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The Other European Views of

Perspectives In The Ancient World, Medieval Perspectives, Religious Perspectives, Legal Perspectives, Mysticism, Demons, And The Other

All epistemological and hermeneutical investigations are predicated on the observation that the human self, like all objects around a person, gains an understanding of its identity through the binary opposition of self and other. No value can be established for any element in the material and abstract world without the differentiation from "the Other." The famous linguist Ferdinand de Saussure described all essential components of language in terms of value units that develop their identity by being separate from all other elements surrounding them both in the syntagmatic and associative context. The same applies to the historical subject, man (here understood not in gender-specific terms), who discovers himself only when he realizes that he is different from all people around him. When a small child begins to recognize its environment, it also observes its own self. Hans-Georg Gadamer defines the phenomenon of selfhood versus otherness in the following way: "Whatever is being distinguished must be distinguished from something which, in turn, must be distinguished from it. Thus all distinguishing also makes visible that from which something is distinguished" (p. 272). All individuality is intimately connected with the recognition of the Other as a phenomenological entity outside of the self, and all cultures, religions, and peoples have relied on this fundamental truth in order to establish their own selfhood, legitimacy, culture, religion, and nationhood. The "I" discovers itself, as Martin Buber pointed out, through the separation from the "You," which, in its ultimate manifestation, proves to be God. Once the individual realizes that there is the Other, expressed by the pronoun you, the process of speaking, dialogue, discourse, and epistemology, both in the mundane and spiritual dimensions, begins.

The phenomenon of "otherness," as a subject of philosophical discourse led, in the 1980s, to the development of a new academic discipline, xenology, or the study of "alterity." Xenology focuses on the Other as a critical component of cultural anthropology, and as a key issue in the history of mentality, of the Church, and also of everyday life (Sundermeier, Wierlacher, Hallson). Study of the Other cannot be limited to the history of the Western world—the same phenomena also determine cultures in all other parts of the world to a lesser or greater degree—but for pragmatic purposes this article concentrates on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Most military conflicts throughout time can be explained either by religious disputes or material greed, or the two combined. These sentiments, however, result from hostility against or disregard of the Other whose own identity is not acknowledged but instead is treated as a dangerous challenge, if not an actual threat, to the existence and social construct of the dominant culture.

Considering military conflicts since the mid-twentieth century, including the Kosovo War in 1999, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the Iraq War in 2003, hostility against the Other and xenophobia in global terms continues and represents a major source of discord in increasingly multicultural societies and among nations (Gioseffi).

Since the end of World War II, the number of legal and illegal immigrants to Western nations has grown steadily. Once these asylum seekers or economic refugees settle in the new home country, they often face prejudice, rejection, hatred, and physical violence. In fact the early-twenty-first-century world is undergoing a major paradigm shift because the ethnic composition of Western societies is experiencing a transformation, bringing representatives of different religious, ethnic, and cultural groups into close proximity. The degree to which foreigners are integrated into a particular society undoubtedly represents a benchmark of its developmental stage as an enlightened, tolerant, and humanistic community. Earlier societies had to cope with similar phenomena, but throughout history the fundamental conflict between self and other has shaped most cultural, religious, military, and political developments. As Irvin Cemil Schick observed, identity is the result of a construction process, not simply a given, "and narrative is the medium through which that construction is realized" (Schick, p. 21).

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