdom is “Holy Roman,” the actual Roman Empire merely “Byzantine.”

    Although the Varangians were Scandinavian, their Kievan Rus’ lies outside “Western Civ.” in the standard account as well. Why? They accepted Christianity from New Rome, not from old, in their vernacular, not in Latin, with leavened bread in the liturgy, not unleavened, and so on.

    The standard account of the Crusades omits the conquest of Orthodox bishoprics in the east, establishment of Crusader bishoprics (which remain there today) alongside the indigenous Orthodox ones in Jerusalem, Antioch, etc. This isn’t important in “Western Civ.,” which is in general an account of the Roman papacy’s cultural and religious dependencies, from the point of view of the Roman bishopric, even now, long since the secularization of modern times set in. This is why even educated American Christians seem to think that the Middle East today is a sea of Muslims with a Jewish island in the middle–and nary a Christian in sight. When roused to care about events in that area, it is usually because of an attack either on Americans or on Israel. (Certainly Israeli bulldozing of 4th-century Christian cemeteries, undermining of medieval churches, etc., does not hit American Christians’ radar.) Right here in Liberty Classroom’s forums, a subscriber named “Charles Martel” objects to the use of the word “Palestine” as a geographic designation! Absent the Muslim conquest of the Middle East, the place would still be three Christian provinces with names based on “Palestine,” and the historic Charles Martel’s significance lies in having prevented Muslims from conquering France. How ironic is that?

    This is the way people in Orthodox lands understand these events. These matters are all alive in their consciousness. Even this past week, Russian president Vladimir Putin (named for the prince who converted Russia to Orthodoxy) told the Saudis that he would grant their request to build a mosque in Moscow when they granted his request to build an Orthodox cathedral in Mecca. Of course, the Saudis will never grant such a request, as Putin well knew. He will also never grant the request for a mosque in Moscow. I suppose that in this, he is un-Western, at last.


    I wish we had a thumbs up button for posts here that were helpful, to let you know we’re reading it and found it useful; however for the meantime I’ll just say, some great discussion here, thank you!


    You’re 100% welcome.


    Kevin, thanks for this perspective. I just finished reading The Deluge by Adam Tooze and he mentions the notorious Treaty of Lausanne which eliminated the Greeks from Anatolia. I wish better history were taught. that is why i joined Liberty Classroom!! 🙂


    Again, you are entirely welcome.

    On the Christians of the contemporary Middle East, I highly recommend Dalrymple’s _From the Holy Mountain_.. It is the story of one traveler’s trek from Mount Athos through all the countries of the Levant to most distant Egypt. By turns, it is inspirational, fascinating, and heartbreaking.


    Very interesting discussion here. Your long answer was great to read, Mr. Gutzman. It calls to mind when our family lived in Taiwan for a while. As I was still teaching the youngest of our children (ages 12-16) at home, we took this opportunity to study Chinese history. The Chinese view themselves as “the center” of everything (as we all tend to), which is reflected in their name for themselves, literally “middle people.” So much evaluation of history has to do with the perspective of who is talking.


    Yes, indeed.

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.