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In his article, “The Case for Contamination”, Kwame Anthony Appiah presents an interesting argument towards the development of an understanding of views, cultures and perspectives rather than an imposition of what many believe to be the “correct” method of living life and practicing aspects related to culture and religion.
Culture, in the view of Appiah, is an ever shifting aspect of a society that changes as time goes on. While it may be true that there are cultural traditions that have passed the test of time, such as in the case of the Igorot tribe within the Philippines, the fact remains that the “traditional” aspects that many perceive as a form of cultural heritage of various societies at the present may in fact have been heavily influenced by previous cultures and cannot be considered truly traditional or even original.
Evidence of this within the article can be seen in the case where numerous West African prints and garments made of silk that are produced within the Bonwire region actually have their origins in the trading routes of Europe and Asia. It is this and other such examples throughout the world that is clear evidence that cultures change over time and adapt to new developments within their external environments.
Thus, from the perspective of Appiah, the current practices of cultural preservation that are being attempted through international organizations such as UNESCO are inherently flawed since they attempt to force people towards a particular type of culture that is not subject to change when in fact change is what defines it and makes it all the more interesting.
It is this disdain towards the concept of imposition that forms the foundation of Appiah’s argument against the neo-fundamentalists and their concept of the “ummah”. For Appiah, it is the intolerant universalism within some religions that is incompatible with modern society since such aspects have often resulted in some of the greatest tragedies and conflicts seen in the world today.
Religion in Appiah’s Analysis
Within the analysis of Appiah, he presents the notion that the universal intolerance or partial tolerance advocated by various religions cannot result in any significant positive results within the current global community. The main essence of his paper is that people should be given a choice regarding what they wish to do, how they wish to portray themselves as and the means by which they choose to express their faith.
By creating a certain degree of imposition, as seen in the case of various international organizations imposing international treaties of cultural preservation on local populations, this in effect prevents local cultures and societies from evolving and adapting.
This, in the words of Appiah, can result in the death of a culture since a stagnant non-evolving culture with the same views and perspectives does not represent a condition that is at all comparable to their potential as an evolving society that could potentially produce great things within the near future.
One way of looking at this particular point of view is from the perspective of Geaves who explored cultural evolution within the Asian region. Geaves states that change is an inherent and necessary aspect of any culture since through change cultures tend to adapt to shifts within their external environments (Geaves 427).
A society’s cultural traditions can thus be considered as a response mechanism that adapts to changes within a society as well as in their external environment. Without this mechanism in place, it is likely that no significant achievements could be reached resulting in a stagnant society that can in effect be considered “dead”.
Another facet of Appiah’s analysis involving religions is his view that the neo-fundamentalist movement is actually mistaken in its perception regarding the Western culture as a form of adverse influence. Globalization has indeed resulted in the effective distribution and subsequent proliferation of various facets of Western culture with television shows being the most evident type of westernization.
It must be noted though that Appiah indicates that while people all around the world view various aspects of Western media, they are not the blank slates that various groups make them out to be. In fact, within the article it can clearly be seen that various television shows are interpreted under the context of the viewer’s own personal and cultural perspectives and are even utilized as a means of exploring various facets of their own culture.
The fact is that people do not necessarily need to be dictated to in order to know what is and what is not right. Appiah explains that this is one of the inherent problems within religions (particularly the neo-fundamentalists) wherein they believe that their views are right and must be followed.
For Appiah, views, perspectives and various aspects related to faith are factors which are fundamental to all individuals and should not be superimposed through a generalized perspective as imposed by some religions. A better method would be for all individuals, regardless of race, class or location, to enter into a relationship of mutual respect for views.
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Appiah states that it is not necessary for people to wholly accept the viewpoints of other cultures; rather, it is more of a practice of understanding regarding their perspective and to respect it. Thus, from the perspective of Appiah, some aspects of religion are actually detrimental towards creating peace and understanding between various societies since it facilitates divisiveness.
Similarity/Difference in Approaches
It is quite interesting to note that when examining the various countries where European colonization occurred, it can be seen that religious fervor and the proliferation of devout followers is a common theme among such countries at the present.
Beek explains this current predilection by stating that in order to overtake the cultures and original religions that used to play important roles in such cultures, European colonizers utilized religious conversion as a means by which the local populace could be influenced and, as a result, subvert the practices that were in existence at the time with something more akin to what the European colonizers wanted (Beek 3-36).
The present day fervor seen in various South American countries as well as in the Philippines is clear evidence of the effectiveness of such a tactic. Based on the article by Appiah, I can state that such practices should not have occurred in the first place and must be considered a tragedy since it actually resulted in a distinct loss for global cultural diversity.
When taking into consideration the negative view Appiah has towards imposition, I wholeheartedly agree that the imposition of views, especially in the case of the preservation of cultural traditions and religions, does not result in a positive effect. Instead, what occurs is the destruction of a local culture all for the sake of proving the righteousness behind particular ideas such as in the case of particular religions.
What is known as culture to most people is actually a dynamic process that constantly changes over the years into different iterations. To a certain extent it can be stated that the different cultural periods throughout history are nothing more than stages in a development cycle that never truly ends. It is based on this perspective that the cultural distinctions that we have at the present will very likely undergo even more changes in the coming years into something completely different to our present day experience of culture.
Thus, to impose a perspective such as those by the neo-fundamentalists and various religions can actually be thought of as the creation of a static rather than a dynamic environment which would be detrimental towards humanity’s continued development. Evidence of this can be seen in the “dark ages” within Europe wherein religion and its imposition of particular views and ways of thought actually resulted in a period of little cultural development or societal evolution.
Based on the analysis conducted of the Appiah article, I can conclude that it is the intolerant universalism within some religions that is incompatible with modern society since such aspects have often resulted in some of the greatest tragedies and conflicts seen in the world today.
This was the point regarding religions that Appiah was trying to make and I have to admit that I wholeheartedly agree with him given historical and present day examples which show how religious intolerance has actually resulted in tragedy after tragedy in an endless cycle of hate and intolerance.
Beek, Walter. “Mormon Europeans Or European Mormons? An “Afro-European” View On Religious Colonization.” Dialogue: A Journal Of Mormon Thought. 38.4 (2005): 3-36. MasterFILE Premier. Web.
Geaves, Ron. “The Religious Traditions Of Asia/Christians, Cultural Interactions, And India’s Religious Traditions.” Contemporary South Asia. 12.3 (2003): 427. Academic Search Premier. Web.