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The Western world refers to various nations depending on the context, most often including at least part of Europe and the Americas. Also known as the West, there are many accepted definitions, all closely interrelated. The Western world is also known as the Occident (from the Latin word occidens, "sunset, West"), in contrast to the Orient (from Latin word oriens, "rise, East") or Eastern world.
Ancient Greece[a][b] and ancient Rome[c] are generally considered to be the birthplaces of Western civilization (whilst Greece as having influenced the development of Rome): the former due to its impact on philosophy, democracy, science and art, building designs and proportions, architecture; the latter due to its influence on law, warfare, governance, republicanism and engineering, religion. Western civilization is also founded upon Christianity (particularly Roman Catholicism and various Protestant churches), which is in turn shaped by Hellenistic philosophy, Judaism and Roman culture; the ancient Greeks in turn had been influenced by forms of ancient Near East civilizations. In the modern era, Western culture has been heavily influenced by the Renaissance, the Ages of Discovery and Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. Through extensive imperialism by Western powers in the 15th to 20th centuries, much of the rest of the world has been influenced by Western culture.
The concept of the Western part of the earth has its roots in the theological, methodological and emphatical division between the Western Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. West was originally literal, opposing Catholic Europe with the cultures and civilizations of Orthodox Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the remote Far East which early-modern Europeans saw as the East.
Western culture was influenced by many older great civilizations of the ancient Near East, such as Phoenicia, Ancient Israel, Minoan Crete, Sumer, Babylonia, and also Ancient Egypt. It originated in the Mediterranean basin and its vicinity; Greece and Rome are often cited as its originators.
Over time, their associated empires grew first to the east and west to include the rest of Mediterranean and Black Sea coastal areas, conquering and absorbing. Later, they expanded to the north of the Mediterranean Sea to include Western, Central, and Southeastern Europe. Christianization of Ireland (5th century), Christianization of Bulgaria (9th century), Christianization of Kievan Rus' (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus; 10th century), Christianization of Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden; 12th century) and Christianization of Lithuania (14th century) brought the rest of present-day European territory into Western civilization.
Historians, such as Carroll Quigley in The Evolution of Civilizations, contend that Western civilization was born around AD 500, after the total collapse of the Western Roman Empire, leaving a vacuum for new ideas to flourish that were impossible in Classical societies. In either view, between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance, the West (or those regions that would later become the heartland of the culturally "western sphere") experienced a period of first, considerable decline, and then readaptation, reorientation and considerable renewed material, technological and political development. This whole period of roughly a millennium is known as the Middle Ages, its early part forming the "Dark Ages", designations that were created during the Renaissance and reflect the perspective on history, and the self-image, of the latter period.
The knowledge of the ancient Western world was partly preserved during this period due to the survival of the Eastern Roman Empire and the introduction of the Catholic Church; it was also greatly expanded by the Arab importation of both the Ancient Greco-Roman and new technology through the Arabs from India and China to Europe.
Since the Renaissance, the West evolved beyond the influence of the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Islamic world, due to the successful Second Agricultural, Commercial, Scientific, and Industrial revolutions (propellers of modern banking concepts) peaked with the 18th century's Age of enlightenment, through the Age of exploration's expansion of peoples of Western and Central European empires, particularly the globe-spanning colonial empires of 18th and 19th centuries. Numerous times, this expansion was accompanied by Catholic missionaries, who attempted to proselytize Christianity.
Generally speaking, the current consensus would locate the West, at the very least, in the cultures and peoples of Europe (at least the European Union member states, EFTA countries, European microstates), the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Latin America. There is debate among some as to whether Latin America is in a category of its own. Whether Russia should be categorized as "East" or "West" has been "an ongoing discussion" for centuries.
The term "Western culture" is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies.
Specifically, Western culture may imply:
The concept of Western culture is generally linked to the classical definition of the Western world. In this definition, Western culture is the set of literary, scientific, political, artistic and philosophical principles that set it apart from other civilizations. Much of this set of traditions and knowledge is collected in the Western canon.
