Italic Identities and Pluralistic Contexts - 2003

Washington Conference, 23-24 October 2003 

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Toward the Development of Intercultural Competencies

The Background

In the Spring of 2002, Globus et Locusof Milan and The CUA Center for the Study of Culture and Values held a seminar in Washington, D.C., on “The Essence of Italian Culture and the Challenge of a Global Age”. This was a major first step of what promises to be a most fruitful cooperation. This collaboration on the significance of the Italian heritage or “Italicita” for life in changing times is now being extended in two directions. One through a meeting in Milan on the contribution and interrelations of cultural heritages in the new global arena; the other through this meeting in Washington on the new role of Italicity for intercultural relations in a global world. This is part of a broader dialogue with the national ethnic communities who are now challenged to rediscover the values of their heritages and especially the way in which these can be lived in the pluralistic contexts which characterize this new millennium.

The initiation of this effort was dramatic. Originally the program had been envisaged for the Fall of 2001 as a celebration of Italian culture. But that plan was swept aside by the events of Sept. 11. Suddenly it became clear that cultural heritages in the global interchange of the new millennia were not unambiguous and could even be quite dangerous.

Was it time to abandon the distinctive cultures as expressive of the unique creativity of each people in order to envisage the passive peace of an homogeneous and undifferentiated humanity? If such a prospective half life—or “march of the clones” strikes one with horror and revulsion, then the work of elaborating an alternative future must be correspondingly urgent. If the distinct heritages are to continue to play their essential humanizing role, then it has become crucial to understand their nature and interrelations in a much deeper and more sensitive manner.

Providentially, the two partners in the original plan seemed to constitute a uniquely complementary team to undertake just that work. Globus et Locus was concerned with practical ways in which the essence of Italian life might transcend the confines of the state of Italy. This led inevitably to the issue of how one culture could play a creative role in the new global interchange of peoples. The Center for the Study of Culture and Values, for its part, had encouraged and published 100 book-length studies of how people could draw on their cultures for facing present problems. The new events pushed it inevitably into the heart of the new crisis; how are culturally awakened peoples to live peacefully and productively one with another. 

In view of the new situation their joint program was rescheduled and recast to read “The Essence of Italian Culture and the Challenge of a Global Age”. When the two units met in the Spring of 2002 the complementary of the two teams was immediately evident. Neither was able or interested in doing the work of the other, but each was vitally interested in the challenge being faced by the other. Session by session over the two days of the meeting the discussions grew in depth and intensity. At the end it was concluded, as must be the case in any really good conversation, that this had been a brilliant introduction which for that very reason compelled continuity.

Three steps on this common journey come immediately to mind. The first two could be taken in North America, namely, first to clarify the notion of a Italian cultural heritage as not bound to the borders of a single nation; and second to inquire into experiences of the interrelation of “Italicita” in a pluralistic context; the third which could best be realized in Milan is to investigate how this can be realized transnationally 

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