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Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Western lifestyle or European civilization, is a term used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe. The term has come to apply to countries whose history is strongly marked by European immigration, colonisation, and influence, such as the continent of the Americas and Australasia, and is not restricted to the continent of Europe.
Western culture is characterized by a host of artistic, philosophic, literary, and legal themes and traditions; the heritage of Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Jewish, Slavic, Latin, and other ethnic and linguistic groups, as well as Christianity, more specifically the Catholic Church, which played an important part in the shaping of Western civilization since at least the 4th century. Also contributing to Western thought, in ancient times and then in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance onwards, a tradition of rationalism in various spheres of life, developed by Hellenistic philosophy, Scholasticism, humanism, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. Values of Western culture have, throughout history, been derived from political thought, widespread employment of rational argument favouring freethought, assimilation of human rights, the need for equality, and democracy. Historical records of Western culture in Europe begin with Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Western culture continued to develop with Christianisation during the Middle Ages, the reform and modernization triggered by the Renaissance, and with globalization by successive European empires, that spread European ways of life and European educational methods around the world between the 16th and 20th centuries. European culture developed with a complex range of philosophy, medieval scholasticism and mysticism, and Christian and secular humanism. Rational thinking developed through a long age of change and formation, with the experiments of the Enlightenment, and breakthroughs in the sciences. With its global connection, European culture grew with an all-inclusive urge to adopt, adapt, and ultimately influence other cultural trends around the world. Tendencies that have come to define modern Western societies include the existence of political pluralism, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements), and increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 History
- 3 Cultural forms
- 4 Media
- 5 Religion
- 6 Sport
- 7 Scientific and technological inventions and discoveries
- 8 Themes and traditions
- 9 Widespread influence
- 10 Maps
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The Greeks contrasted themselves to their Eastern neighbours, such as the Trojans in Iliad, setting an example for later contrasts between east and west. In the Middle Ages, the Near East provided a contrast to the West, though Hellenized since the time of Alexander the Great, and ruled from Rome and Constantinople.
In the early 21st century, with increasing globalism, it has become more difficult to determine which individuals fit into which category, and the East–West contrast is sometimes criticized as relativistic and arbitrary.
Globalism has spread Western ideas so widely that almost all modern cultures are, to some extent, influenced by aspects of Western culture. Recent stereotyped views of "the West" have been labelled Occidentalism, paralleling Orientalism — the term for the 19th-century stereotyped views of "the East".
Boundaries of countries that constitute "the West" remain unclear. Geographically, the "West" of today would include Europe (especially the European Union countries) together with extraeuropean territories belonging to the Anglosphere, as well as the Hispanidad, the Lusosphere or the Francophonie in the wider context. Since the context is highly biased and context-dependent, there is no agreed definition what the "West" is.
Western culture is neither homogeneous nor unchanging. As with all other cultures it has evolved and gradually changed over time. All generalities about it have their exceptions at some time and place. The organisation and tactics of the Greek Hoplites differed in many ways from the Roman legions. The polis of the Greeks is not the same as the American superpower of the 21st century. The gladiatorial games of the Roman Empire are not identical to present-day football. The art of Pompeii is not the art of Hollywood. Nevertheless, it is possible to follow the evolution and history of the West, and appreciate its similarities and differences, its borrowings from, and contributions to, other cultures of humanity.
Concepts of what is the West arose out of legacies of the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. Later, ideas of the west were formed by the concepts of Latin Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire. What we think of as Western thought today originates primarily from Greco-Roman and Germanic influences, and includes the ideals of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, as well as Christian culture. The West as a geographical area, of populations, is less clear. There is some disagreement about what nations should or should not be included in the category, and at what times. Many parts of the Eastern Roman Empire are considered Western today, but were obviously Eastern in the past.
The Classical West
In Homeric literature, and right up until the time of Alexander the Great, for example in the accounts of the Persian Wars of Greeks against Persians by Herodotus, we see the paradigm of a contrast between the West and East.
