Bridging the Gulf between the ‘Eastern’ and the ‘Western’ in New Testament Studies-II: Toward an Attempt to Describe the “Western World”

Posted: August 6, 2011 in General

According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word ‘West’ means: (1) (usually the ‘West’) the direction that one looks toward to see the sun set; (2) (the West) Europe, North America and Canada, contrasted with Eastern countries; (3) (the West) (in the past) Western Europe and North America, when contrasted with the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. The term ‘Western’ means (1) situated in the west or facing west; and (2) (usually ‘Western’) connected with the west part of the world, especially Europe and North America. In this sense, it is one segment of the globe that controls the rest of the world, the Wealthy-Western-World.

From several of my readings about the Eastern-Western bifurcation, I found that it is difficult to describe the exact picture of the division. Though there are no clear cut distinctions, discrimination is vivid in the approaches, treatments, behavioral patterns, intellectual assessments, and even it is at the roots of the very ethos and pathos. It is recorded that the East-West division was conspicuous from the time when the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The division of the Eastern and Western Empires were reflected in the administration of the Christian Church, with Rome and Constantinople debating and arguing over whether either city was the capital of Christianity. As the Church began to grow as ‘Eastern Church’ and ‘Western Church’, the division of East and West became more obvious. In this sense, the East-West division is closely connected to the growth of Christianity as a world religion.

Western world is also known as ‘the Occident’, referring to the Western hemisphere of Europe, contrasted with “the Orient’, referring to the Eastern region of the world. Western world is heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman civilization, Christianity, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the extensive colonial power-politics of the past. In recent times, Western world is generally the world of the Americas, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Many regions of Latin America and West Indies are also considered as part of the Western world. Some European countries those are in the European Union (EU) like Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania are not considered as Western. These countries are not reckoned as Western due to the impact of Communist ideologies. The countries like Greece and Cyprus, though not in Europe, are considered as western. Developed Asian countries like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea are sometimes considered as western due to their economic ties with the Europe. Some of the African countries like South Africa and others are also considered as Western. Western, in this sense, is an artificially created world in order to cherish the aspirations of similar-minded over against ‘scattered, diverse, imbalanced, and unwealthy/unhealthy’.

The division of the universe as Western Christendom and Eastern Heathen World was a creation of the Europeans. The numerical dominance of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism made people call the Western world as a Christian world. During the last two centuries secularism crept into Europe heavily and religious connotations were replaced to political connotations. At present, Christianity’s concentration is shifted from the West to the East. The earlier categorizations like Western Christendom and Eastern Heathen World is not at all existent in the contemporary context. The East-West division was sustained by the western wealthy, strong, racial powers in order to sustain their identity as ‘mature’ over against the ‘immature’ cultures.

The tripartite division of the world During the Cold War deserves attention at this juncture. United States of America and its allies were called the First World. The First World was/is analogous to what we refer today the West. The Soviet Union and its allies were reckoned as the Second World. The Third World is comprised of India, Yugoslavia, People’s Republic of China, and other countries. It brought to the equation that US-led First World versus USSR-led Second World. Most of the Third World countries aligned themselves either with the US-led First World or USSR-led Second World. After the fall of USSR, the categorization of the First, Second, and Third worlds was replaced by the earlier East-West terminology.

The world was always divided according to the needs of the Euro-American world. In the ‘division dynamics’ money, power, race, intellect, and other things were placed as ‘prima factors’. Whatever the so called Western world implemented and imposed on the universal humanity, the East (or Majority World) simply followed just like obedient servants. This tendency broached an imbalanced human history on the surface of the world.

This is the global context against which New Testament documents have to be interpreted and ‘looked at’ with new perspectives, and ideologies. Can we liberate the New Testament interpretation from the clutches of cliques? How can we interpret it by taking into consideration the universal aspirations and feelings of people? Is New Testament a text to be interpreted in order to satisfy mere individualistic patterns? Or it has to be looked at from the perspectives of communal struggles? Or both? It is going to be a life-long struggle in order to answer these and various other questions.

For Further Reading:

All the above descriptions and ideas were formulated out of my readings from the following and other resources. You are hereby encouraged to read the following as well as other resources related to the subject matter:

Ankerl, Guy. Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. INU Societal Research. Vol. 1. Geneva: INU Press, 2000.

Duchesne, Ricardo. The Uniqueness of Western Civilization. Studies in Critical Social Sciences. Vol. 28. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011.

Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Thompson, William, and Hickey, Joseph. Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2005.

NB: Next Discussion: “Eastern” and “Western”: Two Worldviews

(Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India)

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