Nationalism as the cultural foundation of modern experience

Authored by: Liah Greenfeld , Eric Malczewski

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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For several years, the authors of this essay have begun their classes on nationalism by asking students to draw a pictogram of their “world”—the reality that they experience as significant. These pictograms usually consist of some indication of our globe, often with national flags on it, houses representing homes or schools, and figures of generic humans, often drawn in one or another way that stresses their basic interchangeability. The striking feature of these telegraphic representations has been their uncompromising secularism: they are focused on this mundane experiential world; transcendental forces appear nowhere on these drawings. God, clearly, is absent from these students’ thoughts, even though many of these students would define themselves as religious. Their image of significant reality differs dramatically from the image we find represented in Western art even as late as El Greco, the canvases being filled with the depiction of God and his saints, canvases in which all of the action—everything of significance, that is to say, everything to which the artist strives to attract attention—takes place above the heads of diminutive mortals crowded into the lower quarter (or less) of the painting. The second salient characteristic of the students’ images is the stressed equality of the humans, again contrasting with the representations of humanity in the art of the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, in which the size of the figure quite often serves as the indication of the person’s social status.

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