Actual student paper submitted in Bridge Adult Studies program
An African proverb states, "It takes a village to raise a child." Such a statement affirms that common belief that people thrive in communal environments (villages, societies, and families) in which they feel spiritual, mental, emotional and social support. It becomes, therefore, natural to think that one of our most important tasks as human beings should be to care for and support others. While providing this support, it is important that we do so while keeping their, not our, best interests in mind. In other words, we must extend grace whenever and wherever possible while introducing as little of our own biases as possible.
One way to provide this support is to study, learn to understand, and document people's lives and behaviors via the science of anthropology. Observing behaviors that are framed by different contexts of interaction can do this. Some examples of these contexts include 1) the various worldviews to which people adhere, 2) the religious beliefs and practices of particular cultures, 3) the political organizations through which people govern themselves, or are governed, and 4) through the expressive cultures or artistic expressions put forth by various societies. This search for knowledge and understanding requires the shedding of our ethnocentric natures, which allows us to see and study diverse societies through a scientific lens with limited bias and prejudice. Ultimately, this search should be tempered with empathy, indulgence, and mutual understanding which will culminate in an interdependent and trusting relationship -- both worthy goals for any anthropologist!
Why Study Anthropology
The study of anthropology is very important to the world, as a whole because, from the first time man walked on this planet. he faced many challenges to his very survival. He developed habits that helped him to endure many hardships. He created shelters that protected him from the elements. He discovered what plants were good to eat and which ones were not. He developed ways to take advantage of the rich resources of the planet. He created traditions and rituals to celebrate his victories, relationships and good fortune. And all this knowledge and experience was passed on from person to person, guaranteeing the survival and lessening the burden of the next generation. Anthropology is the science of all these things.
Through the years, anthropology has allowed us to document our human diversity and helps us to comparatively examine the trials and errors of different societies, thereby providing data on "best practices. This data is then available for analysis and strategic implementation, which will increase chances that the human race will survive for many generations to come.
Social problems can be comparatively assessed and "tried-and-true" policies can be implemented. This process can serve to increase longevity and overall quality of life for many people.
By documenting societal nuances in communities throughout the world, anthropological records can provide assurance that the rich and diverse cultures of our world will never be lost to time or to the constant change inherent in our world.
It provides cross-cultural perspectives upon which future and highly successful societies can be built. And as stated in Mirror for Humanity, anthropology can identify needs for change that local people perceive, work with those people to design culturally appropriate and socially sensitive change, and protect local people from harmful policies and projects that threaten them (Kotak, 2005).
Anthropology also allows us to study and understand what other cultures and societies do, and more importantly, why they do it. This knowledge can lead to understanding. Understanding then leads to trust and highly functional relationships. And trust and functional relationships lead to healthy interdependency between societies. Another reason to study anthropology is to grow in knowledge and understanding of how to live life more fully and securely, thereby increasing our chances of living a fuller, safer and more content life by mitigating circumstances that might lead to annihilation, extinction or unhappiness.
Concepts and Topics
Worldview' refers to a common concept of reality shared by a particular group of people, usually referred to as a culture or an ethnic group. There is some commonality in our basic experience of the world, of other people, and of life-events we share in common. There is also that variation of individual experience, of interpretation of that experience and of behavior based on knowledge gained from that experience (Jenkins, 1999).
There exists among people today a wide variety of worldviews. There are religious worldviews, political worldviews, economic worldviews . . . the list goes on and on. And all of these worldviews can be examined in a variety of ways. One important consideration when relating worldviews to the development of a culture is the interwoven nature of worldviews, leadership, motive, power, and control.
An individual's worldview can only be deemed authentic and valid if it is a 'true' belief vs. an opinion or mechanism that facilitates the manipulation of people or circumstances with selfish or iniquitous intent.
Examples of two leading worldviews are Humanism (man is the center of the universe) and Christianity (God is the center of the universe). Humanism seeks to do that which is right for the individual. Humanism was successfully, albeit temporarily, promoted as that which was good for the masses. However, the relatively recent, failed experiment with Communism in the now defunct Soviet Union proved that only a few individuals were reaping the lion's share of the rewards in that corrupt political system. This was most accurately revealed by the two classes into which that society was eventually divided: the upper class made up of wealthy political and military leaders, and the lower class made up of the poor, working class. The Russian Federation, born out of the break-up of the Soviet Union, continues to struggle as it seeks to rebuild its economy, political leadership and culture around an immature form of democracy.
