The Western world, or simply the West, refers to various nations, depending on the context, most often including at least part of Europe. There are many accepted definitions based on commonalities. The Western world is also known as the Occident (from Latin: occidens "sunset, West", as contrasted with Orient).
The concept of the Western part of the Earth has its roots in the Greco-Roman world in Europe, Judaism and the advent of Christianity in Ancient Israel. In the modern era, Western culture has been heavily influenced by the traditions of the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, and Age of Enlightenment - and shaped by the expansive imperialism and colonialism of the 15th to 20th centuries. Before the Cold War era, the traditional Western viewpoint identified Western Civilization with the Western Christian (Catholic-Protestant) countries and culture. Its political usage was temporarily changed by the antagonism during the Cold War in the mid-to-late 20th century (1947-1991).
The term originally had a literal geographic meaning. It contrasted Europe with the cultures and civilisations of the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the remote Far East which early-modern Europeans saw as the East. In the contemporary cultural meaning, the phrase Western world includes Europe, as well as many countries of European colonial origin with substantial European ancestral populations in the Americas and Oceania.
Western culture was influenced by many older great civilizations of the ancient Near East, such as Phoenicia, Minoan Crete, Sumer, Babylonia, and also Ancient Egypt. It originated in the Mediterranean basin and its vicinity; Greece and Rome are often cited as its originators. Over time, their associated empires grew first to the east and west to include the rest of the Mediterranean and Black Sea coastal areas, conquering and absorbing. Later, they expanded to the north of the Mediterranean Sea to include Western, Central, and Southeastern Europe. Christianisation of Ireland (5th century), Bulgaria, Serbia (9th century), Kievan Rus' (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus; 10th century), Scandinavia (12th century) and Lithuania (14th century) brought the rest of present-day European territory into Western civilisation.
Historians, such as Carroll Quigley in The Evolution of Civilizations, contend that Western civilization was born around 500 AD, after the total collapse of the Western Roman Empire, leaving a vacuum for new ideas to flourish that were impossible in Classical societies. In either view, between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Renaissance, the West (or those regions that would later become the heartland of the culturally "western sphere") experienced a period of first, considerable decline, and then readaptation, reorientation and considerable renewed material, technological and political development. This whole period of roughly a millennium is known as the Middle Ages, its early part forming the "Dark Ages", designations that were created during the Renaissance and reflect the perspective on history, and the self-image, of the latter period.
The knowledge of the ancient Western world was partly preserved during this period due to the survival of the Eastern Roman Empire and the institutions of the Catholic Church; it was also greatly expanded by the Arab importation of both the Ancient Greco-Roman and new technology through the Arabs from India and China to Europe. Since the Renaissance, the West evolved beyond the influence of the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Islamic world due to the Commercial,Scientific, and Industrial Revolutions, and the expansion of the peoples of Western and Central European empires, and particularly the globe-spanning empires of the 18th and 19th centuries. Numerous times, this expansion was accompanied by Christian missionaries, who attempted to proselytize Christianity.
Generally speaking, the current consensus would locate the West, at the very least, in the cultures and peoples of Europe (at least the European Union member states, EFTA countries, European microstates), the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Latin America. There is debate among some as to whether Latin America is in a category of its own. The Russian culture (particularly literature, music, painting, philosophy and architecture) is classified as a part of the Western culture.
The term "Western culture" is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and technologies.
Specifically, Western culture may imply:
The concept of Western culture is generally linked to the classical definition of the Western world. In this definition, Western culture is the set of literary, scientific, political, artistic and philosophical principles that set it apart from other civilizations. Much of this set of traditions and knowledge is collected in the Western canon.
The term has come to apply to countries whose history is strongly marked by European immigration or settlement, such as the Americas, and Oceania, and is not restricted to Europe.
Some tendencies that define modern Western societies are the existence of political pluralism, laicism, generalization of middle class, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements), increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration. The modern shape of these societies is strongly based upon the Industrial Revolution and the societies' associated social and environmental problems, such as class and pollution, as well as reactions to them, such as syndicalism and environmentalism.