The term has come to apply to countries whose history is strongly marked by European immigration or settlement, such as the Americas, and Oceania, and is not restricted to Europe.
Some tendencies that define modern Western societies are the existence of political pluralism, laicism, generalization of middle class, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements), increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration. The modern shape of these societies is strongly based upon the Industrial Revolution and the societies' associated social and environmental problems, such as class and pollution, as well as reactions to them, such as syndicalism and environmentalism.
The geopolitical divisions in Europe that created a concept of East and West originated in the ancient tyrannical and imperialistic Graeco-Roman times. The Eastern Mediterranean was home to the highly urbanized cultures that had Greek as their common language (owing to the older empire of Alexander the Great and of the Hellenistic successors.), whereas the West was much more rural in its character and more readily adopted Latin as its common language. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the beginning of the Medieval times (or Middle Ages), Western and Central Europe were substantially cut off from the East where Byzantine Greek culture and Eastern Christianity became founding influences in the Arab/Muslim world and among the Eastern and Southern Slavic peoples.
Roman Catholic Western and Central Europe, as such, maintained a distinct identity particularly as it began to redevelop during the Renaissance. Even following the Protestant Reformation, Protestant Europe continued to see itself as more tied to Roman Catholic Europe than other parts of the perceived civilized world. Use of the term West as a specific cultural and geopolitical term developed over the course of the Age of Exploration as Europe spread its culture to other parts of the world. Roman Catholics were the first major religious group to immigrate to the New World, as settlers in the colonies of Portugal and Spain (and later, France) belonged to that faith. English and Dutch colonies, on the other hand, tended to be more religiously diverse. Settlers to these colonies included Anglicans, Dutch Calvinists, English Puritans and other nonconformists, English Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians, French Huguenots, German and Swedish Lutherans, as well as Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Moravians and Jews of various nationalities.
Ancient Greek civilization had been growing in 1st millennium BC into wealthy poleis, so-called city-states (geographically loose political entities which in time, inevitably end giving way to larger organisations of society, including the empire and the nation-state) such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth, by Middle and Near Eastern ones (Sumerian cities such as Uruk and Ur; Ancient Egyptian city-states, such as Thebes and Memphis; the Phoenician Tyre and Sidon; the five Philistine city-states; the Berber city-states of the Garamantes).
The then Hellenic division between the barbarians (term used by Ancient Greeks for all non-Greek-speaking people) and the Greeks contrasted in many societies the Greek-speaking culture of the Greek settlements around the Mediterranean to the surrounding non-Greek cultures. Herodotus considered the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BC a conflict of Europa versus Asia (which he considered all land north and east of the Sea of Marmara, respectively).
The terms "West" and "East" were not used by any Greek author to describe that conflict. The anachronistic application of those terms to that division entails a stark logical contradiction, given that, when the term "West" appeared, it was used by Hellenistic Roman Catholics of Greek heritage but also of Latin-speaking culture, in opposition to the Greek Orthodox and their Greek-speaking culture.
According to a few writers, the future conquest of parts of the Roman Empire by Germanic peoples and the subsequent dominance by the Western Christian Papacy (which held combined political and spiritual authority, a state of affairs absent from Greek civilization in all its stages), resulted in a rupture of the previously existing ties between the Latin West and Greek thought, including Christian Greek thought.
Ancient Rome (753 BC – AD 476) was a civilization that grew from a city-state founded on the Italian Peninsula about the 8th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its 10-centuries expansion, Roman civilization shifted from a small monarchy (753 – 509 BC), to a republic (509 – 27 BC), to an autocratic empire (27 BC – AD 476).
