One of America’s leading political scientists, Cornell University's Peter Katzenstein, is particularly interested in the relevance of cultural categories for the analysis of world politics. In his lecture for Sydney Ideas he offers a critique of the Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization theory that conflict between distinct groups based on religion and cultural identities (eg Western, Islamic, Sinic) is inevitable, and will dominate in the post cold–war period. The emphasis on the unity and uniformity of different civilizations and hence on sharp differences among civilizations is misguided. Civilizations are better thought of in pluralist rather than unitary terms. Civilizations are unique in important respects, but equally they are embedded in a global context of interactions with other civilizations that influence them without robbing each of its distinctiveness. Instead of focusing on the clash of civilizations, we should concentrate on studying encounters and engagements among civilizations that shape their futures as much as their unique foundations do. This is the right lesson to draw from approaches as distinct as American liberalism and Chinese Confucianism.

This Sydney Ideas lecture was co-presented with the US Studies Centre.