Cross-Cultural Approach: Universality of Mission and Cultural Relativism

Cross-Cultural Approach: Universality of Mission and Cultural Relativism

Philip Adede mhm

I will take Clifford Geertz widest possible definition of culture as the totality of values, institutions and forms of behaviour transmitted within a society, as well as the material goods produced by the people. This wide concept of culture covers world view, knowledge and attitudes towards life. Culture is part of our personality as it is the source of world view and provides one with values and interests in life and means to pursue them. The above thus explains ethnocentricity; tendency to regard ones “world view” as the ideal norm. So, any other “world view” becomes “not the norm”. Remember culture defines how we see the world, interpret it and how we react to it.

There is nothing wrong with ethnocentricity per se as it is unavoidable and indispensible.

But rigid ethnocentricity, which is the total refusal to dialogue with the others’ world view and declare it “abnormal”, breeds hostilities and violence not only among individuals but also within oneself. Our own ethnocentricity should allow us to appreciate, respect and celebrate the ethnocentricity of the other; allowing others to be different.

Cultures are not universal as they are limited by the environment of interactions. Cultures at the same time are not static; they are ‘living’ dynamic realities that changes with the changes in the environment of interactions.

So, our world view, knowledge and attitudes keep on changing; in a positive way dialoging with other “world views”.

Cross-cultural dialogue is the mode in which a tolerant world view is build without falling into cultural relativism.

The Gospel, the mission we are called to share in is a culture, with its own ethnocentricity. So how can Mission be universal if as argued above that each culture is limited by its own environment interactions? As Christians we accept this other “world view” as the ideal norm. Yet we also have our own “world views”, our ideal norms. Cross-cultural approach would be the ideal; it presumes good will, mutual respect and equality with other cultural traditions.


Questions are bound to arise from this approach. Having worked in Karamoja for a few years, this approach has made me to reflect deeply as to what universality of Mission is to this community. They have a world view, they see Christianity as a different world view which they respect but still regard as another “world view”. But I feel cross-cultural dialogue failed from the part of Christians who do not share the same approach of good will, mutual respect and equality.

This week marks twenty years since two Mill Hill missionaries from Africa were ordained as priests.

It is opportune time to reflect on how much we have had cross-cultural dialogue in our Mill Hill Society.

Cross-cultural dialogue is usually seen as a “community or group” based, but I hold that cross-cultural dialogue is individual based: Even when people come from the same community, their interaction with that environment can be different thus resulting in different world view.

“One of the apparent paradoxes of culture is the way it combines stability with dynamic continuous change”

Philip Adede mhm

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