It came to dominate Western, Central and Southeastern Europe and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest using the Roman legions and then through cultural assimilation by giving Roman privileges and eventually citizenship to the whole empire. Nonetheless, despite its great legacy, a number of factors led to the eventual decline of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire succeeded the approximately 500-year-old Roman Republic (c. 510 BC – 30 BC), which had been weakened by the conflict between Gaius Marius and Sulla and the civil war of Julius Caesar against Pompey and Marcus Brutus. During these struggles hundreds of senators were killed, and the Roman Senate had been refilled with loyalists[vague] of the First Triumvirate and later those of the Second Triumvirate. Several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Republic to Empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual Roman dictator (44 BC), the victory of Caesar's heir Octavian at the Battle of Actium (2, 31 September BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific Augustus. (16, 27 January BC). Octavian/Augustus officially proclaimed that he had saved the Roman Republic and carefully disguised his power under republican forms: Consuls continued to be elected, tribunes of the plebeians continued to offer legislation, and senators still debated in the Roman Curia. However, it was Octavian who influenced everything and controlled the final decisions, and in final analysis, had the legions to back him up, if it became necessary.
Roman expansion had begun expanding long before the empire reached its zenith with the conquest of Dacia in AD 106, under Emperor Trajan. During its territorial peak, the Roman Empire controlled about 5 000 000 km² (2,300,000 sq.mi.) of land surface and had a population of 100 million. From the time of Caesar (100 – 44 BC) to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, Rome dominated Southern Europe, the Mediterranean coast of Northern Africa and the Western Middle East, including the ancient trade routes with population living outside. Ancient Rome has contributed greatly to the development of law, war, art, literature, architecture, technology and language in the Western world, and its history continues to have a major influence on the world today. Latin language has been the base from which Romance languages evolved and it has been the official language of the Catholic Church and all Catholic religious ceremonies all over Europe until 1967, as well as an or the official language of countries such as Poland (9th–18th centuries).
The Roman Empire is where the idea of the "West" began to emerge. By Rome's central location at the heart of the Empire, "West" and "East" were terms used to denote provinces West and east of the capital itself. Therefore, Iberia (Portugal and Spain), Gaul (France), Mediterranean coast of North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) and Britannia were all part of the "West", while Greece, Cyprus, Anatolia, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Libya were part of the "East". Italy itself was considered central, until the reforms of Diocletian, with the idea of formally dividing the Empire into true two halves: Eastern and Western.[vague]
In 395, the Roman Empire formally split into a Western Roman Empire and an Eastern one, each with their own emperors, capitals, and governments, although ostensibly they still belonged to one formal Empire. The Western Roman Empire provinces eventually were replaced by Germanic ruled kingdoms in the 5th century due to civil wars, corruption, and devastating Germanic invasions from such tribes as the Goths, the Franks and the Vandals.
The dissolution of the Western half (nominally in AD 476, but in truth a long process that ended by AD 800) left only the Eastern Roman Empire alive. The East continued to call themselves Eastern Romans even after AD 610 – 800 when Greek had become official language of the empire (was Latin) and the Pope's crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor of the Romans, while the West began to think in terms of Western Latins (those living in the old Western Empire) and Eastern Greeks (those inside the Roman remnant to the east).
The Eastern Roman Empire, governed from Constantinople, is usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after AD 476, the traditional date for the "fall of the Western Roman Empire" and beginning of the Early Middle Ages. The Eastern Roman Empire surviving the fall of the Western, protected Roman legal and cultural traditions, combining them with Greek and Christian elements, for another thousand years. The name Byzantine Empire was used after the Byzantine Empire ended, the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire continued to call themselves Romans for long time.
In the early 4th century (AD 330), the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great had established the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire included lands east of the Adriatic Sea and bordering on the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Black Sea. This division into Eastern and Western Roman Empires was reflected in the administration of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Greek Orthodox churches, with Rome and Constantinople debating over whether either city was the capital of Western religion.
As the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (firstly Catholic, then Protestant as well) churches spread their influence, the line between Eastern and Western Christianity was moving. Its movement was affected by the influence of the Byzantine empire and the fluctuating power and influence of the Catholic church in Rome. Beginning in the Middle Ages religious cultural hegemony slowly waned in Europe generally. This process may have prompted the geographic line of religious division to approximately follow a line of cultural divide.