Nevertheless the Greeks felt they were the most civilized and saw themselves (in the formulation of Aristotle) as something between the wild barbarians of most of Europe and the soft, slavish Middle-Easterners. Ancient Greek science, philosophy, democracy, architecture, literature, and art provided a foundation embraced and built upon by the Roman Empire as it swept up Europe, including the Hellenic World in its conquests in the 1st century BC. In the meantime however, Greece, under Alexander, had become a capital of the East, and part of an empire.
For about five hundred years, the Roman Empire maintained the Greek East and consolidated a Latin West, but an East-West division remained, reflected in many cultural norms of the two areas, including language. Although Rome, like Greece, was no longer democratic, the idea of democracy remained a part of the education of citizens.
Eventually the empire became increasingly split into a Western and Eastern part, reviving old ideas of a contrast between an advanced East, and a rugged West. In the Roman world one could speak of three main directions; North (Celtic tribes and Parthians), the East (lux ex oriente), and finally South, which implied danger, historically via the Punic wars (Quid novi ex Africa?) The West was peaceful – it contained only the Mediterranean.
Christianity emerged from Judaism on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and both spread around the Roman world, with Christianity being the more popular religion. With the rise of Christianity, much of Rome's tradition and culture were reshaped by that religion, and transformed into something new, which would serve as the basis for the development of Western civilization after the fall of Rome. Also, Roman culture mixed with the pre-existing Celtic, Germanic and Slavic cultures, which slowly became integrated into Western culture starting, mainly, with their acceptance of Christianity.
The Medieval West
The Medieval West was at its broadest the same as Christendom, including both the "Latin" or "Frankish" West, and the Orthodox Eastern part, where Greek remained the language of empire. After the crowning of Charlemagne, Charlemagne's part of Europe was referred to by its neighbors in Byzantium and the Muslim world as "Frankish".
After the fall of Rome much of Greco-Roman art, literature, science and even technology were all but lost in the western part of the old empire, centered around Italy, and Gaul (France). However, this would become the centre of a new West. Europe fell into political anarchy, with many warring kingdoms and principalities. Under the Frankish kings, it eventually, and partially, reunified, and the anarchy evolved into feudalism. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by the Pope in 800. His reign is associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is numbered as Charles I in the regnal lists of France, Germany (where he is known as Karl der Große), and the Holy Roman Empire. The re-establishment of a Western "Roman" imperium challenged the status of the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople and strained relations between them.
Much of the basis of the post-Roman cultural world had been set before the fall of the Empire, mainly through the integration and reshaping of Roman ideas through Christian thought. The Greek and Roman paganism had been completely replaced by Christianity around the 4th and 5th centuries, since it became the official State religion following the baptism of emperor Constantine I. Roman Catholic Christianity and the Nicene Creed served as a unifying force in Christian parts of Europe, and in some respects replaced or competed with the secular authorities. Art and literature, law, education, and politics were preserved in the teachings of the Church, in an environment that, otherwise, would have probably seen their loss. The Church founded many cathedrals, universities, monasteries and seminaries, some of which continue to exist today. In the Medieval period, the route to power for many men was in the Church.
In a broader sense, the Middle Ages, with its fertile encounter between Greek philosophical reasoning and Levantine monotheism was not confined to the West but also stretched into the old East. The philosophy and science of Classical Greece was largely forgotten in Europe after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, other than in isolated monastic enclaves (notably in Ireland, which had become Christian but was never conquered by Rome). Although the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (the last Emperor to speak Latin as a first tongue) closed the Academy in AD 529 (a date that is often cited as the end of Antiquity), the learning of Classical Antiquity was better preserved in the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital at Constantinople stood for another millennium, before being captured by the Ottoman Turks. Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis Roman civil law code was preserved in the East and Constantinople maintained trade and intermittent political control over outposts such as Venice in the West for centuries. Classical Greek learning was also subsumed, preserved and elaborated in the rising Eastern world, which gradually supplanted Roman-Byzantine control over the Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa, Iberia and even Greece itself – becoming a dominant cultural-political force in those regions. Thus, from the margins of the Roman world much of the learning of classical antiquity was slowly reintroduced to European civilisation in the centuries following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Irish missionaries such as St Columba propagated the learning of Christianity and Latin in Christianised parts of Europe during the Early Medieval Period and Byzantine Greeks and Arabs reintroduced texts from Antiquity into Europe during the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance of the 12th century, in Italy and Spain.
