Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Culture Shock of St Patrick

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Culture Shock of St Patrick

Article excerpt


St Patrick is an ancient saint while Culture Shock is a relatively modern phrase. 'Cultural Shock' was first recorded in 1929 (Gamio 1929) with 'Culture Shock' following in 1931 (Carpenter 1931). So it is unsurprising that in all of the numerous scholarly works on St Patrick (e.g. Thompson 1999, Hayes-Healy 2005, Freeman 2005, Kinane 2008, Newell 2008, O'Loughlin 2010, Rogers 2010), this phrase--most commonly associated with international students and expatriate businessmen--has not been deployed as a means of better understanding St Patrick's life. But modern phrase as it is, it does help us to us understand St Patrick's life. The saint's conversion to Christianity, in many respects (even if broadly), follows the model of culture shock which has become so well-known on management consultancy courses and amongst anthropologists conducting fieldwork with foreign cultures and intercultural communication scholars.

What is Culture Shock?

Though the phrase is first recorded in a notable source in 1931, it was not until 1954 that the classic 'U-curve' model of culture shock was developed by Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg (1901-1973). In his presentation to the wives of American expatriate businessmen stationed in Brazil, Oberg (1954, 1960) argued that culture was divided into distinct phases. Stage One was xenophilia where one found the new culture endlessly fascinating, Stage Two was characterised by xenophobia and even a kind of emotional breakdown where one became angry about the culture and withdrawn, hopelessly romanticising 'home.' By Stage Three, the sojourner displayed a grudging resignation to their situation and, finally, by Stage Four they had learnt much of the language, understood the culture and understood that it was 'just another way of living', no better or worse than their own culture. There are, however, 'moments of strain,' specific 'culture shocks' based around new things happening. In the 1960s, this was developed into a 'w-curve' to take into account 'reverse culture shock': when expatriates return home they experience a similar pattern of symptoms in relation to their home culture (Gullahorn and Gullahorn 1963). Also, Stage One has been disputed with some scholars arguing that it is effectively bypassed in particularly subjectively difficult environments (Brown and Holloway 2008). Accordingly, they argue, Culture Shock should be reduced to three stages, at least in certain cases.

Religion, Conversion and Culture

On the surface, at least, the pattern is very similar to that of Christian conversion experience. According to experts in the field such as Lewis Rambo (1993) or Boyer (2001), religious conversion tends to occur at a time of dramatic change in a person's life such as adolescence but also, in general, at times of stress. In its textbook form, there is a dramatic meeting with God which results in great joy. This is followed, often, by 'backsliding' in which the convert recoils in horror from the change (e.g. Austin 1977, Strauss 1979 or Coleman 2003). Gradually, a more mature and measured form of religiosity takes root and finally the convert intellectually accepts, for example, the Church's dogmas as well as emotionally accepting their new identity.

Culture Shock operates in a very similar way but the 'culture' rather than God is the central object. The philosopher Roger Scruton (2000) has observed the way that, after the Enlightenment, 'culture' effectively replaces God as the object of worship in Romantic thought, itself a kind of neo-religion which functions in a way similar to the Christianity which it begins to replace. 'Culture' as an awe-inspiring replacement-God is central to Romanticism, Romantic nationalism and what has been termed the 'cultural cult' of Cultural Relativism and Multiculturalism (Sandall 2001). Culture Shock even culminates in accepting an anthropological dogma--that all cultures are equal and equally valuable. …

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