Our history is written in our genes and in our actions. We can do little about the former, but virtually everything about the latter, if we are a free people.
Cavalli-Sforza and Cavalli-Sforza
T he emergence of Homo culturalis onto the evolutionary scene can be traced originally to the development within the human species of an extremely large brain, averaging 1400 cc/85.4 cu. in., more than 2 million years ago. Humankind’s ability and disposition to think and plan consciously, to transmit learned skills to subsequent generations knowingly, to establish social relationships in response to need, and to modify the environment creatively are the felicitous consequences of that momentous evolutionary event. The brain’s great size, complexity, and slow rate of maturation, with connections among its nerve cells being added through the pre-pubescent years of life, has made it possible for Homo culturalis, in effect, to step outside the slow forces of biological evolution and to meet new environmental demands by means of conscious rapid adjustments, rather than by force of genetic adaptation: i.e. it has bestowed upon the human species the ability to survive through intelligent activities in a wide range of habitats and in extreme environmental conditions without further species differentiation. However, in balance, the prolonged juvenile stage of brain and skull development in relation to the time required to reach sexual maturity has exposed neonatal human beings to unparalleled risks among primates. Each new infant is born with relatively few innate traits yet with a vast number of potential behaviors, and therefore must be reared in a cultural setting so that it can achieve its biological potential. In a phrase, Culture has taken over from Nature in guaranteeing the survival of the human species and in charting its future evolution.
Evidence from the field of paleontology, the science of fossil interpretation, suggests that cultures have ancient origins. The fashioning of tools, the earmark of early cultures, was accomplished at least 2.5 million years ago, as was the use of gesture for communication. Gradually, planned hunting, fire-making, the weaving of cloth, and the ritualized burial of the dead became well-established characteristics of hominid groups. By about 100,000 years ago, the making of art, communication by means of language, and communally-established systems of ethics became the distinctive attributes of the first human tribes. Since then culture, in the sense of individuals living together, thinking and planning consciously, transmitting skills and systems of social relationships to each other through language, and working together to modify the environment, has become the defining attribute of the human species.
So, the question of what is culture is hardly a trivial one. To understand human nature is to unravel the raison d’être of culture. Although interest in culture is as old as human history, the first scientific definition of culture had to await the nineteenth century, when the British anthropologist Edward B. Tylor defined it in his 1871 book Primitive Culture as “a complex whole including knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capability or habit acquired by human beings as members of society.” Tylor’s definition was also one of the first ever to differentiate qualitatively between culture and society. Although these terms continue to be used commonly as synonyms in many languages, in actual fact they refer to different things. Within a social collectivity, there can, and frequently does, exist more than one culture. In an opposite manner, several societies can be thought of as belonging to the same general culture—e.g. European culture, Asian culture, African culture, etc. Societies are simultaneously the geographical and historical “reifications” (manifestations) of cultures: i.e. they have existence in time and space, enfolding the signifying processes that shape and regulate the lives of the people who live within them.
Like other species, Homo culturalis has always lived in groups for protection and refuge, thus enhancing its survivability. But, as Tylor’s definition implies, human societies involve much more than instinctive group behavior. The primary purpose of this text is, as a matter of fact, to highlight those aspects of human gregarious life that transcend the survival functions of other animal groupings.
The amount and diversity of scientific research that has been conducted on cultural systems since the publication of Tylor’s book in 1871 have reached mind-boggling proportions. And yet, the reason culture came about in the first place remains largely an enigma to this day, even though various intriguing hypotheses about its origins and raison d’être have been formulated on the basis of a veritable stockpile of paleontological and archeological information. In this opening chapter, we will start our excursion into culture with a panoramic survey of those hypotheses. Needless to say, we cannot possibly go into any depth or detail here. In one chapter, all we can really do is scratch the surface of the historical record. We will therefore be selective, highlighting those ideas that we consider to be relevant to the focus of this text, even if this entails leaving out many others whose influence on the development of culture theory is hardly negligible. After a brief historical foray, we will move on to a succinct consideration of some rudimentary matters, casting a glance at what is most prominent in discussions about the origins of culture with an eye towards putting forth a working semiotic definition of this phenomenon that reflects the paleontological record. Finally, we will describe the principal spheres—kinship, religious, political, legal, economic, and educational—that constitute the institutional systems that have emerged to regulate social interaction in the human species.
As the reader may have surmised by now, we have coined the term Homo culturalis simply as a stylistic device. There is no evidence to suggest the existence of a species identifiable as Homo culturalis, separable or differentiable in evolutionary lineage from the other species of Homo. The term is a rhetorical figure, meant to highlight the fact that in the evolutionary heritage of human beings, culture stands out as a truly remarkable attainment.
Scientific research on all facets of culture is less than 150 years old. As mentioned, the first step to make discussions of culture more scientifically objective, rather than based on philosophical or theological opinions, was taken in the nineteenth century by the British scholar Edward B. Tylor (1832–1917), after he became interested in how other people lived while accompanying his colleague Henry Christy on a scientific journey through Mexico in 1856. As a result of this trip, Tylor wrote the first true anthropological study of culture in 1871, in which he examined the rituals and symbol systems of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. He then proceeded to establish the first chair in anthropology at the University of Oxford in 1884, which he himself held from 1896 to 1909. Shortly thereafter, in 1888, similar chairs and departments were founded at Harvard and Clark Universities in the United States. Their purpose was to give the scientific study of cultures academic status and autonomy.
General philosophical interest in the phenomenon of culture, however, is as old as civilization itself. It can be seen, for instance, in the written descriptions of the first travelers of the ancient world who were captivated by the behavioral diversity that they saw among the peoples they visited. From the first observations of the Greek historian Herodotus to the most recent documentations of modern-day anthropologists, those who have made it their objective to study culture have tended to do so by means of an essentially descriptive, or so-called ethnographic, method, i.e. by the technique of chronicling first-hand the characteristics of each culture’s language, artifacts, modes of dress, rites of passage, religious and mythological systems of belief, rituals, ceremonies, and indigenous art forms.
The starting point for a historiography of culture is the work of the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), who spent a large part of his life traveling through Asia, Babylon, Egypt, and Greece, noting and recording for posterity the differences he perceived (with respect to Athenian culture) in the language, dress, food, etiquette, legends, history, and rituals of the people he came across. The comparative annotations he made in his great work History—the Greek word for “inquiry”—constitute the first significant accounts of the cultures of virtually the entire ancient Middle East, including those of the Scythians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, and Egyptians. Inspired by the History, other ancient historians, like the Roman Tacitus (c. 55–117 AD), also made it a point to describe the languages, character, manners, and geographical distribution of the peoples they visited. Their writings constitute valuable addenda to Herodotus’ ethnographic commentaries.
In the medieval era, the Italian adventurer Marco Polo (c. 1254–1324) became fascinated by the customs of the people he met on his travels through China and other parts of Asia. Fortunately, he also decided to chronicle his voyages. To this day, his account—called the Travels—remains perhaps the most famous and influential travel book in history. With a wealth of vivid detail, Marco Polo gave medieval Europe its first glimpse into the cultures of China and other Asian countries, including Siam (Thailand), Japan, Java, Cochin, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Tibet, India, and Burma. His book also became the source for some of the first maps of Asia made in Europe. And it helped to arouse in Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) an interest in the Orient that culminated in his exploration of America in 1492, while attempting to reach the Far East by sailing due west from Europe, as Polo had suggested. Incidentally, the all-sea route from Europe to the Far East around Africa outlined in the Travels was verified by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (1460?–1524) in 1497–1498.
In the fourteenth century, the Algerian scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) wrote a truly fascinating treatise on the subtle behavioral differences that existed between nomadic and city-dwelling Bedouins, in which he noted that the environment where the two groups lived was responsible for their dissimilar personalities. His work, therefore, is not only a valuable guide to the history of fourteenth-century North African cultures, but also an early blueprint for relativistic theories of culture, which hold that culture and habitat mold the individual’s character and worldview. A society, he observed, was held together by the unifying force of religion, and it arose and fell according to “cultural laws” that could be empirically discovered by an observer since they reflected both a group’s pattern of adaptation to habitat and the kinds of representational systems (language, rituals, etc.) it had developed over time.
After the voyages of discovery and conquest of the Americas in the late fifteenth century, there arose a heated philosophical debate in Europe on the indigenous peoples of the so-called “New World.” The world was, of course, “new” to those who lived on the eastern shores of the Atlantic; it certainly was not to those who were already living there in flourishing and technologically advanced societies. Late in the sixteenth century, the French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) tried to dispel the pejorative popular view that had arisen in Europe vis-à-vis the indigenous peoples of the Americas, arguing that it was crucial above all else to understand their cultural systems on their own terms, not in terms of European systems of ethics. But Montaigne’s reasonable viewpoint had to await the eighteenth century to gain acceptance and currency. In that century, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) even went so far as to call for the elimination of the vitiating influences of Western civilization. He expounded the view that European science, art, and social institutions had corrupted humankind and that the “natural” form of communal life was morally superior to the “civilized” one.
