The University of Tokyo Graduate
School of Arts and Sciences

Language and Information Sciences


The University of Tokyo

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Department of Language and Information Sciences

3-8-1, Komaba, Meguroku, Tokyo 153-8902 Japan

TEL: 81-3-5454-6376

FAX: 81-3-5454-4329

Studies of Cultural Interaction

A good example of the intricacies of cultural contact and interaction is provided by the historical phenomenon known as the Crusades, which played an important role in the formation of Western Europe's sense of its cultural identity. As is evident from contemporary accounts of the Crusades, Western Europe began to represent Muslims as the Other in this period and establish its own subjectivity on the basis of this opposition. At the same time, there emerged a new perception of the Jews living in various parts of Europe as the "internal other," leading to an intensification of their persecution. The period of the Crusades, however, was also a period of active dialogue between Christians and Muslims, as well as between Christians and Jews. Frequent contact with the Muslim world brought the wealth of Islamic philosophy and science to the Latin Christian West, and medieval Europeans also came face to face with the cultural legacy of ancient Greece through the translation of Greek philosophy from Arabic to Latin. We should not overlook the fact that this cultural transfusion was also made possible by the contribution of a number of Jewish translators working in the Iberian Peninsula. The crusading movement is only one of many cases, found all over the world at different periods of time, in which cultural contact consists of a hugely complex and multi-layered phenomenon, not to be reduced to such oversimplified notions as "confrontation" and "assimilation," and it is our aim to describe, analyze, and try to comprehend such phenomena from as many perspectives as possible. The methodology required for this approach may be acquired by engaging in useful dialogues with disciplines adjacent to literary studies (history, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology), as well as by studying recent developments in critical theories, such as cultural studies, theories of nationalism, postcolonial studies, and gender studies. But our students are expected, not simply to learn and apply those theories, but to reexamine and revise them from a critical point of view as a step toward forming their own methods. Needless to say, it is only through the close reading of primary sources -- with proper attention paid to their narrative structures, the rhetorical devices used in them, and the subtle nuances of each and every word -- that students can develop the critical thinking skills essential to the establishment of new theories and methods.