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            Cultural relativism and universalism are both philosophical doctrines. Cultural relativism is an idea that all criteria of judgment should be relative to the individuals and situations involved. The theology of Universalism bases itself on the fundamental principle that the universe is a deliberate creation of God Almighty.1

                              Cultural Relativism posits that each culture should be understood and judged through the lenses of its own particular terms and should be viewed with value neutrality that supersedes one’s own inherent culture bias. Henceforth, a comparative study of matters relating to “Culture” is inadequate on grounds of ontological feasibility. No culture when weighed is superior or inferior to any other culture in terms of morality, social life, beliefs, customs, ethics etc. In other words, right and wrong have purely normative connotations, and at best remain only subjective precepts. What may be considered immoral in one society might be for a second society perceptually moral in its stead. For there exists no universal standard of morality.

                  Although the concept of cultural relativism was introduced a long time back, but history credits this theory to a 19’ Century German anthropologist, Franz Boas. Boas rejected Darwin’s pseudo-scientific theory of evolution and argued that it is unfeasible to order cultures in an evolutionary scheme. He criticized other western anthropologists and stressed that it shall manifest an entirely racist approach, if one may judge other cultures according to Western levels of development. 

                        Universalism is a theological, religious and philosophical concept which rest on the common denominator of Absolutism. It comprises of a set of ideas, ideologies and concepts that demands for a world with universal principles applicable to all. Most corpuses of scholarship on universalism borrow their basis from the traditional teachings of religion which claim salvation for all the individuals of the world. The enrooted Absolutism, in all Universalistic ideologies is the key factor that provides for the chain of bondage to all the humanity. Keeping aside the differences of all the religions and considering them mutual branches of a single tree, where the trunk provides the spiritual and absolute source of inspiration and divine guidance. One shall learn to ignore the rigidness that flows from all theological claims; that related to the concept of God, here treated by analogy as a tree trunk. It might be Krishna, Allah, Bagwan, Buddha or energy as the science may call it.3 All these segregations remain insignificant, as all one needs is to dive deep into the spatial aspect of these religions, which in essence gets illuminated by the very aforementioned tree trunk. A man on the tip of branch may consider himself completely alienated from the adjacent branch but he should reconsider his stance and should claw his way out of the traditional roots of his religion, this henceforth shall lead him to a common origin, one that he shares with all other religions.

                    All the religions of the world strive for Absolute Truth, under the shade of which it can unite the people in peace, love and harmony. Just like St Augustine in his influential book “City of God” says that religion is a perfectly ordered and harmonious combination of the people who find their love in God and love each other. It doesn’t matter which path one takes, they all lead to the same destination of Ultimate reality. Pursing the Absolute not only fades away the darkness of ignorance but also brightens the light of knowledge. The light of knowledge and the light of self-knowledge and recollection. The very light that according to Plato and Socrates is equal to virtue. Bagwat Gita says about the eternal wisdom “From unreal to the real, from darkness to the light, from death to the immortal”4. It surprises one when he recites the verse of Holy Quran “Min-uz-Zulumate Illan Noor” From darkness unto light. Should we not call it a universal message for the lovers of wisdom no matter to which race, ethnicity, culture, nation and caste they belong to? The accountability to One Absolute authority vanishes or to some extent minimizes the conflicts that are products of relativism.5

               Till now we have seen that the notion of ‘cultural relativism’ states that all cultural beliefs are equally valid and that truth in itself is relative. The truth depends upon the cultural environment. Believers in cultural relativism regard religious, ethical, aesthetic, and political beliefs relative to the individual within a particular cultural identity. The opposite of relativism is universalism. Believers in universalism emphasize the idea of universal principles of most religions. They are inclusive in nature believing in a universal agreement between divine and humanity.
By Jawad Kareem

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