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  • Writer's pictureAhmed

Meaning of Civilisation and Culture

In answer to this question we must remember that when we examine retrospectively the civilisation and culture of different countries, we find that there have been many different periods through which those countries have passed. Some of these periods have been so advanced that between them and our time there seems to be little or no difference. If we disregard the mechanical achievements of the modern world, the achievements of some of the earlier periods of human history seem little different from the achievements of our own time. Both in civilisation and culture such similarities exist. But if we go deep enough, we will find two important differences between earlier and modern periods.

Before we describe these two differences, we wish to make clear what we understand by civilisation and by culture. According to us, civilisation is a purely materialistic conception. When material progress takes place, there comes about a certain uniformity and a certain ease in human activities. This uniformity and ease constitute civilisation. The output which results from human labour, and the means of transport needed to move this output from place to place constitute an advance in civilisation. Similarly, all the methods which may be invented for the transfer of goods from hand to hand, all the schemes which may be instituted to promote education, industry, scientific research, constitute progress in civilisation. Whatever may be done to maintain internal security and defence against external aggression constitutes civilisation. All these are factors which influence human activities. A country which is advanced in respect of these factors confers upon its inhabitants a pattern of daily life quite different from that of other countries. It is this difference which constitutes a difference of civilisation. In a country not agriculturally advanced the daily food of the inhabitants will be found to be quite different from the daily food of a country advanced in agriculture. An agriculturally advanced country encourages the consumption of many different kinds of foods. It will try to provide for a variety of needs as well as a variety of tastes. But an agriculturally backward country will not be able to provide any such variety. There will be no regard for individual differences in bodily health or refinement of taste. Whatever food the country produces as a whole will be provided, without any or many alternatives. Similarly, an industrially backward country will not be able to compare with an industrially advanced country, in dress, housing and furnishing and in other accessories to comfortable living. The industrially backward country will not be able to provide cloth enough for its inhabitants. The question as to what variety of cut the cloth might be shaped into will not even arise. The people of that country will not even know what a coat is, let alone different kinds of coats appropriate for different occasions. Even a shirt will be a luxury for them. Shoes made of kid skin will be beyond their conception. To insist on footwear made of untanned hide will be something of a luxury. The very idea of footwear will be something uncommon. The inhabitants will usually go barefooted, or they will be quite content with a piece of untanned and unshaped leather tied on their feet. We refer to these matters only incidentally. We cannot go into all the details, but very little detail is needed to prove that such differences in the external pattern of our lives are the result of difference in the degree of advancement which different peoples attain in agriculture, industry, science and education. The differences are so large that those who are used to one kind of living will have no desire to associate with those used to another kind of living. It is these differences which, according to us, constitute differences of civilisation and it is these differences on which the issues of peace and war to a very large extent depend. It is these differences which in the long run give rise to imperialistic designs and lust for power.

Culture is different from civilisation. Culture, in our view, is related to civilisation precisely as the soul of man is related to his body. Differences of civilisation are ultimately differences of material advance; but differences of culture spring from differences of spiritual advance. The culture of a people may be said to consist of those ideas and ideals which grow under the influence of religious or ethical teachings. A religious teaching provides the foundations. Followers of that teaching then build on those foundations. In building on those foundations, the followers may travel far from the original teaching, but they can never completely lose touch with the foundations. A person who executes the plan of a building may deviate as much as he likes from the original plan, yet he cannot ignore the main parts of that plan. In the same way religions and ideologies provide plans of living. What the votaries of those religions and ideologies build on the original plan develops into distinctive patterns of art and morality, so that the observer is bound to put followers of different religions into quite different classes. These differences are differences of culture. Differences of culture have become very important today. To advocate and to claim tolerance and breadth of view is very common today. In spite of this a nominal Christian, otherwise an atheist, will associate far more easily with a bigoted Christian than he will with a nominal Muslim, otherwise an atheist, or with a bigoted Muslim. There is no doubt that in our time political interests also dominate the mutual relations of peoples, and these political interests spring from differences of civilisation. But cultural differences are not less important. A European Muslim is very cordial to an Asiatic Muslim; the cordiality he displays for a fellow Muslim, he never displays for a fellow European. A bigoted European Christian is cordial towards an atheist American. Is this due to strict religious bias? No. If religious bias were the only factor at work, then a Christian would find himself nearer to a Muslim’s heart than to that of an atheist. The truth is that between Christian and Christian, even though one of them be an atheist, there are ties of culture, a Christian culture we may call it. A Christian atheist is no longer Christian in his religious beliefs but his emotions and actions are not free from the influence of Christian culture. Influences which transmit themselves through many generations are not easily obliterated. A Christian artist who may have become an atheist in thought will still display a Christian influence in his paintings and his music. In fact, but for such influence, his art would seem as out of place as thistles in a rose garden.


Will be continued...



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