Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
Four Cultures of the West

Four Cultures of the West

John W. O'Malley

ISBN 9780674021037

Publication date: 04/30/2006

Request exam copy

The workings of Western intelligence in our day--whether in politics or the arts, in the humanities or the church--are as troubling as they are mysterious, leading to the questions: Where are we going? What in the world were we thinking? By exploring the history of four "cultures" so deeply embedded in Western history that we rarely see their instrumental role in politics, religion, education, and the arts, this timely book provides a broad framework for addressing these questions in a fresh way.

The cultures considered here originated in the ancient world, took on Christian forms, and manifest themselves today in more secular ways. These are, as John W. O'Malley identifies them: the prophetic culture that proclaims the need for radical change in the structures of society (represented by, for example, Jeremiah, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr.); the academic culture that seeks instead to understand those structures (Aristotle, Aquinas, the modern university); the humanistic culture that addresses fundamental human issues and works for the common good of society (Cicero, Erasmus, and Eleanor Roosevelt); and the culture of art and performance that celebrates the mystery of the human condition (Phidias, Michelangelo, Balanchine).

By showing how these cultures, as modes of activity and discourse in which Western intelligence has manifested itself through the centuries and continues to do so, O'Malley produces an essay that especially through the history of Christianity brilliantly illuminates the larger history of the West.


  • John O'Malley's Four Cultures of the West will delight scholars, students, general readers, specialists, young and old, the learned and the merely curious because of its combination of great learning with simplicity of language, elegance of style, and narrative gifts. Whatever our place in the culture wars of our troubled present we will learn to see ourselves differently from O'Malley's analysis of styles of thought and expression flourishing side by side in what we call Western culture.

    —Jill Ker Conway, author of A Woman's Education and True North.


  • John W. O’Malley was University Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University and the author of many books, including Four Cultures of the West, Trent, Vatican I, What Happened at Vatican II, and The First Jesuits (all from Harvard); The First Jesuits has been translated into twelve languages. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a recipient of the Harvard Centennial Medal as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Society for Italian Historical Studies, the Renaissance Society of America, and the American Catholic Historical Association. O’Malley was a member of the Society of Jesus and a Roman Catholic priest.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 0-3/4 x 5-1/8 x 8-7/8 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author