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Four Cultures of the West Paperback – May 30, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674021037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674021037
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #959,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

O'Malley (The First Jesuits), a scholar of church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, offers a warm and conversational invitation to reflect on four cultural configurations that feed into contemporary consciousness. First comes the style of thought that the author terms "prophetic culture" and which might also be conceived of as a culture of inspired revolution, encompassing Gregory VII, Martin Luther and his spiritual heir Martin Luther King Jr. Second is the paradigm of restless, insistent, academic analysis—the perennial mode of questioning that was first institutionalized in the medieval universities and the one to which Father O'Malley professionally adheres. The third culture, to which his friends suspect that he really belongs, is the humanistic world of letters, with its fondness for multivalent ambiguity and well-rounded manners, a style that became pervasive in the classical world and re-emerged in the Renaissance. Finally comes the silent but ebullient culture of image and ritual, art and performance. What, O'Malley asks throughout, echoing the words of the late Roman polemicist Tertullian, has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What does human culture have to do with the culture of spiritual transcendence? His book, primarily concerned with the manifestations of these various cultures in the history of Christianity, spurs the reader on to meditate on the different streams that jostle, but sometimes converge, in an "ocean" we all navigate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

John O'Malley's Four Cultures of the West will delight scholars, students, general readers, specialists, young and old, the learned and the merely curious because of its combination of great learning with simplicity of language, elegance of style, and narrative gifts. Whatever our place in the culture wars of our troubled present we will learn to see ourselves differently from O'Malley's analysis of styles of thought and expression flourishing side by side in what we call Western culture. (Jill Ker Conway, author of A Woman's Education and True North.)

O'Malley's succinct analysis of the Four Cultures of the West is one of those rare books that uses history to tell us as much about the intellectual conflicts of the present as it does about those of the past. I predict his categorical analysis will be widely cited and widely debated by commentators well beyond academic specialists. (Kenneth Woodward, contributing editor for Newsweek and author of Making Saints.)

This is a bold tour de force. (Jaroslav Pelikan, author of Divine Rhetoric and Jesus through the Centuries.)

In this erudite work of cultural history, O'Malley extends 'an invitation to consider and notice' four distinctive paradigms or cultures that, taken together, handsomely help decode Western intellectual and cultural history. These four paradigms are the prophetic, the academic, the humanistic, and the culture of art and performance...O'Malley successfully showcases the affinities between historic cultures (e.g., the Greco-Roman) and persons (e.g., Aristotle, Aquinas, and Luther) and cultural realties in our own time (e.g., the contemplative rhetoric of Lincoln at Gettysburg prefiguring the rhetorical contemplation at Ground Zero). (Sandra Collins Library Journal 2004-08-01)

O'Malley...offers a warm and conversational invitation to reflect on four cultural configurations that feed into contemporary consciousness...What does human culture have to do with the culture of spiritual transcendence? His book, primarily concerned with the manifestations of these various cultures in the history of Christianity, spurs the reader on to meditate on the different streams that jostle, but sometimes converge, in an 'ocean' we all navigate. (Publishers Weekly 2004-08-16)

This sweeping survey of Western cultural history, by John W. O'Malley, S.J., ought to be required reading for--among others--literary and philosophical [unbelievers]: postmodernists, New Agers, Generation-Xers and college students everywhere. It's a clear cogent survey of the cultural roots we all have, willy-nilly, consciously or otherwise...In all this Father O'Malley makes an illuminating guide. His relaxed, agreeable prose (a blend of cultures two and three) should attract a wide spectrum of readers. (Peter Heinegg America 2004-12-20)

O'Malley has given us a readable book with very wide learning in four cultures...This book will be of interest to and accessible to anyone interested in the cultural life of the West. At a time when the Christian origins of our culture, which in reality are so fundamental, are ignored, it offers a very valuable reminder and corrective. (Richard Harries Times Higher Education Supplement 2005-08-19)

Four Cultures of the West would make an excellent text for an interdisciplinary seminar on Western civilization, but the non-academic reader can enjoy and profit from it as well. (Darrell Turner National Catholic Reporter 2005-04-08)

