News & Events

29 August 2018

John Carroll – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday August 21, John Carroll Professor Emeritus of Sociology at La Trobe University delivered the third lecture in the Ramsay Centre Distinguished Speakers Series 2018.  The title of his lecture was “The politicisation of the western canon”

 

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17 August 2018

Professor Greg Melleuish, political scientist and historian at the University of Wollongong, explores the question: What is western civilisation?

Prof. Greg Melleuish
The question regarding the nature of western civilisation is not an easy one to answer, not least because of the way in which those of us who are the products of Western civilisation think about such things. Three preliminary points are worth making: 
 

  • The word civilisation was created during the Enlightenment.  Its first usage in English  is in Adam Ferguson’s History of Civil Society (1767) but it was not used in the plural  until quite a number of years later.  It is worth noting that Guizot, writing in the  1820s called his lectures and book Histoire de la civilisation en Europe not Histoire de  la civilisation européenne.1   Western civilisation does not really appear on the scene  until the twentieth century and is largely an American creation.  
  • The word civilisation is not the only word used in the ‘West’ to describe a complex  social order.  Before there was civilisation there was the word police from which the  modern term policy is derived.  Many figures of the late eighteenth century used this  term including Ferguson and Adam Smith.  Police has a largely political connotation,  while civilisation is a response to the rise of commercial society.  Culture emerged in  the nineteenth century, in part as a response to what was seen as the overtly  materialist and commercial nature of civilisation in countries such as England.2  In  particular, Germans favoured Kultur as possessing a spiritual dimension in opposition  to what was seen as the shallow and materialist nature of civilisation.  
  • One can be a civilised person without living in a civilisation.  Being civilised can be  seen as behaving in a particular way, generally marked by moderation and decency

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Western Civilisation GM (002)

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20 June 2018

For the sake of humanities, don’t reject Ramsay’s gift

Robert Phiddian: The Australian June 20, 2018
It’s not the gift horse I’d have designed if given a free hand, but it’s not a Trojan horse either, whatever Tony Abbott’s dreams for it. Only if you really believe that students are stupidly impressionable can you believe that studying a curriculum based on the Ramsay Centres’s plans will turn out robot warriors for Western civilisation.

This is a convenient fiction for extremists on both sides of the debate. I’ve been teaching some of these books on and off for three decades, and they just don’t work like that in class. If you read any of them seriously and critically, you get better at thinking, feeling, writing, and understanding the world around you.

They are not the only way of achieving those ends, but they are a good way, and they bear a causal relation to the world we inhabit as 21st-century Australians.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

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16 June 2018

There’s an ugly side but it does not diminish western civilisation

Peter Craven: The Australian June 16, 2018
It’s hard to imagine the heat of the western civilisation/Ramsay Cen­tre debate being generated in the way it has been anywhere but in this country. Someone wants to leave a lot of money to establish courses at the Australian National University that trace the glories of what we have inherited from, say, Homer and Herodotus, Plato and the Psalms to wherever you want to stop: Wittgenstein and Proust, perhaps. The Ramsay Centre ­appointed a board that included John Howard and Kim Beazley.

Yes, but it also includes Tony Abbott, who writes an article in Quadrant suggesting the course must be for western civilisation and the people who teach it should be selected to further this bias. And, lo and behold, this scares the horses, or rather the academics who are fearful of being Eurocentric, who want to interrogate the horrors of postcolonialism and generally back away from cultural triumphalism.

This, in turn, affects the Nobel prize-winning vice-chancellor of ANU, Brian Schmidt, the physicist, and he has to back off, so the pot of gold falls from the hands of the university. Sydney University is also chary but no doubt there will be negotiations with others.

To read the full editorial – The Australian

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14 June 2018

Revive our cultural memory and ask the big questions

Dr Stephen McInerney writes:

The right to free inquiry stems from a long tradition

From the ancient Greeks on, Western civilisation is dialectical.

Whether it is republicanism versus imperialism in Rome, the meaning of the prophets and the law in 1st century Jerusalem in light of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus, the conflicts during the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, the roles of reason and emotion in moral actions, or the nature of human rights in Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft and W.E.B. Du Bois, the Western canon is revealed through disagreement and constant re-evaluation.

What Australian students in the humanities desperately need is a restoration of cultural memory

For the full article see The Australian, Australia by Stephen McInerney
13 Jun 2018

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14 June 2018

Yesterday on 2GB, Mr Howard said: “The Western cultural tradition, it’s not perfect, no tradition is, but essentially it’s made us who we are, it’s where we came from.

Yesterday on 2GB, Mr Howard said: “The Western cultural tradition, it’s not perfect, no tradition is, but essentially it’s made us who we are, it’s where we came from.

“Western civilisation has given us parliamentary democracy, it’s given us freedom, it’s given us an enormous inheritance of literature and music and culture.

“By all means debate it, analyse it . For heaven’s sake, don’t pretend it hasn’t moulded us. I’m not using this as a platform to attack other civilisations, I’m using it as a vehicle to remind the Australian people of just who we are and where we came from.” Mr Howard said rather than look for reasons to apologise, he had “tried to live” by the belief that Australia’s achievements were overwhelmingly positive.

“We still have that in many areas of society, the determination to apologise for the past. Apologise for your own mistakes, recognise that our civilisation, like many, is flawed, recognise the blemishes but you’ve got to look at the aggregate achievement. The aggregate achievement of Australia is massive. I look at Australia’s past in positive terms, not in negative terms.”

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12 June 2018

Message from the CEO

Since the Centre and its possible partnerships with universities to create a new degree have been much in the news, we thought you might find it interesting to see what students might encounter in the degree. Go to the indicative curriculum page on this website to see what sort of courses might be offered, subject to university approval processes. Our letter of invitation to potential partners in October 2017 set out an indicative curriculum and the one you see reflects in many of its details the responses we received.  

Also you can read on our website a long list of the kinds of questions we regularly get asked by interested students (of all ages!): go to Frequently Asked Questions.

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If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility"
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow