Dialogue among Civilizations for Peace


Surya Nath Prasad, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Creation and Clash of Civilizations

Civilization took the shape within a narrow geographical compass that covered Egypt in the West, Indus Valley in the East, Anatolia (Asia Minor) in the North, and Sumerian (Iraq and Iran) in the South. Young Seek Choue (1998) in his Magna Carta of Global Common Society told that man developed four civilizations in four different areas, viz. Mesopotamian civilization at a Bank of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Egyptian civilization at the Nile river bank, The Pamir high land civilization at an upper stream side if Indus and Ganges rivers, and The Great Yellow river civilization at a bank of Great Yellow river of China. The great civilizations of Sumerian, Egypt and the Indus Valley open the long and chequered history of mankind. Choue (1979) in his popular book: Oughtopia said, “Indeed human beings traveled a long way, crossing over the Ancient, Medieval and modern periods.”

Arnold Toynbee, in his book: A Study of History (in 12 Volumes, 1933-1954) talks about more than 20 separate civilizations which arose on the globe that that he considered to be “universal states” as they embraced the whole civilized area, separated from other states by nature (impassable mountains and oceans) or by barbarous tribes; and Samuel Huntington (1996) in his book: Clash of Civilizations and Remaking World Order tells about nine civilizations and draws a map of the world showing nine regions, viz. Western (Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand), Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic (Chinese and related cultures), Hindu, Orthodox (Russia and Eastern Europe), Buddhist and Japanese.

Ho-Won Jeong (1999) under the caption Civilizational Conflict of his article on the theme: Theoretical Traditions of Peace and Conflict Studies writes that conflict between civilizations is more tense than conflict between the states within te same civilization. And he gives examples saying that through its policy of cultural genocides, Confucius China represses Buddhism in Tibet. Tensions between Pakistan and India are related to the differences between Muslim and Hindu value systems. The clash of civilizations is reflected in the conflict over the control of territory in Bosnia which led to ethnic cleansing. Iranian support for te Muslim Government was motivated by sympathy for a group which belongs to the same Civilizational tradition. Tension is generated by great differences among civilizations including Islam, Christianity, Confucianism and Buddhism. The divisions between different groups of civilizations are embodied in the growing influence of fundamentalists in Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. Hostilities between West and Islam are not new, and in this context, the Persian Gulf War is seen as one of the Warfare between Arabs and the West. However, clashes are seen not only between people of different civilizations, but these are visible within same civilization also. There are several incidences of violet conflict among the followers of Christianity (Catholic, protestants etc.), Islam (Shia and Sunny) , Hindu (Brahmin,  Kshyatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra), Sikh (Akali and Nirankari).

C.E.M. Joad (1975) in his book: The Story of Civilization says that there are very little civilization in the world and very few civilized peoples. But we may say that there are a lot of civilizations in the world which can help the humanity in their development of prosperity and peace, but certainly there are a very few civilized people.

Misuse of Civilization, Killing of Civilized and Exploitation of the Masses

Though human beings evolved from primitive virus to modern Homo sapiens and highly developed scientifically and technologically but still at the primitive stage and barbarous in the sense of behavior and dealing with each other because vested interests in every civilization, misused the fruits of science and technology and used them for their own gains. Thus development band progress do not do not denote civilization if their gains do not reach to all in each civilization. In every civilization, a minority of uncivilized persons exploits and oppresses a majority of people of their own civilization, and tortures, murders and kills creators of their civilization. Besides this, there are clashes between the people of different civilizations and violent acts among them are usually erupted. And history of the world has a record of these civilized persons who were killed. To name a few, Christ, John Huss, Bruno, Socrates, Plato, Galileo, Mahatma Gandhi were the civilized persons and civilizations who were crucified, burned at stake, burnet, poisoned to death, thrown into prison, forced to recant, and assassinated respectively. And many other civilized persons who were creators in different fields of knowledge, social workers, human rights activists and the like persons were also treated like inhuman in every civilization.

Handicapped Civilization

The reason of misuse of civilization, killing of creative and civilized persons, and exploitation of the masses is misconception about man (human being), who is divided two parts, viz. body and spirit. Western thinkers thought man as merely a body, and the thinkers of the East considered man as only a spirit. Hence, in the West, materialism or science, and in the East, Spiritualism or religion have been developed to the benefit of split man. And Kipling raised a slogan, “East is east, West is west and never the twain shall meet.” The result was that one made man lame, and other made him/her blind. Thus man has become handicapped: one has no legs, other has no eyes. Thus people of different societies created different civilizations, but fractured, disabled or handicapped civilizations.

