Four Cultures of the West

Overview

The workings of Western intelligence in our day—whether in politics or the arts, in the humanities or the church—are as troubling as they are mysterious, leading to the questions: Where are we going? What in the world were we thinking? By exploring the history of four "cultures" so deeply embedded in Western history that we rarely see their instrumental role in politics, religion, education, and the arts, this timely book provides a broad framework for addressing these questions...

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Overview

The workings of Western intelligence in our day—whether in politics or the arts, in the humanities or the church—are as troubling as they are mysterious, leading to the questions: Where are we going? What in the world were we thinking? By exploring the history of four "cultures" so deeply embedded in Western history that we rarely see their instrumental role in politics, religion, education, and the arts, this timely book provides a broad framework for addressing these questions in a fresh way.

The cultures considered here originated in the ancient world, took on Christian forms, and manifest themselves today in more secular ways. These are, as John W. O'Malley identifies them: the prophetic culture that proclaims the need for radical change in the structures of society (represented by, for example, Jeremiah, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr.); the academic culture that seeks instead to understand those structures (Aristotle, Aquinas, the modern university); the humanistic culture that addresses fundamental human issues and works for the common good of society (Cicero, Erasmus, and Eleanor Roosevelt); and the culture of art and performance that celebrates the mystery of the human condition (Phidias, Michelangelo, Balanchine).

By showing how these cultures, as modes of activity and discourse in which Western intelligence has manifested itself through the centuries and continues to do so, O'Malley produces an essay that especially through the history of Christianity brilliantly illuminates the larger history of the West.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
O'Malley (The First Jesuits), a scholar of church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, offers a warm and conversational invitation to reflect on four cultural configurations that feed into contemporary consciousness. First comes the style of thought that the author terms "prophetic culture" and which might also be conceived of as a culture of inspired revolution, encompassing Gregory VII, Martin Luther and his spiritual heir Martin Luther King Jr. Second is the paradigm of restless, insistent, academic analysis-the perennial mode of questioning that was first institutionalized in the medieval universities and the one to which Father O'Malley professionally adheres. The third culture, to which his friends suspect that he really belongs, is the humanistic world of letters, with its fondness for multivalent ambiguity and well-rounded manners, a style that became pervasive in the classical world and re-emerged in the Renaissance. Finally comes the silent but ebullient culture of image and ritual, art and performance. What, O'Malley asks throughout, echoing the words of the late Roman polemicist Tertullian, has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What does human culture have to do with the culture of spiritual transcendence? His book, primarily concerned with the manifestations of these various cultures in the history of Christianity, spurs the reader on to meditate on the different streams that jostle, but sometimes converge, in an "ocean" we all navigate. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this erudite work of cultural history, O'Malley (church history, Weston Jesuit Sch. of Theology) extends "an invitation to consider and notice" four distinctive paradigms or cultures that, taken together, handsomely help decode Western intellectual and cultural history. These four paradigms are the prophetic, the academic, the humanistic, and the culture of art and performance. O'Malley's interest lies in representing the forms and delivery of each culture rather than the actual historical or chronological content. His overriding theme derives from the question posed by ancient theologian Tertullian, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" a question signifying the role of each unique culture and its distinctive perspective in defining and privileging particular aspects of the Christian West. O'Malley successfully showcases the affinities between historic cultures (e.g., the Greco-Roman) and persons (e.g., Aristotle, Aquinas, and Luther) and cultural realities in our own time (e.g., the contemplative rhetoric of Lincoln at Gettysburg prefiguring the rhetorical contemplation at Ground Zero). Scholars of Western history and culture will find this complex and vastly academic argument an engaging rhetorical exercise. Recommended for Christian history, intellectual, and cultural history collections. Sandra Collins, Univ. of Pittsburgh Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674014985
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 8/23/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

John W. O’Malley is University Professor at Georgetown University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : Athens and Jerusalem 1
Culture 1 Prophecy and reform 37
Culture 2 The academy and the professions 77
Culture 3 Poetry, rhetoric, and the common good 127
Culture 4 Art and performance 179
Epilogue : the book of our experience 235
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2005

    Helpful to the Common Reader

    A straight-foward, concise analysis of current cultural intellectual thinking-modes. This book has help define differences and overlaps in my personal psychological thinking processes. Simple, comprehensive and foward-leaning. If anything, read the opening chapter. Worth a few hours.

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