The rediscovery of the Justinian Code in Western Europe early in the 10th century rekindled a passion for the discipline of law, which crossed many of the re-forming boundaries between East and West. Eventually, it was only in the Catholic or Frankish west, that Roman law became the foundation on which all legal concepts and systems were based. Its influence can be traced to this day in all Western legal systems (although in different manners and to different extents in the common (England) and the civil (continental European) legal traditions). The study of canon law, the legal system of the Catholic Church, fused with that of Roman law to form the basis of the refounding of Western legal scholarship. During the Reformation and Enlightenment, the ideas of civil rights, equality before the law, equality of women, procedural justice, and democracy as the ideal form of society began to be institutionalized as principles forming the basis of modern Western culture, particularly in Protestant regions.
The West actively encouraged the spreading of Christianity, which was inexorably linked to the spread of Western culture. The rise of a competing culture, that of Islam, caused Europeans to react, often militarily, but also in other ways, such as trade through the Italian maritime republics. Europeans translated many Arabic texts into Latin during the Middle Ages. Later, with the fall of Constantinople and the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire, followed by a massive exodus of Greek Christian priests and scholars to Italian cities such as Venice, bringing with them as many scripts from the Byzantine archives as they could, scholars' interest for the Greek language and its classic works, topics and lost files, was revived. This revival eventually led to the beginnings of the Renaissance. From the late 15th century to the 17th century, Western culture began to spread to other parts of the world through the vehicle of intrepid explorers and missionaries during the Age of Discovery, and by imperialists from the 17th century to the early 20th century.
The Modern Era
Coming into the modern era, the historical understanding of the East-West contrast – as the opposition of Christendom to its geographical neighbors – began to weaken. As religion became less important, and Europeans came into increasing contact with far away peoples, the old concept of Western culture began a slow evolution towards what it is today. The Early Modern "Age of Discovery," first led by Portugal and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries with France, England and the Dutch Republic following in the 17th century, faded into the "Age of Enlightenment" of the 18th century, characterized by the military advantage of Europeans from the development of firearms and other military technologies. The "Great Divergence" became more pronounced, making the West the bearer of science and the accompanying revolutions of technology and industrialisation. Western political thinking also spread rapidly and in many forms around the world. With the early 19th-century "Age of Revolution", the West entered a period of empires, massive economic and technological advance, and bloody international conflicts, that continued into the 20th century.
As Europe discovered the wider world, old concepts adapted. The area that had formerly been considered "the Orient" ("the East") became the "Near East", as the interests of the European powers interfered with Qing China and Meiji Japan for the first time, in the 19th century. Thus, the Sino-Japanese War in 1894–1895 occurred in the "Far East", while the troubles surrounding the decline of the Ottoman Empire simultaneously occurred in the "Near East". The term "Middle East", in the mid-19th century, included the territory east of the Ottoman empire but West of China - i.e. Greater Persia and Greater India, but is now used synonymously with: "Near East" in most languages.
Some cultural and artistic modalities are characteristically Western in origin and form. While dance, music, visual art, story-telling, and architecture are human universals, they are expressed in the West in certain characteristic ways.
In Western dance, music, plays and other arts, the performers are only very infrequently masked. There are essentially no taboos against depicting a god, or other religious figures, in a representational fashion.
The symphony, concerto, sonata, opera and oratorio have their origins in Italy. Many important musical instruments used by cultures all over the world were also developed in the West; among them are the violin, piano, pipe organ, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, accordion, and the theremin. The solo piano, symphony orchestra and the string quartet are also important performing musical forms.
