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Cultural Relativism

Why Understanding Cultural Relativism is So Important for Us

The whole concept involves interpreting beliefs and activities from within the terms of the governing culture. It is very important, especially in the volatile circumstances of today, to understand the concept of cultural relativism in essence.
Gaynor Borade
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
The principle of cultural relativism was first established and explained by Boaz Franz in the first half of the 20th century. Anthropologists began effectively using the term and summarizing the understood synthesis around the involvement of the concept specific to certain methodologies and epistemological claims. However, the ethical stance in the application of meaning to beliefs and activities observed is a matter of debate.
The German philosopher Kant strongly propagated that human beings are not capable of assimilating knowledge of the world directly or without a medium. He believed that all our experiences are universally structured perceptions, in accordance to the concerning time and space. The idea of cultural relativism is best understood as ethnocentrism or the group being the center of everything, including the rostrum for judging other groups.
On one hand, humans have salvaged distinct cultural forms of life over the recent past and yet at the same time, there is a strong scientific intention for the refusal to accept the perception of homogenization. Cultural relativism, many a times, takes the form of ethnocentrism, where we believe that our understanding of known art is the most beautiful and our values are the most virtuous. It cannot be denied that the known culture does mediate and limit our perception of things.
Culture needs to be understood as that which is beyond food, art and music and religion; it is the complete sum of our mental and physical reactions and activities. These mental and physical reactions characterize our behavior and it is this common characterization that we form social groups, with each individual continuing to be exclusively 'himself'.
Challenges with the Application
When considering cultural relativism, it is important to first and foremost escape the bonds of our own culture. This is essential for an unbiased perception and reaction to other identities. This also helps us to make sense of any unfamiliar culture and develop heuristic strategies. If correctly applied, cultural relativism can transform the original epistemology into a methodological lesson for all the people of the world. The most common application is in the case of language, as a means of communication and categorizing experiences. Human judgments are based on experience, which is interpreted by each individual differently, within the conditions of his or her own enculturation.
In the extremely volatile world today, it is important to conduct scientific research on existent cultures and employ methods to escape the limits of ethnocentrism. This is best achieved by living with people of other cultures and getting accustomed within the new culture in good time. Cultural relativism is an attitude and focuses on the importance of the local understanding of the meaning of particular beliefs and activities.
Cultural Relativism brings about a comparison and contrast of cultures, in a systematic manner. This systematic manner was employed previously to classify artifacts and biological organisms, taking the evolution from the crudest to the most refined. It is however, essential to consider that the object of study is the individual and each ethnological specimen should be individually identified. It is very necessary to be aware of the diversity of cultures around the world and the tremendous range of variations.
The study of customs and beliefs and culture should have no preferential weighing and should consider all variant forms and possible conditions. The understanding of humanity should ideally be based on varied samples of cultures, different from that which is known. Cultural relativism is a tool for unbiased critique; a reflection of our known ways. It helps us to re-examine and correct our assumptions and bias on cultures and people of the world. The critical function of cultural relativism is to admit that the ground for judgment on other cultures comes from a kind of illusion.