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Photo by Samuel Buchoul

In the context of post-colonial world dynamics, the problem of differences can be seen as the epicentre of a rich and complex field of interpretative tensions. While colonialism was based on a fixed, limited and rather inflexible idea of identity that translated into belief in Western superiority, post-modernity has intensified and consolidated the crisis of all identity models. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Western culture became increasingly aware of the limits of identity construction at every level of experience and thinking. This awareness is reflected in philosophical theories inquiring into the other inside the same – in other words, assessing the intrinsic difference at the very core of Western subjectivity, before considering it as an independent and external entity, an “other”. The universalist utopia, part and parcel of the modernity project, has been progressively demystified through new emphasis on cultural relativism. As a result, paradoxes and ambiguities of religious experience and local frames of reference are being incorporated as part of anthropological reflection, leading to the inevitable subversion of the objectivity criteria prescribed by modern science. Reflecting on “differences” involves not only questioning the unifying assumptions of the identity pole, but also inquiring into variations within the “foreign body”. Such enhanced attention to the singular aspect of differences implies a radical change in perceptive openness to the “unseen differences in the other”.

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