Many forms of popular music have been derived from African-Americans, and their innovations of jazz and blues serve as the basis from which much of modern popular music derives. Folklore and music during 19th and 20th centuries, initially by themselves, but later played and further developed together with White and Black Americans, British people, and Westerners in general. These include jazz, blues and rock music (that in a wider sense include the rock and roll and heavy metal genres), rhythm and blues, funk, Hip-Hop, techno as well as the ska and reggae genres from Jamaica. Several other related or derived styles were developed and introduced by Western pop culture such as pop, metal and dance music.
Painting and photography
Jan van Eyck, among other renaissance painters, made great advances in oil painting, and perspective drawings and paintings had their earliest practitioners in Florence. In art, the Celtic knot is a very distinctive Western repeated motif. Depictions of the nude human male and female in photography, painting and sculpture are frequently considered to have special artistic merit. Realistic portraiture is especially valued.
Photography, and the motion picture as both a technology and basis for entirely new art forms, were also developed in the West.
Dance and performing arts
The ballet is a distinctively Western form of performance dance. The ballroom dance is an important Western variety of dance for the elite. The polka, the square dance, and the Irish step dance are very well known Western forms of folk dance.
The soap opera, a popular culture dramatic form, originated in the United States first on radio in the 1930s, then a couple of decades later on television. The music video was also developed in the West in the middle of the 20th century.
While epic literary works in verse such as the Mahabharata and Homer's Iliad are ancient and occurred worldwide, the prose novel as a distinct form of storytelling, with developed, consistent human characters and, typically, some connected overall plot (although both of these characteristics have sometimes been modified and played with in later times), was popularized by the West in the 17th and 18th centuries. Of course extended prose fiction had existed much earlier; both novels of adventure and romance in the Hellenistic world and in Heian Japan. Both Petronius' Satyricon (ca 60 CE) and the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (ca 1000 CE) have been cited as the world's first major novel but they had very limited long-term impact on literary writing beyond their own day until much more recent times.
Tragedy, from its ritually and mythologically inspired Greek origins to modern forms where struggle and downfall are often rooted in psychological or social, rather than mythical, motives, is also widely considered a specifically European creation, and can be seen as a forerunner of some aspects of both the novel and of classical opera.
Homer, Ancient Greek epic poet
Dante Alighieri, Italian writer and poet
William Shakespeare, English poet and playwright
Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish novelist, poet and playwright
Luís de Camões, Portuguese poet
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, artist and politician
Molière, French playwright and actor
Joost van den Vondel, Dutch writer and playwright
Adam Mickiewicz, Polish poet
Victor Hugo, French poet and novelist
Edgar Allan Poe, American author, poet, editor and literary critic
Taras Shevchenko, Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure
Monteiro Lobato, Brazilian writer
Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer
Octavio Paz, Mexican writer and poet
Miles Franklin, Australian writer and feminist
Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet, diplomat and politician
Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer and poet
Tolkien, British novelist
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian writer, novelist and journalist
Important Western architectural motifs include the Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic columns, and the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Victorian styles are still widely recognised, and used even today, in the West. Much of Western architecture emphasizes repetition of simple motifs, straight lines and expansive, undecorated planes. A modern ubiquitous architectural form that emphasizes this characteristic is the skyscraper, first developed in New York, London, and Chicago.
The Western media refers to the news media of the Western world. It is mainly characterized by the freedom of the press, and has gradually expanded into developing countries. In recent years, many Western media outlets have seen their circulation figures stagnate. Despite the slowing of its growth, the mainstream Western media continues to be perceived as a fair, independent and objective medium of news reporting.
Western culture, for at least the last 1000 years, has been considered nearly synonymous with Christian culture. Before this time many Europeans from the north, especially Scandinavians, remained polytheistic, though southern Europe was predominately Christian from the 5th century onwards. The native religions of Europe were polytheistic but not homogenous – however they were similar insofar as they were predominately Indo-European in origin. Roman religion was similar to but not the same as Hellenic religion - likewise the same for indigenous Germanic polytheism, Celtic polytheism and Slavic polytheism.
