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UNESCO - Dialogue among Civilizations

Civilizations:
How we see others,
how others see us

Proceedings of the International Symposium
Paris, 13 and 14 December 2001

Preface

The symposium ‘Civilizations: how we see others, how others see us’, co-organized by UNESCO and the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), was held in Paris in December 2001, thus closing the United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations with a meeting of eminent specialists from the international scientific community.

As a pivotal event, the symposium somehow interconnected the various conferences held throughout the world on the theme in 2001 and so provided a review, while extending reflection to embrace the geostrategic upheavals that marked the year. As history is a political issue, even a weapon much wielded in the strategic controversies over the world’s values and visions, there has to be a response to the demand for understanding the complex socio-political parameters that shape the question of dialogue among communities, cultures and civilizations.

Such was the symposium’s goal, as reflected in this volume, third in the UNESCO Dialogue Among Civilizations series. The line of inquiry through ‘travels, texts and translations’ makes it clear that no knowledge or information can dispense with a critical analysis of documents and the first-hand accounts brought back over the centuries by travellers. The impact of these exchanges is part of a wider issue of power and human governance. By giving rise to reflection on the nature and extent of local knowledge, these exchanges have also prompted a desire to appropriate exogenous forms of knowledge, which has sometimes resulted in real achievements.

The persistence of old images in the collective imagination is sometimes expressed in ‘dreams of empires’, even though new political models are continually being sought. While revealing a desire for openness to others, the exploration of ‘new forms of universalism’ also shows how hard it is to achieve a comprehensive view of the plurality of cultures and their constant interactions in time and space. This plurality also compounds the difficulty of defining ‘civilization’ itself. Dialogue among civilizations is therefore the fruit of a wide variety of perceptions whose intersecting nature assists a greater grasp and understanding of others.

UNESCO has invited the scientific community, through this symposium, to create a structure that uses history as an analytical grid to identify the obstacles, incomprehensions and prejudices that have reigned in the past between cultures and civilizations, in order to develop innovative approaches allowing the future to be built.

Koïchiro Matsuura
Director-General of the
United Nations Educational,

Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO)

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| last up-dated: 24/01/03