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Europe and culture

Europe started in classical antiquity, as a princess seduced by Zeus. Dr Margriet van der Waal discusses how this myth led to current ideas of Europe.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who played on the beach one day with her friends. There, the mighty Greek god, Zeus, saw her and fell in love with her. He transformed himself into a white bull with perfect pearlescent horns. And after having won her trust, carried her on his back through the waves and across the sea to the Isle of Crete in the Mediterranean. The princess was called Europa. And it is her name that has been given to the continent we call Europe today– comprising about 50 countries, stretching over a land mass of just over 10 million square kilometres, a rather tiny one, in fact, the second smallest on our globe.
Using Europe in this way suggests that the notion refers to a specific area or geographic entity. But we also often talk in a shorthand way of Europe when we refer to the constellation of 28 member states comprising the European Union. Examples abound of this shorthand talking, as this English newspaper headline shows, “Greek voters defy Europe,” referring to Greek voters defying the restrictions put on Greece by the European Union. Or this headline from a Dutch newspaper, “Wat doet Europa met ons geld?”– what does Europe do with our money?– referring to the newspaper’s explanation of how the annual EU budget is spent.
This way of using Europe suggests rather that Europe is an institution, namely, the European Union, which comprises different components, such as the European Council, currently chaired by Donald Tusk; the 28 member states; the European Parliament, with Martin Schulz as president; and the European Commission, which is seated in Brussels and currently headed by Jean-Claude Juncker. What is Europe and who are the Europeans? Can one define Europe, and if so, how has it been done in the past?
The British sociologist, Gerard Delanty, has suggested that because of the many different attempts at defining Europe, Europe is maybe not a place or a thing at all, but rather an invention, a concept or an idea that we construct in order to think about identity and belonging within a specific context. Who belongs to and with Europe, and who not? And where to draw the borders? Europe and Europeans have been defined in many different ways throughout history. And these different inventions of Europe reflect many different historical identity and identification struggles. In this week, we will be looking at how Europe is considered from a cultural point of view.
That is to say, how is the notion of Europe giving meaning through our human capacity of self-reflexivity? How do we humans, here at the start of the 21st century, reflect on the discussions of what constitutes Europe? This brings us to another sticky topic, namely that of culture. According to the famous cultural studies founding father, Raymond Williams, “culture” is one of the few really complicated English words, because it has been defined in so many different ways. We can cut to the chase here. For our purpose, culture does not refer to civilisation in very general terms, nor to a more specific way of living or habits of some people. Culture is neither only high art or possibly all art.
Culture, in this course, will broadly refer to the activity and its results we as humans do to reflect on what we do in order to give meaning to our experiences as humans. The use of language, texts, is a key activity in this reflection process. And thus, we find culture all around us, as arts, as politics, and religion, even as science. In order to take the next step, I propose that we turn to the European Union and see how Europe is defined as a cultural project at an institutional level.
Europe started in classical antiquity: one ancient Greek myth describes how the Phoenician princess Europa was seduced by the god Zeus and taken to the island of Crete. Over the years, ‘Europa’ become ‘Europe’.
In this video, Dr Margriet van der Waal presents an overview of what Europe and culture can mean and how we understand them in this course. Europe, as Dr Van der Waal states, is also a ‘cultural project’ that is created at an institutional level.
We are aware that this definition of culture is different from the one many of us hold. How can Dr Van der Waal’s definition, which emphasises reflection and self-awarenes, help us?

An Ever-Changing Europe

Martin Schulz as in 2017 replaced by Antonio Tajani in the post of the president of the European Parliament.
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European Culture and Politics

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