From Late Antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and onwards, while Eastern Europe was shaped by the Orthodox Church, Southern and Central Europe were increasingly stabilized by the Catholic Church which, as Roman imperial governance faded from view, was the only consistent force in Western Europe. In 1054 came the so-called Great Schism that, following the Greek East and Latin West divide, separated Europe into religious and cultural regions present to this day. Until the Age of Enlightenment, Christian culture took over as the predominant force in western civilization, guiding the course of philosophy, art, and science for many years. Movements in art and philosophy, such as the Humanist movement of the Renaissance and the Scholastic movement of the High Middle Ages, were motivated by a drive to connect Catholicism with Greek and Arab thought imported by Christian pilgrims. However, due to the division in Western Christianity caused by the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, religious influence - especially the temporal power of the Pope - began to wane.
As in other areas, Judaism is found in the Western world. Minority groups, and Jews in particular, often had to contend with discrimination and persecution. This could include being subjected to violence and/or destruction of property (this may be referred to as a pogrom) as well as being expelled or banned from various polities, hoping to find havens in other places.[clarification needed]
Religion has waned considerably in Europe, where many are today agnostic or atheist and they make up about 18.2% of the European population. In terms of irreligion, over half of the populations of the Czech Republic (79.4% of the population was agnostic, atheist or irreligious), the United Kingdom (~25%), Germany (25-33%), France (22-35%) and the Netherlands (39–44%) are agnostic, atheist, or otherwise non-religious. However, per another survey from 2011, Christianity remains the dominant religion in the Western world. According to this survey, 76% of Europeans described themselves as Christians, Nearly 86.0% of citizens of the Americas practice Christianity.
Throughout the Western world there are increasing numbers of people who seek to revive the indigenous religions of their European ancestors, such groups include Germanic, Roman, Hellenic, Celtic and Slavic, polytheistic reconstructionist movements, likewise, Wicca, new age spirituality and other neo-pagan belief systems enjoy notable minority support in Western nations.
Since Classical Antiquity, sport has been an important facet of Western cultural expression. A wide range of sports were already established by the time of Ancient Greece and the military culture and the development of sports in Greece influenced one another considerably. Sports became such a prominent part of their culture that the Greeks created the Olympic Games, which in ancient times were held every four years in a small village in the Peloponnesus called Olympia. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, instigated the modern revival of the Olympic movement. The first modern Olympics were held at Athens in 1896.
The Romans built immense structures such as the Colisseum in Rome to house their festivals of sport. The Romans exhibited a passion for blood sports, as in the infamous Gladiatorial battles that pitted contestants against one another in a fight to the death. The Olympic Games revived many of the sports of Classical Antiquity - such as Greco-Roman wrestling, discus and javelin. The sport of bullfighting is a traditional spectacle of Spain, Portugal, southern France, and some Latin American countries. It traces its roots to prehistoric bull worship and sacrifice and is often linked to Rome, where many human-versus-animal events were held. Bullfighting spread from Spain to its Central and South American colonies, and in the 19th century to France, where it developed into a distinctive form in its own right.
Jousting and hunting were popular sports in the Western Europe of the Middle Ages, and the aristocratic classes of Europe developed passions for leisure activities. A great number of the popular global sports were first developed or codified in Europe. The modern game of golf originated in Scotland, where the first written record of golf is James II's banning of the game in 1457, as an unwelcome distraction to learning archery. The Industrial Revolution that began in Britain in the 18th Century brought increased leisure time, leading to more time for citizens to attend and follow spectator sports, greater participation in athletic activities, and increased accessibility. These trends continued with the advent of mass media and global communication. The bat and ball sport of cricket was first played in England during the 16th century and was exported around the globe via the British Empire. A number of popular modern sports were devised or codified in Britain during the 19th Century and obtained global prominence – these include Ping Pong, modern tennis, Association Football, Netball and Rugby.