The geopolitical divisions in Europe that created a concept of East and West originated in the Roman Empire. The Eastern Mediterranean was home to the highly urbanized cultures that had Greek as their common language (owing to the older empire of Alexander the Great and of the Hellenistic successors), whereas the West was much more rural in its character and more readily adopted Latin as its common language. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Western and Central Europe were substantially cut off from the East where Byzantine Greek culture and Eastern Christianity became founding influences in the Arab/Muslim world and among the Eastern and Southern Slavic peoples. Roman Catholic Western and Central Europe, as such, maintained a distinct identity particularly as it began to redevelop during the Renaissance. Even following the Protestant Reformation, Protestant Europe continued to see itself as more tied to Roman Catholic Europe than other parts of the perceived civilized world.
Use of the term West as a specific cultural and geopolitical term developed over the course of the Age of Exploration as Europe spread its culture to other parts of the world. In the past two centuries the term Western world has sometimes been used synonymously with Christian world because of the numerical dominance of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism compared to other Christian traditions, ancient Roman ideas, and heresies. As secularism rose in Europe and elsewhere during the 19th and 20th centuries, the term West came to take on less religious connotations and more political connotations, especially during the Cold War. Additionally, closer contacts between the West and Asia and other parts of the world in recent times have continued to cloud the use and meaning of the term.
The Hellenic division between the barbarians and the Greeks contrasted in many societies the Greek-speaking culture of the Greek settlements around the Mediterranean to the surrounding non-Greek cultures. Herodotus considered the Persian Wars of the early 5th century BC a conflict of Europa versus Asia (which he considered all land north and east of the Sea of Marmara, respectively). The terms "West" and "East" were not used by any Greek author to describe that conflict. The anachronistic application of those terms to that division entails a stark logical contradiction, given that, when the term "West" appeared, it was used in opposition to the Greeks and Greek-speaking culture.
Western society traces its cultural origins, at least partially, to Greek thought and Christian religion, thus following an evolution that began in ancient Greece and the Levant, continued through the Roman Empire, and spread throughout Europe. The inherently "Greek" classical ideas of history (which one might easily say they invented) and art may, however, be considered almost inviolate in the West, as their original spread of influence survived the Hellenic period of Roman classical antiquity, the Dark Ages, its resurgence during the Western Renaissance, and has managed somehow to keep and exert its pervasive influence down into the present age, with every expectation[by whom?] of it continuing to dominate any secular Western cultural developments.
However, the conquest of the Western parts of the Roman Empire by Germanic peoples and the subsequent dominance by the Western Christian Papacy (which held combined political and spiritual authority, a state of affairs absent from Greek civilization in all its stages), resulted in a rupture of the previously existing ties between the Latin West and Greek thought, including Christian Greek thought. The Great Schism and the Fourth Crusade confirmed this deviation.
On the other hand, the Modern West, emerging after the Renaissance as a new civilization, has been greatly influenced by (its own interpretation of) Greek thought, which was preserved in the Roman Empire and the medieval Islamic world during the Medieval West's Dark Ages and transmitted from there by emigration of Greek scholars, courtly marriages, and Latin translations. The Renaissance in the West emerged partly from currents within the Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
Ancient Rome (510 BC-AD 476) was a civilization that grew from a city-state founded on the Italian Peninsula about the 9th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its 12-century existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy, to a republic, to an autocratic empire. It came to dominate Western, Central and Southeastern Europe and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest using the Roman legions and then through cultural assimilation by giving Roman privileges and eventually citizenship to the whole empire. Nonetheless, despite its great legacy, a number of factors led to the eventual decline of the Roman Empire.
The Western Roman Empire provinces eventually were replaced by Germanic ruled kingdoms in the 5th century AD due to civil wars, corruption, and devastating Germanic invasions from such tribes as the Goths, the Franks and the Vandals.
The Eastern Roman Empire, governed from Constantinople, is usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 476, the traditional date for the "fall of the Western Roman Empire" and for the beginning of the Early Middle Ages. The Eastern Roman Empire survived the fall of the West, and protected Roman legal and cultural traditions, combining them with Greek and Christian elements, for another thousand years. The name Byzantine Empire was used after the Byzantine Empire ended, the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire continued to call themselves Romans.
