Week 1 Other Readings

The next two readings respond to a very different question: does it make sense to think of humanity as divided into 4, 5, 8, or 10 distinct civilizations? The very term “Western civilization” implies that all of the people included share certain cultural or political traits, and it implies that the world must also be inhabited by other “civilizations”.

But is that true? Is that a useful way to think?

The first reading in this section is the most famous argument in recent decades in favor of that way of thinking. Here, you have a recorded lecture by the eminent political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who argued that the 21st century would be an age of a “clash of civilizations.” Huntington’s ideas have been immeasurably influential in American politics since he presented them 25 years ago. A little historical context is needed, therefore I have prepared this mini-lecture:

OK, now you are ready for Huntington. Are you convinced or not that the world is composed of clashing civilizations?

Huntington was a political conservative. Now, for an opposing view, we are going to read a short piece by the Turkish-American historian Cemil Aydin. In this short magazine article, Aydin argues that when people in Europe and the USA invented the idea of Western civilization in the early 20th century, this inspired other people in the world to imagine that they too had their own “civilization.” In other words, the idea of civilizations caught on, and soon enough nearly everyone thought of themselves as belonging to one. Still, the idea was an invention, not an objectively true reality. Why, according to Aydin, did some Muslims start to think of themselves as part of “the Muslim world”?

Once again, our authors present opposing and incompatible views. As with all of your work in this course, there are no right or wrong answers. Your goal should be to understand the material and engage with your peers — not to find the answer that will please your teacher.

Who do you find more convincing, Huntington or Aydin?