The Unifying Aspects of Cultures

Remarks on the INST-Projekt

Cultural processes always cross borders.(1) Their borders result from constructs, which serve and have served different goals in individuals, societies and states.(2) In the 19th and 20th centuries it was above all the national states that tried to make use of cultures for their own purposes.(3) But even ideas that cross borders can by all means be combined with cultural exclusions and strategies of powe.(4)

In many places in the 20th century, however, there began reorientations, which were not restricted to the marginal areas of social processes.(5) The processes have stood out above all by the distinct forms they have assume in spreading out to other continents(6) and in globalization.(7) These processes are therefore not only shaped by the media, Internet, stock exchanges and financial sources, arts, sciences and research, religions, tourism and commerce, technologies and the structures of texts, but also by drinks, foods, clothes and dwellings as well as by forms of interstate cooperative efforts or transnational agreements, respectively.

In these times of transformation, cultures began to play an increasingly important role in both a negative and positive sense.(8) Negative, by being used to manipulate and exploit people(9), to arouse hostility toward enemies(10) and to prepare for and conduct wars(11). Positive, by becoming the basis for global cooperation.(12) And in each case they were completely divided and in opposition among themselves.(13)

In these processes today, cultural ideas are combined in a new way with global processes. For example, in the developing programs of UNESCO human rights play a central role.(14) This emphasis is of fundamental importance, because, since the KSZE-process, human rights specifically have become a basic issue, shared and recognized by all nations of the world. The matter of human rights has also proven capable of lending support to many other areas, which are involved in developing civil societies. Thus UNESCO regards culture as a central factor in the processes of democratization, but at the same time also as an aspect of social and economic development. In this connection, human rights, creativity, solidarity, and development are key words. And for UNESCO culture is also the key element for peace:

"[...] the connection between culture and knowledge made UNESCO central in the quest of achieving peace; the connection between culture and politics made cultural identity crucial to the quest for political independence; the connection between culture and development allowed new countries to build economic power and to assert themselves on the world stage; and the connection between culture and democracy focused attention on intra-state as well as inter-state cultural relations. Now, approaching the twenty-first century, the implicit connection between culture and security may also serve to reinforce the importance of positive intercultural relations as a cornerstone of international peace, with all of the financial and administrative support this priority requires."(15)

The INST-Project "The Unifying Aspects of Cultures" could play a complementary role in these processes, by making available a global platform and employing the influence of languages and arts. Through their reciprocal relationships with and as part of history, society, economy, politics and other areas, they will serve as unifying elements in these complex processes. Precisely the open structure of this project, which does not combine scholarship with economics, but which exerts its influence solely by making the scholarly exchange of information possible, offers great opportunities.

This possibility of facilitating open exchange of information is also the goal of the Online-Projects "Encyclopedia of Multilingual Humanities", the Online Research Cooperation (ORC) "International Humanities" [], and also a project like "The Names of the Mountains", which exists virtually as well as in reality.

The central issue, however, remains understanding. Only personal encounters can result in new forms of appreciation for cooperative efforts. In this sense both of the INST-Conferences in 2002 and 2003 feature the key elements of the project "The Unifying Aspects of Cultures" - as transnational and transdisciplinary encounters.

(1)  See, for example, the UNESCO-Document: Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development, (1995), which presents ten shared main themes.

(2) See, for example, Eric Hobsbawm/Terence Ranger (eds.): The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge 1983. And: Eric Hobsbawm: Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge 1990. Or: Martin Bernal: Black Athena. The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. London 1991.

(3) For more on interstate (cultural) relations, see, for example: Edward W. Said: Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. London 1991.

(4) Thus in the novel "Der Herbst des Patriarchen" by Gabriel García Márquez (Cologne 1978), the five generations during the reign of terror of the great dictator are not limited to one state. But neither was the persecution of Salman Rushdie and his literary work restricted to one country.

(5) An example of this is the "Agreement of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union" (Luxemburg: Office for official publications of the European Communities 2001).

(6) This kind of expansion played a leading role initially in the strategies of Gorbatschow's bi- and multilateral negotiations, whenever it was a matter of solving problems that crossed borders. Michail Gorbatschow: Perestroika. Die zweite russische Revolution. Eine neue Politik für Europa und die Welt. München 1987. (Perestroika: The Second Russian Revolution. A New Politics for Europe and the World). In Huntington (Kampf der Kulturen, München, Wien 1997) (Clash of Civilizations) this concept of structure emerges again in negative form - as a limitation of (unavoidable) fields of conflict. Nevertheless - looking beyond the headlines - continentalization (continents working together), not only in the economy, but also in terms of working out model solutions to conflicts, appears to be playing an increasingly important role recently in employing the process of cooperation as a means of avoiding conflicts.

(7) A complex analysis is to be found in: "Globale Trends 2002. Fakten, Analysen und Prognosen" (Global Trends 2002. Facts, Analyses and Prognoses). Edited by Ingomar Hauchler, Dirk Messner und Franz Nuscheler. Frankfurt am Main 2001. Here one can also find above all an abundance of materials, statistics and reflections on "Global Governance".

(8) See: Edward W. Said: Culture and Imperialism. London 1994. It seems to be the main intent of the book to insure that the negative (destructive) forms of opposition and resistance are analyzed. Precisely because of this approach the presentations are fair to the contradictory circumstances.

(9) On our contemporary age, see: Frederic Jameson: Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London 1991.

(10) An excellent example of this is the monumental drama of Karl Kraus: Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind).

(11) On this point see: Bertolt Brecht: Kriegsfibel (Primer for War). Berlin 1977.

(12) Cultural elements such as writing and pictures are the basis for the exchange of information, which leads to the enrichment of human life. Not by chance has UNESCO coined and publicized the concept "Culture of Peace," - a concept, which indicates clearly the potential productive role of culture.

(13) Thus the understanding of other cultures (gained, for example, by means of translations) can not only serve the preservation of peace, but also the wielding of authority. See: Anil Bhatti: Zum Verhältnis von Sprache, Übersetzung und Kolonialismus am Beispiel Indiens (On the Relationship of Language, Translation and Colonialism, Based on the Example of India. In: Horst Turk/Anil Bhatti (Eds.): Kulturelle Identität. Deutsch-indische Kulturkontakte in Literatur, Religion und Politik (Cultural Identity. German-Indian Cultural Contacts in Literature, Religion and Politics). Berlin 1997, p.3ff. See also: Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks. New York 1967.

(14) Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Adopted by the 31st Session of UNESCO's General Conference on 2 November 2001.

(15) Katérina Stenou: UNESCO and the Issue of Cultural Diversity. Review and strategy, 1946-2000. Paris 2000.