The Roman Empire succeeded the approximately 500-year-old Roman Republic (510 BC - 1st century BC), which had been weakened by the conflict between Gaius Marius and Sulla and the civil war of Julius Caesar against Pompey and Marcus Brutus. During these struggles hundreds of senators were killed, and the Roman Senate had been refilled with loyalists of the First Triumvirate and later those of the Second Triumvirate.
Several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Republic to Empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual Roman dictator (44 BC), the victory of Caesar's heir Octavian at the Battle of Actium ( 2, 31 September BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific Augustus. (16, 27 January BC). Octavian/Augustus officially proclaimed that he had saved the Roman Republic and carefully disguised his power under republican forms: Consuls continued to be elected, tribunes of the plebeians continued to offer legislation, and senators still debated in the Roman Curia. However, it was Octavian who influenced everything and controlled the final decisions, and in final analysis, had the legions to back him up, if it became necessary.
Roman expansion began long before the empire and reached its zenith under emperor Trajan with the conquest of Dacia in AD 106. During this territorial peak, the Roman Empire controlled about 5 900 000 km² (2,300,000 sq.mi.) of land surface and had a population of 100 million. From the time of Caesar to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, Rome dominated Western Eurasia (as well as the Mediterranean coast of northern Africa) comprising the majority of its population, and trading with population living outside it through trade routes. Ancient Rome has contributed greatly to the development of law, war, art, literature, architecture, technology and language in the Western world, and its history continues to have a major influence on the world today. Latin language has been the base from which Roman languages evolved and it has been the official language of the Catholic Church and all Catholic religious ceremonies all over Europe until 1967, as well as an or the official language of countries such as Poland (9th-18th centuries).
The Roman Empire is where the idea of the "West" began to emerge. Due to Rome's central location at the heart of the Empire, "West" and "East" were terms used to denote provinces West and east of the capital itself. Therefore, Iberia (Portugal and Spain), Gaul (France), Mediterranean coast of North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) and Britannia were all part of the "West", while Greece, Cyprus, Anatolia, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Libya were part of the "East". Italy itself was considered central, until the reforms of Diocletian, with the idea of formally dividing the Empire into true two halves: Eastern and Western.
In 395, the Roman Empire formally split into a Western Roman Empire and an Eastern one, each with their own emperors, capitals, and governments, although ostensibly they still belonged to one formal Empire. The dissolution of the Western half (nominally in 476, but in truth a long process that ended by 500) left only the Eastern Roman Empire alive. For centuries, the East continued to call themselves Eastern Romans, while the West began to think in terms of Latins (those living in the old Western Empire) and Greeks (those inside the Roman remnant to the east).
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In the early 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire included lands east of the Adriatic Sea and bordering on the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Black Sea. This division into Eastern and Western Roman Empires was reflected in the administration of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Greek Orthodox churches, with Rome and Constantinople debating over whether either city was the capital of Western religion.
As the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (firstly Catholic, then Protestant as well) churches spread their influence, the line between Eastern and Western Christianity was moving. Its movement was affected by the influence of the Byzantine empire and the fluctuating power and influence of the Catholic church in Rome. Beginning in the Middle Ages religious cultural hegemony slowly waned in Europe generally. This process may have prompted the geographic line of religious division to approximately follow a line of cultural divide.
The influential American conservative political scientist, adviser and academic Samuel P. Huntington argued that this cultural division still existed during the Cold War as the approximate Western boundary of those countries that were allied with the Soviet Union. Others have fiercely criticized these views arguing they confuse the Eastern Roman Empire with Russia, especially considering the fact that the country that had the most historical roots in Byzantium, Greece, expelled communists and was allied with the West during the Cold War. Still, Russia accepted Eastern Christianity from the Byzantine Empire (by the Patriarch of Constantinople: Photios I) linking Russia very close to the Eastern Roman Empire world. Later on, in 16th century Russia created its own religious centre in Moscow. Religion survived in Russia beside severe persecution carrying values alternative to the communist ideology.
