We could not discuss any introduction to culture without encountering the subject of anthropology. Culture is generally studied as one of the four major fields of anthropology; but all of anthropology’s many applied studies are too complex and far-reaching to be offered on this small website.
Anthropology is most often defined as the holistic study of human beings, both past and present – in other words, in the broadest context. An introduction to culture fits into that broad context. Culture is the most common adaptive method for survival, which sets humanity apart from all other life on the planet. This is the primary reason everyone should study culture.
Franz Boas, a noted anthropologist of the 20th century introduced culture into the curriculum of universities in the United States; and is often referred to as the “Father of Anthropology,” in America. A complete biography of Boas is found at http://www.biography.com/people/franz-boas-9216786 A shorter one follows.
Boas was born in Germany and graduated from the University of Kiel as a physicist, but his study of culture, a core component in the study of anthropology, offered his students opportunities to cross the many bridges of diversity. Those bridges, he believed, could only be crossed by delving deeper into human cultural themes such as marriage and family life, food and culture, religion and worldviews, which are introduced to visitors and students on this site.
Though he pioneered the academic study of culture, introduction to “other” cultures began long ago when individuals and groups of peoples began to leave their homelands for different reasons. Armies and conquerors, explorers, and missionaries came into contact with peoples of different ethnicity. They soon noticed that humanity indeed has many faces. The early writings about culture primarily focused on those “faces” and attempted to highlight and discuss the most obvious physical differences.
Today the study of culture reaches far beyond differences in outward appearances. Outward appearance is only a small part of the diversity of human beings. When we study culture, we come to realize that there is no “race card,” and that real identities are not built upon skin color, eye color, hair texture, or stature. Identities are all about culture and culture patterns.
Discussions within the various courses on this site are obviously in the realm of anthropology; but this website integrates cultural anthropology along with historical content. The main purpose here is the study of human culture; and we will follow a variety of themes.
Studying and learning about culture brings new understanding of diversity. Diversity is much more about culture than it is about appearances or differences in languages. Its All About Culture, and the variety of courses offered enlarges the human capacity for sharing commonalities and appreciating differences. How boring would the world be if we all lived our lives the same?
We humans, unlike other organisms, use culture to adapt to our lives wherever we may live. We are all ethnocentric and culture-bound; meaning we judge others by our own set of values, ideas. and beliefs. We cannot help it due to years of enculturation within our own familiar culture and surroundings. However, we can learn to recognize when our attitudes and behaviors begin to encroach on others’ cultural boundaries.
One important thing the study of culture teaches us is that no society or culture is better than another. Even the most simple of cultures are fully developed and complex. Cultures differ in ideologies, socialization, and technology, but they are all equally complex in their own right. Learning to see other cultures in their own light and context is the only way we can hope to calm contentions and promote progress for getting along with the billions of other people that share the same planet.
Students studying culture are surprised to learn that they are both ethnocentric, and culture bound. They also learn that just about everyone else in the world is, too. We all tend to think our culture is the best. And, why not? Culture is what we do everyday, how we pattern our lives and share those patterns with our families, friends, and associates. Historically, such attitudes have helped to keep cultures strong, independent, and viable. But that was then, and this is now. The youth of today live in a different world than their grandparents did, and perhaps even the one of their parents.
Today’s globalized world becomes dysfunctional without tolerance and self-recognition that our way may not be the only way. We are now living in a very large and interconnected community of dominant culture regions. These regions have many cultural obscurities, which are becoming the new, and sometimes confused, normal. Understanding why others behave differently than we do requires an examination of our own patterns of cultural behavior.
Martin Luther King, Jr. started the world on a path, to break down barriers of inequality, but his focus was mostly on black and white, and few of the cultural hues in between. This website exposes the many cultural hues of diversity, other than black and white, through study and discussion. We must learn to recognize our misunderstandings and misconceptions of how the world works for those who do not share our own cultural views.