March 20, 2010

Overviews of Western and Eastern Worldviews

By Cheon, Young-Cheol

Since Lynn White’s controversial paper, ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, there has been the argument that today’s ecological crisis is rooted in Western Judeo-Christian anthropocentric traditions. As Tucker and Grim point out, our ecological crisis is ‘not only the result of certain economic, political, and social factors’ but also ‘a moral and spiritual crisis’ (Tucker and Grim, 1998: xvi). In recent decades, thus, Eastern traditions of thought have presented alternatives to conventional Western attitudes and values.

What are the features of Western worldview?

The first feature of Western worldview is that it is largely anthropocentric, so nature is considered as being of secondary importance. As a result, humans have conquered nature and are governing it according to their desire. This sort of human-centered attitude has caused irresponsible exploitation of nature. Moreover, it places humans over and against other living beings.

The second feature of Western worldview is dualism. Dualistic worldview is a perspective that looks at material and spirit, and body and soul, as two separate entities. According to a dualistic worldview, the human body is like a part of a machine, and body and soul are not related at all. Human beings, thus, are both essentially and morally segregated from nature (Callicott and Ames, 1989: 5).

By contrast, Eastern traditional worldview looks at the universe as an organism, which means ‘all of the parts of the entire cosmos belong to one organic whole and that they all interact as participants in one spontaneously self-generating life process’ (Wei-Ming, 1989: 67). It is helpful to establish a more harmonious relationship between humans and nature. Asian people have lived in that organic worldview throughout their history.

As for communication perspectives, communication theory has been traditionally based on the Western worldview. Contemporary communication theories, thus, mainly focus on anthropocentric perspectives. Moreover, Western perspectives of communication are dominantly language-centered and rationality-biased while Asian perspectives place emphasis on intuition, direct experience, and silence (Miike, 2006: 11).

Such Asian traditional perspectives on communication can provide new ideas and different perspectives beyond the limitations of Western communication perspectives. In recent years, thus, Asian communication studies have been newly developing (Chen, 2006: 295). For instance, Yoshitaka Miike proposes five agendas for Asian communication studies: (1) deriving theoretical insights from Asian cultures; (2) expanding the geographical focus of study - Cultural China, Japan, South Korea, and India; (3) comparing and contrasting Asian cultures to explore both similarities and differences among Asian cultures; (4) pluralizing and historicizing theoretical lenses in order to respond to the diversity of Asian communicative experiences and to contextualize Asian communication practices; and (5) confronting metatheoretical and methodological questions instead of presuming the universality of Eurocentric metatheory and methodology (Miike, 2006: 13-22).

In short, it is not an issue which one is truth or not between Eastern and Western worldviews. Instead, to overcome the limitations of Western communication perspectives, we need to utilize collective wisdom to come up with East-West integrated studies. This signifies that the East and the West should examine and review their mutual traditional thinking, suggest alternatives, and review them with each other.


Unknown said...

This is quite educative. Most missionaries are not vast in comparative studies.

Unknown said...
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