Under Charlemagne, the Franks established an empire that was recognized as the Holy Roman Empire by the Pope in Rome, offending the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. The crowning of the Emperor by the Pope led to the assumption that the highest power was the papal hierarchy, establishing, until the Protestant Reformation, the civilization of West Christendom. The Latin Rite Catholic Church of western and central Europe headed by the Pope split with the eastern, Greek-speaking Patriarchates during the Great Schism. Meanwhile, the extent of each expanded, as British Isles, Germanic peoples, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, Scandinavia, Baltic peoples and the other non-Christian lands of the northwest were converted by the Western Church, while Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia were converted by the Eastern Church.
In this context, the Protestant reformation may be viewed as a schism within the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, in the wake of precursors, broke with the pope and with the emperor, backed by many of the German princes in an attempt to reform corruption within the church. These changes were adopted by the Scandinavian kings. Later, the commoner Jean Cauvin (John Calvin) assumed the religio-political leadership in Geneva, a former ecclesiastical city whose prior ruler had been the bishop. The English King later improvised on the Lutheran model, but subsequently many Calvinist doctrines were adopted by popular dissenters, leading to the English Civil War.
Both royalists and dissenters colonized North America, eventually resulting in an independent United States of America.
The Reformation, and consequent dissolution of West Christendom as even a theoretical unitary political body, resulted in the Thirty Years War. The war ended in the Peace of Westphalia, which enshrined the concept of the nation-state and the principle of absolute national sovereignty in international law.
These concepts of a world of nation-states, coupled with the ideologies of the Enlightenment, the coming of modernity, the Scientific Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, produced powerful political and economic institutions that have come to influence (or been imposed upon) most nations of the world today. Historians agree that the Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events in history.
This process of influence (and imposition) began with the voyages of discovery, colonization, conquest, and exploitation of Portugal and Spain it continued with the rise of the Dutch East India Company, and the creation and expansion of the British and French colonial empires. Due to the reach of these empires, Western institutions expanded throughout the world. Even after demands for self-determination from subject peoples within Western empires were met with decolonization, these institutions persisted. One specific example was the requirement that post-colonial societies were made to form nation-states (in the Western tradition), which often created arbitrary boundaries and borders that did not necessarily represent a whole nation, people, or culture, and are often the cause of international conflicts and friction even to this day. Though the overt colonial era has passed, Western nations, as comparatively rich, well-armed, and culturally powerful states, still wield a large degree of influence throughout the world.
Although not part of Western colonization process proper, Western culture entered Japan primarily in the so-called Meiji period (1868-1912), though earlier contact with the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Dutch were also present in the recognition of European nations as strategically important to the Japanese. The traditional Japanese society was virtually overturned into an industrial and militarist power like Western countries such as the United Kingdom, the French Third Republic, and the German Empire.
During the Cold War, a new definition emerged. Earth was divided into three "worlds". The First World, analogous in this context to what was called the West, was composed of NATO members and other countries aligned with the United States. The Second World was the Eastern bloc in the Soviet sphere of influence, including the Soviet Union (15 republics including presently independent Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, East Germany (now united with Germany), Czechoslovakia (now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
The Third World consisted of countries, many of which were unaligned with either, and important members included India, Yugoslavia, Finland (Finlandization) and Switzerland (Swiss Neutrality); some include the People's Republic of China, though this is disputed, since the People's Republic of China, as communist, had friendly relations - at certain times - with the Soviet bloc, and had a significant degree of importance in global geopolitics. Some Third World countries aligned themselves with either the US-led West or the Soviet-led Eastern bloc.
A number of countries did not fit comfortably into this neat definition of partition, including Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, and Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's military sphere of influence (see FCMA treaty) but remained neutral and was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact or Comecon but a member of the EFTA since 1986, and was west of the Iron Curtain. In 1955, when Austria again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remain neutral, but as a country to the west of the Iron Curtain, it was in the United States' sphere of influence. Spain did not join the NATO until 1982, towards the end of the Cold War and after the death of the authoritarian Franco.
