Originally Posted by Web Rider
The only problem with studying non-western literature and history and philosophy, is that it won't be relevant to 9/10 western people. I suspect this is a bigger problem in the US than Europe due to the many diverse cultures in Europe. I think a move diverse background in European cultures would be applicable, but teaching American or European kids about the Chinese way of life really isn't going to benefit any but a few who interact with them on a regular basis.
Understanding what other people think or thought and the reasons why is pretty critical for understanding what you think and why you don't hold the same views as a seventeenth century Lutheran. It exposes the things that you take for granted as being a little odd.
Think about the way we in Europe arrange our maps and the way the USA do. In European maps Greenwich, England is placed slap bang in the middle. Putting aside the reasons for the decision, think about the psychological impact that placing Europe at the centre of the map has. To a European, Europe is the centre of the world, the most culturally sophisticated location and perfectly positioned to act as mediator between the old world of the East and the new world of the West. Hop over to the States and suddenly the map's changed completely, now the USA is in the centre. Up until the collapse of the Soviet Union it was a wall between communism and capitalism -- the first line of defence.
That example's something of an exaggeration but I think that understanding alternate views of the world is important not from the perspective of "breeding tolerance within society" or any such politically-minded things (as important as tolerance is) but for understanding the multiplicity of forms that humankind can take. The humanities were once defined as being the search for man's unchanging soul of love and hate, thought and instinct, and whatever else you care to mark as "universal" in truth. Far more accurate is the view that they encourage a questioning mind and an appreciation of how those universal, biological, genetic features of the human mind can express themselves in societies and in people.
There's a reason why the Americans call them the "liberal arts"; they liberate the mind. The frontpage of the Guardian
in 1890 is highly relevant to a man born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, he just needs to find the ways in which that relevance presents itself.