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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb study of renaissances across many cultures
Jack Goody, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, has written a most engaging and enlightening book on renaissances. He contends that all literate societies have times of looking back, leading to a flowering of culture.

Chapter 1 examines the idea of renaissance. Chapter 2 studies Europe's first medical school, the University of...
Published on July 20, 2010 by William Podmore

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not convincing
Although it provides a lot of interesting information, this book was a great disappointment. Sir Jack Goody sees the European renaissance simply as a revival among others, and starts with a lot of talk about how the renaissance got influence from other cultures, like Islam, China etc. This is nothing new and any student of renaissance should know that. He continues with...
Published on September 12, 2011 by D Walls


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb study of renaissances across many cultures, July 20, 2010
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William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Renaissances: The One or the Many? (Paperback)
Jack Goody, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, has written a most engaging and enlightening book on renaissances. He contends that all literate societies have times of looking back, leading to a flowering of culture.

Chapter 1 examines the idea of renaissance. Chapter 2 studies Europe's first medical school, the University of Montpellier, and the Arabic and Jewish contributions to the rebirth of that knowledge. Chapter 3 compares renaissances and looks at the growth of secular knowledge. Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 look at the cultural histories of Islam, Judaism, India and China. Chapter 8 sums up.

Goody shows how the Italian Renaissance freed people from the limits imposed by the ruling religion. The Renaissance stands out because of the extent of the post-Roman decline and of Christianity's power. The Renaissance's suspension of belief opened up a more secular and humanistic way of thinking, giving more freedom to science and the arts. The supernatural hindered inquiry into the natural world by claiming that God had already answered all questions. The Renaissance opened up the wider world of pagan or polytheistic Greece and Rome, and allowed independent inquiry and the development of representational arts and the theatre. Religion gave way to science.

Also, autocracy gave way to democracy. As he writes, "Democracy is partly involved with secularity (not inevitably but as a tendency), because the rule of the people usually implies the actuality of a secular rather than a transcendental power."

Their empires led to Europe's states' taking a self-centred view of the world, for example, Arnold Toynbee stated that the Renaissance was `the natural expression of the western spirit'. Goody notes "the non-intrinsic nature of cultural supremacy, that is, it does not attribute advantage or backwardness to a permanent quality of the culture such as genius or spirit or mentality but to factors that can change over the course of time." Drawing a straight line between Antiquity and the Renaissance excludes non-European cultures from the growth of civilisation.

Culture flourished from the growth in manufacturing and international trade. As Goody writes, "Contact with these eastern cultures [Persia, India and China] helped stimulate the changes leading to the Italian Renaissance, that is to a resumption of trade, the rebirth of a wider approach, and a renewal of cultural contacts with the past and with the present." He concludes, "Europe was not alone, nor was it a cultural island."
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not convincing, September 12, 2011
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This review is from: Renaissances: The One or the Many? (Paperback)
Although it provides a lot of interesting information, this book was a great disappointment. Sir Jack Goody sees the European renaissance simply as a revival among others, and starts with a lot of talk about how the renaissance got influence from other cultures, like Islam, China etc. This is nothing new and any student of renaissance should know that. He continues with the worn out story that all other cultures are victims of euro centrism and ethnocentrism. He talks about renaissance, as it only was a revival of old knowledge, which of course has happened many times in many cultures. But the Italian/European renaissance was something much more profound which lead to reformation and the enlightenment in which anything could be challenged and questioned, leading to a secular society where nothing was holy. It was a rebirth that really led to something new, not just a revival. Ironically, in his eagerness to find proofs that the same things happened in the Muslim world he even calls the Wahhabis for reformers, while reactionaries would have been a more appropriate word!
What I was looking for was a study which analyzed the ideas and driving force behind the (European) renaissance and why this lead to the enlightenment, reformation and eventually to a secular democratic part of the world. This is actually relatively unique when you look at the world today and it cannot be explained only by saying that Europe has suppressed and exploited the rest of the world (although that is also true). I think this rather has to do with people's ideas about authority, religion, kinship and patrimonialism and how ideas in Europe helped to undermine the traditional religious and state authority. It is not an accident that a Freud grew up in Europe and not in India, Iraq or China. What about self-criticism that has been so important ingredient in the development of western world? Was this kind of scrutinizing the self and your own culture encouraged in the Muslim world, or in China? If you read a book like Jaques Waardenburg: "Muslim perception of other religions", you will doubt it.
Goody is discussing the relation between religion and political power, but completely ignore to discuss why a separation between the religious power and the political power (that which belong to God and that which belong to the Emperor) was possible in Christian Europe but has still mostly not been possible within the Muslim world. He also avoid to discuss why kinship and patrimonialism was mostly abolished in Europe, but not to the same degree in the Muslim world or any other part of the world (this very important aspect is analyzed by Francis Fukiyama in his latest book).
Mr Goody acknowledges the strength of the religious forces when he discuss the resurrection of Islamic states towards Arabic nationalism without the authoritarianism of monotheism (p 258). He stress that Islam and Christianity has a common source (Abrahamistic), but completely ignore the fact that Christianity was born out of scriptures (The Gospels) which in many ways are in complete opposition to the authoritarian world view of the Old Testament (later a more anti-authoritarian branch of Islam was developed in the Sufi tradition). Isn't it likely that this anti-authoritarian seed in Christianity contributed to the weakening of the religious power in Europe since it certainly has influenced thinking of its people? While Islam and the Koran is a very consistent (and authoritarian) ideology or message, the Bible is so full of contradictions, stressing authority and obedience in the Old Testament and love, individualism and antiauthoritarian views in the New Testament. The difference between these ideologies and the impact it might have had for the development is not discussed at all.
The books most interesting part is the chapters about India and China. However, while he indicates that the Italian renaissance was in some ways unique, he does not present any idea of why this was so. Even more surprising is that a Professor of Social Antropology do not seriously take into account the role of kinship and religions influence for the political development in various cultures.
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Renaissances: The One or the Many?
Renaissances: The One or the Many? by Jack Goody (Paperback - February 8, 2010)
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