Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies that originated in or are associated with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are European. Western culture is characterized by a host of artistic, philosophic, literary and legal themes and traditions. Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church, Protestantism the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Oriental Orthodoxy, has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization since at least the 4th century as did Judaism. Before the Cold War era, the traditional English viewpoint identified Western civilization with the Western Christian (Catholic–Protestant) countries and culture. A cornerstone of Western thought, beginning in ancient Greece and continuing through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, is the idea of rationalism in various spheres of life, especially religion, developed by Hellenistic philosophy, scholasticism and humanism. The Catholic Church was for centuries at the center of the development of the values, ideas, science, laws and institutions which constitute Western civilization. Empiricism later gave rise to the scientific method, the scientific revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment. Influenced by earlier Ancient Near Eastern civilizations, Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of many elements of Western culture, including the development of a democratic system of government and major advances in philosophy, science and mathematics. The expansion of Greek culture into the Hellenistic world of the eastern Mediterranean led to a synthesis between Greek and Near-Eastern cultures, and major advances in literature, engineering, and science, and provided the culture for the expansion of early Christianity and the Greek New Testament. This period overlapped with and was followed by Rome, which made key contributions in law, government, engineering and political organization. The concept of a "West" dates back to the Roman Empire, where there was a cultural divide between the Greek East and Latin West, a divide that later continued in Medieval Europe between the Catholic Latin Church west and the "Greek" Eastern Orthodox east. Western culture continued to develop with the Christianisation of Europe during the Middle Ages, the reforms triggered by the Renaissance of the 12th century and 13th century under the influence of the Islamic world via Spain and Sicily (including the transfer of technology from the East, and Latin translations of Arabic texts on science and philosophy), and the Italian Renaissance as Greek scholars fleeing the fall of the Byzantine Empire brought classical traditions and philosophy. Medieval Christianity is credited with creating the modern university, the modern hospital system, scientific economics, natural law (which would later influence the creation of international law) and numerous other innovations across all intellectual fields. Christianity played a role in ending practices common among pagan societies, such as human sacrifice, slavery, infanticide and polygamy. The globalization by successive European colonial empires spread European ways of life and European educational methods around the world between the 16th and 20th centuries. European culture developed with a complex range of philosophy, medieval scholasticism and mysticism and Christian and secular humanism.[page needed] Rational thinking developed through a long age of change and formation, with the experiments of the Enlightenment and breakthroughs in the sciences. Tendencies that have come to define modern Western societies include the concept of political pluralism, individualism, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements) and increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration.
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