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Definition:

Theories in this broad category assert that each major civilization, and perhaps smaller units as well in prehistoric times and remote regions, has a degree of cultural coherence, often marked by a distinctive religion. When two such civilizations come into contact, they compete, sometimes for several centuries, with resultant religious conflict. Also, it seems likely that every civilization eventually will exhaust its central cultural principles and collapse. Thus these theories tend to concern the rise and fall of civilizations (See Gibbon 1776).

Gibbon suggests that the establishment of Christianity as the state religion was an attempt by Constantine and some of his successors to strengthen the Roman Empire. More recent scholars have argued that Christianity did indeed have a characteristic that made it suitable as a stabilizer of the state and perhaps the civilization in which the state was embedded, namely particularism. By rejecting the truth of alternative religions, it asserted a principle of central authority that could be useful to stabilize the governance of a large society (See O'Donnell 1977).

A more general civilization theory was proposed by Oswald Spengler. Spengler asserted that every great civilization was based on a single idea, and when this idea became exhausted, the civilization would fall. For modern, Western civilization the idea was boundless space, and when the Age of Exploration came to an end, by the year 1900, the doom of the west approached. Ideas like Spengler's continue to be popular among politically conservative intellectuals, some of whom consider Christianity to be the central idea of the West (See Burnham 1964, Buchanan 2002).

Among the modern attempts to develop data that could test or refine civilization theories, the World Values Survey stands out. Publications based on it tend to give a mixed picture, with some evidence that major cultural blocs in the world do indeed have somewhat different values, but perhaps not markedly different (See Inglehart and Baker 2000).

Citations:

a.) Buchanan, Patrick J. 2002. The Death of the West. New York: St. Martin's.
b.) Burnham, James. 1964. Suicide of the West. New York: John Day.
c.) Gibbon, Edward. 1776. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York: Macmillan.
d.) Inglehart, Ronald, and Wayne E. Baker. 2000. "Modernization, Cultural Change, and the Persistence of Traditional Values." American Sociological Review 65: 19-55.
e.) O'Donnell, James J. 1977. "The Demise of Paganism." Traditio 35:45-88.
f.) Spengler, Oswald. 1926-1928. The Decline of the West. New York: A.A. Knopf.