Cultural universals: So what?


The search for the elusive "cultural universal s” in a variety of academic disciplines has been motivated b y the spectre of relativism in its diverse guises. The problem of relativism has been thrust upon us inter alia by the inability of our epistemological models to account for social and cultural, moral and cognitive diversity and to provide us with criteria by means of which to judge aberrations like ideologies. Contrary to the general trend I would like to argue that it is not the spectre of relativism in its various guises which necessitates the search for cultural universals, nor is this the only motivation for a Christian to argue in favour of the recognition of cultural universals. Various authors have suggested that such universal structures do exist; that they condition human and societal behaviour and that it would in principle be possible to construct a theory of these structural universals or a "biogrammar" or "geography ” of the universal cultural acquisition device of humankind (cf. Harre,1976, 32; Johnson, 1987: xxxvii ; Tige r and Fox, 1974:17,30). Cross -cu ltural research in both psychology and anthropology has pointed to the existence of such traits, and in recent philosophical discussions Apel and others have pointed to the necessity of recognizing the existence of some sort of " transcendentalia" . These arguments emphasize elements that are common to diverse approaches to the problem of cultural universals. Christian scholars could accept most of these arguments as valid and yet argue in favour of a very specifically modified version of the notion of cultural universals. This essay attempts to develop such a position.