Dialogue Among Civilizations

A Hermeneutical Perspective
  • Fred Dallmayr
Part of the Culture and Religion in International Relations book series (CRIR)


When asked about his view of Western civilization, the Mahatma Gandhi famously replied: “It would be a good idea.” His reply reminds us that “civilization” is not a secure possession but a fragile, ever-renewable endeavor; grammatically, it has the character more of a verb than a noun. This is particularly true of the emerging global or “world civilization”—what sometimes is called the nascent “cosmopolis.” Here again, caution is imperative. Anyone today who would claim to speak “in the name of” world civilization would be suspect (with good reason) of harboring hegemonic or imperialist designs. Contrary to the pretense of a facile cosmopolitanism, civilization in our time is what grammarians call a plurale tantum (meaning that it exists only in the plural)—notwithstanding the undeniable tightening of the network of global interactions. Hence, if there is to be a genuine civilizational encounter, participants have to proceed modestly and soberly: by taking their departure, at least initially, from their own distinct perspective or vantage point, that is, by remembering and bringing to bear their own cultural-historical “pre-judgments”—while simultaneously guarding against any form of cultural or ethnic self-enclosure.


Western Civilization Civil State Civil Life City Life Western Modernity 
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© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

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  • Fred Dallmayr

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