Tagore, Rabindranath (1917) in his book: Personality considers that “at the present stage of history, civilization is almost exclusively masculine, a civilization of power, in which woman has been thrust aside in the shade,. Therefore, it has lost its balance and it is moving by hopping from war to war. Its motive forces are the forces of destruction, and its ceremonials are carried through by an appalling number of human sacrifices. The one sided civilization is crashing along a series of catastrophes at a tremendous speed because of its one-sidedness.”

Illness in Civilizations

Speaker and the author of these lines, Prasad, Surya Nath (2001), thinks that today’s civilization materially and spiritually sick also, and modern man is suffering from bio-spiritual illness. A Korean global peace thinker Choue, Young Seek (1998), who has also the similar views, in his Magna Carta of Global Common Society, tells about the characteristics of modern society, where people are spiritually poor in the midst of affluence achieved by materialistic civilization, where people are egoistic, neglected and alienated. Further he says that there is the climate of neglecting humanity due to omnipotence of materialism which lead to individualism, egoism and exclusionism. Burckhardt (1964) made the notable observation that civilization never die of senility but of excessive complication and sickness. A renowned Indian Sociologist Mukerjee, Radhakamal (1964), in his book: The Sickness of Civilization considers modern civilization as spiritually sick. He observes spiritual illness as abundantly evident in the marked decline of human qualities, meanings, and values, and of the range and depth of collective living and behavior. Freud (1953) in his book: Civilization and Its Discontents believes that culture and civilization develop in an ever increasing contrast to the needs of man, thus he arrives at the concept of “social neurosis”, and George Rosen (1968) in his famous BOOK: Madness in Society says that civilization has its discontents, or in other words, society has its madness. And a celebrated book: Madness and Civilization of Michel Foucault (1965) can be compared with Rosen’s study. The speaker and the author of these lines, Prasad, Surya Nath, in his three articles: “Social Conditioning of Mental Illness” (Jan. 1969), “Social Environment and Mental Illness” (March 1970) and “Mental Illness as Social Deviance” (August 1970) says that mental illness is the product of sick society or sick civilization. In his book: The Sane Society, Erich Fromm (1956) expects from someone who would venture upon the research into the “pathology of civilized communities”.

Remedy of Clash and Healing of Illness in Civilizations

In view of an eminent German philosopher and psychoanalyst Durkheim, the twain (East and West) must meet. Delivering the Eighth Nehru Memorial Lecture at Delhi, he said recent in the West’s quest for spirituality indicated an eventual reconciliation between the two civilizations.

Laster Peasson, in his book: Democracy in World Politics warns that humanity is moving into “an age when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other’s history and ideals and art and culture, mutually enriching each other’s lives. The alternative, in this over-crowded little world, is misunderstanding, tension, clash and catastrophe.”

Hence, Samuel Huntington (1996) prescribes three rules for maintaining peace between nine civilizations. The States of each civilization must:

  1. “Abstain from intervention in conflicts in other civilizations,”
  2. apply “the joint mediation rule” by negotiating” with each other to contain or to halt fault line war between states or groups from their civilizations(i.e. wars caused by the fact that the border line between two civilizations passes through a state belonging to one of them,” and
  3. follow the “commonalities rule” by encouraging peoples of all civilizations to “search for and attempt to expand the values, institutions, and practices they have in common with people of other civilizations.”

Mukerjee, Radhakamal (1964) thinks a comprehensive bio-psychological and philosophical diagnosis of the sickness in civilization which is essential for the full recovery and well-being of civilization. Therefore, there is a great need of proper healing of bio-spiritual illness for the recovery of sane civilization for better dialogue within and between civilizations to build a Global Common Society.

What Civilization Is, and Is Not

In the last World War, a University Professor of Great Britain, when asked what he was doing when the fight for civilization was on, replied, “I am the civilization you are fighting for.” In fact, not only present, but civilizations of many generations were produced by infinite labor of creative personalities, priests of leaning and prophets of spirit of different nations of the world. Our national civilizations are varied expressions of one civilization which is emerging for the whole of civilized humanity. And these civilizations, in the past, were not produced in four walls campuses of universities only, but these were created in jungles, monasteries, homes, and in wide societies also. For Newton, garden was the university where he discovered law of gravitation, for Archimedes, bathroom was the university, where he discovered floating bodies, and for James Watt, kitchen was the university where he discovered the theory of steam engine, and for Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, prison was the best of universities (as told by him in his letter dated 7 April1932, from Bareilly District Jail addressing jointly to his sisters, who were both in Lucknow District Jail). Prison itself he made a university by his creative use of nine years that he spent in detention during the struggle of India’s freedom; and there he learnt fundamentals of politics and sociology and morals, and the whole philosophy of life.

