Western culture, also known as Western civilization, Occidental culture, or Western society, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies of the Western world. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Oceania. Western culture is most strongly influenced by Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian culture.
Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of many elements of Western culture, including the development of a democratic system of government and major advances in philosophy, science and mathematics. The expansion of Greek culture into the Hellenistic world of the eastern Mediterranean led to a synthesis between Greek and Near-Eastern cultures, and major advances in literature, engineering, and science, and provided the culture for the expansion of early Christianity and the Greek New Testament. This period overlapped with and was followed by Rome, which made key contributions in law, government, engineering and political organization.
Western culture is characterized by a host of artistic, philosophic, literary and legal themes and traditions. Christianity, primarily the Roman Catholic Church, and later Protestantism has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization since at least the 4th century, as did Judaism. A cornerstone of Western thought, beginning in ancient Greece and continuing through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, is the idea of rationalism in various spheres of life developed by Hellenistic philosophy, scholasticism and humanism. Empiricism later gave rise to the scientific method, the scientific revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment.
Western culture continued to develop with the Christianisation of European society during the Middle Ages, the reforms triggered by the Renaissance of the 12th century and 13th century under the influence of the Islamic world via Al-Andalus and Sicily (including the transfer of technology from the East, and Latin translations of Arabic texts on science and philosophy), and the Italian Renaissance as Greek scholars fleeing the fall of the Byzantine Empire after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople brought classical traditions and philosophy. Medieval Christianity is credited with creating the modern university, the modern hospital system, scientific economics, and natural law (which would later influence the creation of international law). Christianity played a role in ending practices common among pagan societies, such as human sacrifice, slavery, infanticide and polygamy. The globalization by successive European colonial empires spread European ways of life and European educational methods around the world between the 16th and 20th centuries. European culture developed with a complex range of philosophy, medieval scholasticism, mysticism and Christian and secular humanism.[page needed] Rational thinking developed through a long age of change and formation, with the experiments of the Enlightenment and breakthroughs in the sciences. Tendencies that have come to define modern Western societies include the concept of political pluralism, individualism, prominent subcultures or countercultures (such as New Age movements) and increasing cultural syncretism resulting from globalization and human migration.