The influential American conservative political scientist, adviser and academic Samuel P. Huntington argued that this cultural division still existed during the Cold War as the approximate Western boundary of those countries that were allied with the Soviet Union. Others have fiercely criticized these views arguing they confuse the Eastern Roman Empire with Russia, especially considering the fact that the country that had the most historical roots in Byzantium, Greece, expelled communists and was allied with the West during the Cold War. Still, Russia accepted Eastern Christianity from the Byzantine Empire (by the Patriarch of Constantinople: Photios I) linking Russia very close to the Eastern Roman Empire world. Later on, in 16th century Russia created its own religious centre in Moscow. Religion survived in Russia beside severe persecution carrying values alternative to the communist ideology.
In AD 800 under Charlemagne, the Franks established an empire that was recognized as the Holy Roman Empire by the Pope in Rome, offending the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. The crowning of the Emperor by the Pope led to the assumption that the highest power was the papal hierarchy, quintessential Roman Empire's spiritual heritage authority, establishing then, until the Protestant Reformation, the civilization of West Christendom. The Latin Rite Catholic Church of western and central Europe headed by the Pope split with the eastern, Greek-speaking Patriarchates during the Great Schism. Meanwhile, the extent of each expanded, as British Isles, Germanic peoples, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, Scandinavia, Baltic peoples and the other non-Christian lands of the northwest were converted by the Western Church, while Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia were converted by the Eastern Church.
Decline and Fall of Constantinople (13th-15th centuries) began by Latin Christian Fourth Crusade in AD 1204, considered to be one of the most prominent acts that solidified the schism between the Greek and Latin Christian churches. It had evolved from anti-Western riot of 1182 broke out in Constantinople targeting Latins, the extremely wealthy (after previous Crusades) Venetians in particular, into the successful attempt to maintain control over the coast of Catholic present-day Croatia (the Dalmatia, region of interest to maritime medieval Venetian Republic moneylenders and its rivals, such as the Republic of Genoa) rebelling against the Venetian economical domination, that dealt an irrevocable blow to the already weakened Byzantine Empire with the Crusader army's sack of Constantinople, capital of the Greek Christian-controlled Byzantine Empire (described as one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks of a city in history), which would be paving the way for Muslim conquests in present-day Turkey and Balkans in the coming centuries. As a side note, only a handful of the Crusaders continued to the Holy Land thereafter, and such territory remained under Venice domination throughout next centuries, even constituting an Italian territorial claim by the Treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of the First World War.
This much profitable Central European Fourth Crusade had prompted Renaissance (translated as 'Rebirth') Italian city-states including Papal States, ushering the following Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the 1500s, and consequent dissolution of West Christendom as even a theoretical unitary political body, later resulting in the religious Thirty Years War between various Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire (and emergence of religiously diverse confessions). The war ended in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which enshrined the concept of the nation-state and the principle of absolute national sovereignty in international law.
With the discovery of the American continent in 1492-1493, the European colonial Age of Discovery and exploration is born revisiting an imperialistic view accompanied by the invention of firearms, as well as marking the start of the Modern Era. During this long period the Catholic Church inaugurated a major effort to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the Native Americans and others. Portugal's and Spain's colonial policies will be challenged by the Roman Catholic Church itself despite religion being considered by both Portugal and Spain an integral part of the state and evangelization seen as having both secular and spiritual benefits.
In this context, the Protestant reformation (1515) may be viewed as a schism within the Catholic Church. German monk Martin Luther, in the wake of precursors, broke with the pope and with the emperor by the Catholic Church selling indulgences in the Late Medieval Period, backed by many of the German princes in an attempt to reform corruption within the church. These changes were adopted by the Scandinavian kings. Later, French commoner Jean Cauvin (John Calvin) assumed the religio-political leadership in Geneva, a former ecclesiastical city whose prior ruler had been the bishop. The English King later improvised on the Lutheran model, but subsequently many Calvinist doctrines were adopted by popular dissenters, leading to the English Civil War (1642–1651) between Royalists and Parliamentarians. Both royalists and dissenters colonized North America, eventually resulting in an independent United States of America.