One should not conclude from the above citations that for better learning and creation of knowledge and civilization, scholars should be sent to jungles, and they should be encouraged to learn in gardens, bathrooms and in kitchens for scientific discoveries and inventions. The main and the basic point in the above examples is awareness about the situation which provokes the persons for learning and creation. Nehru also did not mean that the students of universities should be kept in prisons or universities converted into prisons for the study of politics, sociology, and philosophy. The main thrust of his was for how to use the leisure creatively by being conscientized.

And thus, this awareness towards total situations – social, political and economic – enables individuals to encounter with them non-violently which make them true men who are truly civilized. There is a story of a Greek philosopher who was walking in a broad-day-light with a lantern in his hand. Everybody was surprised and asked why he was carrying a lantern in his hand. He said, “I am searching a man and I could not find without a lantern.” All of them said, “Ware all men.”  He replied, “I am sorry, I am looking for a man who is full of love for everybody in the world, who is full of scholarship, who is full of compassion and who is a real human being.” All of them knew that they could not satisfy his conditions. No doubt, Jesus, Buddha, Mahavir, Socrates, Confucius, Saint Kabir, Comenius, John Huss, Saint Francis of Assisi, Galileo and many other true scientists, saints, poets, dramatists, artists, hermits, true religious leaders and founders of monastic orders and also among the common masses of different nations – some laborers, peasants, teachers, doctors and the like persons were the men who have been satisfying the conditions of the Greek Philosopher.

In fact, they were the real civilizations. Their ideas, principles, laws, formulas, preaching and practices, for which they were humiliated, tortured, killed, are the real foundations of a Global Civilization which universities should carry. And their convictions towards their statements are the real spirit of university. About the real spirit, there is the example of great John Huss, who was one of the early rectors Prague University. In him, there was the true symbol of the university spirit. Faggots were piled up to his neck and the magistrate was there saying, “If you withdraw your statements, you’ll be let off, otherwise I’ll light the fires.” His answer was, “Light the faggots.” And the last word which he uttered was one which crosses frontiers of race and nation. He stood for universal humanity which he said, “I prefer a good German to a bad Czech.”

Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea is also the real symbol of a true university spirit. Because it’s main functions are to restore humanity and morality for the creation of a global society on the principles of United Nations. Its purpose is “the Creation of a Civilized World”. Its philosophy is democratization of School, Ideas and Leaving. Since 1949, this international peace university has been educating the young men to create a better living for mankind. This global university was founded by great world peace educator Prof. Dr. Young Seek Choue, who was himself a symbol of university spirit and global civilization.

Speaker and the author of these lines, Prasad, Surya Nath (2001) quoting C.E.M. Joad and Young Seek Choue told that Joad (1975) while he was writing a book on A Story of Civilization answers in conversation to Lucy about what civilization is saying that the business of being good has something to do with civilization, and being good means acting justly towards her neighbor, and respecting his property and obeying the laws, and perhaps other things as well. In his answer of another question, Joad tells Lucy that we have discovered some of the things that count as being civilized, making beautiful things, thinking freely and thinking new things, and keeping the rules, without which people could not get on together. And a world renowned peace thinker Choue, Young Seek (1983), in his famous and popular book: Oughtopia believes in Civilizational View of History, which upholds man as the master of history and civilization is the center of society. It is founded on the idea of human-centrism, which conceives that all things in human society must be the factors and instruments to serve human life by creating human happiness and values. Choue, Young Seek (1998) put a question: What should be the standard criteria for judging the norms of civilization to serve as social norm? And he himself has expounded his question on the basis of five determinative criteria of right and wrong and good and evil:

  1. Since good is good of human society, anything that is truly humane and beneficial to human life is good. Anything that is neither humane nor beneficial to human life is evil.
  2. Since should be a civilized being, anything that gives rise to civilization and anything that protects and preserves it are good. Anything that destroys it is evil.
  3. Because we live today in a democracy that is rooted in the principle of popular sovereignty, anything that is not for exclusivism but for universal democracy is good. In other words, all things that contribute to the securing of universal freedom, equality and co-prosperity and to the preserving of equal rights and co-existence of all states big or small alike are good. And anything that is against it is evil.
  4. Man lives a collective social life. Since man has to live in the domains of family, work place, and country, he is in fact incapable of living outside of a society. Man’s capability of creating and developing civilization and his enjoyment of a happy life is attributable only to his co-operative social life. So, anything that fosters cooperative social life is good, and anything that obstructs or destroys it is evil.
  5. It is Dr. Choue’s view that what is justice or injustice depends on whether it preserves and develops the above four criteria of good or not. He wishes to make it clear that is his standard of judging eight and wrong and good and evil based on norms of civilization derived from the Civilizational View of History. However, changing the view of history is to change the optical angle to look at the world differently. It is, in fact, a work to change the understanding about history based on a changed view.                          

