Rome and the Clash of Civilizations
Historian Glen Bowersock, confronting analysts of contemporary cultural collisions between Islam and Christianity, lends his knowledge of the Roman world to show that civilizations don't clash, they overlap.
This thesis comes in direct response to Bowersock's colleague, Samuel Huntington. A little over ten years ago, Huntington proposed the idea of a clash of civilizations as both an explanatory tool for understanding major historical conflict and as a predictive device for dealing with conflict.
This lecture rejects the Huntington thesis, despite its acceptance at large, by looking at the range and diversity of the Roman Empire. That Mediterranean world, and its late antique legacy, serves as a paradigm for understanding a complex civilization, one that was full of conflict but never clashed significantly with any comparable empire. Huntington’s emphasis on modern globalization invites an interpretation of the Roman Empire as a globalized internationa community in which indigenous peoples managed to maintain their ethnic identity within the Graeco-Roman cultural framework. Religion, both monotheist and polytheist, provides a particularly instructive window into the culture of the Roman and Byzantine empires; it transcends and trivializes any notion of clashing civilizations.
Glen Bowersock was Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study from 1980 until his retirement in 2006. He previously taught as lecturer in Ancient History at Balliol, Magdalen, and New College, Oxford (1960-62) and as Professor of Classics and History at his alma mater, Harvard University. Bowersock has published over 200 articles on Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern history and several distinguished books including Roman Arabia (Harvard, 1983); and Hellenism in Late Antiquity (1990), for which he earned the James Henry Breasted Prize of the American Historical Association. Bowersock has received numerous honorary degrees, including those from the University of Strasbourg (Sciences Humaines), the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris), and the University of Athens.