The 1961 Conference of the ISCSC: Notes and Summaries

By Palencia-Roth, Michael | Comparative Civilizations Review, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The 1961 Conference of the ISCSC: Notes and Summaries


Palencia-Roth, Michael, Comparative Civilizations Review


Introductory observation: It was at this 1961 conference in Salzburg, Austria, that Arnold Toynbee, Pitirim Sorokin, Othmar Anderle and others founded the ISCSC. Sorokin became its first president. After a couple of meetings, the Society experienced financial and organizational difficulties; because of that, Anderle sought in 1968 to transfer the Society to the USA. The transfer was successfully accomplished in 1971 through the efforts of Roger Wescott, Benjamin Nelson (the first American president), Vytautas Kavolis, Matthew Melko, David Wilkinson, Robert Park, and CP. Wolf.

The American incarnation of the ISCSC, begun in 1971, has continued without interruption to the present day.

This summary of the 1961 conference was begun in the spring of 2009, left unfinished in June 2009, and then finished in May and August 201 1. The Problems of Civilizations is a trilingual text (English, French, and German), most of it not translated except for brief summaries of discussions. I have translated and paraphrased from each original language. The language of each speaker is identified at the end of this document. The use of quotations indicates an exact citation.

This summary should be read in conjunction with my essay, "On Giants' Shoulders: The 1961 Salzburg Meeting of the ISCSC," Civilization in Crisis: Proceedings of the 39th International Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. Edited by Laina Farhat-Holzman and Thomas Rienzo (Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 2009), pp. 58-73.

Anderle, Othmar F. The Problems of Civilizations: Report of the First Synopsis Conference of the S.LE.C.C. Salzburg, 8-15 October 1961. The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1964.

SIECC = Société Internationale pour les Études Comparées des Civilisations [International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations]

pp. 5-6 - Preface by Pitirim Sorokin, as President.

Two different lines of study have developed in recent years. One is the "microsociological" approach, or the study of small groups and smallest social units. The other is the "macrosociological" and "macrohistorical" approach, which study "cultural wholes" (5).

Cultural wholes: "N. Danilevsky calls them 'the culture-historical types'; O. Spengler terms them 'the High Cultures' (die Hochkulturen); A. Toynbee refers to them as 'the civilizations' or 'the units and intelligible fields of historical study'; A. L. Kroeber, as 'the high-value culture patterns'; N. Berdyaev, as 'the great cultures'; F.S.C. Northrop, as 'cultural systems' or 'the world cultures'; I call them 'the social and the cultural supersystems'. Whatever the name, all investigators of these vast 'sociocul turai continents agree in that they are real, causal-meaningful wholes, different from the state, or the nation or any other social group. Ordinarily, the boundaries of such a cultural entity transcend the geographical boundaries of national or political or religious or racial or ethnic groups" (5).

The investigators agree, moreover, that these "civilizations" or "cultural supersystems" are like deep ocean currents that determine the patterns and intensity of the cultural waves on the surface (5).

At this critical point in human history, knowledge of "the structural and dynamic properties of 'civilizations ' or 'great cultures' has become particularly urgent for the very survival of the human race as well as for continuation of its creative history." Hence, the establishment of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations and the first congress devoted to the 'basic problems' of civilizations or Hochkulturen (6).

This volume of the proceedings gives a somewhat abbreviated account but it also should give a good idea of the prevalent views on civilizations and cultural systems, as well as the points of agreement or disagreement. "It is hoped that the second and subsequent congresses of the society will substantially develop each of the main problems discussed in this volume" (6). …

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