In the of the speaker and author of these lines Prasad, Surya Nath, a person who is just, altruist, nonviolent, having a sense of equity in dealing with others, and having belief in trusteeship and practicing it at the time of need  is civilized. And all types of creations, which benefit to all, harm none, are civilizations.

Types of People in a Civilization   

Truly, all have not created civilization or in other words, all are not creators of civilization. Very few people in every society have created civilization. However, many people are partners in the creation of civilization sparing leisure by serving them directly or/and indirectly. However, a society has six types of people – some of them harmed, and some promoted the civilization:

There is a first type of people which creates the civilization for the benefit of all humanity irrespective of any discrimination. It consists of true professors, scientists, saints, philosophers, poets, dramatists, artists, ascetics, hermits, true religious leaders, and many other good men among the commoners also.

There is a second type of people which controls, misinterprets and misuses the civilization for its own benefit. It includes authorities and rulers.

There is a third type of people which preaches, propagates among the common masses the values of civilization, not as they are created, but which suit the ruling class and their dogmas, and it consists of religious priests.

There is a fourth type of people which transmits the principles of civilization as dictated by the second type of people i.e. the ruling class through its prescribed teaching materials in the classrooms and out-of-campus teaching – it consists of classroom teachers.

There is a fifth type of people in every civilization and its number is very large which follows blindly the rules of society for the sake of civilization as dictated  by the ruling class with the support of preaching class, and it includes the common masses.

In modern age, a sixth type of people in most of societies has emerged which is real vehicle or carrier of civilization to reach to the common people, and which thinks and acts for the benefit of all people of the civilization of its own as well as of the peoples of other civilizations, and sometimes this type of people is mediator between the ruling class and the people – and it is NGO, (only true NGO) because its mission is to serve only to the benefit and welfare of others.

Dialogue and Dialogue among Civilizations

Dialogue means conversation between two or more persons. In dialogue, people not only listen and observe others views, but in it, they speak, correct and are corrected, its aim is mutual understanding. Hence, dialogue is discussion between representatives of different civilizations. In dialogue, there is a dialectic process which is logical debate by question and answer to resolve differences between different views. And dialogue helps to pull down the artificial wall between the civilization and it affects a silent change in all, and prepares man (human being) to see man without any label and accept him as a brother considering we are all Homo sapiens.

Now in the existing situation, question arises: Who are the proper persons in each civilization for fruitful and genuine dialogue? Answer is very simple on the basis of above analogies about the different types of people in each society that till all types of people perpetually educated, first and sixth type of people are most popular for dialogue, and hence they should be disputed from each society to represent their respective civilization for dialogue for dialogue to resolve their clashes, and to arrive at common resolution to build a Global Common Society for the benefit of all people of all the civilizations. But perpetual learning for all types of people is essential condition for fruitful dialogue; otherwise dialogue would die in its own course.

Perpetual Learning for Fruitful Dialogue  

Perpetual learning for all leads to true education. Nobody should be deprived of it. For true dialogue, life-long learning is essential. Every man and woman has treasure within to be manifested, which makes them integrated, humane and human. The way to stay civilized is to keep on learning. Hutchins, Robert M.

(1968), in his book: The Learning Society says that the object of those studies dealing directly with society must be to lay the basis of lifelong participation in the dialogue about the issues they raise. This point has been excellently stated by Michael Oakeshott in his book:  Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays:

“As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is conversation which goes on both in public and within each of us. Of course there is argument and inquiry and information, but whatever these are profitable they are to be recognized as passages in this conversation, and perhaps they are not the most captivating of the passages. …Conversation is not an enterprise designed to yield an extrinsic profit, a contest where a winner gets a prize, nor it is an activity of exegesis; it is an unrehearsed intellectual adventure. …Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occasions of utterances and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.”

The Global civilization will emerge when all men and women of all civilizations would have opportunity for learning and relearning through conversation. Only Learning Global Common Society can promote dialogue. Hence, a Global Common Society through learning to be human and learning to be civilized by the way of dialogue would be a certain reality.


Dr. Surya Nath Prasad, former president & currently executive vice president of International Association of Educators for World Peace (IAEWP), associate professor of education emeritus, former visiting professor, the graduate institute of peace studies, Kyung Hee University, Republic of Korea, founder & editor-in-chief, Peace Education: An International Journal. dr_suryanathprasad@yahoo.co.in

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Jul 2018.

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