This Soviet debacle, formed by the hands of a corrupt leadership, show the shocking and devastating impact an unauthentic and immoral worldview can have on a society.
The Christian worldview, on the other had, seeks from its inception to lead from a position of 'love' for our fellow man versus 'greed' and individual/material success inherent in Humanism. The Christian worldview seeks to exalt God and Jesus Christ, evangelize all sinners, and equip Christians to serve and save all who need Christ as their Savior.
Although man's sinful desire for power, authority and control can creep into the Christian church, the foundational principles of this worldview have proven over the years to be the best choice for all people, as a whole. It encourages us to put other's needs ahead of our own, subjugating our own needs and desires through the grace offered freely by God and Christ. The philosophy of grace and service is intuitively correct. And when Christian attributes are obviously removed from daily tasks (i.e., in politics, business, etc.) personal desires for money, power and control prove to be the downfall of the leaders who position themselves in self-serving roles.
Religious Beliefs and Practices
Religion is culturally universal. Most societies find that a good part of their identity lies in their spiritual beliefs and customs. And when countries or societies loose their identity from foreign invasion, pop culture or severe economic disaster, the cultural void is often backfilled with religious fundamentalism (Harvey, 2003).
The importance of worldview cannot be overstated. For any movement of religion, it is the motivational factor that causes it to expand, contract, appear, and dissolve. Adherents to a particular movement test their worldview by acting upon it and observing the effects. Developing a Christian worldview is of extreme importance in order to advance Christ's kingdom as false systems collapse under their own corrupted weight.
This becomes increasingly clear when Western values supplant traditional principles and age-old ways of life.
Political organization is the formal or informal leadership, control and accountability structure under which all but the most primitive countries operate.
Nelson Mandela's political views were strongly influenced by the success he witnessed in a small village in South Africa. The concerns, opportunities, and opinions of every individual in this small village were openly shared and discussed with no single opinion being automatically rejected due to social status, wealth or education of the orator. Everyone enjoyed the same respect and the same personal power, thus enabling the group to share in respectful and peaceful conflict and discussions. The end result of this political organization was decisions based on consensus.
Democracy isn't perfect, but if the election of officials by the masses is fair, accurate and trusted, it has proven to be the fairest system implemented so far in any complex society. The theory of Communism is idealistic, but fundamentally flawed in its application and basic assumption that all people will act for the greater good of society. Autocracies are extremely efficient in the areas of decision-making and execution of these decisions. However, this type of political organization rarely takes into consideration the needs, wants and desires of the working class. This flaw, in turn, inures to the benefit of only a minute slice of society.
Leadership is an important part of any political organization. And different types of leaders are more effective at different junctures in the life of a society or nation. For example, a more autocratic leader with strong, basic principles who also possesses good oratory skills might be the best leader during any long or intense conflict. However, a more civil, people centered leader might be more effective when a country is negotiating for equity in imported and exported goods. Finding a leader with the right personality, leadership style and demeanor for present circumstances probably does more to stabilize and grow a society and culture than any other single factor, save a conservative and ethical worldview. One example of effective political organization is the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which positioned itself quite well by electing a chief who was well versed in the workings of politics at the national level. This knowledge of politics allowed Chief Hollis Roberts (retired) to secure lucrative government contracts for services rendered to the U.S. Department of Defense, making the Choctaw Nation one of the ten richest tribes in the United States.
Chief Gregory Pyle was the next chief elected to govern the Choctaw people. He has been quite effective at maintaining the Choctaw's vast wealth, but is also highly effective at creating programs that assist the Choctaw people in areas of health, education and housing. Both men proved to be effective leaders; however, even though their leadership styles and worldviews are vastly different, they both increased the overall health of the Choctaw Nation in very significant ways.
The expressive culture in any given society relates to the ways they express their thoughts, feelings, conflicts and desires. These expressions typically manifest themselves as art, architecture, games and verse.