The exact scope of the Western world is somewhat subjective in nature, depending on whether cultural, economic, spiritual or political criteria are employed.
Many anthropologists, sociologists and historians oppose "the West and the Rest" in a categorical manner. The same has been done by Malthusian demographers with a sharp distinction between European and non-European family systems. Among anthropologists, this includes Durkheim, Dumont and Lévi-Strauss.
As the term "Western world" does not have a strict international definition, governments do not use the term in legislation of international treaties and instead rely on other definitions.
From a cultural and sociological approach the Western world is defined as including all cultures that are directly derived from and influenced by European cultures, i.e. Europe (at least the European Union member states, EFTA countries, European microstates); in the Americas (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, United States of America and Uruguay), in Africa (South Africa), and in Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). Together these countries constitute Western society.
In the 20th century, Christianity declined in influence in many Western countries, mostly in the European Union where some member states have experienced falling church attendance and membership in recent years, and also elsewhere. Secularism (separating religion from politics and science) increased. However, while church attendance is in decline, in some western countries (i.e. Italy, Poland and Portugal) more than half the people state that religion is important, and most Westerners nominally identify themselves as Christians (e.g. 59% in the United Kingdom) and attend church on major occasions, such as Christmas and Easter. In the Americas, Christianity continues to play an important societal role, though in areas such as Canada, low level of religiosity is common as a result of experiencing processes of secularization similar to European ones. The official religions of the United Kingdom and some Nordic countries are forms of Christianity, even though the majority of European countries have no official religion. Despite this, Christianity, in its different forms, remains the largest faith in most Western countries.
Christianity remains the dominant religion in the Western world, where 70% are Christians. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that 76% of Europeans, 73% in Oceania, and about 86% in the Americas (90% in Latin America and 77% in North America) described themselves as Christians.
Countries of the Western world are generally considered to share certain fundamental political ideologies, including those of liberal democracy, the rule of law, human rights and gender equality. All of these are prerequisites, for example, for a state to become a full member of the European Union and therefore from a modern political point of view all European Union member states from Western, Central and Eastern Europe are considered part of the Western world.
Though the Cold War has ended, and some members of the former Eastern Bloc make a general movement towards liberal democracy and other beliefs held in common by traditionally Western states, most of the former Soviet republics (except Baltic states) are not considered Western because of the small presence of social and political reform, as well as the significant cultural, economic and political differences to what is known today as described by the term "The West": United States of America and Canada, European Union and European Free Trade Association member states, Australia and New Zealand.
The term "Western world" is sometimes interchangeably used with the term First World or developed countries, stressing the difference between First World and the Third World or developing countries. This usage occurs despite the fact that many countries that may be culturally "Western" are developing countries - in fact, a significant percentage of the Americas are developing countries. It is also used despite many developed countries or regions not being Western (e.g., Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Qatar, Israel), and therefore left out when "Western world" is used to denote developed countries.
The existence of "The North" implies the existence of "The South", and the socio-economic divide between North and South. The term "the North" has in some contexts replaced earlier usage of the term "the West", particularly in the critical sense, as a more robust demarcation than the terms "West" and "East". The North provides some absolute geographical indicators for the location of wealthy countries, most of which are physically situated in the Northern Hemisphere, although, as most countries are located in the northern hemisphere in general, some have considered this distinction equally unhelpful.
The 35 high-income countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which include: Australia, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, the United States and the countries of the EU (except for: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta and Romania), are generally included in what used to be called developed world, although the OECD includes countries, namely Chile, Mexico and Turkey, that are not yet fully industrial countries, but newly industrialised countries. Although Andorra, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Macau, Malta, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan and Vatican City, are not members of the OECD, they might also be regarded as developed countries, because of their high living standards, high per capita incomes, and their social, economic and political structure are quite similar to those of the high income OECD countries.
