Friday, January 14, 2005

Cultural Imprinting

[Since I have had my head in my Western Civ course, I will post on a number of subjects related to the good ole' ancient world. I should have an interesting post on Manichaeanism, a brand of Gnosticism, tomorrow.]

Charles Issawi, discussing cultural imprinting, provides a useful critical tool for understanding how civilizations affect one another and the extent to which it can be said that one influences another:
Most empires, including some of the largest and some of the longest lived, failed to leave a lasting imprint of their culture over a large area. The culture of the ancient empires (Babylonian, Egyptian, Carthaginian) was overlaid by that of Greece and Rome and was finally dissolved and absorbed by Christianity and Islam. The pre-Islamic Persian empires (Achaemenian, Parthian, and Sasanian) left little imprint outside Iran, and the same is true of the Ottomans outside Turkey ...

Three conditions have favored cultural imprinting. First, the existence of an empire which provided a framework within which the culture could spread ... . Second, it has required the migration of fairly–or very–large numbers of the culture bearers from the core to the outlying parts; they include all sorts of people, from priests and scholars to ruffians and convicts ... . Third, in most cases, the culture either was, or soon came to be, identified with a religion that either actively proselytize or at least easily admitted converts ... . Such religion had a threefold effect on cultural imprinting. First, it established the rulers language as a sacred language, superior to all others. Second, it helped to spread the culture among the masses, as distinct from the small upper-class and urban layers on whom imperial rulers relied and who were often influenced by the rulers’ culture. Third, it helped society to withstand such shocks as the invasions of the barbarians ... by preserving the imprinted culture and eventually converting the conquerors.

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