cultural relativism

The view that perception of the world is inevitably determined by the writer's background and environment. It is held by some modern scholars that the thought-world of the writers of the Bible is so different from that of the modern Western world that it is difficult or even impossible for us really to enter into it. All expressions of belief are relative to the particular cultural situation in which they are uttered. It is not that the evangelists or the rabbis were unintelligent—far from it—but that they had a certain perception of the universe from which they could not escape and within which they were obliged to interpret everything else. It is said therefore that in a universe thought to be populated by supernatural powers, possibly dwelling in a space between earth and heaven (1 Thess. 4:17) human beings are subject to their influence. Hence the belief that people could be possessed by demons—whereas we might describe certain psychic disorders as, for example, schizophrenia. Similarly, it is impossible for us to understand sympathetically what the Hebrews intended with their sacrificial rites, or what, therefore, the writers of the NT intended by using the same categories. We do not know what it feels like to live in expectation of the imminent end of the world (cf. Phil. 4:5). It follows also that orthodox doctrines, such as the Incarnation [[➝ incarnation]], which derive from 1st-cent. premisses, may also be questioned or reinterpreted.
Some scholars, however, hold that there is more continuity between the cultures of different ages than the relativists admit and that even in unlovely characters in the Hebrew scriptures we can recognize perennial human dilemmas that still obtain. Moreover, in each generation there are to be found those who repudiate some of the pervading beliefs: the Sadducees of the 1st cent. rejected the notion of supernatural spirits and angels (Acts 23:8). And there are from time to time men of genius who are able to take a quantum leap out of their contemporary thought-world and give it a new direction, as did Galileo in 1613 CE. Those who reject a thoroughgoing relativism hold that communion is possible between diverse cultures. No one has the total truth about God or Christ or human life; dialogue is possible and necessary. The 1st cent. is not our cent.; but what people of that era taught and believed is not to be dismissed as total falsehood or totally meaningless simply because it is not our language.

Dictionary of the Bible.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • cultural relativism — Cultural relativists assert that concepts are socially constructed and vary cross culturally. These concepts may include such fundamental notions as what is considered true, morally correct, and what constitutes knowledge or even reality itself.… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Cultural relativism — Compare moral relativism, aesthetic relativism, social constructionism, and cognitive relativism. Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human s beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual s… …   Wikipedia

  • cultural relativism — /ˌkʌltʃərəl ˈrɛlətəvɪzəm/ (say .kulchuhruhl reluhtuhvizuhm) noun the view that practices, attitudes, etc., can only be deemed good or bad within the context of the culture that produced them. –cultural relativist, noun …   Australian English dictionary

  • Cultural communication — Cultural relativism is the view that cultures are merely different, not deficient, and each culture’s norms and practices should be assed only from the perspective of the culture itself, not by standards embraced by another culture. It is the… …   Wikipedia

  • cultural anthropology — cultural anthropologist. the branch of anthropology dealing with the origins, history, and development of human culture, and including in its scope the fields of archaeology, ethnology, and ethnography. Also called social anthropology. Cf.… …   Universalium

  • Cultural emphasis — is defined as an important aspect of a culture which is often reflected though language and, more specifically, vocabulary (Ottenheimer, 2006, p. 266). This means that the vocabulary people use in a culture indicates what is to that group of …   Wikipedia

  • cultural — (adj.) 1868, in reference to the raising of plants or animals, from L. cultura tillage (see CULTURE (Cf. culture)) + AL (Cf. al) (1). In reference to the cultivation of the mind, from 1875; hence, relating to civilization or a civilization. A… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Relativism — Compare moral relativism, aesthetic relativism, social constructionism, cultural relativism, and cognitive relativism. Relativism is the idea that some elements or aspects of experience or culture are relative to, i.e., dependent on, other… …   Wikipedia

  • relativism — The word relativism is used loosely to describe intellectual positions which reject absolute or universal standards or criteria. Thus, epistemological relativism is the view that there are no universal criteria of knowledge or truth. What counts… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Cultural anthropology — For the journal, see Cultural Anthropology (journal). Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.