Football (also known as soccer) remains hugely popular in Europe, but has grown from its origins to be known as the world game. Similarly, sports such as cricket, rugby, and netball were exported around the world, particularly among countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, thus India and Australia are among the strongest cricketing nations, while victory in the Rugby World Cup has been shared among the Western nations of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England.
Australian Rules Football, an Australian variation of football with similarities to Gaelic football and rugby evolved in the British colony of Victoria in the mid-19th century. The United States also developed unique variations of English sports. English migrants took antecedents of baseball to America during the colonial period. The history of American football can be traced to early versions of rugby football and association football. Many games known as "football" were being played at colleges and universities in the United States in the first half of the 19th century American football resulted from several major divergences from rugby, most notably the rule changes instituted by Walter Camp, the "Father of American Football". Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a Canadian physical education instructor working in Springfield, Massachusetts in the United States. From these American origins, basketball has become one of the great international participation sports.
Professionalism in sport in the West became prevalent during the 20th Century, further adding to the increase in sport's popularity, as sports fans began following the exploits of professional athletes through radio, television, and the internet—all while enjoying the exercise and competition associated with amateur participation in sports.
Scientific and technological inventions and discoveries
A notable feature of Western culture is its strong emphasis and focus on innovation and invention through science and technology, and its ability to generate new processes, materials and material artifacts with its roots dating back to the Ancient Greeks.
It was the West that first developed steam power and adapted its use into factories, and for the generation of electrical power. The electrical motor, dynamo, transformer, and electric light, and indeed most of the familiar electrical appliances, were inventions of the West. The Otto and the Diesel internal combustion engines are products whose genesis and early development were in the West. Nuclear power stations are derived from the first atomic pile constructed in Chicago in 1942.
Communication devices and systems including the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, communication and navigation satellites, mobile phone, and the Internet were all invented by Westerners. The pencil, ballpoint pen, CRT, LCD, LED, camera, photocopier, laser printer, ink jet printer, plasma display screen and world wide web were also invented in the West.
Ubiquitous materials including concrete, aluminium, clear glass, synthetic rubber, synthetic diamond and the plastics polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC and polystyrene were invented in the West. Iron and steel ships, bridges and skyscrapers first appeared in the West. Nitrogen fixation and petrochemicals were invented by Westerners. Most of the elements, were discovered and named in the West, as well as the contemporary atomic theories to explain them.
The transistor, integrated circuit, memory chip, and computer were all first seen in the West. The ship's chronometer, the screw propeller, the locomotive, bicycle, automobile, and aeroplane were all invented in the West. Eyeglasses, the telescope, the microscope and electron microscope, all the varieties of chromatography, protein and DNA sequencing, computerised tomography, NMR, x-rays, and light, ultraviolet and infrared spectroscopy, were all first developed and applied in Western laboratories, hospitals and factories.
In medicine, vaccination, anesthesia, and all the pure antibiotics were created in the West. The method of preventing Rh disease, the treatment of diabetes, and the germ theory of disease were discovered by Westerners. The eradication of smallpox, was led by a Westerner, Donald Henderson. Radiography, Computed tomography, Positron emission tomography and Medical ultrasonography are important diagnostic tools developed in the West. Other important diagnostic tools of clinical chemistry including the methods of spectrophotometry, electrophoresis and immunoassay were first devised by Westerners. So were the stethoscope, electrocardiograph, and the endoscope. Vitamins, hormonal contraception, hormones, insulin, Beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, along with a host of other medically proven drugs were first utilized to treat disease in the West. The double-blind study and evidence-based medicine are critical scientific techniques widely used in the West for medical purposes.