This wise and elegant little survey of western Christian culture began life as the first Blessed Pope John XXIII lecture series at the University of Notre Dame, and it is a fine example of rhetoric in the best sense: an explicit exercise in epideictic, sorting out praise and blame. (Diarmaid MacCulloch Ecclesiastical History)

O'Malley's book is helpful in gaining a better understanding of the intellectual underpinnings of what we call the "student-centered" approach. This is one reason why the book will be of interest to educators. Lucid, yet at the same time rich in history, it will be attractive to students and teachers of world cultures in many different disciplines. (Dr. Dovile Budryte Bridges)

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable!
John Mccarthy
Thus the way O'Malley shows how all of that shapes our culture today will come as all the more refreshing and incisive.
A curious reader
It is hands down the best book I have read in the past year.
Stephen V. Sundborg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Stephen V. Sundborg on January 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
What I most enjoyed about this book was that a noted historian stepped out of the usual role of more detailed analysis of a particular period and took the long view about the main streams of culture winding through Western history and Christianity. In this sense it is a risky book. O'Malley pulls it off, showing both his understanding of history and his power of more synthetic reflection. I don't know anything like it. It provides the reader with tools or categories of thought for his or her own reflections on history and culture. It is a book full of examples asking one to find one's own examples and to try out O'Malley's "four cultures" as a way of understanding and interrelating major figures of the past or present. I found it a very helpful review and integration of my own lifelong education in the humanities. I would particularly recommend it for capstone or synthesis courses in university core curricula or honors programs. I keep buying more copies of this book and giving it to people who are most likely to appreciate its utitily in the education in the liberal arts tradition. It is hands down the best book I have read in the past year.

Stephen V. Sundborg, S. J.

President, Seattle University
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By James Maroosis on December 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book that feels like Vivaldi and reads like a Bach fugue. Full of life, kindness and compassion, this book is an easy read. It is open, inclusive and daring in its scope and purpose: to map out the four dominant motifs or cultures of the West.

These four cultures are more like four distinct personality types. Each culture has its "characters" galore and the author does a good job of letting us experience the different types of character that make up each of them.

By leading us through each culture and showing us how each develops from within, we are able to participate, with the author, in their reconstruction. This gives the reader a hands-on sense of their make up and how they operate.

What this book offers is a visceral feel for each of these cultures in their uniqueness. It is this feeling, and not some abstract attempt at categorization, that teaches us how to pick up these motifs whenever and wherever we may encounter them. It teaches us to how to discriminate these processes through pattern recognition.

This technique makes it easy to understand and feel the real distinction between the academic culture (Culture 2) and the liberal arts culture (Culture 3). I consider this the most important part the book.

The section on Culture three is must reading. It is a simple, clear exposition of the power and responsibility of the liberal arts to build character and train leaders. Surprisingly the traditional home of liberal arts education was not in the universities.

This raises some interesting questions. If the liberal arts do not belong in academia, where do they belong and how does one actually learn to be a liberal artist?
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A curious reader on December 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a find - it captures something critically important about the modern West and will have you thinking for years to come. In many aspects, it's a very classical and a very Catholic book. Thus the way O'Malley shows how all of that shapes our culture today will come as all the more refreshing and incisive. It is not a long book you will read slowly and once, but a short book that you will first read quickly, and then again and again more carefully.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Vosburg on March 28, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anything by O'Malley is excellently researched and presented, and that is evident in this book. He reviews, discusses and integrates the four cultures - the major influences - of western civilazation and describes how they affect everything from education to our western world view. This book is a real gem and is as interesting being read for the fourth time as it was the first time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Mccarthy on October 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
Fr./Dr. O'Malley's Four Cultures of the West is a gem, a mini-masterpiece. In identifying and describing the development of these four cultures - the prophetic, the academic, the humanistic, and the artistic - he gives us yet another way to decipher both the past and the present. Insights abound, such as that most prophets and prophetic movements tend to look backward toward a better, purer, and more righteous period.

His understanding of the role that the early Jesuit schools played in disseminating humanistic culture is particularly interesting.

Plus, this short and readable book contains many illuminating and enjoyable mini-bios, such as his perceptions on Luther and Erasmus.

Easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable!
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