The tension between universalism and cultural pluralism has a long history which, instinctively, makes us look back to the classical antiquity of the Mediterranean region and the history of Europe since the beginning of the middle ages. Articulating this observation, we take into consideration that retrospective views to other continents and regions of the world may lead to comparable insights.
In this context we apply the concept of ‘culture’ to its comprehensive meaning characterizing people’s relations to nature, society, to themselves as individuals and to the divine and metaphysical sphere, whereas their awareness of common cultural qualities and their ability to translate it to action in their capacity as social beings and citizens is expressed by the notion of ‘cultural identity’.
Cultural pluralism, to begin with, can be identified as the co-existence of various cultural manifestations including economic and socio-political as well as socio-cultural systems in total. In its narrower meaning, however, it is focused on the plurality of mental patterns and behavioral attitudes which are based upon religious, philosophical, linguistic, and political mentalities and values. The individual gets aware of these patterns and the challenges to cope with them in the life-long process. As regards the Mediterranean antiquity, the idea that there are human beings and social communities who do not share one’s own individual cultural identity was wide-spread. For instance, Greek philosophers turned their thoughts and looks on the Persians as their neighbors and enemies and recognized them as human beings with their own cultural identity, differing from the Greeks’ one (cf. Lüth 1997, pp.75-98). The second example from the ancient age we want to present in this context refers to the Romans whose cultural identity during the last republican and imperial centuries was strongly marked by their ambivalent relations to the Greeks as vanquished and slaves on the one hand and as members of a ‘more developed’ civilization on the other (cf. Christes 1997, pp. 99-116).