Concepts of a world of nation-states born by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, coupled with the ideologies of the Enlightenment, the coming of modernity, the Scientific Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, produced powerful political and economic institutions that have come to influence (or been imposed upon) most nations of the world today. Historians agree that the Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events in history. This process of influence (and imposition) began with the voyages of discovery, colonization, conquest, and exploitation of Portugal enforced as well by papal bulls in 1450s, granting Portugal navigation, war and trade monopoly for the newly discovered lands, and competing Spain. It continued with the rise of the Dutch East India Company by Spanish discovery of the New World, and the creation and expansion of the English and French colonial empires.
Due to the reach of these empires, Western institutions expanded throughout the world. Even after demands for self-determination from subject peoples within Western empires were met with decolonization, these institutions persisted. One specific example was the requirement that post-colonial societies were made to form nation-states (in the Western tradition), which often created arbitrary boundaries and borders that did not necessarily represent a whole nation, people, or culture, and are often the cause of international conflicts and friction even to this day. Although not part of Western colonization process proper, following the Middle Ages Western culture in fact entered other global-spanning cultures during the colonial 15th-20th centuries.
By Renaissance architetural works, revivals of Classical and Gothic styles fluorished during this modern period throughout Western colonial empires, with the former embodying Roman Catholic Church and republican values while the latter having more conservative and Protestant Church connotations.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, a number of European travelers, many of them Christian missionaries, had sought to cultivate trading with Asia and Africa. The most famous of these travelers was Marco Polo. But these journeys had little permanent effect on the East-West trade because of a series of political developments in Asia in the last decades of the 14th century, which put an end to further European exploration of Asia: namely the new Ming rulers were found to be unreceptive of religious proselytism by European missionaries and merchants. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks consolidated control over the eastern Mediterranean, closing off key overland trade routes.
The Portuguese, spearheaded the drive to find oceanic routes that would provide cheaper and easier access to South and East Asian goods after advancements in maritime technology such as the caravel ship introduced in the mid-1400s, which aided Portuguese exploration. This chartering of oceanic routes between East and West began with the unprecedented voyages of Portuguese and Spanish sea captains, and would eventually expand across the globe initiating European colonialism by Hispano-Italian 1492 exploring voyage by merchant, navigator, and colonizer Christopher Columbus. These voyages were influenced by medieval European adventurers after the European spice trade with Asia, who had journeyed overland to the Far East contributing to geographical knowledge of parts of the Asian continent upon their return, and are of enormous significance in Western history as they marked the beginning of the European exploration, colonization and exploitation of the American continents and that of their native inhabitants.[d][e][f] The European colonization of the Americas was the outset of the Atlantic slave trade between the 1490s and the 1800s, which also contributed to the development of African intertribal warfare and racist ideology. Until the abolition of its slave trade in 1807, the British Empire alone (which had started colonial efforts in 1578, almost a century after Portuguese and Spanish empires) was responsible for the transportation of 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas, a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic. The Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806. By early-19th century the systematic urbanisation process (migration from villages in search of jobs to places where factories were set up) began, and the concentration of labour into factories led to the rise in the population of the towns, while the new philosophical movement later known as Romanticism originated after the previous Enlightenment.
Before the urbanisation and industrialization of the 1800s, demand for oriental goods such as (porcelain, silk, spices and tea) remained the driving force behind European imperialism in Asia, and (with the important exception of British East India Company rule in India) the European stake in Asia remained confined largely to trading stations and strategic outposts necessary to protect trade. Industrialisation, however, dramatically increased European demand for Asian raw materials; and the severe Long Depression of the 1870s provoked a scramble for new markets for European industrial products and financial services in Africa, the Americas, Eastern Europe, and especially in Asia, and resulted in so-called "New Imperialism", which saw a shift in focus between trade, indirect rule and formal colonial control of vast overseas territories ruled as political extensions of their mother countries.[g] The later years of the 19th century saw the transition from "informal imperialism" (hegemony)[h] by military influence and economic dominance, to direct rule (a revival of colonial imperialism) in the African continent and Middle East.
Between the 1870s and 1914 (so-called Beautiful Era, socioeconomically optimistic and innovative decades by the Second Industrial Revolution), the established colonial powers in Asia (United Kingdom, France, Netherlands) added to their empires also vast expanses of territory in the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia. Japan was involved primarily in the so-called Meiji period (1868–1912), though earlier contact with the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Dutch were also present in the recognition of European nations as strategically important to the Japanese Empire. The traditional Japanese society was virtually overturned into an industrial and militarist power like Western countries such as the United Kingdom, the French Third Republic, and similarly to the German Empire, the Russian Empire, and the United States, following the Spanish–American War in 1898, quickly emerged as new imperial powers in East Asia and in the Pacific Ocean area.
Though the overt colonial era has passed, Western nations, as comparatively rich, well-armed, and culturally powerful states, still wielded a large degree of influence throughout the world.
During the Cold War, a new definition emerged. Earth was divided into three "worlds". The First World, analogous in this context to what was called the West, was composed of NATO members and other countries aligned with the United States. The Second World was the Eastern bloc in the Soviet sphere of influence, including the Soviet Union (15 republics including presently independent Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, East Germany (now united with Germany), Czechoslovakia (now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
The Third World consisted of countries, many of which were unaligned with either, and important members included India, Yugoslavia, Finland (Finlandization) and Switzerland (Swiss Neutrality); some include the People's Republic of China, though this is disputed, since the People's Republic of China, as communist, had friendly relations — at certain times — with the Soviet bloc, and had a significant degree of importance in global geopolitics. Some Third World countries aligned themselves with either the US-led West or the Soviet-led Eastern bloc.
A number of countries did not fit comfortably into this neat definition of partition, including Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, and Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's military sphere of influence (see FCMA treaty) but remained neutral and was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact or Comecon but a member of the EFTA since 1986, and was west of the Iron Curtain. In 1955, when Austria again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remain neutral, but as a country to the west of the Iron Curtain, it was in the United States' sphere of influence. Spain did not join the NATO until 1982, towards the end of the Cold War and after the death of the authoritarian Franco.
During the Cold War II, a new definition emerged. More specifically, Cold War II, also known as the Second Cold War, New Cold War, Cold War Redux, Cold War 2.0, and Colder War, refers to the tensions, hostilities, and political rivalry that intensified dramatically in 2014 between the Russian Federation on the one hand, and the United States, European Union, NATO and some other countries on the other hand. Tensions escalated in 2014 after Russia's annexation of Crimea, military intervention in Ukraine, and the 2015 Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. By August 2014, both sides had implemented economic, financial, and diplomatic sanctions upon each other: virtually all Western countries, led by the US and EU, imposed restrictive measures on Russia; the latter reciprocally introduced retaliatory measures.
The exact scope of the Western world is somewhat subjective in nature, depending on whether cultural, economic, spiritual or political criteria are employed.
Many anthropologists, sociologists and historians oppose "the West and the Rest" in a categorical manner. The same has been done by Malthusian demographers with a sharp distinction between European and non-European family systems. Among anthropologists, this includes Durkheim, Dumont and Lévi-Strauss.
As the term "Western world" does not have a strict international definition, governments do not use the term in legislation of international treaties and instead rely on other definitions.
