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Cultural Diffusion: Meaning, Types, and Examples

Cultural Diffusion: Meaning, Types, and Examples

Culture is a broad terminology, and cultural diffusion is even broader. Through this Historyplex article, let us find out the definition of cultural diffusion, and the meaning it adds to our lives.
Samarpita Choudhury
Last Updated: May 11, 2018
The Great Diffusion of Profit
Silk-route is a classic example of cultural diffusion, which engineered the East-West merger, thus making the world a global village.

Culture is the set of beliefs, ideas, norms of activities, art, and knowledge, which are collectively shared and practiced by a group of people who live in a geographical area, at a particular time. It is so distinct that it serves as an identifying factor.

Owing to varied factors, when a culture spreads and overlaps with other cultures, we then term it as the process of diffusion. The core from which a culture is born, and then spreads over to the rest of the world is a cultural hearth. Civilizations of the past, such as the Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, and the like, were the cultural hearths in the past. Mecca is an ideal example in terms of religion, from where Muslims initially traveled to spread and convert people to Islam.

This Historyplex excerpt discusses the term 'cultural diffusion', along with taking a look at how it has affected various aspects of life such as race, ethnicity, languages, religion, food, etc.

Defining Cultural Diffusion
Cultural diffusion is the intermingling of one or more cultures. It is the outcome of the spread of literacy and education, inter-country trade relations, technological development, and religious interventions. Examples of it can be sought in several realms, like social, political, religious, intellectual, technological, and economical realms.

The Scope
Talking in terms of cultural diffusion socially, we can infer to the popularity of world movies that are watched, appreciated, and accepted in all parts of the world, despite the language and other cultural dissimilarities.

Also, the spreading of restaurant chains is a more recent addition, along with fabric brands. No one can overlook the popularity of KFC, McDonald's, authentic Asian restaurants, or for that matter, even Reebok or Adidas. All of them have garnered global attention.

It's rightly said that the world is a global village, more so because of the political and trade relations that exist across nations, despite the geographical hindrances. The formation of treaties like SAARC, EU, NAFTA, etc., tell it all.

The urge to be well educated has prompted many young minds to change places and travel far and wide. This has contributed significantly to cultural diffusion.

Perhaps, technology is the swiftest catalyst of cultural diffusion. No boundaries exist in the sharing of technological wonders.

Cultural diffusion is a long process, which is accentuated in three ways. These are:
  1. Direct diffusion: Two varying cultures adopt the features of each other and survive.
  2. Forced diffusion: One culture overpowers the other.
  3. Indirect diffusion: Traits of one culture are incorporated into others through external factors like education, mass media, and social forms of communication.

Cultural Diffusion in Europe
The effects of cultural diffusion were very much visible in the Columbian Exchange. This is the exchange of goods between Europe and its colonies in North and South America. Post the discovery of America by Columbus, there were many exchanges that were there in the form of food, armory, crops, and even diseases. Because of this diffusion, potatoes became the new staple food in Ireland, and many animals were introduced in America, though diseases like whooping cough and smallpox were also the undesirable results of this cultural diffusion.

Crusades, the holy wars, also impacted the European nations greatly. Mathematics and Algebra are the significant benefits that they acquired from these wars. Apart from these concepts, commodities like fabric, agriculture, spices, and other food items also found a strong foothold in Europe.

Feudalism diminished in stature, and trade and commerce set new chapters to improve the conditions of the economy. It is a general belief that the agricultural practices in Europe and pottery are the direct results of cultural diffusion. This diffusion took place with the influx of the farmers from Anatolia and the Near East. However, debates and studies are still on, regarding the accuracy of this belief.

Cultural Diffusion in Japan
Trade in Japan is the first medium through which cultural diffusion gradually crawled into Japan. However, after the end of the Second World War, Japan was overpowered by the US presence, thereby, prompting significant changes in the land. This is a precise example of forced diffusion, which ended in various happenings that changed the very framework of the country. Japan was transformed into a democracy, from a rigid feudalistic country.

Also, like many nations in the world, Japan too was exposed to the American food, clothing, and music, resulting in the popularity of American culture, also an instance of cultural diffusion. However, with changing times, Japan was able to regain its status in the world politics, and has significantly elevated itself from the distressing results of the bomb explosion.

It too, has transfused some elements of its own culture in the rest of the world, including America. Sushi, a Japanese delicacy, is immensely popular in America, like in many other countries. Japanese animation has spurred a whole new dimension to the world of animation, all together. Apart from America, Japan was exposed to cultural diffusion from the Chinese and Europeans.

The Chinese inculcated new techniques of agriculture, date calculation, text, and, above all, the spread of Buddhism. Europeans introduced weapons to Japan.

Cultural Diffusion in Africa
Like in many parts of the world, in Africa too, the most common medium to propel cultural diffusion was
trade and religion. Commodities like salt and gold were extensively traded. This is evident from the historical evidence of African kingdoms like Ghana and Mali, not to forget, Songhai. During the reign of the rulers in these kingdoms, Islam found an easy entrance, stimulated by the trade relations with the Middle East. There were Muslim minstrels, inventory, and of course, architecture.

Bantu Migration is an instance that caused an intermingling of culture within Africa. These group of Bantu-speaking people from Central Africa migrated in huge numbers, for many years, into Eastern and Southern Africa. This resulted in the mixing of cultures of the natives with the Bantu migrants.

Another example in this context is the Slave Trade, which is nothing short of forced diffusion. Due to this, many African agricultural techniques, crops, music, and local forms of treatment were transported and adopted by many in various parts of Europe and America.

In the concluding lines, it is imperative to mention that cultural diffusion is a phenomenon of man's social behavior. Therefore, like the pros, the cons too are quite vivid. The spread of diseases is perhaps the strongest of all, which negatively did impact this process.