Cases for considering the European Tradition: Islam and America

Jun 2016
85
A Shell of Steel
I would disagree with that assessment. Charlemagne became known to modern Europeans as the "Father of Europe", but this is only in hindsight, and with an eye to a very specific region of Europe. There wasn't an understanding, under Charlemagne or for several centuries after, of Europeans as a distinct group, either from non-Europeans or the previous inhabitants of Europe. Latin Christians in Western Europe increasingly began viewing themselves as a distinct group, but this was largely from other Europeans -- the Romans, namely, or as they began calling them "Greeks", as well as Pagan Germanic and Slavic peoples -- not as Europeans in contrast to Asians and Africans. Additionally, from the Roman perspective most of Western Europe had been lost to the Barbarians, and so they increasingly felt disconnected from its inhabitants and their customs. Overall, Charlemagne brought one collection of Europeans together and pushed others further apart, without ever really making any statements of European identity.
I understand by the entirety of your post that you know at least in large part what I am doing in terms of a project. I am still not sure, in the context of the discussion I am bringing here about the European tradition, what you intend this to be a critique of. I'm not saying that I don't think it should be acknowledged by any means. But what you're saying in the above I would consider part of the European tradition in my understanding. Does that make sense? Another way of putting it could be the European inheritance. You might not agree with that term either.

To get to the crux of the issue in the rest of the comment, I don't necessarily disagree with the minutiae of your observations, but I disagree with the basic idea that there was any collection of values, customs, or convictions common to "Europeans" that could collectively be termed the "European Tradition" in a pre-modern context. There were values, customs, and convictions common to Romans, there were values, customs, and convictions common to Muslims, there were values, customs, and convictions common to Latin Christians, and there were values, customs, and convictions common to Germanic Pagans, but there's no justification for lumping any of these under the label of "European tradition" until at least the 15th century, by which time the other traditions had faded and the Latin Christian had grown to dominate the continent. What you've been doing is tracking the Greco-Roman and then the medieval Germano-Latin traditions under the label of the "European Tradition". These are two very distinct -- if connected -- civilizations which coexisted as such for centuries, and neither matched up with the boundaries of Europe nor thought of themselves as European in anything approaching modern terms. There are thus simply no accurate observations that can actually be made about the "European Tradition" in an ancient or medieval context, because such observations will either apply only to a small portion of Europe or extend well beyond it -- anything that applies to Latin Christianity will extend only to that portion of Europe, for example, while anything that applies to Christianity in general will apply everywhere from Armenia to Ethiopia, and the same is true of art, architecture, language, the reception of classical literature, societal norms and structures, etc. Observations can certainly be made about developments within medieval Germano-Latin culture, which by-and-large goes on to form the basis for the more broadly European culture of the Early Modern Period, but it will never be accurate to describe these as developments of the "European Tradition" in a medieval context.


What you've put in red is partly what I've been doing. I would say that it appears this way particularly because there are certain strands of European history which are most prominent, but they do not encompass all that I mean by the European tradition. If one makes such an observation on the conditions of what is now Latvia during the 6th century and says, "this has nothing to do with that" (I'm just taking a random example, I actually don't know anything about that region under that period) I would not disagree, but there is a good chance I would consider both as part of what I'm calling the European tradition. I say only a good chance because for example I wouldn't consider the Moors part of the European tradition, if you get what I mean. It doesn't mean I'm trying to equate Latvia to France.

In conclusion, then, the goal of the project to examine the roots of the current European Tradition and its relationship with Islam is a perfectly valid one, but the concept of a pan-European culture or consciousness is a distinctly modern phenomenon that is fundamentally inapplicable in a medieval or ancient context. It would therefore be more productive to focus on the different historical traditions, within Europe and without, that contributed to the genesis of the European Tradition -- most notably the Christian, the Greco-Roman, and the Germanic -- and from which that tradition drew its structures, concepts, styles, and values.
I agree with the bolded part of this. The purposes of tracking a European tradition isn't simply to say "this idea originates in that one", if it was I think I would have had a much easier time answering Jari who asked if I thought that Europe had a unifying set of values or value concept. I responded that I was doubtful about that, and you might say that it is distinctly not so, and I wouldn't disagree.


You've already been doing the groundwork for this, but you've been trying to fit these diverse contributors to the European Tradition under its label and extend it back to classical antiquity, which is not a tenable framework in the face of historical reality. It is, in general, an interesting project, but it could make a much stronger argument, in my opinion, with a bit of a shift in the angle from which the history of the European Tradition is analyzed.
You have already made quite a large contribution to the thread. Would you mind providing further explanation of what makes the framework untenable? Despite my categorization being something that is to some degree imposed on history (at least insofar as I am bringing together groups and ideas which would have been geographically and culturally distinct) I do not wish to nor intend to distort what those ideas were, how they originated, what they were intended for or happened to bring about (even if it was the cause of disunity among peoples within Europe, as you pointed out above).

I think this discussion arose from considering whether Christianity should even be considered part of the European tradition. I had thought there might be reasons to consider it so, that was the context of bringing up post-Roman Europe in reference to Charlemagne (who was just an arbitrary example, not the singular justification). As I said before, certain things have caused me to re-consider whether that characterization of Christianity is accurate (eg. that it originated geographically outside of Europe, that the founding figures - I mean Jesus, apostles, etc. were not European, that it had roots in the Judaic tradition, etc.) The problem is of course because there is a degree of 'arbitrariness' to the categorization of European - Let's say some core criteria were the origins within the geographical location of Europe, the origins from those considered of European ethnicity (which I understand can be an issue in itself), the roots either in spontaneous relation to the geography, social conditions, or relation to/inspiration from past cultural manifestations, and so on... Still there could be issues. If Europeans were in America (non-geographically European) does it automatically sever them from that tradition? It was these questions which the OP was intended to consider rather than dogmatically impart from a position of pre-established wisdom. That is why I am trying to be clear about how much I appreciate your posts. I am not being insincere. The considerations you are making are exactly the kind I intended with the "considering" referred to in the title of this thread and the post.
 
Jun 2016
85
A Shell of Steel
Nitpicking again (You'll get used to it in time ... or maybe not.... )

A good part of culture and tradition of populations hasn't any "purposes", it simply is. It has its own life and its own ways.
I'm not completely convinced that culture and traditions don't have purposes. They might not be conscious in people at the time they are manifested and conceived, but I'm not sure that they don't serve a purpose. I would accept a criticism that such a conception might be imposed in hindsight with regard to the effects of that culture and traditions and so it is inaccurate to conceive of it that way. Nonetheless I would still like to consider various case scenarios in detail before my mind was made up definitively on the issue.


If You have the opportunity to look a bit closer into the folklore (especially Central/Eastern/Southern Europe, as it is/was much better preserved) You will be astonished how much was/is still there from an ante-Christian substratum for example.
When you say "ante-Christian" do you mean anti-Christian or something like pre-Christian? In any case I do know there was non-Christian ideas expressed in folklore as well as various epics and sagas. I think it is fascinating and potentially useful for gleaning insights about pre-Christian traditions (though one must be careful about making such a judgement in some cases) It was in this context that I brought up Beowulf and the Icelandic sages in the OP, I had realized that my discussion of them was very attenuated and not even very clear after I had written the post, but since it wasn't the main intention of the post I didn't take the care to change it at the time.
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
Apologies for the late reply, I've been busy with things.
I understand by the entirety of your post that you know at least in large part what I am doing in terms of a project. I am still not sure, in the context of the discussion I am bringing here about the European tradition, what you intend this to be a critique of. I'm not saying that I don't think it should be acknowledged by any means. But what you're saying in the above I would consider part of the European tradition in my understanding. Does that make sense? Another way of putting it could be the European inheritance. You might not agree with that term either.
The "European inheritance" would be a rather meaningless or misleading term, in my opinion. It supposes that historical events, people, inventions, literary traditions, etc. and their effects are things that can be "inherited" in the singular by one group of people or another like an item of property, which is an unproductive way of looking at history. Europeans don't and especially didn't "own" Christianity, or Greco-Roman culture, or whatever else; these things fed into what we know now as "European culture", but also into Ethiopia, medieval Nubia and Asia Minor, Islamic cultures, etc. They can be productively explored as important influences on modern Europe, but not as aspects of an invented "European tradition" stretching back into the Middle Ages and Antiquity.

What you've put in red is partly what I've been doing. I would say that it appears this way particularly because there are certain strands of European history which are most prominent, but they do not encompass all that I mean by the European tradition. If one makes such an observation on the conditions of what is now Latvia during the 6th century and says, "this has nothing to do with that" (I'm just taking a random example, I actually don't know anything about that region under that period) I would not disagree, but there is a good chance I would consider both as part of what I'm calling the European tradition. I say only a good chance because for example I wouldn't consider the Moors part of the European tradition, if you get what I mean. It doesn't mean I'm trying to equate Latvia to France.
I'm not sure I really understand you here, honestly. What exactly do you mean by the "European tradition", and what do you think the value of such a construct is in a pre-modern context? From what I can tell your analysis thus far has been predicated on the assumption that the framework of a "European tradition" is one of inherent value as early as Antiquity, but you've made no case for its usefulness as a tool of historical analysis, and in my opinion it quite honestly has none. There was no real ancient or medieval entity that could be called the "European tradition", no ancient or medieval societies imagined that there was any concept which could be called the "European tradition", and there was no collection of beliefs, customs, perceptions, or practices present in the Middle Ages or Antiquity which we can group together today and meaningfully call the "European tradition". I thus can't agree or disagree with what you place within this tradition -- whether France, Latvia, or Andalusia -- because it is, as you've explained it, a completely arbitrary and anachronistic concept in the first place, stemming not from real Ancient and medieval circumstances but entirely from those of the modern era, applied backwards on periods where they're of no use. The best way to analyze the contributions of different cultures, people, religions, and whatever else to the modern European tradition is to do just that, analyze their contributions, not try to extend the modern concept back millennia beyond the point of any relevance or productive applicability.
 
Jun 2016
85
A Shell of Steel
I'm not sure I really understand you here, honestly. What exactly do you mean by the "European tradition", and what do you think the value of such a construct is in a pre-modern context? From what I can tell your analysis thus far has been predicated on the assumption that the framework of a "European tradition" is one of inherent value as early as Antiquity, but you've made no case for its usefulness as a tool of historical analysis, and in my opinion it quite honestly has none. There was no real ancient or medieval entity that could be called the "European tradition", no ancient or medieval societies imagined that there was any concept which could be called the "European tradition", and there was no collection of beliefs, customs, perceptions, or practices present in the Middle Ages or Antiquity which we can group together today and meaningfully call the "European tradition". I thus can't agree or disagree with what you place within this tradition -- whether France, Latvia, or Andalusia -- because it is, as you've explained it, a completely arbitrary and anachronistic concept in the first place, stemming not from real Ancient and medieval circumstances but entirely from those of the modern era, applied backwards on periods where they're of no use. The best way to analyze the contributions of different cultures, people, religions, and whatever else to the modern European tradition is to do just that, analyze their contributions, not try to extend the modern concept back millennia beyond the point of any relevance or productive applicability.

It isn't a tool for historical analysis. It is a project for compiling European traditions, values and history to impart in the future. It is not part of a theory to analyze history in the way that something like dialectical materialism, a feminist perspective or a 'great man theory' of history is. It's more of a topic of interest.
 

deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
14,533
Europix
It isn't a tool for historical analysis. It is a project for compiling European traditions, values and history to impart in the future
Here You've lost me a bit, as it seems You look in a totally different direction than I thought.

My first reflex would be to advise You to decide what are the limits of what You will consider as "Europe" then take as a starting point the UNESCO list of imaterial patrimoine of humanity.
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
It isn't a tool for historical analysis. It is a project for compiling European traditions, values and history to impart in the future. It is not part of a theory to analyze history in the way that something like dialectical materialism, a feminist perspective or a 'great man theory' of history is. It's more of a topic of interest.
The issue here, then, is that you have been using it as one. The inhabitants of Europe have, by definition, had traditions, and those can be studied and compiled, and it is generally recognized that most of Europe in the modern era has and has had certain common cultural, political, and religious traditions which could collectively be known as the "European tradition", and both these and the influences behind them can be studied. These are fine as topics of study and frameworks through which to compile information and form there make an argument, as the former obviously applies and the latter is generally accepted to be applicable. When you extend the "European tradition" into the ancient and medieval periods, though, and treat it as a collective descriptive with specific attributes and limits within the European continent -- and furthermore something that can be damaged or contributed to -- you are making a positive assertion that such a descriptive has a contemporary reality behind it, and an implicit one that it is useful as a tool for analyzing its historical context. When you say, for example, that Judaism is not part of the "European tradition" and Christianity is, you move away from compilation and description of historical reality -- of describing the traditions of Europeans -- and into asserting the usefulness of the concept of a "European tradition" as a tool of historical analysis defined by both inclusive and exclusive criteria, in this case religious in nature. What I am saying and have been saying is that the concept of the "European tradition" has neither any contemporary reality behind it nor any usefulness as a tool of historical analysis before the late 15th century at the earliest. You have thus far not made any case for the validity of these assertions, but they continue to underpin the basic premises of the thread and your position. I don't want to be rude but it seems like you're trying to have your cake here and eat it too, working off the premise that a "European tradition" existed in the ancient and medieval periods without ever confronting the assumptions and assertions behind that premise, which I would consider fundamentally incorrect. I don't want to misunderstand your position though, so definitely tell me if you feel I've gotten anything wrong.
 
Jun 2016
85
A Shell of Steel
The issue here, then, is that you have been using it as one. The inhabitants of Europe have, by definition, had traditions, and those can be studied and compiled, and it is generally recognized that most of Europe in the modern era has and has had certain common cultural, political, and religious traditions which could collectively be known as the "European tradition", and both these and the influences behind them can be studied. These are fine as topics of study and frameworks through which to compile information and form there make an argument, as the former obviously applies and the latter is generally accepted to be applicable. When you extend the "European tradition" into the ancient and medieval periods, though, and treat it as a collective descriptive with specific attributes and limits within the European continent -- and furthermore something that can be damaged or contributed to -- you are making a positive assertion that such a descriptive has a contemporary reality behind it, and an implicit one that it is useful as a tool for analyzing its historical context. When you say, for example, that Judaism is not part of the "European tradition" and Christianity is, you move away from compilation and description of historical reality -- of describing the traditions of Europeans -- and into asserting the usefulness of the concept of a "European tradition" as a tool of historical analysis defined by both inclusive and exclusive criteria, in this case religious in nature. What I am saying and have been saying is that the concept of the "European tradition" has neither any contemporary reality behind it nor any usefulness as a tool of historical analysis before the late 15th century at the earliest. You have thus far not made any case for the validity of these assertions, but they continue to underpin the basic premises of the thread and your position. I don't want to be rude but it seems like you're trying to have your cake here and eat it too, working off the premise that a "European tradition" existed in the ancient and medieval periods without ever confronting the assumptions and assertions behind that premise, which I would consider fundamentally incorrect. I don't want to misunderstand your position though, so definitely tell me if you feel I've gotten anything wrong.
I think you're making interesting points that might be valid for what I'm trying to do, but I'm not completely convinced of it and this is why.
.
I don't understand this statement on my terms (I say my terms because it might very well be exactly as you have been saying in this thread and so in historical terms you are saying something particularly relevant, but I'm not sure if it attains to my project is what I mean):

When you extend the "European tradition" into the ancient and medieval periods, though, and treat it as a collective descriptive with specific attributes and limits within the European continent -- and furthermore something that can be damaged or contributed to -- you are making a positive assertion that such a descriptive has a contemporary reality behind it, and an implicit one that it is useful as a tool for analyzing its historical context. When you say, for example, that Judaism is not part of the "European tradition" and Christianity is, you move away from compilation and description of historical reality -- of describing the traditions of Europeans -- and into asserting the usefulness of the concept of a "European tradition" as a tool of historical analysis defined by both inclusive and exclusive criteria, in this case religious in nature.
I do not think I'm making an assertion that calling these things part of the European tradition in terms of my project (customs or beliefs from Europe which can be transmitted from generation to generation) that it had contemporary validity. What I'm doing (I suppose like you said previous rulers did self-interestedly, though I'm hoping it could be of interest to a community rather than for personal promotion) is compiling history, customs, philosophy, stories (with interpretations) which originated on the European continent. I must add a few caveats: With this thread I wanted to discuss for example America, because it was not on the continent Europe but still seemed to be part of that tradition because it was colonized by European settlers and eg. Enlightenment ideas as well as ancient philosophy was used in the framing of the constitution and political structures...

It was in a similar context that I wanted to discuss whether Islam or Christianity could be considered part of that. Mainly because Christianity has played a very large role in these things (history, customs, philosophy, stories) throughout the history of Europe, despite it's having qualities which make it foreign to the continent.

This thread was also intended to consider what is part of Europe proper, rather than simply being a history of Europe in some straightforward fashion. Islam and Christianity have some connection but America's connection would only be incidental to that part of the post. You could say this post was intended as a kind of meta-post, still a kind of "what should we think of (in this self-interested way) as the European tradition?"

Another way of, perhaps not so flatterly putting it is as an ideological or political project. I am at university for history, I wouldn't use this framework for my studies there. It is something I would use while engaging with others hopefully of a like mind. That being said, despite a certain arbitrariness, I don't think that means the contours could be subject to complete disarrangement, that is why I think there is some objective criteria (ie. that it didn't originate on the continent, that the originating figures were not European, that its roots were Jewish) which makes the case of Christianity uncertain for the project. Similarly I make the case that when America declared indepedence it made it possible for that state to become something other than European.

I think that is necessary. I suppose you say that this makes it a tool for historical analysis, but I'm not quite sure because even if I define some term and try to apply it and categorize things under my heading, there can be cases which aren't quite clear cut and so one wants to contemplate, does this suit these terms or not?

I don't want to be rude but it seems like you're trying to have your cake here and eat it too, working off the premise that a "European tradition" existed in the ancient and medieval periods without ever confronting the assumptions and assertions behind that premise, which I would consider fundamentally incorrect.
Besides the ancient and medieval periods having aspects which put it geographically in europe and ethnically in europe, and there being certain ideas which have continued to influence Europe arguably even until today (particularly philosophy, many laws in Europe are founded on Roman law, but even in the realm of literature, etc.) then I also wish to explore these periods in a deeper nature. Perhaps there is something more which has been forgotten or neglected which could also inspire us today? Perhaps some merely wish to learn about them to understand what was happening on the continent or even country, city, etc. where they live today.

You have also pointed out that other peoples could hold Rome for example to be part of their inheritence. That is fine. Just because I engage in this project doesn't mean I'm trying to hoard all of these things to say, for Europeans only, hands off.
 
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deaf tuner

Ad Honoris
Oct 2013
14,533
Europix
European tradition in terms of my project (customs or beliefs from Europe which can be transmitted from generation to generation)
Ok, not that I would be so knowledgeable of English language, but: maybe You should use the locution "European traditions" instead of "European tradition" then.
 
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Jun 2016
85
A Shell of Steel
Ok, not that I would be so knowledgeable of English language, but: maybe You should use the locution "European traditions" instead of "European tradition" then.
Your comment made me realize something that may be important. I see what you mean by traditions, and while I originally was thinking that peoples and groups within Europe would have their own traditions as defined by that group, I wouldn't want the project I am talking about to contribute towards a homogenization or an erosion of local traditions in Europe. I would have to be careful about that. At the same time I did think the project would facilitate a sense of unity, so I wouldn't want to amplify difference either.

I think that will be something I have to think about more. The philosophical tradition is sometimes considered as something more generally inherited or relevant to all those engaged in philosophical activity. Literary traditions have more cross-pollination. Things like local dress and customs are generally more group exclusive, but I think there are broader cases to be made for exclusivity among traditions, which is also healthy in promoting a sense of meaning and connectedness with the past and one's roots.

A solution doesn't have to be so clear cut. For example (literature is something I'm more familiar with so I bring it up) there are national epics - Pan Tadeusz is important to the Polish people as well as Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine... It doesn't mean that Mickiewicz might not be important in some sense to all Europe, but there is qualitative distinctions to be made which respect both a sense of a greater Europe as well as the particular (and separate) traditions which make up Europe.
 
Jan 2016
1,139
Victoria, Canada
That cleared a lot up, thank you. I think I have a much clearer picture of what you're trying to do here, and I don't necessarily disagree with the basic premise. I think you do still have to realize, though, that when you do try to compile "history, customs, philosophy, stories (with interpretations) which originated on the European continent" in an ancient or medieval context, the results are going to be no less arbitrary than doing the same for those that originated on the African continent, or the Asian continent. "Europeans" didn't exist in the 1st, or 6th, or 11th centuries any more than "Asians" or "Africans", only inhabitants of Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. with various cultural and societal traits and affiliations. The Romans were not Europeans, they were Romans. Some lived in Europe, yes, and Rome itself happened to be in Italy, but by the time you're talking about the current era huge numbers of Romans also lived in Africa and Asia, and they were no less "native" than Romans in Gaul or Iberia; the same goes for the Greeks. Likewise, Muslims currently and historically in Europe are no less inhabitants of Europe than the Romans of Italy, Gaul, Iberia, etc., and their contributions to culture and history originate and originated no less on the European continent.

Essentially, If you're searching in pre-modernity for "history, customs, philosophy, stories (with interpretations) which originated on the European continent" that fit the established definitions and limits of "European" culture and society in the modern era you're not going to find them. The ideas and customs that originated on the European continent and the ideas and customs which form the foundation for those of modern Europe are two very, very different things, and the definition of the former cannot simply be expanded to include the latter. Romans and Greeks are not "Europeans" by default, and the contributions of figures like Heron of Alexandria, St. Augustine, and Basil of Caesarea cannot be considered part of a "European tradition" because of their Hellenism or Romanitas any more than al-Majriti or Averroes could be considered part of an "Asian tradition" because of their Arab language and Islamic religion. When you embark, then, on a project of compiling "history, customs, philosophy, stories (with interpretations) which originated on the European continent" that is what actually has to be done, without this goal being tied up with modern cultural, lingual, and religious convictions and preconceptions. The result is going to be quite arbitrary, excluding many people who contributed much to modern European culture and including many who didn't, but that's the natural result of applying such a survey to an arbitrary geographic space. This is something that can only be avoided by changing your angle from one focused on Europe to one focused on the historical cultures that contributed to its modern form, i.e. on surveying the "history, customs, philosophy, and stories" of the Greco-Romans, Celts, Germanics, Slavs, etc. independent of geography, which is what I'd recommend if you're looking for a more holistic perspective on the origins of modern pan-European cultural, societal, philosophical, and historical traditions, to the extent that these exist.
 
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