Features October 2002
The ethnocentrism of Clifford Geertz
On our most famous anthropologist and the failures of the discipline.
From its origins in classical thought and Christianity, Western culture has always had a strong tendency towards universalism. This principle has long been expressed in the idea of the unity of human kind and the belief that all human beings had a common origin and were equal before God. During the European Enlightenment, these Christian concepts were secularized to produce the notions of a common human nature and universal human rights. At the same time, the West produced a scientific method that was so successful its practitioners assumed they had found the key that would open the way to knowledge of the universe. In other words, the universalizing principle has been one of the great strengths of Western culture and has been central to the self-assurance and development of Western civilization.
Nonetheless, there have periodically been major intellectual and social movements in the West that have rejected universalism in favor of...
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