In mathematics, calculus, statistics, logic, vectors, tensors and complex analysis, group theory and topology were developed by Westerners. In biology, evolution, chromosomes, DNA, genetics and the methods of molecular biology are creatures of the West. In physics, the science of mechanics and quantum mechanics, relativity, thermodynamics, and statistical mechanics were all developed by Westerners. The discoveries and inventions by Westerners in electromagnetism include Coulomb's law (1785), the first battery (1800), the unity of electricity and magnetism (1820), Biot–Savart law (1820), Ohm's Law (1827), and the Maxwell's equations (1871). The atom, nucleus, electron, neutron and proton were all unveiled by Westerners.
Westerners are also known for their explorations of the globe and outer space. The first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth (1522) was by Westerners, as well as the first journey to the South Pole (1911), and the first moon landing (1969). The landing of robots on Mars (2004 and 2012) and on an asteroid (2001), the Voyager explorations of the outer planets (Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989), and Voyager 1's passage into interstellar space (2013) were significant recent Western achievements.
Themes and traditions
Western culture has developed many themes and traditions, the most significant of which are:
- Greco-Latin classic letters, arts, architecture, philosophical and cultural tradition, which include the influence of preeminent authors and philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Herodotus, and Cicero, as well as a long mythologic tradition.
- Judaism, the Torah, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and early Christianity that originated in the Middle East.
- Monasteries, schools, libraries, books, book making, universities, teaching, education, and lecture halls. The classical liberal arts tradition, of the Trivium and Quadrivium.
- A tradition of the importance of the rule of law, which has its roots in Ancient Greece.
- The Catholic, Christian Orthodox and Protestant Christian cultural tradition and ethic.
- Secular humanism, rationalism and Enlightenment thought, emerging from Catholicism and Protestantism, religious and moral doctrines in lifestyle. This set the basis for a new critical attitude and open questioning of religion, favouring freethinking and questioning of the church as an authority, which resulted in open-minded and reformist ideals inside, such as liberation theology, which partly adopted these currents, and secular and political tendencies such as laicism, agnosticism and atheism.
- Widespread usage of terms and specific vocabulary borrowed, based or derived from Greek and Latin roots or etymologies for almost any field of arts, science and human knowledge, becoming easily understandable and common to almost any European language, and being a source for inventing internationalized neologisms for nearly any purpose. It is not rare for full loan Latin phrases or expressions, such as in situ, habeas corpus or tempus fugit, to be in use, many of them giving name to artistic or literary concepts or currents. The usage of such roots and phrases is standardized in giving official scientific names for biological species (such as Homo sapiens or Tyrannosaurus rex). This shows a reverence for these languages, called classicism.
- Generalized usage of some form of the Latin or Greek alphabet. The latter includes the standard cases of Greece and other derived forms, such as Cyrillic, the case of those southern and eastern Slavic countries of Christian Orthodox tradition, historically under the Byzantine and later Russian czarist or Soviet area of influence. Other variants of it are encountered for Gothic and Coptic alphabets, that historically substituted older scripts, such as Runic, and Demotic or Hieroglyphic systems.
- Renaissance arts and letters.
- Natural law, human rights, constitutionalism, parliamentarism (or presidentialism) and formal liberal democracy in recent times — prior to the 19th century, most Western governments were still monarchies.
- A large influence, in modern times, of many of the ideals and values developed and inherited from Romanticism.
- Several subcultures (sometimes deriving into urban tribes) and countercultural movements, such as hippie lifestyle or the New Age, that have left several influences on contemporary mainstream or subcultural tendencies (some of them, especially in the mainstream, can become merely aesthetic).
- A emphasis on, and use of, science as a method to understand the natural world and humanity's place in it.
Elements of Western culture have had a very influential effect on other cultures worldwide. People of many cultures, both Western and non-Western, equate modernization (adoption of technological progress) with Westernization (adoption of Western culture).
Latin alphabet world distribution. The dark green areas shows the countries where this alphabet is the sole main script. The light green shows the countries where the alphabet co-exists with other scripts
- Classical tradition
- Culture during the Cold War
- Eastern world
- Emigration from Europe
- Western religion
- Western world
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- Barzun, p. 73
- Barzun, p. 329
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