Item description for Four Cultures of the West by John W. O'Malley S. J....
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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Studio: Belknap Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.11" Width: 5.51" Height: 1.18" Weight: 1 lbs.
Release Date Oct 31, 2004
Publisher Belknap Press
ISBN 0674014987 ISBN13 9780674014985
Reviews - What do customers think about Four Cultures of the West?
Review of John W. O'Malley's "Four Cultures of the West". Jan 3, 2005
What I most enjoyed about this book was that a noted historian stepped out of the usual role of more detailed analysis of a particular period and took the long view about the main streams of culture winding through Western history and Christianity. In this sense it is a risky book. O'Malley pulls it off, showing both his understanding of history and his power of more synthetic reflection. I don't know anything like it. It provides the reader with tools or categories of thought for his or her own reflections on history and culture. It is a book full of examples asking one to find one's own examples and to try out O'Malley's "four cultures" as a way of understanding and interrelating major figures of the past or present. I found it a very helpful review and integration of my own lifelong education in the humanities. I would particularly recommend it for capstone or synthesis courses in university core curricula or honors programs. I keep buying more copies of this book and giving it to people who are most likely to appreciate its utitily in the education in the liberal arts tradition. It is hands down the best book I have read in the past year.
Stephen V. Sundborg, S. J. President, Seattle University
A Guide Book for Today Dec 16, 2004
This is a wonderful book that feels like Vivaldi and reads like a Bach fugue. Full of life, kindness and compassion, this book is an easy read. It is open, inclusive and daring in its scope and purpose: to map out the four dominant motifs or cultures of the West.
These four cultures are more like four distinct personality types. Each culture has its "characters" galore and the author does a good job of letting us experience the different types of character that make up each of them.
By leading us through each culture and showing us how each develops from within, we are able to participate, with the author, in their reconstruction. This gives the reader a hands-on sense of their make up and how they operate.
What this book offers is a visceral feel for each of these cultures in their uniqueness. It is this feeling, and not some abstract attempt at categorization, that teaches us how to pick up these motifs whenever and wherever we may encounter them. It teaches us to how to discriminate these processes through pattern recognition.
This technique makes it easy to understand and feel the real distinction between the academic culture (Culture 2) and the liberal arts culture (Culture 3). I consider this the most important part the book.
The section on Culture three is must reading. It is a simple, clear exposition of the power and responsibility of the liberal arts to build character and train leaders. Surprisingly the traditional home of liberal arts education was not in the universities.
This raises some interesting questions. If the liberal arts do not belong in academia, where do they belong and how does one actually learn to be a liberal artist? What are the traditional functions of the liberal arts and how did they get side tracked as "academic disciplines?"
We tend to assume that a liberal arts education is a college education. This may not be the case and this book will tell you why.
In this sense this book can be used as a guidebook and road map to make sense of our current confusions. Used as a mirror, it points out exactly what is missing in today's colleges and professional development programs. Hence this book is must reading for educators and corporate trainers.
I can not over recommend the importance of this book for anyone interested in understanding the forces at work in today's world. These four cultures are perennial and learning to pick them up in everyday settings can give you a huge edge. Failure to do so is a recipe for frustration and confusion.
Gaining familiarity with these four cultures is probably a good way for "westerners" to develop compassion and deep-seated understanding for non-western cultures. Multi- cultural studies begin at home.
What is your cultural type and what are the "cultural settings" you most often find yourself in (at work, at play, with friends, etc)? This book might help you to find your spiritual home while also helping you to understand why you tend to avoid, resent or dismiss other "cultural types."
These are powerful claims. In my opinion this is a powerful book. It is well worth buying and reading.
A gem Dec 15, 2004
This book is a find - it captures something critically important about the modern West and will have you thinking for years to come. In many aspects, it's a very classical and a very Catholic book. Thus the way O'Malley shows how all of that shapes our culture today will come as all the more refreshing and incisive. It is not a long book you will read slowly and once, but a short book that you will first read quickly, and then again and again more carefully.