The Unifying Aspects of Cultures


The image of the "Other" in the contacts of Europe, Asia, Africa and America

Chair of the section/Suggestions, Abstracts, Papers to:
Email: Agata S. Nalborczyk (Warsaw)
The language of the section: English

ABSTRACT: Our own cultural baggage plays a very important role in the contacts between members of different civilizations, cultures and religions. It exerts a significant influence on the image of representatives/exponents of another culture or civilization. It may be helpful in such contacts, but more frequently it forms a hindrance.

The real contact with representatives of another culture does not need to be an essential part in the formation process of the image of "the other". Value judgment placed on the elements of that image (e.g. physical features of a representative of another culture) can bear a completely irrational character.

The image of another culture and its representatives may be created and used for different purposes. It can be used to define and defend one's own identity in the opposition to the others, as it happened in the process of Europe's identity creation in opposition to Islam. Construction of the image of "the other" can be motivated by a wish to get to know the other and his/her culture. It can also serve to strengthen an a priori formed opinion, e.g. in propaganda pamphlets or speeches (inciting to fighting, as it happened before the Crusades), moralizing literature (Islam as the image of evil of all religions in Voltaire's writings), and educative texts ("Persian letters" by Montesqieu). Then, creation of a particular image of "the other" can fulfill a desire for fleeing from the reality into an exotic world (to the romantic world of "The Arabian Nights", sensuous world of harems, etc.), or simply the image of the other is searched and shaped into a well selling sensation (e.g. reports on the tragic fate of women in the Muslim world).

We come into contact with representatives of other cultures and civilizations with an increasing frequency as a result of globalization, migration and the accessibility of contemporary mass media. Becoming aware of these images of "the other", their content and potentially distorting message they convey forms the first step towards initiating and deepening of intercultural dialogue. This dialogue plays an important role in the perspective of challenges that confront our world, including the threat of the "clash of civilizations".