In the 20th century, Christianity declined in influence in many Western countries, mostly in the European Union where some member states have experienced falling church attendance and membership in recent years, and also elsewhere. Secularism (separating religion from politics and science) increased. However, while church attendance is in decline, in some western countries (i.e. Italy, Poland and Portugal) more than half the people state that religion is important, and most Westerners nominally identify themselves as Christians (e.g. 59% in the United Kingdom) and attend church on major occasions, such as Christmas and Easter. In the Americas, Christianity continues to play an important societal role, though in areas such as Canada, low level of religiosity is common as a result of experiencing processes of secularization similar to European ones. The official religions of the United Kingdom and some Nordic countries are forms of Christianity, even though the majority of European countries have no official religion. Despite this, Christianity, in its different forms, remains the largest faith in most Western countries.
Christianity remains the dominant religion in the Western world, where 70% are Christians. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that 76.2% of Europeans, 73.3% in Oceania, and about 86.0% in the Americas (90% in Latin America and 77.4% in North America) described themselves as Christians.
Countries of the Western world are generally considered to share certain fundamental political ideologies, including those of liberal democracy, the rule of law, human rights and gender equality (although there are notable exceptions, especially in foreign policy). All of these are prerequisites, for example, for a state to become a full member of the European Union and therefore from modern political point of view all European Union member states from the Western, Central and Southeastern Europe are considered part of the Western world.
Though the Cold War has ended, and some members of the former Eastern Bloc make a general movement towards liberal democracy and other beliefs held in common by traditionally Western states, most of the former Soviet republics (except Baltic states) are not considered Western because of the small presence of social and political reform, as well as the significant cultural, economic and political differences to what is known today as described by the term "The West": United States of America and Canada, European Union and European Free Trade Association member states, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.
The term "Western world" is sometimes interchangeably used with the term First World or developed countries, stressing the difference between First World and the Third World or developing countries. This usage occurs despite the fact that many countries that may be culturally "Western" are developing countries - in fact, a significant percentage of the Americas are developing countries. It is also used despite many developed countries or regions not being Western (e.g., Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Qatar, Israel), and therefore left out when "Western world" is used to denote developed countries.
The existence of "The North" implies the existence of "The South", and the socio-economic divide between North and South. The term "the North" has in some contexts replaced earlier usage of the term "the West", particularly in the critical sense, as a more robust demarcation than the terms "West" and "East". The North provides some absolute geographical indicators for the location of wealthy countries, most of which are physically situated in the Northern Hemisphere, although, as most countries are located in the northern hemisphere in general, some have considered this distinction equally unhelpful.
The 35 high-income countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which include: Australia, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland, the United States and the countries of the EU (except for: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta and Romania), are generally included in what used to be called developed world, although the OECD includes countries, namely, Chile, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Mexico, Slovenia and Turkey, that are not yet fully industrial countries, but newly industrialised countries. Although Andorra, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Macau, Malta, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan and Vatican City, are not members of the OECD, they might also be regarded as developed countries, because of their high living standards, high per capita incomes, and their social, economic and political structure are quite similar to those of the high income OECD countries.
A series of scholars of civilization, including Arnold J. Toynbee, Alfred Kroeber and Carroll Quigley have identified and analyzed "Western civilization" as one of the civilizations that have historically existed and still exist today. Toynbee entered into quite an expansive mode, including as candidates those countries or cultures who became so heavily influenced by the West as to adopt these borrowings into their very self-identity; carried to its limit, this would in practice include almost everyone within the West, in one way or another. In particular, Toynbee refers to the intelligentsia formed among the educated elite of countries impacted by the European expansion of centuries past. While often pointedly nationalist, these cultural and political leaders interacted within the West to such an extent as to change both themselves and the West.
Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said uses the term occident in his discussion of orientalism. According to his binary, the West, or Occident, created a romanticized vision of the East, or Orient to justify colonial and imperialist intentions. This Occident-Orient binary focuses on the Western vision of the East instead of any truths about the East. His theories are rooted in Hegel's Master-slave dialectic: The Occident would not exist without the Orient and vice versa. Further, Western writers created this irrational, feminine, weak "Other" to contrast with the rational, masculine, strong West because of a need to create a difference between the two that would justify imperialist ambitions, according to the Said-influenced Indian-American theorist Homi K. Bhabha.[clarification needed]
The term the "West" may also be used pejoratively by certain tendencies and especially critical of the influence of the traditional West, due to the history of most of the members of the traditional West being previously involved, at one time or another, in outright imperialism and colonialism. Some of these critics also claim that the traditional West has continued to engage in what might be viewed as modern implementations of imperialism and colonialism, such as neoliberalism and globalization. (It should be noted that many Westerners who subscribe to a positive view of the traditional West are also very critical of neoliberalism and globalization, for their allegedly negative effects on both the developed and developing world.)
Allegedly, definitions of the term "Western world" that some may consider "ethnocentric" others consider "constructed" around one or another Western culture. The British writer Rudyard Kipling wrote about this contrast: East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, expressing his belief that somebody from the West "can never understand the Asian cultures" as the latter "differ too much" from the Western cultures. Some may view this alleged incompatibility as a precursor to Huntington's "clash of civilizations" theory.
From a very different perspective, it has also been argued that the idea of the West is, in part, a non-Western invention, deployed in the non-West to shape and define non-Western pathways through or against modernity.
The official statistics bureau of Norway, Statistics Norway, has used a definition of the "West" as "EU28/EEA, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand", and a definition of the "Rest of the World" as "Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand, and Europe outside EU/EEA", for the purpose of immigration statistics.
According to Samuel P. Huntington, Turkey, whose political leadership has systematically tried to Westernize the predominantly Muslim country with only 3% of its territory within Europe since the 1920s, is his chief example of a "torn country" that is attempting to join Western civilization. The country's elite started the Westernization efforts, beginning with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who took power as the first president of the modern Turkish nation-state in 1923, imposed western institutions and dress, removed the Arabic alphabet and embraced the Latin alphabet, joined NATO, and are seeking to join the European Union since the 1960s with very slow progress. Mexico and Russia are also considered to be torn by Huntington. He also gives the example of Australia as a country torn between its Western civilizational heritage and its growing economic engagement with Asia. Russia, Japan, and India also, are what Huntington terms 'swing civilizations'.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus would land on an island in the Bahamas archipelago on behalf of the Spanish, and documenting the Atlantic Ocean's routes would be granted a Coat of Arms by Pope Alexander VI motu proprio in 1502. In 1497 Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama made the first open voyage from Europe to India. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator in the service of the Crown of Castile ('Spain'), found a sea route into the Pacific Ocean.
The list of books which have celebrated Greece as the “cradle” of the West is endless; two more examples are Charles Freeman's The Greek Achievement: The Foundation of the Western World (1999) and Bruce Thornton's Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (2000)
The reason why even such a sophisticated historian as Pagden can do it is that the idea that Greece is the cradle of civilisation is so much rooted in western minds and school curicula as to be taken for granted.
In 1979, a friend of de Boer's invited him to join a team of scientists that was going to Greece to assess the suitability of the ... But the idea of learning more about Greece — the cradle of Western civilization, a fresh example of tectonic forces at ...
for ancient Greece was the cradle of Western culture ...
PART I PRE-SOCRATIC PHILOSOPHY CHAPTER II THE CRADLE OF WESTERN THOUGHT:
The capital of Greece, one of the world's most glorious cities and the cradle of Western culture,
In short, Greece, despite having been the cradle of Western culture, was then an “other” space separate from the West.
Ancient Greece: Cradle of Western Culture (Series), disc. 6 strips with 3 discs, range: 44–60 fr., 17–18 min
and making Egypt play the same role in African education and culture that Athens and Greece do in Western culture.
Greece has long been considered the seedbed or cradle of Western civilization.
The Special Case of Greece The ancient Greece was a cradle of the Western culture,
Ancient Greece is often called the cradle of western civilization. ... Ideas from literature and science also have their roots in ancient Greece.