A series of scholars of civilization, including Arnold J. Toynbee, Alfred Kroeber, and Carroll Quigley have identified and analyzed "Western civilization" as one of the civilizations that have historically existed and still exist today. Toynbee entered into quite an expansive mode, including as candidates those countries or cultures who became so heavily influenced by the West as to adopt these borrowings into their very self-identity; carried to its limit, this would in practice include almost everyone within the West, in one way or another. In particular, Toynbee refers to the intelligentsia formed among the educated elite of countries impacted by the European expansion of centuries past. While often pointedly nationalist, these cultural and political leaders interacted within the West to such an extent as to change both themselves and the West.
Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said uses the term occident in his discussion of orientalism. According to his binary, the West, or Occident, created a romanticized vision of the East, or Orient to justify colonial and imperialist intentions. This Occident-Orient binary focuses on the Western vision of the East instead of any truths about the East. His theories are rooted in Hegel's Master-slave dialectic: The Occident would not exist without the Orient and vice versa. Further, Western writers created this irrational, feminine, weak "Other" to contrast with the rational, masculine, strong West because of a need to create a difference between the two that would justify imperialist ambitions, Said influenced Indian-American theorist Homi K. Bhabha.
The term the "West" may also be used pejoratively by certain tendencies and especially critical of the influence of the traditional West, due to the history of most[vague] of the members of the traditional West being previously involved, at one time or another, in outright imperialism and colonialism. Some of these critics also claim that the traditional West has continued to engage in what might be viewed as modern implementations of imperialism and colonialism, such as neoliberalism and globalization. (It should be noted that many Westerners who subscribe to a positive view of the traditional West are also very critical of neoliberalism and globalization, for their allegedly negative effects on both the developed and developing world.)
Allegedly, definitions of the term "Western world" that some may consider "ethnocentric" others consider "constructed" around one or another Western culture. The British writer Rudyard Kipling wrote about this contrast: East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, expressing his belief that somebody from the West "can never understand the Asian cultures" as the latter "differ too much" from the Western cultures. Some may view this alleged incompatibility as a precursor to Huntington's "clash of civilizations" theory.
From a very different perspective, it has also been argued that the idea of the West is, in part, a non-Western invention, deployed in the non-West to shape and define non-Western pathways through or against modernity.
The official statistics bureau of Norway, Statistics Norway, has used a definition of the "West" as "EU28/EEA, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand", and a definition of the "Rest of the World" as "Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand, and Europe outside EU/EEA", for the purpose of immigration statistics.
According to Samuel P. Huntington, Turkey, whose political leadership has systematically tried to Westernize the predominantly Muslim country with only 3% of its territory within Europe since the 1920s, is his chief example of a "torn country" that is attempting to join Western civilization. The country's elite started the Westernization efforts, beginning with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who took power as the first president of the modern Turkish nation-state in 1923, imposed western institutions and dress, removed the Arabic alphabet and embraced the Latin alphabet, joined NATO, and are seeking to join the European Union since the 1960s with very slow progress.
The following maps aim to give a perspective of what separates the variously defined Western world from the rest of the world.
Countries with 50% or more Christians are colored purple while countries with 10% to 50% Christians are colored pink
The global distribution of Christians: countries coloured a darker shade have a higher proportion of Christians.
Of the three great civilizations of Western Eurasia and North Africa, Christian Europe began as the least developed in virtually all aspects of material and intellectual culture, well behind the Islamic states and Byzantium.
For some generations before Muhammad, the Arab mind had been, as it were, smouldering, it had been producing poetry and much religious discussion; under the stimulus of the national and racial successes it presently blazed out with a brilliance second only to that of the Greeks during their best period. From a new angle and with a fresh vigour it took up that systematic development of positive knowledge, which the Greeks had begun and relinquished. It revived the human pursuit of science. If the Greek was the father, then the Arab was the foster-father of the scientific method of dealing with reality, that is to say, by absolute frankness, the utmost simplicity of statement and explanation, exact record, and exhaustive criticism. Through the Arabs it was and not by the Latin route that the modern world received that gift of light and power.
For many centuries the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement ... In the era between the decline of antiquity and the dawn of modernity, that is, in the centuries designated in European history as medieval, the Islamic claim was not without justification.