Culture Wars in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide

Culture Wars in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide

Culture Wars in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide

Culture Wars in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide

Synopsis

This comprehensive documentary report on the cultural and political state of the union explores the flashpoints of the debate over American identity and values.

Excerpt

The term “culture war,” which has become a much-used expression in describing contemporary U.S. politics, suggests that political conflict on certain issues, usually having to do with deeply held social, moral, and religious values, has reached a stage at which significant numbers of individuals hold starkly differing positions, and thus find it extremely difficult to reach compromises and perhaps no longer are able to communicate effectively with one another. Different groups of individuals not only advocate opposing policy positions, but those different positions reflect conflicting world views.

Rogene A. Buchholz (2007, ix) identifies the culture wars as essentially conflicts over views about what role religion should play in the public realm, and certainly in many of the documents selected for this volume, religious understandings play a significant part. A crucial element in the culture war defined internationally is the insistence on the distinction between Christianity and Islam (and all other religions) versus the desire to find common ground for beliefs among varying religious cultures.

The term culture war can be analyzed into its two parts—”culture” and “war”—in order to understand what those who use the term in fact are claiming. Michael Thompson, Richard Ellis, and Aaron Wildavsky (1990) have noted a distinction between two “families of definitions” for culture. The first “views culture as composed of values, beliefs, norms, rationalizations, symbols, ideologies, i.e., mental products” (1). The second “sees culture as referring to the total way of life of a people, their interpersonal relations as well as their attitudes.” Instead of placing weight on the distinction between the two definitions, Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky distinguish among three terms: cultural biases, which they use to refer to “shared values and beliefs”; social relations, which they define as “patterns of interpersonal relations”; and way of life, which the authors use to refer to “a viable combination of social relations and cultural bias.” Roger Scruton (2007a, 159) suggests that the term culture involves “habits, customs and attitudes that are specific to leisure” and distinguishes “high” and “common” culture. Scruton includes in high culture the pursuit of aesthetic values and assigns to common culture such activities as . . .

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