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Western canon

From Academic Kids

The Western canon is a canon of books and art (and specifically a set with very loose boundaries) that has allegedly been highly influential in shaping Western culture. The selection of a canon is important to the theory of educational perennialism.

Examples of canonical lists include:

University reading lists are also good indicators of what is considered to be in the Western canon:


Contents

Origins

The process of listmaking—defining the boundaries of the canon—is endless. One of the notable attempts in the English-speaking world was the Great Books of the Western World program. This program, developed in the middle third of the 20th century, grew out of the curriculum at the University of Chicago. University president Robert Hutchins and his collaborator Mortimer Adler developed a program that offered reading lists, books, and organizational strategies for reading clubs to the general public.

An earlier attempt, the Harvard Classics (1909) was promulgated by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot, whose thesis was the same as Carlyle's:

... The greatest university of all is a collection of books. --Thomas Carlyle

Debate

There has been an ongoing, intensely political debate over the nature and status of the canon since at least the 1960s. In the USA, in particular, it has been attacked as a compendium of books written mainly by "dead white European males", that thus do not represent the viewpoints of many others in contemporary societies around the world. Others, notably Allan Bloom in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, have fought back vigorously. Authors such as Yale Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom have also spoken strongly in favor of the canon, and in general the canon remains as a represented idea in most institutions, though its implications continue to be debated heavily.

Defenders maintain that those who undermine the canon do so out of primarily political interests, and that the measure of quality represented by the works of the canon is of an aesthetic rather than political nature. Thus, any political objections aimed at the canon are ultimately irrelevant.

Still, even while ignoring the political issues, the selection of the canon betrays either a bias against or ignorance of non-Western traditions, in addition to ignorance of less publicized areas, intellectual and geographic, of Western literature.

One of the main objections to a canon of literature is the question of authority—who should enjoy the power to determine what works are worth reading and teaching?

Works

Works which are commonly included in the canon include works of fiction such as epic poems, poetry, music, drama, novels, and other assorted forms of literature from the many, diverse Western (and more recently non-Western) cultures. Many non-fiction works are also listed, primarily from the areas of religion, science, philosophy, economics, politics, and history.

Works which directly address the canon (both for and against):

See also

External links

nl:Canon (cultuur)

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