Rousseau’s radical perspective was a consequence of, and a reaction to, the emerging intellectual climate of eighteenth-century Europe—characterized appropriately as the Age of Enlightenment. Impressed by Isaac Newton’s (1642–1727) scientific discoveries in physics and mathematics, the thinkers of the age believed that they could also unlock the laws of thinking by the use of scientific reason. Although Enlightenment philosophers saw religion—especially Roman Catholicism—as the principal force that had enslaved the human mind in the past, most did not renounce it altogether, accepting the existence of God and of a spiritual hereafter, but rejecting most of the intricacies and rituals of Christian theology. Human aspirations, they believed, should be centered not on the next life, but rather on the means of improving earthly life. Enlightenment intellectuals reexamined and questioned all received ideas and values, exploring new ways of thinking in many different domains of knowledge. The Enlightenment marked a pivotal stage in the decline of Church influence on Western society at large and the growth of modern secularism.
The Enlightenment opened the doors to the founding of the social sciences. Extremely influential in shaping the early scientific theories of cultural origins was the notion of cultural evolutionism. The catalyst was Charles Darwin’s (1809–1882) theory of natural selection that he explicated in his 1858 masterpiece, On the Origin of Species. On one of his trips to the Galapagos Islands, a Pacific island group six hundred miles west of Ecuador, to collect data on different species, it dawned upon Darwin that the young born to any species intensely competed for survival and that those surviving to produce the next generation tended to embody favorable natural variations (however slight the advantages might be), passing these on by heredity. Therefore, he posited that each generation would improve adaptively over preceding generations, and that this gradual and continuous process was the source of the evolution of the species as a whole. Natural selection was only part of Darwin’s radical theory; he also introduced the idea that all related organisms are descended from common ancestors.
The most publicized and scathing attacks on Darwin’s ideas came at first not from academia but, understandably, from the religious community. The very thought that human beings could have evolved through natural processes denied, to the shocked minds of the religious people of the era, the special creation of humankind by God, placing people on the level of brute animals. Simply put, Darwin’s ideas posed a serious challenge to orthodox theological doctrine. But the potency of the early religious opposition to evolutionary theory was weakened by a discovery made, ironically, by an Augustinian monk, Gregor Johann Mendel (1822–1884). Between 1856 and 1863 Mendel cultivated and tested more than 28,000 pea plants, carefully analyzing seven pairs of seed and plant characteristics. His tedious experiments showed, for instance, that if tall and dwarf peas were crossed, hybrid offspring would result that resembled the tall parent rather than being a medium-height blend. To explain this he conceived of hereditary units, now called genes, which he claimed were responsible for passing on dominant or recessive characteristics.
The final damaging blow to any religiously-motivated opposition to Darwin’s theory came in 1953, nearly a century after the publication of On the Origin of Species, when biologists James Watson (1928–) and Francis Crick (1916–) demonstrated that the genetic fabric of all organisms is composed of two nucleic acids, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Nucleic acid molecules contain genetic codes that dictate the manufacture of proteins, and the latter direct the biochemical pathways of development and metabolism in an organism. Watson and Crick’s work showed that mutations in the position of a gene, or in the information coded in the gene, can affect the function of the protein for which the gene is responsible. Natural selection operates by favoring or suppressing a particular gene according to how strongly its protein product contributes to the reproductive success of the organism. In a phrase, the discovery of DNA and RNA verified, conclusively, that physical evolution is a matter of genetic reorganization.
While the purely biological aspects of Darwin’s theory now seem unlikely to be challenged by any substantive counter-proposals or alternatives, the extension of Darwinian evolutionary theory to explain human nature and culture has, on the other hand, always been fraught with difficulties. Soon after the publication of On the Origin of Species, a number of intellectuals came to see culture ultimately as an extension of biological forces, a collective adaptive phenomenon that emerged, so they claimed, to enhance the survivability and progress of the human species in nonbiological ways. The British philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), for instance, described cultural institutions as outcomes of natural selection, as explainable and as classifiable as living things. The idea that gained a foothold in early theories, therefore, was that all cultures, no matter how diverse they may seem, developed according to a regular series of predictable stages reflecting a predetermined pattern built into the genetic blueprint of the human species. The American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (1818–1881) epitomized this view by arguing eruditely in his 1877 book Ancient Society that humanity had progressed by force of physical impulse from savagery, to barbarism, to civilization.
An early attack on cultural evolutionism was made by the German social theorist Karl Marx (1818–1883). Marx argued that new forms of culture emerged not as adaptations to genetic tendencies, but as consequences of individuals struggling to gain control over their personal and social lives. But as the nineteenth century came to a close considerable dissension developed even within the ranks of the cultural evolutionists themselves. Some reasoned that culture might have certainly enhanced human survivability and reproductive success in some ways, but in many others it had, curiously and incomprehensibly, put humankind’s survival at risk—humans must be nurtured for a prolonged period of time prior to sexual maturity (known as the stage of neoteny), they cannot run as fast on average as other primates, they commit suicide for emotional and social reasons, and they do many other such things that would seem indeed to put in jeopardy their very survival. And yet, without culture modern human beings would have great difficulty surviving. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973: 23) has perhaps best expressed the paradox of the human condition by stating wryly that without culture human beings would be “unworkable monstrosities, with few useful instincts, few recognizable sentiments, and no intellect.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, attacks on cultural evolutionism from anthropological quarters were mounting steadily. The American Franz Boas (1858–1942) saw the notion that cultures resulted from natural selection as not only oblivious of human history, but also as highly fanciful, without any empirical foundations. He argued his counter-case on the basis of a large body of information that he had amassed from his extensive fieldwork on the indigenous cultures of North America. The many differences he found among aboriginal peoples led him to argue against a universal biological paradigm for culture. If anything, he retorted, the reverse was true—culture, the distinguishing trait of the human species, had become the primary “reshaper” of the biological paradigm. The view espoused by Boas came to be known as cultural relativism. While evolutionists saw humans as “adaptations” to the forces of natural selection, Boas saw them as “makers” of their own worlds and of themselves.
Among Boas’ students at Columbia University in the 1920s and 1930s, Edward Sapir (1884–1939), Margaret Mead (1901–1978), and Ruth Benedict (1887–1948) became well-known cultural relativists in their own right. Sapir (1921) devoted his career to determining the extent to which the language of a culture shaped the thought patterns of its users. Mead (1939, 1950) sought to unravel how child-rearing practices influenced the behavior and temperament of the maturing individual. Benedict (1934) was fascinated by the fact that every culture developed its own particular canons of morality and lifestyle that largely determined the choices individuals made throughout their life cycle. From the moment of birth the customs into which an individual is born shape h/er behavior and worldview. By the time s/he can talk, s/he has become a creature of h/er culture—its habits are h/er habits, its beliefs h/er beliefs, its challenges h/er challenges.
The relativistic perspective put forward and defended by anthropologists during the first decades of the twentieth century continues, to this day, to constitute a primary approach to culture theory in American anthropology generally. But the reaction against the evolutionism of the previous century was not limited to North America. It came from European quarters as well. The Polish-born British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942) also argued with great conviction that cultures came about so that the human species could solve similar basic physical and moral problems the world over. Malinowski claimed that the signs, symbols, codes, rituals, and institutions that humans created, no matter how strange they might at first seem, had universal structural properties that allowed people everywhere to solve similar life problems. Marriage, for instance, was instituted to regulate sexual urges that could otherwise lead to overpopulation; economic institutions were founded to ensure the provision of sustenance; and so on. So, for Malinowski, culture was created by humans themselves as an external regulatory system.
The British anthropologist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown (1881–1955) similarly downplayed the evolutionist explanations of culture. He noted, for instance, that in a specific cultural context even a physical response like weeping could hardly be explained in purely biological terms. Among the Andaman Islanders, in the east Bay of Bengal, he found that it was not primarily an expression of joy or sorrow, but rather a response to social situations characterizing such meaningful events as peace-making, marriage, and the reunion of long-separated intimates. In crying together, the people renewed their ties of solidarity.
Twentieth-century theories of culture, such as those put forward by Boas and Malinowski, were formulated in part as reactions against unfounded nineteenth-century evolutionist views. But evolutionism was never toppled within academia as an alternative to the relativist study of culture. On the contrary, discoveries in genetics, especially in the area of cloning, have come forward to bolster the evolutionist perspective more than ever before, as evolutionists themselves have become at the same time much more sophisticated and clever in arguing their case persuasively. Although they might appear to an outsider to be merely a matter of academic quibbling, the differences between evolutionists and relativists actually reflect a profound chasm in worldview that exists in Western society at large, and the outcome of the debate between these two camps will have a lasting effect on how future societies will develop and rationalize their ethical and moral systems. So, it is hardly a moot academic disputation.
The modern-day version of evolutionism goes under the rubric of sociobiology. Sociobiology combines information from the social and physical sciences to study and explain the biological and cultural bases of human behavior. The sociobiological story of evolution starts with the origin of life, defined in terms of a tiny simple organism with the capacity to reproduce itself. Next comes a more complex cell—the basis of all higher life forms including human body tissues. The next evolutionary step leads to larger multicellular organisms (flatworms, crustaceans, etc.) with the capacity to develop more complex organs like eyes and brains. The last, giant step is the emergence of the human mind. Sociobiologists attempt to describe what caused the change from largely genetically programmed behavior to reflective thought in the human species in terms of a gene-culture coevolution process. This process was purportedly triggered in Homo habilis after this species of hominid had learned how to use the hands to make tools—Homo habilis was a species of human beings that existed between 1.5 and 2.0 million years ago, considered to be an ancestor of modern human beings and the earliest hominid to make tools. Homo habilis beings were small creatures with a human body and a brain similar to that of an ape. They lived in groups as hunter-gatherers on the savanna plains of Africa. Threatened by larger mammals, but desperately needing to catch game in order to survive, they had to learn how to act cooperatively, to think logically, and to communicate among themselves in some fashion. So, they developed social rules for hunting, food sharing, the division of labor, mating, etc. Theirs was the earliest human culture.