Art, be it paintings on a cave wall or intricate carvings on an elephant's tusk, serve to reflect the nature of a society's culture. The ancient Mayans, Egyptians and Chinese recorded religious ceremonies, work life, and recreational activities in their art. These works of art accomplished two hugely important tasks. First, they recorded ancient history in a most intriguing and exciting way, thus providing permanent windows into the glorious cultures of the ancient past for centuries to come. We, through their art, are in many cases able to discern why and how their cultures thrived and ultimately were wiped out. Second, the artwork provided teaching tools for their children, through which they could learn about their own culture and history, formulate new ideas for their own generation, and provide a connection that linked many generations.
Architecture is another means upon which cultures are founded. And through the vehicle of Egyptian and Mayan architecture we learned creative building designs and practices that enable us to build our modem day skyscrapers. Our skylines and cityscapes are as recognizable to Americans as the pyramids built by our Egyptian and Mayan counterparts. This highlights the fact that our architecture is a reflection of our culture.
Games are another source of cultural expression. The Aborigines in Australia encourage their children to participate in target practice with bows, arrows and spears. This game helps the children to become proficient at hunting techniques, thereby enhancing the tribe's ability to sustain itself and its culture. And the Choctaw Nation continues to promote the game of Hi-Li at their festivals and celebrations. Although it is more of an exhibition than the highly competitive game it once was, the war-like culture of the Choctaws is kept alive by recounting stories of 'fights to the death' on the Hi-Li field.
How Has Culture Influenced My Personal Development
My personal development, beginning at birth, has been molded by three main influences: my Christian faith, my Choctaw heritage, and my role as an American.
Through my Christian worldview and extensive Bible study I acquired my morals, ethics and values. These biblical principles have influenced every choice I've made in the last twenty-plus years and have had a highly significant impact on my personality, my relationships, and my professional life.
Pride is the adjective that comes to mind when I think of my Choctaw heritage. I learned from my grandparents to respect the land, its animals, and all things natural. By being exposed to nature as a child and as a Choctaw, I garnered a greater that average respect for the earth and for the God who created it.
Although I'm not certain why God chose to place me in American, I very much appreciate the principles of freedom reflected in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I'm often confounded by the choices some of our leaders make. Overall, however, I'm vehemently proud of our nation and that for which it stands.
On a very personal level, I am reminded of my youth and the trials through which I put my family. Only now am I able to truly appreciate the national freedom that allowed me challenge the legal and moral boundaries that once (I thought) confined me.
I now see that my cultural boundaries did not confine me. Rather, they freed me to explore, grow and develop into the moral person whom I have become.
"History," according to Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations, "will continue as a clash of cultures." It seems the emerging, dominant culture(s) of our day will be those that promulgate moral and military superiority in tandem. Moral superiority evolves out of the world society moving to a consensus driven politic, one in which democracy will probably be consistently chosen, at least by the masses, over autocracies.
The impact of this self-imposed imperialism upon the world will be immense, due in part to the fact that when American political values are embraced worldwide, so, too, will its values be embraced. And when American values are embraced, it is possible that many cultures will be transformed into cultural subsets of America, perhaps loosing their own unique cultural richness and social identities. However, this may be the nature of our world one in which all nations and cultures are subjected to a constant state of change. And if this is the true nature of the world, it is inherently clear that we must seek to preserve the diverse histories and cultures that now (or recently) exist(ed) in order to preserve the roots upon which our world's cultures were born. Only by safeguarding our rich history through preserved works of art, architecture, videos of religious ceremonies, and traditional games, will we be preserving the cultural map we have drawn, based solely on our applied values. This safeguarding, in turn, will provide a mirror (created by anthropologists?) into which we can look, thereby creating a means by which we can review our historical actions and hopefully better plan our futures ones. "You do not support the root, but the root supports you." (Holy Bible, Romans 11:18)
1 Kotak, C.P. (2005), Mirror for Humanity. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
2Jenkins, O.B. (1999), Worldview Perspectives. Richmond, VA: Thoughts and Resources Publishing
3Harvey, R. (2003), Global Disorder: America and the Threat of World Conflict. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers
4(1984) The Holy Bible, New International Version. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers
Howard Culbertson, Southern Nazarene
University, 6729 NW 39th, Bethany, OK 73008 | Phone:
405-491-6693 - Fax: 405-491-6658
Copyright © 2002 - Last Updated: April 29, 2007 | URL: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/.htm
You have permission to reprint what you just read. Use it in your ezine, at your web site or in your newsletter. Please include the following footer:
Article by Howard Culbertson. For more original content like this, visit: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert