Conference to consider perspectives on ‘Interculturality’

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What happens when two cultures meet? The Center for Intercultural Studies is holding a two-day conference beginning Feb. 28 to address just that question.

“Interculturality is when you have two different cultures meet,” Michal Rozbicki, professor of history and Director of the Center for Intercultural Studies, said. “In the space between them, they negotiate, meaning they try to figure out reciprocal relationships. This is the area of our interest.”

According to Rozbicki, the two-year old Center for Intercultural Studies aims to study not only how other cultures come to understand each other, but also how interaction between cultures can foster change, create conflict or cause societies to evolve. As Saint Louis University looks to create a more global community with the Center for Global Citizenship and the various student groups and programs that address diversity and international studies, Rozbicki hope that the Center for Intercultural Studies will serve as the academic core of the community.

“When I was founding this center, I found that everyone in their own discipline has some knowledge on how to deal with interculturality,” Rozbicki said. “But that knowledge only comes from their discipline.”

With the upcoming conference, entitled “Perspectives on Interculturality,” Rozbicki intends to bring myriad disciplines together to discuss the phenomenon that occurs when cultures meet.

“I asked [the presenters] to do the same thing: find a case study of intercultural relations and explain the mechanism from your discipline’s point of view,” Rozbicki said. “So we’ll have people from the Middle East, from China, from Europe coming in and presenting their case. My hope is that others will learn from that.”

Over the two days the conference will run for, the goal is to hit on several important themes within the subject of interculturality.

“We’ll try to define interculturality,” Rozbicki said. “And from there, I hope we can take the first steps to creating a separate discipline of intercultural studies that will be separate from all other disciplines.”

Another theme of the conference will be globalization, a theme Rozbicki sees as a revival of the Enlightenment idea of creating a “global citizen.”

“A global citizen is an idea of a certain cosmopolitan view where people are guided by reason, and they don’t think narrowly about community,” Rozbicki said. “Responsibility is to society and community and people. Without that, you just have a very self-enclosed culture.”

Building off that theme, the conference will also seek to ask whether cultural globalization, the creation of a uniform culture, is possible. While there will be discussion on the topic, Rozbicki is skeptical.

“I don’t think we can create a unified global culture,” Rozbicki said. “People don’t live in the world, they live in a country or a culture and each is deeply rooted in their world view. You can come from one culture to another and say ‘You can make sense of the world my way now,’ but that’s very hard to do and will get you punched in the face.”

The conference will also be taking a look at what makes a culture a culture. According to Rozbicki, culture is not a fixed prescription for life, but is more of a combination of two opposing forces: the traditional ways of doing things and the new ideas that are born out of contact with other cultures.

“The idea is that tension is good, as it creates change and adaptation and adds vibrancy to a culture,” Rozbicki said. “But it can also lead to bad, like wars and conflict. I’m trying to see the good side that can be encouraged by understanding. We don’t have to approve of other cultures, but we will at least understand why things are the way they are and prevent conflict from happening.”

The conference will feature discussions and lectures by professors and scholars from not only different academic institutions, but also from a variety of different countries. Throughout the duration of the two days, participants will be delving into the theory and philosophy that makes up the idea of interculturality. After the conference, Rozbicki hopes to compile a volume recording the scholarly work of the conference.