In this scenario, cognitive states were purportedly generated by genetic processes as humans responded to new cultural demands. As cultures became more complex, so did the human mind. Humans were forced to make choices that conferred upon them greater survival and reproductive abilities. Gene evolution gradually gave way to cultural evolution. The body’s survival mechanisms were eventually replaced by the survival formats provided by culture.
The sociobiological perspective has gained widespread popularity beyond academia in part as a result of the publication of accessibly written books such as those by the contemporary British biologist Richard Dawkins—e.g. The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker (1987), River Out of Eden (1995). With great rhetorical deftness and aplomb, Dawkins portrays cultures as collective adaptive systems that emerged in the human species to enhance its survivability and future progress by replacing the functions of genes with those of mental units that he calls memes—a word he coined in direct imitation of the word genes. Dawkins defines memes as replicating patterns of information (ideas, laws, clothing fashions, art works, etc.) and of behavior (marriage rites, love rituals, religious ceremonies, etc.) that people inherit directly from their cultures. Like genes, memes involve no intentionality on the part of the receiving human organism. Being part of culture, the human being takes them in unreflectively from birth, and then becomes part of a collective system that passes them on just as unreflectively to subsequent generations, allowing them to improve adaptively over preceding generations. The memetic code is thus responsible for cultural progress, advancement, and betterment, having become the primary agent in the human species’ evolutionary thrust forward. Dawkins’ clever proposal poses an obvious challenge to virtually everything that has been written in traditional philosophy, theology, and the social sciences on human nature. If Dawkins is correct, then the search for meaning to existence beyond physical survival is essentially over. Any attempt to seek metaphysical meaning to life would be explained as one of the intellectual effects of culturally inherited memes such as soul, God, and afterlife. To sociobiologists, these memes have evolved simply to help human beings cope with their particular form of consciousness, thus enhancing their collective survivability as a species—no more, no less.
In our opinion, Dawkins’ case is, at its core, a deceptive metaphorical one. Genes can be identified and separated from organisms, and then studied, altered, and even cloned physically. That is a scientific fact. The theory of memes, on the other hand, is no more than Dawkins’ own idea of how cultures influence behavior. He has simply cast his theory in persuasive analogical form. Only in a technological society that is being constantly exposed to the convincing discourse of evolutionary biology, to advancements in cloning and genetic engineering, is the portrayal of human ideas, information, and behavioral patterns as if they were genes a believable one. Indeed, even before Dawkins put forward his meme theory, the parallelism between ideas and genes was already firmly entrenched in the Western worldview, as can be gleaned from samples of common discourse such as the following:
- Where did you get that idea from?
- That idea has spread quickly throughout society.
- This idea has been inherited from previous generations.
- Many of his ideas have been passed on fruitfully.
- Those ideas have to be adapted to meet new conditions.
But in actual fact there is no empirical way to verify the reality of memes, as defined by Dawkins; they can only be talked about as if they existed. In effect, Dawkins’ books have made it obvious how gullible to evolutionary discourse have modern-day views of human nature and culture become. Sociobiologists claim to investigate the biological bases of the social behaviors of animals, such as aggression, territoriality, social systems, and mate selection, seeking to understand how natural selection underlies the development of these behaviors in animals, including humans. Their view of human nature has, understandably, aroused a great deal of controversy. Opponents consider sociobiology no more than a sophisticated modern-day purveyor of nineteenth-century biological determinism and, in effect, a supporter of existing inequitable social systems. Sociobiologists dispute such charges, using their studies of diverse animal species to argue in favor of innate biological control of all animal behaviors, including human ones, such as mate choice, gestural communication, incest avoidance, personality, and cognitive traits.
The key figure behind sociobiological theory and research is the American biologist E. O. Wilson (1929–), known for his work tracing the effects of natural selection on biological communities, especially on populations of insects, and for extending the idea of natural selection to human cultures. Since the mid-1950s, Wilson has constantly maintained that the psychological capacities and social behaviors that humans manifest are genetically based and that evolutionary processes favor those that enhance reproductive success and survival. Thus, characteristics such as heroism, altruism, aggressiveness, and male dominance, for instance, should be understood as evolutionary outcomes, not in terms of historical, social, or psychic processes. Moreover, he sees the creative capacities undergirding language, art, scientific thinking, etc. as originating in the same pool of genetic responses that help the human organism solve physical problems of survival and species continuity. As he has stated rather bluntly, “no matter how far culture may take us, the genes have culture on a leash” (in Wilson and Harris 1981: 464).
But so far, all sociobiology has produced is a theory, i.e. a particular type of discourse based on analogical thinking and parallelism among species. It has not produced any empirical evidence to link the human mind and culture to natural selection. Moreover, if there is any substance to Wilson’s claim that language, art, science, etc. are reflexes of the same genetic responses that have helped the human species solve physical problems of survival and continuity, then one can legitimately ask: What do such things as paintings, music compositions, marriage rites, burial rites have to do with survival or reproductive success? As Sperber (1996) cogently argues, cultural representations, unlike genes, are not just replicators that mutate randomly and survive according to their adaptiveness—the crux of meme theory. These are always transformed in their interaction with the human minds that produce and sustain them. Nadeau (1991: 194), a vociferous critic of sociobiologists, has characterized their entire theoretical apparatus as no more than a “human product of world-constructing minds.” Their claims have become so credible to the modern scientific imagination, says Nadeau, because it is susceptible to any new form of persuasive pseudoscientific discourse.
Obviously captivated by the iconoclastic rhetoric of sociobiological theory, many social theorists have come under its spell. Daniel Dennett (1991, 1995), for instance, has even gone so far as to explain the Self from a purely biological perspective. For Dennett, an organism comes to grips with its particular form of consciousness through the specific neural processes that filter and structure its intake of experience. This, he suggests, allows it to organize its own particular life demands and needs in such a way as to become cognizant of its role in the surrounding world. In the human being, traditional philosophies and religions have referred to this state of mind as Selfhood. However, as Dennett maintains, what we have traditionally called the Self is really no more than a convenient or fanciful notion that aims to assign great social or religious value to what really is a result of neural functioning. But, Dennett’s critics counter, how would a purely physicalist definition of Self explain the expressions of Self that are found in art works and social relations, for instance? Moreover, what kinds of evidence would need to be collected to show a causal link between Selfhood and neural processes? As many critics complain, these questions are too often skirted by sociobiological theorists, or else dismissed by them as overly sentimental.
Sociobiology is really no more than a late twentieth-century version of radical cultural evolutionism. But upon closer examination, there really is no reason to believe that sociobiologists have explained human nature. To paraphrase the French philosopher and semiotician Michel Foucault (1926–1984), human beings have, since their origins, sought to understand and define their identities and their states of consciousness. They have done so by ascribing them to Nature, human effort, or God. As others have done in the past, the sociobiologists have simply placed most of their bets on Nature.
A large segment of contemporary semiotic work on culture can be characterized as essentially relativistic in its overall perspective. This will become clear as the reader works through the remainder of this book. Suffice it to say here that culture is seen by semioticians generally as a communal system of meanings that provides the means for human beings to translate their instincts, urges, needs, and other propensities into representational and communicative structures. The primary goal of semiotic analysis is to document and investigate these structures.
In effect, the study of representation and communication is a study in how the basic metaphysical questions that haunt humans everywhere—Why are we here? Who or what put us here? What, if anything, can be done about it? Who am I?—have been formulated across the world. As Johan Huizinga (1924: 202) has eloquently put it, these questions constitute the psychic foundations of cultural systems: “In God, nothing is empty of sense. . .so, the conviction of a transcendental meaning in all things seeks to formulate itself.” The languages, myths, narratives, rituals, art works, etc. that human beings have invented guide their search to discover answers to the above questions.
Semiotics does not attempt to answer why these questions are intrinsic to human consciousness, because it knows that such an answer is unlikely. Rather, it limits itself to a less grandiose scheme—describing the representational activities that these questions animate everywhere around the globe. The semiotic agenda is thus shaped by a search for the “representational system” behind human forms of expression. Meaning is contained in these forms (known technically as signs). The coherence of these forms into an over-arching system of meaning produces what we call culture.
Semiotics draws on any discipline that has a similar or parallel objective. Particularly useful to the semiotic study of culture over the last century has been the field of psychoanalysis, the clinical approach to human mental pathologies founded by the psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Freud’s main contribution to the study of the human mind is, arguably, his notion that human consciousness is only the “tip of the psychic iceberg,” so to speak. Below the “tip” is the unconscious, the region of the human mind that he claimed contained our hidden wishes, memories, fears, feelings, and ideas that are prevented from gaining expression by the conscious part of the mind. So, they manifest themselves instead by their influence on conscious processes and, most strikingly, through dreams, works of art, and language forms. Like evolutionists, however, Freud suggested that the unconscious had a strictly biological origin and that culture was essentially a collective system that emerged to regulate and constrain unconscious sexual urges.
For this reason, the brilliant Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875–1961) saw Freud’s interpretation of the unconscious as too narrow. Jung accepted Freud’s basic idea, but he divided the unconscious instead into two regions: a personal unconscious, containing the feelings and thoughts developed by an individual that are directive of h/er particular life schemes, and a collective unconscious, containing the feelings and thoughts developed cumulatively by the species that are directive of its overall life pattern. Jung described the latter as a “receptacle” of primordial images shared by all humanity that have become such an intrinsic part of the unconscious as to be beyond reflection. So, they gain expression instead in the symbols and forms that constitute the myths, tales, tunes, rituals, and the like that are found in cultures across the world. He called these universal images archetypes. For instance, the phallic symbols that cultures incorporate typically into their rites of passage, that surface commonly in works of art, and that find their way into the tales that are told throughout the world, are recognized instinctively in approximately the same ways by all humans, virtually irrespective of age, because they constitute an archetype of male sexuality buried deeply in the collective unconscious of the species.
Jung used the example of the “trickster” as indicative of what an archetype is and how it exerts a constant influence in instinctive human thinking and acting. In every person there exists a predilection for puerile mischief. This may manifest itself, Jung argued, as a desire for frivolity, as playing devil’s advocate in a discussion, as a sly craving to mock someone’s success, as an urge to steal something for the sheer thrill of it, and so on. Jung also pointed to the crystallization of the trickster in dreams, fairy-tales, myths, legends, poetry, and paintings across cultures. In Western culture, for instance, the trickster surfaces as Dickens’ Artful Dodger, as the fabled character known as Rumpelstiltsken, as Shakespeare’s Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in the character assumed by many modern-day comedians. The image that the trickster evokes in all of us is a perfect example of what an archetype is.
Finding hard scientific evidence to explain why culture emerged from the course of human evolution has proved to be a monumental challenge. So, scholars have understandably resorted to speculating or reasoning inferentially about what would happen if modern human beings were somehow forced to survive without culture. The best examples of this form of inferential thinking have, actually, come not from scientists or philosophers, but from writers of fiction—Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), for instance, deal with intriguing fictional “test cases” of people forced to live outside of a cultural ambiance, inferring what would happen to them because of it and how they would respond to it.
Astonishingly, two real test cases turned up unexpectedly in the 1970s, stimulating great interest on the part of scientists worldwide. In 1970, a thirteen-year-old child named Genie was found in a room where she had been living alone since the age of fourteen months (Curtiss 1977). The child could not speak, and appeared to be puzzled by some cultural forms of expression, especially by artistic and narrative forms. It took a considerable amount of instruction to get her to speak and to understand such forms. Genie made considerable progress in a relatively short period of time, but she remained incapable of reaching the levels of ability achieved effortlessly by children who have enjoyed the benefits of a normal cultural upbringing. Then, in 1976 an adolescent boy was found in the forests of Burundi in central Africa. He had been living with monkeys; he walked on his hands and feet; and he climbed trees like an ape (Classen 1991, Candland 1993). The Burundi child, too, was without language, and like Genie experienced great difficulty in learning to speak at high levels of proficiency.
What can be inferred from such cases of so-called “feral” children? The inability of Genie and the Burundi boy to develop a full command of language has been viewed by many linguists as convincing evidence to support Eric Lenneberg’s 1967 claim of a critical period for the acquisition of language, i.e. of a biologically-determined timetable for language acquisition that starts at birth and is completed at puberty. On the basis of a large body of clinical studies, Lenneberg had noticed that most aphasias—the partial or total loss of speech due to a disorder in any one of the brain’s language centers—were permanent if they occurred after the age of puberty. This suggested to him that the brain lost its capacity to transfer the language functions from the left hemisphere—the seat of language—to the nonverbal right hemisphere after puberty, which it was able to do, to varying degrees, during childhood. Lenneberg concluded that there must be a biologically fixed period for the lateralization of the language functions to the verbal left hemisphere and, more importantly, that such a process was innate and activated by simple exposure to language during childhood. The Genie and Burundi boy cases seem to support this hypothesis, showing that without such exposure during the critical period, the language faculty does not develop as it normally does.
In our view, however, enlisting such abnormal cases of “noncultural development” to support one theory or the other is far too speculative. In actual fact, they have further clouded the picture. If language is indeed a special type of innate faculty that develops automatically in humans within a critical period of time by simple exposure to it during childhood, then why did Genie and the Burundi child learn to speak nonetheless after that period, albeit in a rudimentary way? Moreover, a close reading of the research findings on the two feral children indicates that their main area of difficulty was chiefly psychomotor and syntactical in nature—i.e. they had difficulty pronouncing words and putting them together into well-formed sentences. But this did not hamper their ability to understand and get across even complicated ideas through the structures and categories of language that they could use. Another polemical question these cases have raised is the following one: If culture is indeed an external (nonbiological) survival and evolutionary system that has taken over the functions of physical evolution, as sociobiologists would claim, then why did both Genie and the Burundi boy survive without a normal cultural upbringing? Any coevolution theory would have to explain such anomalies much more explicitly.
Although ascertaining why culture came about in the first place remains difficult, determining when it appeared in the human chronicle poses much less of a conundrum. Human evolution probably began with the genus Australopithecus, whose fossils have been discovered at a number of sites in eastern and southern Africa. Dating from more than 4 million years ago (with fragmentary remains tentatively identified from as far back as 5 million years ago), the genus seems to have become extinct about 1.5 million years ago. All the australopithecines were efficiently bipedal and therefore indisputable hominids. But their brain size was only a little larger than that of chimpanzees (about 400 to 500 cc).
By about 1.5 to 2 million years ago, the fossil evidence suggests an evolutionary split in the australopithecine line, with one variety evolving towards the genus Homo, and finally to modern humans, and the other developing into species that eventually became extinct. A number of skulls and jaws from this period, found in Tanzania and Kenya in eastern Africa, have been placed in the category Homo habilis, meaning “handy human.” Homo habilis possessed many traits that linked it both with the earlier australopithecines and with later members of the genus Homo—it made tools and it had the ability to communicate in nonverbal ways, especially through gesture (Cartmill, Pilbeam, and Isaac 1986). It seems likely that this species represented the evolutionary transition between the australopithecines and later hominids.
Fossil evidence of a large-brained, small-toothed hominid, known earliest from north Kenya and dating from 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago, has been placed under the rubric of Homo erectus, literally, “erect human.” The first part of the time span of Homo erectus, like that of earlier hominids, is limited to southern and eastern Africa. Later—between 700,000 and 1 million years ago—Homo erectus seems to have migrated into the tropical areas of the Old World, and finally, at the close of its evolution, into the temperate parts of Asia. Archeological sites dating from the time of Homo erectus reveal a greater sophistication in toolmaking than was found at earlier hominid sites; they also provide suggestive evidence that this species knew how to make fire, that it had developed a sophisticated mode of gestural communication, and that it planned its social activities. The brain sizes of early Homo erectus fossils have been measured to be not much larger than those of previous hominids, ranging from 750 to 800 cc. Later Homo erectus skulls, however, possess brain sizes in the range of 1100 to 1300 cc, which fall within the size variation of Homo sapiens.
Between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago, Homo erectus evolved into Homo sapiens. Although placed in the same genus, the early Homo sapiens beings were not identical in mental abilities and physical appearance to modern humans. The latter, called Homo sapiens sapiens, first appeared around 100,000 years ago. There is some disagreement among paleontologists as to whether the hominid fossil record shows a continuous evolutionary development from Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens sapiens. Suffice it to say here that Homo sapiens groups shared many similar abilities and engaged in very similar social activities—they were highly efficient at adapting to the sometimes harsh climates of Ice Age Europe, they buried their dead deliberately, with the bodies sometimes being accompanied by stone tools, animal bones, and even flowers, and they communicated with both gesture and vocal language. By 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had evolved into Homo sapiens sapiens and had developed full language and symbolic abilities.
The most likely estimate, therefore, is that the first true cultures came into existence around 100,000 years ago—a period from which the plaster casts of skulls reveal that both Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon hominids had brains of similar size to ours (Lieberman 1972, 1991). The Cro-Magnons were representatives of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. They lived in western and southern Europe during the last glacial age. The name “Cro-Magnon” is derived from a rock shelter of that name in the Dordogne Department in southwestern France, where skeletal remains were discovered in 1868. The physical characteristics that distinguished the Cro-Magnons from the Neanderthals were a high forehead and a well-defined chin. Artifacts attributed to the earliest period of Cro-Magnon culture demonstrate clearly that they had mastered the art of fashioning many useful instruments from stone, bone, and ivory. They made fitted clothes and decorated their bodies with ornaments of shell and bone. A number of colored paintings left on the walls of caves near their habitats provide clear evidence that their form of social life was indeed based on culture. About 10,000 years ago, they started to domesticate plants and animals, initiating an agricultural revolution that set the stage for the events in human history that eventually led to the founding of the first civilizations.
As the scientific evidence suggests, the emergence of Homo culturalis is a consequence of four critical evolutionary events—bipedalism, a brain enlargement unparalleled among species, an extraordinary capacity for tool-making, and the advent of the tribe as the main form of human collective life. But before proceeding with this “evolutionary story,” we must express a caveat about portrayals of this very kind. We have drafted our evolutionary narrative on the basis of the relevant scientific facts available. We are however aware that ours is one such story among many other possible ones. We are also aware that our account of the evolutionary antecedents to culture is by far an incomplete one because it lacks any consideration of the transition from bipedalism and brain growth to tribal culture; i.e. our story does not encompass the question of why bipedal apes with large brains felt impelled at a certain point in their evolution to fashion a social order characterized by rituals, a system of ethics, language, art, and so on. Evolutionary events in themselves tell us very little about that remarkable transition. Nevertheless, any coherent discussion of cultural origins cannot ignore the evolutionary findings, even though they must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
One of the earliest of the major hominid characteristics to have evolved, distinguishing the species Homo from its nearest primate relatives—the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan—was bipedalism, an adaptation to a completely erect posture and a two-footed striding walk. Almost all other mammals stand, walk, and/or run on four limbs. Those that stand on two have quite different postures and gaits from humans—kangaroos hop on their two feet; some monkeys only on occasion walk bipedally, especially when carrying food; chimpanzees are capable of brief bipedal walks, but their usual means of locomotion is knuckle-walking, standing on their hind legs but stooping forward, resting their hands on the knuckles rather than on the palms or fingers.
So, even though forms of bipedalism are observable in other primates, they are unlike the human type: all other forms of bipedal walking involve straight or bowed spines, bent knees, grasping (prehensile) feet, and some use of the hands to bear part of the body weight during locomotion. The uniquely S-shaped spinal column of humans places the center of gravity of the body directly over the area of support provided by the feet, thus giving stability and balance in the upright position.
Fossils discovered in Africa provide evidence that hominids walked erect and had a bipedal stride even before the great increase in their brain size. Complete bipedalism freed the human hand, allowing it to become a supremely sensitive limb for precise manipulation and grasping. The most important structural detail in this refinement was the elongated human thumb, which could rotate freely for the first time and, thus, be fully opposable to the other fingers. No doubt, this development made tool making and tool use possible. Moreover, some linguists claim that the erect posture gave rise to the subsequent evolution of the physiological apparatus for speech, since it brought about the lowering and positioning of the larynx for controlled breathing. In phrase, bipedalism, tool-making, and language were probably intertwined in their origins (Wilson 1998).
Although other species, including some non-primate ones, are capable of tool use, only in the human species did complete bipedalism free the hand sufficiently to allow it to become a supremely sensitive and precise manipulator and grasper, thus permitting proficient tool making and tool use in the species. The earliest stone tools date back to about 2.5 million years ago. By 1.5 million years ago, sites in various parts of eastern Africa contain not only many stone tools, but also animal bones with scratch marks that research has shown could only have been left by human-like cutting actions. One thing is certain—only in the human species does one find the capacity to fashion a great diversity of tools from the raw materials found in the environment to meet virtually any need that may arise (Montagu 1983, Noble and Davidson 1996: 22-56).
Shortly after becoming bipedal, the evidence suggests, the human species underwent rapid brain expansion. In the course of human evolution the size of the brain has more than tripled. Modern humans have a braincase volume of between 1300 and 1500 cc. The human brain has also developed three major structural components that undergird the unique mental capacities of the species—the large dome-shaped cerebrum, the smaller somewhat spherical cerebellum, and the brainstem. The size of the brain does not determine the degree of intelligence of the individual; this appears to be determined instead by the number and type of functioning neurons (nerve cells) and how they are structurally connected with one another. And since neuronal connections are conditioned by environmental input, the most likely hypothesis is that any form of intelligence, however it is defined, is most likely a consequence of upbringing. Unlike the early hominid adult skulls, with their sloping foreheads and prominent jaws, the modern human skull—with biologically insignificant variations—retains a proportionately large size, in relation to the rest of the body.
The large brain of modern-day Homo culturalis is more than double that of early tool-makers. This great increase in brain size was achieved by the process of neoteny, i.e. by the prolongation of the juvenile stage of brain and skull development in neonates (newborns). As a result, human infants must go through an extended period of dependency on, and stimulation by, adults. In the absence of this close external bond in the early years of life, the development of the infant’s brain would remain incomplete.
Like most other species, humans have always lived in groups. Group life enhances survivability by providing a collective form of protection and shelter against enemies and abrupt changes in the surroundings. But at some point in their evolutionary history—probably around 100,000 years ago—bipedal hominids had become so adept at toolmaking, communicating, and thinking in symbols that they became consciously aware of the advantages of a group life based on a common system of representational activities. By around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, the archeological evidence suggests, in fact, that hominid groups became increasingly characterized by communal customs, language, and the transmission of technological knowledge to subsequent generations. Anthropologists have designated this form of group life tribal.
The tribal form of social life has not disappeared from the human story. It has left its “archetypal” influence in the human psyche. In our view, this is the reason why the tribe remains the type of collectivity to which human beings instinctively relate even in modern times. In complex city-societies, where various cultures, subcultures, countercultures, and parallel cultures exist in constant competition with each other, where the shared territory is so large that it constitutes a mere abstraction, the tendency for individuals to relate to tribal-type groupings that exist within the larger societal context manifests itself regularly. People continue to perceive their membership in smaller groups as more directly meaningful to their lives than allegiance to the larger society and/or nation. This inclination towards tribalism, as Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) emphasized, reverberates constantly within modern-day humans, and may be the source of the angst and sense of alienation that many modern-day city-dwelling individuals feel, living as they do in large, impersonal social systems.
In their classic study of culture several decades ago, the anthropologists Kroeber and Kluckholn (1963) found 150 qualitatively distinct definitions of this term scattered throughout the scientific literature. Interestingly, they found broad consensus on two points: (1) that culture is a way of life based on some system of shared meanings; and (2) that it is passed on from generation to generation through this very system. In this book we will refer henceforward to this system as the signifying order. For the present purposes, suffice it to say that the signifying order is the aggregate of the signs (words, gestures, visual symbols, etc.), codes (language, art, etc.), and texts (conversations, compositions, etc.) that a social group creates and utilizes in order to carry out its daily life routines and to plan its activities for the future. Each culture, no matter how technologically advanced it may be, traces its origins to an early tribal signifying order. Human culture can thus be defined as a way of life based on a signifying order developed originally in a tribal context that is passed along through the signifying order from one generation to the next.
The signifying order is what the philosopher Karl Popper (1902–1994) called a “World 3” state of knowing. Popper classified human knowing into three states, which he called “Worlds.” “World 1” is a state of sensory knowing. This inheres in the sensory, unreflective experiences humans have of physical objects and activities, as governed by neuronal signals—electrical impulses between brain cells—transmitting messages along nerve paths that cause muscles to contract or limbs to move, and sensory systems to respond to perceptual input. “World 2” is a state of subjective knowing. This inheres in the subjective responses humans have to perceptual input. This is the level at which a “sense of Self” endows an individual with the ability to differentiate h/erself from the beings, objects, and events present in the world. “World 3” is a state of communal knowing. This inheres in the systematic form of knowing with which culture equips human beings for coping with daily life and for living together in groups.
The most crucial difference between human knowing and that of all other species can be discerned in World 3 states. There is no evidence to suggest that other species are capable of these states to the extent that humans are, if at all; i.e. it is unlikely that animals are capable of producing and understanding art, language, science, or any other World 3 form of knowing and communicating. Its capacity for and reliance upon World 3 states for daily life make Homo culturalis unique among species.
As mentioned, the first signifying orders were forged in tribal settings. These came about, arguably, to help tribal people regulate and safeguard the ways in which they lived, planned, and communicated. The early tribal orders thus probably emerged to satisfy the apparent need the first sentient and reflective human beings felt to preserve and transmit to subsequent generations any experiences they perceived were meaningful, any communal forms of expression they thought were useful, and any knowledge or skill they felt served some beneficial function. Archeological evidence suggests that as the members of the early tribes became more culturally sophisticated around 10,000 years ago—i.e. as their signifying orders grew in complexity to meet increasing technological and agricultural needs—they sought larger territories with more natural resources within which to live. This brought about a breakdown of some of the early tribal cultures. As they expanded, the tribes came to accept and accommodate, by necessity or coercion, members of other tribes within their broadening habitats. This led to what the anthropologist Desmond Morris (1969) calls the formation of super-tribes—expanded groupings of people that came about as a consequence of tribal expansion and tribal admixture. The evidence suggests that the first super-tribal arrangements were established on the basis of a dominant signifying order—typically that of the founding or conquering tribe—so that social interaction and shared activities could unfold efficiently and routinely. The first super-tribes date back only 5,000–6,000 years, when the first cities came onto the scene. Given their larger territorial extension and their acceptance of competing tribal signifying orders, these constituted true societies in the modern sense of the word.
A society can thus be defined as a super-tribe, a collectivity of individuals who, although they may not all have the same tribal origins, nevertheless participate, by and large, in the signifying order of the founding or conquering tribe (or tribes). The establishment of a dominant signifying order makes it possible for individuals to interact practically and habitually with each other. Unlike tribes, super-tribes can enfold more than one signifying order. As a consequence, individuals may, and typically do, choose to live apart—totally or partially—from the main signifying order.
As a concrete example, consider what people living in the modern society known as the United States call loosely “American culture.” The signifying order that defines this culture traces its origins primarily to the signifying order of the British people who settled in the United States a few centuries ago. Since then, American society has also accommodated and sanctioned aboriginal and other parallel cultural systems, each one entailing a different way of life, a different language, a different system of rituals, etc. Moreover, within the dominant signifying order, diversification has come about as a consequence of the tendency of splinter groups—known as subcultures—to emerge within large and impersonal societies. Thus, it is possible for an individual living in the United States to remain apart from the dominant signifying order by espousing a parallel one or becoming a participant in a subcultural one. But very much like tribal people, a city-dwelling individual living in America today who chooses to live apart from the dominant signifying order will typically face social risks, such as exposure to various forms of ridicule or censure and perhaps even exclusion from participation in various institutional systems or communal activities.
Human beings the world over typically classify and think of themselves as members of races and/or ethnic groups, i.e. as belonging to a group of people with whom they have a common genetic link. But racial or ethnic classifications are often ambiguous and misleading. No two human beings, not even twins, are identical. The proportions of traits, and even the kinds of traits, are distributed differently from one part of the world to another. But, as it turns out, these proportions are quantitatively negligible. Geneticists have yet to turn up a single group of people who can be distinguished from outsiders by their chromosomes. There is no genetic test or criterion that can be used to determine if one is racially or ethnically, say, Caucasian, Slavic, or Hopi. Populations are constantly in genetic contact with another. The many varieties of modern Homo sapiens sapiens belong to one interbreeding species, with surprisingly little genetic difference among individuals. In fact, it has been established that 99.9% of DNA sequences are common to all humans (Sagan and Druyan 1992: 415).
So, from a purely biological standpoint, human beings defy classification into types. Nevertheless, the historical record shows that from ancient times people have, for some reason or other (perhaps tribalistic in origin), always felt it necessary to classify themselves in terms of racial or ethnic categories. The Egyptians, the ancient Greeks of Homer’s time, and the Greeks and Romans of classical times, for instance, left paintings and sculptures showing human beings with perceived racial differences. And most languages of the world have words referring to people in terms of physiological, anatomical, and social differences.
In the Western world, the systematic study and classification of races was a consequence of the worldwide explorations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which piqued the interest of Europeans in the peoples of other lands. A century later, the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778) was among the first to consider categorizing the apparent varieties of human beings. But it was the German scholar Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) who gave the Western world its first racial typology. After examining the skulls and comparing the physical characteristics of the different peoples of the world, Blumenbach concluded that humanity had five races: Caucasians (West Asians, north Africans, and Europeans except the Finns and the Saami), Mongolians (other Asian peoples, the Finns and the Saami, and the Inuit of America), Ethiopians (the people of Africa except those of the north), Americans (all aboriginal New World peoples except the Inuit), and Malayans (peoples of the Pacific islands).
These five divisions remained the basis of most racial classifications well into the twentieth century and continue to be commonly accepted in popular thinking even today. But population scientists now recognize the indefiniteness and arbitrariness of any such demarcations. Indeed, many individuals can be classified into more than one race or into none. All that can be said here is that the concept of race makes sense, if at all, only in terms of lineage: i.e. people can be said to belong to the same race if they share the same pool of ancestors. But, as it turns out, even this seemingly simple criterion is insufficient for rationalizing a truly scientific classification of humans into discrete biological groups in such a way that everybody belongs to one and only one because, except for brothers and sisters, no individuals have precisely the same array of ancestors. This is why, rather than using genetic, anatomical, or physiological traits to study human variability, anthropologists today prefer to study groups in terms of geographic or social criteria. Race and ethnicity are now viewed by social scientists fundamentally as historical or cultural notions.
The term civilization implies essentially a modern society, or group of societies, with a distinctive recorded history and with common institutions (religious, political, legal, economic, educational, etc.). A civilization is, more specifically, a complex social system encompassing a mixture of tribal and super-tribal signifying orders, but marked by its own civil (city-based), rather than just tribal or religious, history. The first civilizations in the current-day Middle East, for example, came onto the scene between 5000 and 3000 BC. Sumer, Babylon, and Egypt were among the first large social groupings to encompass not only a mainstream form of culture, but also a complex diversity of peoples and languages, and to distinguish between civil and religious institutions.
Europeans became interested in the civilizations of other lands during the Enlightenment, when scholars started searching for universal patterns in the history of humanity. But their efforts were somewhat skewed by their tendency to ignore customs that they saw as irrational. In the nineteenth century, on the other hand, philosophers like Johann von Herder (1744–1803) and G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) viewed all cultural systems as intrinsically valid, equal, and rational in their own terms, springing from a universal propensity of human groups to make sense of the habitats in which they lived. Writing a “rational” history of any civilization, they claimed, would therefore be a futile task, given the lack of universal criteria for defining rationality.
Like other terms discussed above, nation is a problematic one to define. People experience national sentiments only in relation to some specific situation that they feel unites them in an abstract way—e.g. Americans tend to become nationalistic when American teams or soldiers are in combat in the sports arena or the military one as the case may be. But people tend typically to feel allegiance more to the city, town, or region in which they were reared or in which they reside. This is why they are quick to show loyalty to the sports teams, individual athletes, performers, etc. representing their local area (city, town, etc.) in competitions. In a very real sense, these areas are felt to be communal extensions of personal identity—in semiotic terms, they can be said to be perceived as spatial representations of the collective persona.
A remarkable case-in-point of this tendency is an event that takes place twice a year in the city of Siena. In this Tuscan city, the popular Palio horse race traces its history right back to Siena’s origins as a citystate. The city is divided into contradas—streets within the city. A person belonging by reason of birth and/or ancestry to a contrada is expected to have allegiance to its totemic symbol (the caterpillar, the duck, etc.) for life. The week preceding the Palio is characterized by elaborate ceremonies and rituals within each contrada, ending with the blessing of the horse. Feelings of loyalty become intense, to the point that spouses belonging to different contradas are expected to leave their immediate family and return to their original folds for the entire week. Emotions run high during the actual horse race in the central Piazza del Campo. The winning jockey is celebrated and glorified; losing jockeys are often denigrated and, not infrequently, even attacked physically. Winning or losing the Palio is a matter of collective contrada pride.
Clearly, the Sienese perceive themselves, first and foremost, as belonging to a local space, the contrada, which is concretely understandable in terms of their life experiences, rather than to the city as a whole, let alone the Italian nation. The contrada is felt by the Sienese to be the critical component of identity.
Nationalism is, so to speak, an abstract extension of this type of collective persona. As such, it reflects the desire felt by people living in large and complex social systems to share values, speak a common language, and occupy a clearly bounded piece of real estate with each other. The nation concept can be traced to the rise in importance of the ancient city-states. This led, in turn, to the establishment of military and civil systems designed to protect them. The battles fought by armies in the name of Egypt, Rome, and other ancient civilizations stirred the first inklings of nationalistic patriotism.
During the Middle Ages, the cultural life of feudal Europe was based on a common inheritance of ideas, social practices, and belief systems transmitted through Latin, the language of the educated classes, and a common religion, Catholic Christianity. However, with the breakup of feudalism other communities and dynasties arose, fostering new feelings of nationality (literally, “birth right”) in order to win support for their rule. These feelings were strengthened in various countries during the Reformation of the sixteenth century, when the adoption of either Catholicism or Protestantism as a national religion became an added impetus for social cohesion on a broader scale.
The turning point in the rise of nationalism in Europe was the French Revolution of 1789. National feeling in France until then was centered in the monarchy. As a result of the Revolution, loyalty to the monarch was replaced by loyalty to the patrie (“fatherland”). This is why the Marseillaise, the anthem of the French Revolution that later became the national anthem, begins with the words Allons, enfants de la patrie (“March on, children of the fatherland”). In 1789 the medieval French Estates-General, consisting of separate bodies representing the clergy, the aristocracy, and the common people, was transformed into a National Assembly. Regional divisions, with their separate traditions and rights, were abolished, and France became a uniform and united territory, with common laws and institutions.
The ascent of nationalism throughout Europe coincided generally with the spread of the Industrial Revolution, which promoted unified economic development, a working middle class, and parallel forms of representative government. As a consequence, national literatures and artistic forms (in music and the visual arts) arose to express common traditions. New emphasis was given to historical symbols. New holidays were introduced to commemorate various events in social history. The drafting of national constitutions and the struggle for political rights gave people after the Industrial Revolution the sense of helping to determine their fate as large communities and of sharing responsibility for the future well-being of all nations. At the same time, the growth of trade and industry led to the rise of economic units larger than the traditional cities.
In the period after World War II, successful nationalist movements sprang up throughout the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. By 1958 newly established nation-states in those regions included Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, the Sudan, Ghana, the United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria), and Iraq. In the 1960s and 1970s Algeria, Libya, and many British, French, and Belgian colonies in Africa became independent. In Eastern Europe in the 1990s, where nationalist passions had largely been held in check since World War II, the decline of Communist rule unleashed separatist forces that contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.
Signifying orders manifest themselves temporally and spatially in institutional structures that we will call spheres in this text. Cultural spheres are, in a certain sense, “domesticating” systems. Living no longer principally in the wilderness, where their hominid ancestors had to rely primarily on instinct for survival, tribal humans came to depend primarily upon communal spheres for the bare necessities of life.
Anthropologists divide the main spheres into primary—kinship and religious—and secondary—political, legal, economic, and educational. Primary spheres are characterized by face-to-face modes of communication and interaction and by a feeling of solidarity. Secondary spheres, on the other hand, are based on more conventionalized and impersonal forms of communication and interaction. The latter took on greater importance in the first super-tribal collectivities, where consensual patterns of interaction would have been impossible on the basis of the primary spheres alone.
The word consensus requires further elaboration here. It means, literally, “sense-making together.” In a collectivity of any kind, consensus implies adherence to the norms of behavior and communication that are deemed appropriate by the collectivity as a whole. These are established and enforced primarily by those who are centrally located within the most dominant sphere in a collectivity at a specific point in time. If that sphere is the religious one, for instance, then the leader or leaders of that sphere will dictate what the norms are; if it is the political sphere, then those located in a central position within that sphere will determine them. Those who do not comply with such norms risk censure, punishment, and/or marginalization. Indeed, those who reject them outright must show the validity of why they are doing so publicly. Otherwise, in all kinds of societies they risk facing some form of rebuke, chastisement, or castigation.
The Kinship Sphere
In his monumental study of social organization, Charles H. Cooley (1909) defined kinship as the primary sphere of culture par excellence, giving stability and perpetuity to the activities of the tribe. However defined, membership in a kinship unit provides every human being with a primary identity and a vital sense of belonging. This is why people tend to feel a “kinship bond” when they meet a stranger of the same lineal descent, and why, at some point or other in their lives, many (if not most) individuals tend to become interested in where the “roots” of their “family tree” lead. As the great sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) remarked, leadership in early tribal cultures tended to emerge typically from within kinship units, because their communal activities revolved around the family with the most power and ability to withstand opposition from within the tribe.
The central feature of the kinship sphere is the primary mother-child bond, to which diverse cultures have added different familial relations by the principle of descent, which connects one generation to the other in a systematic way and which determines certain rights and obligations across generations. Descent groups are traced typically through both sexes, i.e. bilaterally, or through only the male or the female link, i.e. unilaterally. In unilateral systems the descent is known as patrilineal if the derivation is through the male line, or matrilineal if it is through the female line. Anthropological surveys of kinship systems have shown in recent years that half of the world’s cultures are patrilineal, one-third bilateral, and the remainder matrilineal. Bilateral kinship systems are characteristic of modern-day hunting-gathering tribes, such as the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa and the Inuit in northern Canada; and they are becoming increasingly characteristic of modern Western societies as well. Less frequent ways for tracing descent are the parallel system, in which males and females each trace their ancestry through their own sex, and the cognatic method, in which the relatives of both sexes are considered, with little formal distinction between them.
Kin members are everywhere categorized in ways that assign specific roles and expected behaviors to each individual. The categories are represented by the names given to individuals. These may also indicate how a kinship sphere assigns the inheritance of goods and property. The Iatmul of New Guinea, for instance, assign five different names to the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth child in such a way that in any quarrels over inheritance, the first and third children are expected to join forces against the second and the fourth.
The Religious Sphere
The idea that there is life beyond death is an ancient one, as borne out by the discovery that the ritualized burial of the dead is at least 350,000 years old. This is a truly extraordinary idea that has dictated the course of cultural evolution since ancient times; but why it became an intrinsic feature of human consciousness constitutes a mystifying enigma. Suffice it to say for the present purposes that the notion of a spiritual after life is the motivation behind the emergence of religion in human cultures.
The religious sphere can be defined as a communal system of interaction and complex rituals designed to reflect the will of the gods or of the powers and forces that are believed to reside in the world of the afterlife. As such, this system ties people together, allowing them to express a common sense of purpose beyond immediate life. The term religion stems from the Latin word religio “to bind, fasten,” an etymology that reflects how in early cultures an individual was perceived to be bound by certain mystical or metaphysical (literally “beyond the physical”) rites and symbols to the tribe in which s/he was reared. To live “unreligiously” would have implied rejecting the tribe’s signifying order that bound the tribal members together. The salient feature of early religious belief systems was the absence of any sharp boundary line between the spiritual and the natural worlds, a characteristic that is still found in some modern-day religious practices such as Shinto, a religion practiced in Japan. The Japanese term Shinto (from shin “spirit”) means both “the way of the gods” and “the way of the spirit.” The term is also used in common Japanese discourse as an exclamation similar to “Wonderful!” In Shinto, every human being, rock, tree, animal, stream is perceived as having its own wonder. There is no doctrine, creed, or formulated canonical system; Shinto is fundamentally concerned with expressing wonder, respect, and awe for everything that exists. This concern involves treating everything as if it were a person, not in the sense of being inhabited by some human-like ghost or spirit, but in the sense of having a mysterious and independent life of its own that should not be taken for granted.
Tribal metaphysical beliefs led to the establishment of astrology as one of the first sciences. Its widespread popularity in today’s secular cultures bears concrete witness to the persistence of the tribal concept that human character and destiny are intertwined with natural processes. The Chaldeans, who lived in Babylon, developed one of the original forms of astrology as early as 3000 BC. The Chinese started practicing astrology around 2000 BC. Other varieties emerged in ancient India and among the Maya of Central America. Astrology grew out of observations that certain astronomical bodies, particularly the sun, affected the change of seasons and the success of crops. From such observations, ancient tribal peoples developed a system of metaphysics by which the movements of other bodies such as the planets affected or represented all aspects of life. By around 500 BC, astrology had spread to Greece, where such philosophers as Pythagoras and Plato incorporated it into their study of religion and the cosmos. Astrology was widely practiced in Europe through the Middle Ages, despite its condemnation by the Church. Many scholars of the era viewed astrology and astronomy as complementary sciences until about the 1500s. Only then did the discoveries made by astronomers undermine astrology as a science.
The importance of the religious sphere to the constitution of culture can be seen in the fact that wizards, priests, and shamans have always tended to be the leaders of a tribe as a whole (or to share the leadership with a powerful clan). These were thought to have direct contact with supernatural beings and forces, and thus to be endowed with magical powers that allowed them to cure diseases and to influence the course of events in the world. Early ritualistic practices were invariably organized and supervised by such leaders. In the super-tribal arrangements of the ancient world, however, religious leaders retained only a part of their authority, having to share power increasingly with leaders coming out of the emerging political sphere. With the rise of complex social systems and civilizations these two spheres developed increasingly autonomous, but complementary, functions.
The idea of religious feeling as a personal, cosmological view of the world, reflecting a profound spiritual need to know oneself, came out of the ancient civilizations, when the binding function of religious rites could no longer be maintained intact given the presence of competing religious systems and ideas within the new super-tribal cities. Hence, individuals started to experiment with religious feelings independently of tribal practices, developing a broader and more personal view of spirituality separate from, albeit originally derived from, the tribal version.
Religions with a strong theistic system of belief arose in the ancient civilizations, which provided the social conditions for people to develop a marked sense of demarcation between subjective consciousness and the natural world. This led to a view of the universe as having a pattern to it that humans did not invent, but that they discovered by reasoning about it. The more people appreciated the complexity of the pattern, the more they tended to formulate a conception of a Supreme Intelligence (monotheism) or Intelligences (polytheism), immeasurably greater than a mere mortal, who must know it in its entirety.
The religious sphere continues to be a part even of modern-day secular societies, where religious rituals and symbols continue to form the fabric of modern cultures, even if people are no longer aware of their religious derivations. As the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye (1912–1991) argued, in his book The Great Code (1981), religious symbols remain as residues in the artistic practices and in the everyday discourse patterns of even those societies that define themselves as largely secular. Frye showed how the Bible, for example, is the implicit code sustaining and informing Western literature, art, and social institutions. Anyone who has not had access to this code, Frye suggested, will simply not understand the Western world. The stories of Adam and Eve, of the Tower of Babel, of Paradise lost and regained, of the Flood and Noah’s Ark have supplied not only the themes for the great art and literary works of Western civilization, but also the symbols shaping the daily thought and discourse patterns of Western peoples, even if most have never read the Bible. The signifying order is built from this code, diffusing its meanings throughout the entire social system. In the English language, for instance, life is commonly referred to as a journey through the waters (the Ark story), human beings as fallen creatures (the Adam and Eve story), and so on. So, too, cultures with different religious traditions have their own codes that must be accessed through their signifying orders in order to interpret the deeper strata of meanings that are expressed in their arts, literatures, and languages.
The Political Sphere
The need for stability and social cohesiveness in the emerging super-tribal systems of the ancient world led to a rise in the prominence and influence of secondary cultural spheres. Awareness of the growing role of the political sphere in human affairs, for instance, can already be seen in Plato (c. 428–347 BC), who attempted to reconcile the religious and political spheres by proposing a model of a community that would be governed by an aristocracy of “philosopher-kings.” But it was Aristotle (384–322 BC) who recognized the ever-increasing power of the political, legal, and economic spheres in city-state cultures. In his Politics, he suggested that these were often in conflict with the religious sphere because of the tension created by their overlapping moral jurisdictions.
This tension extended well into the Middle Ages, an era in Western history characterized by a protracted struggle for supremacy between the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. This conflict was reflected in the scholarly writing of the era. The philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), for instance, defended the traditional role of the Church in his Summa Theologica (1265–1273), while the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) argued, in his De Monarchia (c. 1313), for a united Christendom under one emperor and pope, each supreme in his appropriate sphere. By the time of the Renaissance, intellectuals like Niccolò Machiavelli (1459–1527) transcended the traditional church-state debate by evaluating the problems and possibilities of governments seeking to maintain power in non-religious, non-moralistic ways. Some years later, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) argued that the power of the political sphere in regulating the affairs of a culture should be unlimited, since he believed culture to be primarily a “social contract” which individuals living in a society agreed to accept so that they could protect themselves from their own brutish instincts and make possible the satisfaction of desires.
Political and legal systems probably started out in the shadow of human needs, urges, and fears, as Hobbes maintained. But the fact that they overlapped with religious spheres in early societies suggests that there was more to the emergence of politics in human affairs than just the regulation of brutish instincts. The rise of the political sphere in human cultures probably reflected the reorientation of the “communal gaze” away from looking “up” or “beyond” to the gods for guidance, as it was accustomed to doing in tribal contexts, to looking “down” towards the more immediate, secular world of human leaders. As the philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) observed, this is why political and legal systems, unlike religious ones, can be legitimately overthrown if they fail to discharge their functions to the people since, unlike religious systems, these are perceived as being totally the brainchildren of human minds.
The Legal Sphere
Rudimentary types of legal systems existed in early tribal cultures. They were a blend of custom, religion, and magic grounded in consensus about what was appropriate and right for the tribe as a whole. The visible authority was the powerful clan member and/or the religious ruler; the ultimate authorities were the gods, whose will was thought to be revealed in the forces of Nature and in the revelations of the religious leader. Wrongs against the tribe, such as acts of sacrilege or breaches of custom, were met with group sanctions, ridicule, and hostility. The wrath of the gods, on the other hand, was appeased typically through ritualistic ceremonies ending in sacrifice or in the expulsion of the wrongdoer. Wrongs against individuals, such as murder, theft, adultery, or failure to repay a debt, were avenged by the family of the victim, often in the form of actions against the family of the wrongdoer.
In the early super-tribal collectivities, secondary legal spheres grew in tandem with political systems. Courts and written laws were established to replace religious principles or rules and the advice-giving practices of tribal chieftains, elders, or shamans. One of the first set of written laws dates from Hammurabi (died 1750 BC), King of Babylon, who united the diverse tribes in Mesopotamia by strategically conquering territories in the region from approximately 1792 to 1750 BC.
The first significant example of a written legal code is the ancient Roman one—a code that has influenced most of the legal systems of the modern world. In the eighth century BC the legal sphere of Rome was characterized largely by a blend of custom and interpretation by magistrates of the will of the gods. But the magistrates eventually lost their legitimacy as the plebeian classes threatened to revolt against their discriminatory practices. This led to one of the most consequential developments in the history of law—the Twelve Tables of Rome, which consisted of laws engraved on bronze tablets in the fifth century BC. Concerned with matters of property, payment of debts, and appropriate compensation for damage to persons, these tables are the source for the widespread modern belief that fairness in human affairs demands that laws regulating human conduct be expressed in writing.
The common-law system of England is another well-known historical example of a legal code that was devised to replace previous systems. Before the Norman Conquest (1066), England was a loose confederation of societies, whose laws were largely tribal in origin. The Anglo-Norman rulers then created a system of centralized courts that operated under a single set of laws that superseded the rules laid down by earlier societies. The resulting legal system, known as the Common Law of England, began with laws for common customs, but over time involved the courts in constantly revising laws.
The Economic Sphere
Economic activities in tribal societies were based on hunting, gathering, and the exchange of manufactured goods. As such activities expanded in new super-tribal collectivities, the economic sphere gained more and more autonomy, taking on a greater role in the development of technology and in shaping signifying orders.
The importance and legitimacy of the economic sphere in the Western world were discussed by Adam Smith (1723–1790) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). Although the two had many differences of opinion, they shared the view that private property and free markets were the cornerstones of all successful modern economic systems. Opposition to the Smith-Mill view came primarily from social theorists like Karl Marx (1818–1883), for whom the very principle of private property and free markets was the key to the inequities and exploitation that characterize modern societies. Marx believed that this principle was certain to falter because it reflected the inequitable practice of concentrating income and wealth in ever fewer hands, thus creating increasingly severe crises of unemployment and social unrest.
The Educational Sphere
In tribal cultures, the vital function of transmitting the signifying order to subsequent generations was, and continues to be, carried out within the primary spheres. In ancient Egypt, for instance, the priests of the society also taught writing, science, mathematics, and architecture in temple schools. To this day, these spheres are still perceived as critical in guaranteeing the preservation and perpetuation of the signifying order—i.e. they are felt to be fundamental in imparting to young children what they should know first about the world, what language they should learn to speak, and what values they should acquire. But in modern cultures today the function of educating the young after the neonatal and early infancy periods of development is expected to take place through a secondary sphere—known more commonly as the school system—which provides professionally-trained individuals for this task.
It was the ancient Greeks who dislodged schooling from the religious sphere. In the Greece of classical times the practice of assigning the teaching of the liberal arts, mathematics, philosophy, aesthetics, and gymnastic training to secular teachers trained in each of these areas grew out of the notion of a “well-rounded” education. After an initial period of intense loyalty to the old religious traditions, Roman society approved the appointment of Greek teachers, but eventually developed its own highly-trained secular educators. According to the first-century educator Quintilian (c. 35–95 AD), the proper training of the child was to be organized around the study of language, literature, philosophy, and the sciences, with particular attention to be paid to the development of character. As the Roman Empire declined, Christianity became a potent cultural force in the countries of the Mediterranean region and in several other areas of Europe. Since then the history of education in Western society has been marked by a struggle between religious and secular forces for control of this vital sphere. The early Fathers of the Church, especially St. Augustine (354–430 AD), emphasized the development of educational methods and curricula that reflected Christian ideas. Two revivals of learning took place in the ninth century, one on the Continent, under Charlemagne (742–814 AD), and one in England, under King Alfred the Great (849–899 AD). Between the eighth and the eleventh centuries the Moorish conquerors of Spain revived the secular idea of the Roman university in the capital city of Cordoba, which became a center for the study of philosophy, ancient civilizations, science, and mathematics in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In the same centuries, education came under the influence of the ideas and doctrines of the Scholastic theologians, who reconciled Christian theology with the pre-Christian philosophical ideas of Aristotle and Plato. The theologian Peter Abelard (1079–1142?), pupil of St. Thomas Aquinas, and other renowned Scholastic teachers attracted many students, laying the intellectual foundations for the establishment of universities in the north of Europe in the twelfth century.
Of significance to the development of schooling systems during the Middle Ages were the views of Muslim and Jewish scholars. Not only did they promote advanced forms of education within their own societies, but they also served as translators of ancient Greek writings, thus bringing the ideas of the classical world to the attention of European scholars. Many excellent teachers of the Greek language and literature who had migrated from Constantinople to Italy influenced the work of European educators such as the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536?) and the French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592). The major emphasis of this period was, therefore, on the classical subjects taught in the Latin grammar school, which remained as the chief secondary school of Europe until the early twentieth century.
During the seventeenth century, the emphasis shifted towards scientific disciplines. Influenced by the writings of Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Christ’s Hospital in London was probably the first secondary school to introduce a curriculum based on scientific subjects. That was also the century in which the French philosopher and mathematician Réné Descartes (1596–1650) emphasized the use of logical reasoning as a fundamental skill to be honed by educational curricula, while John Locke (1632–1704), like Bacon before him, recommended a curriculum and method of education based on the empirical examination of demonstrable facts before reaching conclusions. But the greatest educator of the century was Jan Komensky, the Protestant bishop of Moravia, better known by his Latin name, Comenius (1592–1670). Comenius emphasized stimulating the pupil’s interest and teaching with reference to concrete things rather than to verbal or logical descriptions of them. He clearly foreshadowed modern-day educational techniques.
The foremost educational theorist of the eighteenth century was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), who insisted that educators should treat children as children, not as miniature adults, cultivating the personality of the individual child with great care and devotion. Motivated by Rousseau’s persuasive arguments, governments in England, France, Germany, Italy, and other European countries established obligatory national school systems designed to actualize Rousseau’s idea that true education was to be based on the needs and potentials of the child, rather than on the needs of society or the precepts of religion. This “child-centered” view of education was entrenched further in the Western mindset by the work of the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859–1952). Dewey’s ideas continue to inform the major methods of instruction in elementary schools of the United States and other Western countries to the present day.
In the twentieth century secular educational systems became prevalent throughout industrialized societies. But even in such cultures, certain groups of people continue to prefer the strictly religious form of education. Private or separate schools, as they are commonly called, exist typically for this reason. Thus, the age-old tug between the religious and secular spheres for control of the minds of children continues to characterize education in societies throughout the world.